Magnesium, like all minerals, cannot be made in our body and must therefore be plentiful in our diet in order for us to remain healthy. However, many people have a poor intake of dietary magnesium because not only is it lost from processed foods, but some of its best sources, such as nuts and dark green vegetables are eaten infrequently or overcooked.
Magnesium is required for building and strengthening bones, relaxing muscles and nerves, and keeping your blood circulating smoothly.
It is sometimes referred to as a "macromineral," meaning that we must receive hundreds of milligrams of magnesium from food every day. Other macrominerals that we must get from our diet are calcium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, and chloride.
Inside our bodies, magnesium is found mostly in our bones (60-65%), but also in our muscles (25%), and in other cell types and body fluids.
The Muscular System
Magnesium is abundant in muscle tissue. It is needed both for the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the fuel muscle cells need, and for controlling muscular movement.
Electrically charged particles called ions, are passed from nerves to muscle fibers to relax them between contractions. Cramps, spasms and muscle rigidity in the neck or back are often relieved by magnesium. A regular heartbeat also requires magnesium.
Sleep and mood Regulation
Magnesium is involved in the production of the brain chemical serotonin, which improves both the quality of sleep and mood. Adequate serotonin is needed for long periods of deep sleep.
Magnesium helps potassium to enter the cells, which in turn displaces sodium. Displacing sodium helps drive excess fluid from the body. Poor potassium to sodium balance can lead to blood pressure and fluid retention (oedema). High blood pressure is worsened by stress and anxiety, which cause blood vessels to tense up. Magnesium can help relax the muscles that surround blood vessels.
Working alongside zinc, chromium and vitamin B3, magnesium is needed to make, secrete and correctly utilize insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar levels. A shortage of these nutrients is linked to poor blood sugar control.
Other Functions of Magnesium
The functions of this mineral are especially diverse. Magnesium is involved in the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Some fuels cannot be stored in our muscle cells unless adequate supplies of magnesium are present.
About two thirds of all magnesium in our body is found in our bones. Studies show that supplementing extra magnesium in the diet improve bone density, and result in less calcium deposits. Dairy products contain 13 times more calcium than magnesium, whereas bones contain only twice as much, meaning our bodies may not be able to utilize all the available calcium, or handle it correctly as the body tries to eliminate the excess. Magnesium both helps the correct formation of calcium crystals in bone, and keeps calcium soluble (liquid) in the soft tissues.
Many chemical reactions in the body involve the presence of an enzyme; special proteins that help trigger chemical reactions. Over 300 different enzymes in the body require magnesium in order to function.
The metabolic role of magnesium is so diverse that it is difficult to find a body system that is not affected by magnesium deficiency. Our cardiovascular system, digestive system, nervous system, muscles, kidneys, liver, hormone-secreting glands, and brain all rely on magnesium for their metabolic function.
Magnesium deficiency can contribute to many common conditions, but because it has such a wide variety of roles in the body, the symptoms of a deficiency can also vary widely. Symptoms may include fatigue, muscle tightness in the back and shoulders, cramps, spasms, poor sleep, high blood pressure, angina, osteoporosis and blood sugar problems.
Good Sources of Magnesium
Excellent sources of magnesium include swiss chard and spinach. Avoid overcooking to minimize loss of magnesium.
Other good sources of magnesium include mustard greens, squash, broccoli, peppermint, and a variety of seeds including pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and flax seeds.
Magnesium is also available as a dietary supplement, either in chelated or non-chelated form. "Chelated" means connected with another molecule, and in the case of magnesium, this is an amino acid. There is some research evidence that the chelated forms of magnesium are better absorbed easily digested, and used by the body than the non-chelated forms.