Magnesium is a major mineral that's integral to human health. In nutritional terms, magnesium is classified as a macromineral, one we need in significant amounts daily to maintain normal body functions.
Older Americans often have inadequate magnesium levels, a significant health risk because the mineral helps relax the arteries and is integral to energy production.
Magnesium intake is linked to reduced chances of stroke and heart attack. It reduces arterial tension — preventing spasms within the blood vessels — and helps discourage clotting within the arteries.
People with less risky, but common, painful conditions can also benefit from increased magnesium intake through food, and in many instances, magnesium supplements. These conditions include fibromyalgia, restless-leg syndrome, menstrual cramps, asthma, migraines, fatigue, high blood pressure, depression, asthma, osteoporosis and glaucoma.
Magnesium often plays second fiddle to its complement and antagonist, the mineral superstar, calcium. In fact, a high calcium intake can cause magnesium deficiency. In people with low magnesium intake, calcium supplementation may reduce dietary magnesium retention, though magnesium actually has a calcium-sparing effect and decreases the need for calcium.
Are some Americans over doing calcium supplementation while neglecting magnesium? You bet.
I often explain to my students that nutrition is a balancing act. High intake of one nutrient may affect the level of another nutrient. Japan, the country with the lowest heart-disease rate, has roughly a 1-to-1 calcium-to-magnesium ratio in its national diet. The American diet favors calcium, which may be one of several reasons why heart disease is so prevalent in the U.S.
When counseling individuals with cardiovascular risks, such as high blood pressure and atherosclerosis — the build-up of plaque in the arteries that may lead to stroke or heart attack — magnesium is always an important part of my strategy.
Foods containing magnesium include seafood, nuts, seeds and leafy greens. Halibut, walnuts, almonds, wheat germ and kelp are especially good sources.
Several factors may interfere with magnesium retention, which our kidneys have the job of ensuring. Coffee, soft drinks, alcohol, some prescription drugs, sugar, sodium, calcium and even chronic stress may hasten our excretion or block our absorption of magnesium.
Magnesium glycinate and malate are good supplemental forms. I generally suggest 200 to 300 milligrams daily in divided doses. Taking large quantities of magnesium at a time can cause loose stools and cramping, so buy 100 to 150-milligram capsules and divide your dose, taking 100 milligrams two times daily with meals. If you take a multivitamin, check whether it also contains magnesium. Most do.
Always discuss nutritional supplementation with your doctor, especially if you have kidney disease or are taking prescription drugs.
Magnesium can be a great help in reversing long-standing health issues because it plays such profound roles. If health seems an incomplete puzzle, magnesium is often a missing piece.
Michael Altman is a nutritionist at Ventana Wellness in Medford and the Centre for Natural Healing in Ashland. He also teaches at Southern Oregon University and College of the Siskiyous. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org w