If you’re like me, you probably haven’t given much thought to just how important magnesium is to us. The fourth most abundant mineral in the human body, magnesium plays a role in more than 300 enzyme reactions in our bodies, supports the immune system, helps muscle and nerve functions and regulates blood pressure. That’s a pretty impressive CV. Adults have approximately 25 grams of magnesium in the body, a little more than half of which is stored in the skeleton with the remaining 40-45 percent stored in soft tissues, muscles and bodily fluids. Although physicians have linked magnesium deficiency to a wide range of health problems, many people are unaware that they aren’t getting enough magnesium in their diets, including otherwise healthy people. So, how does magnesium help us?
What is magnesium?
Magnesium is a mineral found in the earth, sea, plants, animals and humans. It’s also a macro-mineral, which means that we need to take in at least 100 milligrams (mg) per day of this mineral. The recommended daily intake, however, is 400–420 mg per day for men and 310–320 mg per day for women. Vital for numerous bodily functions, magnesium also helps prevent or treat Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and migraine headaches. If you eat a healthy balanced diet filled with green leafy vegetables, nuts (almonds and cashews), fish, whole grains and beans, you’re most likely getting enough magnesium. Magnesium deficiency on this diet is rare but not unheard of. “The kidney has an extraordinary ability to reduce magnesium loss in urine and thus achieve magnesium balance on a wide variety of intakes,” according to Dr. Bruce Bistrian, head of clinical nutrition at Beth Israel deaconess Medical Center and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
What does it do?
Every cell in the body contains magnesium and needs it to function. Magnesium helps convert food into energy, create new proteins from amino acids and create and repair DNA and RNA. Among its many tasks, magnesium helps contract muscles, keep your heart beating steadily, send and receive messages through your nerves and strengthen the immune system. Magnesium also plays an important role in how the brain functions and impacts our mood. Having a magnesium deficiency also increases your risk of depression. Magnesium can benefit people with type 2 diabetes. Recent studies indicate that some 48 percent of people with type 2 diabetes also have low levels of magnesium in their blood. If you have elevated blood pressure, magnesium can help lower it. And if that’s not enough to convince you, magnesium can also reduce chronic inflammation. In one study, children with the lowest blood magnesium levels had the highest levels of the inflammatory marker CRP, higher blood sugar, insulin and triglyceride levels.
Food sources of magnesium
Bottom of FormThe following foods are good to excellent sources of magnesium. Dark chocolate is rich in magnesium, high in iron, copper, antioxidants and manganese. It also and contains prebiotic fiber that feeds your healthy gut bacteria. The avocado is another great source of magnesium. They are also rich in potassium, fiber, B vitamins, vitamin K and heart-healthy fat (monounsaturated fat). Legumes are a family that includes lentils, beans, chickpeas, peas and soybeans. They’re rich in magnesium, potassium, iron and have a low glycemic index. Nuts, especially Brazil nuts, cashews and almond are also rich in magnesium. And nuts are anti-inflammatory, beneficial for heart health and can reduce appetite when eaten as snacks. Seeds, especially pumpkin seeds, flax and chia seeds are not only incredibly healthy, but they also contain high amounts of magnesium, antioxidants and are high in fiber. Leafy greens (kale, spinach, collard greens, turnip greens and mustard greens). Other excellent sources of magnesium include some fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, halibut), whole grains (oats, wheat, barley), bananas (best known for their high potassium content, but they’re also rich in magnesium). But wait, there’s more.
If you love loading your nachos with guacamole and spinach dip, scientists have good news — the popular appetizers may help fight cancer. Researchers from the University of Basel found that magnesium-rich foods, including avocados, spinach, bananas, and beans, all help to boost the immune system. Study authors say magnesium levels are an essential factor in the body’s ability to stave off tumors and infections. Published in the journal Cell, this new study could have important implications for cancer patients, especially regarding the body’s primary weapon used to kill cancer cells – T-cells. Experiments have demonstrated that T-cells are only effective in a magnesium-rich environment. “However, in the inactive state, this docking site is in a bent conformation and thus cannot efficiently bind to infected or abnormal cells,” according to Professor Christoph Hess. “This is where magnesium comes into play. If magnesium is present in sufficient quantities in the vicinity of the T-cells, it binds to LFA-1 and ensures that it remains in an extended – and therefore active – position.” This finding makes it possible to fight cancer with treatments using magnesium to mobilize T-cells. The takeaway is that you need to make sure you’re getting enough of magnificent magnesium.