Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body and may be more important than previously realized. Magnesium is getting a lot of attention in the medical nutrition therapy arena due to increased understanding of its role in heart health and diabetes prevention.
The majority of magnesium in the body is found in the bones and skeletal system. The remainder of it is found in the muscles, kidneys, liver and cellular fluids. The small amounts found in cellular fluids play the more critical roles. Over 300 enzymes or chemical reactions in the body depend on magnesium, everything from regulating blood sugars to keeping your heart beating regularly.
Recently magnesium has received the most attention for its relationship to diabetes and heart health. Recent studies show that people with lower levels of magnesium may have increased insulin resistance. Having a diet high in magnesium may therefore help prevent type 2 diabetes. It is difficult to draw a cause and effect relationship from these studies because people with diets high in magnesium normally participate in other healthy lifestyle behaviors.
Low levels of magnesium have also been linked to increased risk of heart disease. Magnesium rich foods such as nuts, legumes, leafy greens and whole grains may reduce risk of hypertension, heart attacks and help to regulate heart rhythms.
So do these recent finding mean that the general population should be taking a magnesium supplement? The truth is that if everyone ate the recommended 5-8 servings of fruits and vegetable and consumed whole grains instead of highly processed grains there would probably be very few people with magnesium deficiencies. The recommendation for most adults is to get between 300-420 mg/day. The amount of magnesium necessary for disease prevention and treatment has not yet been established.
If you choose to supplement magnesium instead of increasing foods high in this mineral there are a few things you should remember. Always review all supplements with a qualified health care professional as patients with certain diseases including kidney disease may be told not to take a magnesium supplement. Over supplementation of magnesium in people with normal kidney function will most likely be harmless as the body is able to get rid of the excess. However, diarrhea can be a sign the body has more than it needs.
You should also avoid taking a magnesium supplement at the same time as a regular multi vitamin as other minerals such as iron and calcium may interfere with absorption.
In the future non-serum magnesium levels may be more frequently checked by your health care team as its preventative properties become more and more apparent. For most of us the best course of action is to increase whole grains, nuts, beans and leafy greens in our diet.