Magnesium is in the spotlight more and more these days. No wonder! Magnesium is involved in over 300 chemical reactions in the human body and some studies show that more than half the population doesn’t get enough of it in their diet. Why is this essential mineral so important? Once you understand how many roles magnesium plays in the human body, you’ll know why.
What does magnesium do? You need it for muscle relaxation and blood clotting, and for production of ATP, the body’s energy currency. Plus, magnesium plays a key role in heart and bone health. In developing countries where magnesium deficiency is common, low magnesium is associated with reduced glucose tolerance elevations in blood pressure, as well as nerve-related issues such as anxiety. Magnesium improves insulin sensitivity too and helps blood vessels and nerve cells “relax.” The key is to get enough of this essential mineral in your diet and that can be tricky as certain factors increase your body’s need for magnesium. Let’s look at some of those:
Type 2 Diabetes
Studies reveal that type 2 diabetics are more likely to be deficient in magnesium than a healthy population. In addition, a growing body of research shows supplementing with magnesium improves insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control. Therefore, you need enough of this essential mineral for optimal metabolic health.
Why are people with diabetes more likely to be low in magnesium? When blood glucose level is high, you excrete more glucose into your urine. Unfortunately, magnesium follows glucose out of the body thereby reducing the body’s magnesium level. That’s why it’s so important to get enough magnesium in your diet if you’re diabetic and pre-diabetic. Based on preliminary research, doing so may protect against heart disease, the most common complication of diabetes.
A junk food diet is already low in magnesium, but the high salt content of these foods leads to additional magnesium loss through the urine. Soft drinks are another dietary factor that contributes to magnesium loss. Soft drinks are typically high in phosphates and these compounds attach to magnesium and block its absorption. Alcohol, too, increases the loss of magnesium in the urine, as does excessive intake of caffeine. The best diet to boost magnesium status is one rich in green, leafy vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. Skip the packaged stuff and stick with whole foods to boost your body’s magnesium stores. Avoid alcohol and don’t overdo the caffeinated beverages. Drinking two or three cups of coffee or tea daily won’t deplete your magnesium stores but sipping more than 4 caffeinated drinks daily may.
Sports and Heavy Exercise
Does exercise increase your body’s need for magnesium? One of the functions of magnesium is to help cells make ATP, the body’s energy currency. Magnesium attaches to ATP to form a complex that energy-producing organelles called mitochondria need to build ATP. When you exercise, your muscles contract and use more ATP. The increased turnover of this vital energy molecule during exercise means your body demands additional magnesium to continue the cycle of ATP production.
You also lose magnesium when you sweat. If you do high-intensity workouts or workouts of long duration, you may need more magnesium than you do if you’re sedentary. Some research also suggests that even a marginally low magnesium level negatively impacts exercise performance. However, as of yet, there’s no evidence that consuming high amounts of magnesium, beyond basic requirements, boosts performance.
As if stress doesn’t cause enough problems, it can contribute to magnesium depletion. When you’re under stress, your body pumps out copious amounts of stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, and these can create an imbalance in magnesium. In addition, too little magnesium may worsen the body’s stress response. A number of studies link even borderline magnesium deficiency with anxiety and depression. According to Psychology Today, magnesium acts at several levels to regulate the stress response. It may even block the activity of stress hormones by reducing their entry into the brain. So, stress may reduce magnesium and consuming more magnesium may help calm the body’s hormonal reaction to stress.
Did you know certain medications make it harder to maintain optimal magnesium status? Two of the biggest culprits are diuretics and laxatives. Many people take diuretics for heart problems and to lower blood pressure and these drugs increase mineral loss through the urine, including magnesium. If you take one, talk to your doctor about taking a magnesium supplement to replace what you’re losing, especially if you’re not eating enough magnesium-rich foods. Laxatives, too, can lower your body’s magnesium level, especially if you take them long term.
Other medications that can lower your magnesium level include certain antibiotics, anti-seizure medications, antihistamines, some drugs used to treat acid reflux, some asthma medications, corticosteroids, and certain diabetic drugs. If you’re on one of these medications, talk to your physician.
Poor Absorption of Magnesium
Certain digestive conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease, make it harder for your body to absorb magnesium and can lead to a deficiency. Also taking high doses of other minerals that complete with magnesium for absorption, particularly iron, zinc, and calcium, can lead to a shortfall. That’s why, if you take a supplement, you should consider the impact that supplement will have on other minerals that your body needs. The goal is not to create an imbalance but to keep all of these minerals at optimal levels.
How Much Magnesium Do You Need?
The current RDA for magnesium is 350 milligrams daily, but some experts believe this is too low. If you eat a diet rich in whole foods, limit processed foods, soft drinks, alcohol, caffeine and other factors that reduce absorption, you may get enough through your diet.
One way to ramp up the quantity of magnesium in your diet is to eat more green, leafy vegetables. Magnesium is attached to the chlorophyll molecule, the compound that gives veggies their green color. So, every time you eat a green vegetable, you’re getting a dose of magnesium. Whole grains, nuts, and seeds are other excellent sources. However, a certain portion of the population will benefit from a supplement, particularly since the soil is rapidly becoming depleted of minerals like magnesium, particularly those at higher risk of deficiency. So, boost the magnesium content of your diet and talk to your physician if you fall into one of these high-risk categories.
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