Health Matters – Magnesium

?Dear Dr. Katie,

I recently spoke to a friend of mine about magnesium. She says that It’s imperative to get enough magnesium daily to maintain good health?health in terms of prevention of heart problems, leg cramps, insomnia, and all kinds of other things! Is everything she claims about magnesium really true??

Unsure About Magnesium

Dear Unsure About Magnesium,

Magnesium, as your friend mentioned, is indeed a valuable mineral necessary for life. In fact, we wouldn’t be alive if we were completely void of magnesium! Magnesium is necessary for muscle relaxation (the muscles contain up to 40 per cent of the body’s stored magnesium) and bone health (over 50 per cent of the body’s stored magnesium is in the bones). Biochemically, magnesium is a cofactor in myriad minute chemical reactions in the body that enable healthy physiological functioning on a cellular level. Magnesium levels also appear to be tied to levels of other minerals in the body, such as calcium and potassium.

Because of magnesium’s numerous, far-reaching functions in the body, a deficiency of this mineral is noted by numerous side effects. These can include arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat, since magnesium relaxes the heart muscle between contractions); restless legs and leg cramps (due to magnesium’s muscle relaxant effect); PMS and related menstrual cramping (again, think of magnesium’s relaxant effect on smooth muscle); poor bone health (magnesium and calcium are intricately linked for bone health); headaches; and insomnia (think relaxant), to name a few.

According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2002 Report on Magnesium, the recommended daily intake per adult (19 to 65 years) is between 220 and 260 mg of magnesium per day. (Value ranges depend on gender and weight.) Adults over 65 years may need less, according to this report: 190 to 224 mg per day. However, the WHO indicated that most adults are not consuming these recommended magnesium intakes daily?far less, in fact.

Possibly the next question to address is whether you are getting adequate magnesium through your food, or whether it would be a good idea to supplement. The answer isn’t, unfortunately, clear-cut; it all depends on your lifestyle. For instance, constant exposure to stressful situations can reduce magnesium levels, as can certain pharmaceutical drugs (such as diuretics, some antibiotics, and oral contraceptives). Diet also plays a significant role?is your diet rich in magnesium? Foods that are high in magnesium include raw nuts (sorry, roasted ones don’t count!) like almonds (220 mg per 100 g), brazil nuts (240 mg per 100 g), and cashews (267 mg per 100 g), as well as blackstrap molasses (258 mg per 100 g) and raw beet greens (178 mg per 100 g).

An interesting item to consider is the chocolate-magnesium theory. (Sounds edible, doesn’t it?) This theory essentially postulates that those who crave chocolate are actually magnesium deficient, and the cravings they express are a loud signal of the body’s deficiency. Although there’s no serious research-based evidence for this, It’s interesting to note that cocoa powder does contain a high magnesium content compared to most foods. Cocoa powder (100 g serving size) offers about 420 mg of magnesium; compare this to a same-size serving of unpeeled apple, which contains 8 mg magnesium.

It’s important to add that, as with many things in life, there’s always the danger of too much. The most common side effect of too-high oral magnesium is mild diarrhea. (Rarely do adults get this effect from dietary magnesium; this effect is almost always the result of supplementation.) The good news is: reduce the magnesium dose and the diarrhea quickly resolves. However, excessive magnesium supplementation for long periods of time (ignoring the initial diarrhea) can result in hypermagnesia, nausea, and hypotension (low blood pressure). Additionally, the prolonged diarrhea associated with these conditions can cause electrolyte and fluid imbalances.

I hope this answered your question about magnesium. Please note that if you do decide to orally supplement with magnesium, most magnesium supplements start at 75 mg magnesium per capsule and range upwards. New magnesium-related products on the market include sprays and gels for topical use (but most research on magnesium has been performed using oral doses).

Good luck in the search for good health!

Katie D?Souza, B.Sc., ND

Katie D?Souza is an AU graduate, and also a licensed naturopathic doctor. She currently lives in Ontario.

The information contained in this article is for personal interest only; it is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Readers are always encouraged to seek the professional advice of a licensed physician or qualified health care practitioner for personal health or medical conditions.