Magnesium might be the most important mineral you haven’t heard of. Magnesium, like its more popular mineral cousins such as sodium, potassium, and calcium is vital to virtually all aspects of your well-being.
Magnesium is an essential mineral, meaning the body cannot synthesize it by itself, but can only get it via the food you consume. Unfortunately for many, it’s contained in foods that are largely absent from the Standard American Diet, the very aptly abbreviated SAD. This is a real shame, considering all the wonderful things magnesium does for you and how important it is to your health.
So What Does Magnesium Do?
So glad you asked, it only acts as a cofactor in more than 300 enzymes that maintain biochemical reactions in your body every second of every day. Some of the more important ones are regulating blood pressure, blood glucose control, protein synthesis, and healthy muscle and nerve function. It’s also keen on helping build and maintain healthy bones, nerve impulse function, and keeping your heart beating in a normal rhythm. There is some evidence that a deficiency can contribute to anxiety and depression as well. A recent study involving 126 people with mild to moderate depression was given pills to take every day. Half got magnesium, while the other half got a placebo. Two weeks later the magnesium group reported feeling a little better. Four weeks after that, they felt much better with lessened symptoms of anxiety and depression, while the placebo group reported no change in symptoms (1). Pretty important stuff if you ask me. In short, magnesium is must have to help regulate and ensure you function at your best. The RDA for adult men is 400mg for men and 310mg for women, but 350 if you’re pregnant or lactating. Athletes and those are who are very active may need more, since you lose magnesium in your sweat, and it also gets used in greater abundance when your body is under stress, like when doing an intense workout.
How To Get It
As mentioned earlier, you have to eat or drink foods that contain it since your body can’t make it, or take a supplement. But there’s a catch, you only absorb about 30% to 40% of the magnesium you consume. Magnesium-rich foods include leafy greens like spinach, legumes such as peanuts and black beans, nuts and seeds, such as almonds or pumpkin seeds, and whole grains. The SAD contains too little of these foods, so it’s easy to see why many people in the U.S. are at risk of a deficiency. Even as someone who regularly consumes many of these magnesium-rich foods daily, I still don’t meet the RDA on some days.
Not All Magnesium Is Created Equally
Fortunately, magnesium supplementation is very affordable, but with a caveat, as it can come in many forms, some are more bioavailable than others. Magnesium in the form of aspartate, citrate, lactate, and chloride are more readily absorbed than the cheaper forms that come in oxide and sulfate, so read the ingredients label carefully if you choose to supplement with pills. Another option that I use and that is absorbed very well by the body is magnesium oil, which you simply spray on and rub in.
What You Can Do
Testing magnesium levels can be tricky since very little circulates in the blood because most are stored in the bone and soft tissues of the body. A few symptoms of magnesium deficiency are muscle cramps, fatigue, and weakness. A severe deficiency can present with an abnormal heart rhythm, numbness, and seizures. People with type 2 diabetes and those with alcohol dependence are at a greater risk of being deficient. Severe deficiency is rare though, so don’t freak out. As you can see, some of these symptoms can be vague and be symptoms of hundreds of other disorders too. However, a good first step is to start tracking your food and micronutrients, while also incorporating more magnesium-rich foods into your diet. I use an app called MyNetDiary, which tracks just about every micronutrient there is.
To conclude, while magnesium isn’t the most popular mineral, it is one of the most important, and one that most of us probably aren’t getting adequate amounts of. I would recommend tracking your diet and your micronutrients to see how much you’re getting as well, and if supplementing is right for you, choose a highly bioavailable form that will be absorbed instead of wasted.