Magnesium is an essential mineral required by the body and one of the most abundant minerals in the human body. Magnesium helps carry out almost 300 chemical reactions in the human body. These include chemical reactions that sustain life, such as those that make up our DNA, cell membranes, and muscles.
Being the ninth most abundant mineral in the body, half of the magnesium in your body is found in bone, and the other half is inside the cells of body tissues and organs. One place you find magnesium is in heart tissue where it plays a key role in heart function.
Why is magnesium so important? Multiple studies show it’s a key nutrient for heart health. This shouldn’t be surprising, since magnesium is known to be important for many aspects of heart health: it helps the heart contract, relax, and maintain proper rhythm, and it plays a role in keeping blood vessels healthy.
Studies also show that increased magnesium intake may:
- Lower blood pressure
- Decrease the risk of heart attack, sudden death and coronary artery disease.
- Prevent or control type 2 diabetes mellitus and insulin resistance.
- Lower the risk of cardiovascular disease
- Improve fasting blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes mellitus.
These factors are all vital for heart health. For example, high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar both increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, research shows that supplementing with magnesium can reduce blood pressure by up to 11%. Other benefits of supplemental magnesium include: boosting energy levels, strengthening bones, regulating sleep cycles and reducing muscle soreness.”
Food as a Source of Magnesium: Is It Enough?
Some people believe that you can get enough magnesium from food but that’s not always the case. Dietary shortfall is the most common cause of magnesium deficiency, but stress contributes to magnesium deficiency too. When under stress, our bodies produce more adrenalin which blocks the uptake of magnesium by the cells of the body. So, it’s possible to consume enough but still not get the full benefits.
If you take certain medications, your risk of magnesium deficiency is higher. The two most common groups of medications that lead to magnesium loss are certain diuretics and proton-pump inhibitors used to treat acid reflux. You may need a magnesium supplement if you take one of these meds.
How Much Magnesium Do You Need?
The average American consumes a mere 150 milligrams of magnesium daily, while the recommended amount is between 300 to 450 milligrams daily. As you can imagine, if all you eat is processed foods and poor quality, refined or processed 80% or more refined grains such as white flour and white rice (AFIC), then it would be hard to get enough dietary magnesium for heart health.
But don’t give up on eating whole grains, just the processed ones. That’s right, eating whole grains is a great way to ensure you are getting adequate amounts of magnesium and other nutrients as well. The reason is that whole grains have the outer protective bran layer covering the starchy portion, which is where most of the magnesium and other nutrients are found. In contrast, refined grains lack the outer bran layer that contains magnesium and most of the plant’s fiber.
Dietary Magnesium vs. Magnesium Supplements
In addition to gaining magnesium from food, you can take in extra by supplementing with magnesium. The recommended daily amount for most people is 350 milligrams per day. For those with heart disease or heart failure, a dosage of 600 milligrams daily may be needed, although you should discuss this with your physician. Taking high doses of one mineral can affect how much of another mineral your body absorbs, so don’t take a high-dose supplement unless your doctor recommends it.
Too much of anything can have ill effects on the body. For example, taking large doses of magnesium in supplement form can cause nausea and diarrhea. But in reasonable amounts, magnesium, even in supplement form, has few side effects.
Other Food Sources of Magnesium
Even if you don’t like whole grains, you can boost your body’s magnesium stores by loading your plate with dark, leafy greens, beans, or lentils and by snacking on nuts and seeds. Other dietary sources include whole grains and some seafood. You’ll even get a bit of magnesium by eating dark chocolate. One ounce of dark chocolate contains about 64 mg while an average adult daily intake is 200-400 mg.
However, dark chocolate contains compounds called catechins that have anti-inflammatory activity. The anti-inflammatory properties of the catechins in dark chocolate lower blood pressure and are linked with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Don’t make dark chocolate your main source of magnesium though. Choose a variety of healthy whole food sources.
The Bottom Line
Magnesium is a mineral intimately involved in heart function and being deficient may increase your risk of cardiovascular disease for the reasons above. Your best bet is to add more whole, magnesium-rich foods to your diet, but if you’re taking medications that increase magnesium loss or have health conditions that can worsen magnesium deficiency, talk to your physician about whether you should take a magnesium supplement. They may also recommend a supplement if you have hypertension or cardiovascular disease.
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