Magnesium is an essential mineral that your body needs to drive over 300 chemical reactions in your body. If you’re deficient in this vital mineral, these critical reactions may run more slowly or not run at all. In fact, cells need magnesium to make the body’s energy currency, ATP, the high-energy molecule that drives muscle contractions and metabolic processes. Your body even needs magnesium to build new proteins and make DNA, a cell’s genetic material.
In addition, we now know that magnesium deficiency may contribute to health conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis. In fact, more magnesium, either through diet or supplementation, may be beneficial for people who have cardiovascular disease and other conditions, including diabetes.
Magnesium and Heart Health
How might magnesium benefit heart health? When you have blocked arteries because of plaque, blood vessels don’t function as they should. Rather than dilating as they should, the vessels constrict, leading to a reduction in blood flow, elevations in blood flow, and an increased risk of blood clots.
Can magnesium improve how blood vessels function? One study of 50 men and women with coronary artery disease showed that supplementing with magnesium for 6 months improved endothelial function, the ability of blood vessels to dilate. Plus, some research shows people who consume diets rich in magnesium are less prone to sudden death from cardiovascular causes.
Research suggests that magnesium may improve other health conditions, including migraine headaches and asthma. In fact, studies show people with both conditions have lower tissue levels of magnesium. It’s clear we need to get enough magnesium. However, certain factors increase the odds of becoming magnesium deficient. Here are six you should know about.
You’re Over the Age of 60
Magnesium deficiency is more common after the age of 60. The reason? We absorb less magnesium as we age. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need a supplement, but it’s important to consider your diet and whether you’re getting enough magnesium-rich foods. Up to 50% of the general population doesn’t consume enough magnesium daily. Curious as to which foods at highest? Think nuts, whole grains, seeds, and green, leafy vegetables.
You Have Diabetes
Both type one and type two diabetes mellitus increase the risk of magnesium deficiency. The risk is greatest in people who are poorly controlled diabetics. The reason? Normally, your body holds on to glucose. Therefore, a healthy person with a normal blood sugar level doesn’t release glucose into their urine. Diabetics, however, have high blood glucose and lose some of that glucose in their urine. As glucose enters the urine, so does magnesium.
What’s more, being low in magnesium can worsen blood glucose control in diabetics since it increases insulin resistance. Some studies show that taking a magnesium supplement of 300 to 400 milligrams daily improves blood sugar control in diabetics. In fact, 8 of 12 studies analyzed as part of a meta-analysis found that supplementing with magnesium improved blood glucose control in diabetics and pre-diabetics.
You Take Certain Medications
The most common class of medications that lower magnesium are diuretics. Water pills or diuretics increase urination and, along with losing water, you lose potassium and magnesium. However, some types of diuretics are potassium-sparing, meaning they don’t lead to potassium loss. Other medications that can lower your magnesium level include proton-pump inhibitors, used to treat acid reflux, antibiotics, and chemotherapy medications. If you’re taking medications, ask your physician whether you’re taking a prescription that disrupts magnesium balance. Then ask whether they recommend a magnesium supplement.
You Have Digestive Tract Problems
If you have certain digestive issues, your body won’t absorb magnesium as easily as someone with a normal digestive tract. Therefore, your risk of becoming deficient in magnesium is higher. If you’ve had a portion of your intestinal tract removed, magnesium absorption may be less than optimal too. Your physician may recommend that you take a magnesium supplement if you have problems absorbing magnesium.
You Take a Zinc Supplement
If you take high doses of zinc as a supplement, it can lower your magnesium level. The reason? Zinc and magnesium compete for the same intestinal receptors for absorption. If you have a lot of zinc occupying those receptors, magnesium will be pushed out. Check with your physician before taking high doses of any vitamin or mineral.
The Composition of Your Diet
The diet you eat can impact how much magnesium is available to your tissues. Eating a high-fiber diet can reduce magnesium absorption as can a diet low in protein. Consuming large amounts of alcohol can also lead to magnesium deficiency. Do you eat a lot of refined foods and sugar? Eating a high-sugar or refined food diet increases the odds of magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium Deficiency isn’t Easy to Detect
How do you know if you’re deficient? You might think measuring the amount of magnesium in your blood is a reliable test for magnesium deficiency. Not so! Only 1% of the magnesium in your body is in your bloodstream. The rest is in other tissues. A blood test will only pick up severe magnesium deficiency. Your blood level of magnesium can still be normal despite your tissues being deficient. As a study in Open Heart states, “‘abnormalities of serum Mg may be the most underdiagnosed serum electrolyte abnormality in clinical practice today.”
Most people can benefit from adding more magnesium to their diet and people at high risk due to intestinal abnormalities may need a supplement. However, magnesium supplements can interact with some medications, including certain antibiotics, blood pressure medications, and diuretics. So, check with your physician before taking one. Otherwise, make sure you’re getting enough dietary magnesium. Some of the best sources are whole grains, nuts, seeds, and leafy, green vegetables.
- com. “10 Supplements to Help Lower Blood Sugar”
- Open Heart 2018;5:e000775. doi: 10.1136/openhrt-2018-000775.
- Open Heart. 2018; 5(1): e000668. Published online 2018 Jan 13. doi: 10.1136/openhrt-2017-000668.
- Int J Mol Sci. 2019 May; 20(9): 2094. Published online 2019 Apr 28. doi: 10.3390/ijms20092094.