Why magnesium is a key element of good health
Magnesium. Maybe you remember it from the periodic table in 10th grade chemistry class. What you may not realize is that our bodies use this shiny gray rock-like element in many ways. In fact, it is integral in over 300 biochemical reactions, from muscle contractions to neurotransmission, blood pressure and heart rhythm to immune response.
So how can you be sure that you are getting enough of this vital nutrient?
For adults, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of magnesium from food varies by age and gender:
Age Male Female 19–30 years 400 mg 310 mg 31–51+ 420 mg 320 mg
Note: amounts differ for pregnant or lactating women.
Most people eat proper amounts of magnesium in foods such as spinach, whole grains, beans, nuts, and potatoes. But according to the National Institutes of Health, many older Americans–especially men over age 70–are not consuming the proper amount of magnesium. Yet despite these dietary shortfalls, magnesium deficiency is still quite rare, even among seniors.
Dr. Bruce Bistrian, chief of clinical nutrition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, explains, “The kidney has an extraordinary ability to reduce magnesium loss in urine, and thus achieve magnesium balance on a wide variety of intakes.”
Examples of magnesium-rich foods
1 ounce of dry-roasted almonds, 80 milligrams
1/2 cup frozen spinach (cooked), 78 milligrams
1/2 cup bran flakes, 64 milligrams
1 medium baked potato with skin, 48 milligrams
1/2 cup canned kidney beans, 35 milligrams
Are magnesium supplements necessary?
For optimal health, it is preferable to get your necessary magnesium from food. High-fiber foods like nuts, dark-green leafy vegetables, unrefined grains, and beans are all good options.
For those who have issues with magnesium absorption from food– such as people with diabetes, Crohn’s disease or celiac disease, some kidney conditions, alcoholism, and people on certain medications– magnesium supplements can be beneficial.
But be wary of the claims of some magnesium supplement manufacturers that their product can increase energy, regulate sleep cycles, and reduce body aches. According to Dr. Bistrian, “There’s no evidence, to my knowledge, that it [magnesium] would be effective for those symptoms.”
And ingesting excessive amounts of magnesium from supplements can have an adverse effect on your health including diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal cramping, even cardiac arrest.
Think you could have low magnesium?
As noted, magnesium deficiency is rare, but if you have a condition that predisposes you to poor magnesium absorption, or you are concerned about your levels, ask your doctor for a blood test.
Learn about our magnesium blood tests: