Magnesium is one of the most crucial minerals for our body. It is required in over 600 biochemical reactions, plays a vital role in the proper functioning of muscles, in maintaining blood pressure and blood sugar, and in keeping the immune system healthy. In other words, our bodies need magnesium to maintain and sustain life.
According to a review in December 2014, 60% of adults in the US do not get enough of this mineral in their diet. The recommended daily amount is 420mg a day for adult men and 320mg for adult women. In the same review, the authors cite studies that show that in the last 60 years, fruits and vegetables in the US have lost 20-30% of their magnesium content because of the depletion of this mineral in the soil. Couple that with the fact that 80-90% of the magnesium is lost when food is processed, and that processed food consumption is on the uptick, and one begins to understand why the US diet is deficient in magnesium.
Data on the consumption of magnesium among Indians is not available. Given the increase in processed food consumption in urban areas, however, magnesium consumption in our country, too, may well be insufficient.
Magnesium insufficiency is associated with a host of diseases, including diabetes, hypertension, migraine and depression. New Delhi-based psychologist Rachna Khanna Singh, who works at the Artemis Hospital in Gurgaon, near Delhi, says that she often finds magnesium deficiency in patients suffering from anxiety. Recently, a 36-year-old patient who consulted her was suffering from anxiety as well as thyroid imbalance. Singh asked her to get a series of blood tests done, including a magnesium test, and the results showed depleted levels of the mineral. The patient was prescribed supplements.
Magnesium is known for its ability to relieve constipation and is commonly used as a laxative in its oxide and citrate forms. It is also good at relieving insomnia because it helps the muscles relax, giving you that calm “sleepy” feeling and helping you unwind after a long day. In fact, soaking in a warm bath with a cup of Epsom salts is relaxing precisely because Epsom salts are magnesium sulphate, another form of magnesium.
Dominic Benjamin, a consultant geriatrician at the Bangalore Baptist Hospital in Bengaluru, writes in an email interview: “I would strongly urge individuals to consume a balanced diet that includes green leafy vegetables, soy beans and fruits as they are all good sources of magnesium. Probiotics help in improving the bioavailability of magnesium in the diet.” Other sources of magnesium include nuts, wheatgerm, cornmeal, soy products, honey, fish, cabbage, avocados, peas, prunes and dairy products.
A study published in the American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition in July found that magnesium supplementation in women with gestational diabetes significantly improved their blood sugar and reduced complications in newborns.
And a review in a diabetes journal in June that examined the role of magnesium in glucose metabolism concluded that “chronic magnesium supplementation may delay the progression from impaired glucose regulation to type 2 diabetes”. In other words, magnesium probably plays a role in delaying the onset of diabetes in pre-diabetics.
Increase the magnesium content in your diet by consuming green leafy vegetables and fruits.In a healthy person, a diet high in fruits and vegetables is more than adequate to supply the body’s magnesium needs. However, if you think you may be deficient in magnesium or suffer from diabetes, it’s important to discuss this with your doctor. The symptoms of magnesium deficiency include muscle spasms and cramps, seizures, anxiety and irregular heart rhythms. Low levels of magnesium in the body also play a role in migraine headaches, insomnia, depression and chronic fatigue.
Supplemental magnesium can interfere with the effectiveness of prescription medicines like diuretics, chemotherapy agents and certain antibiotics. Also, excess magnesium is excreted through the kidneys, and if your kidneys aren’t functioning well, you could have excessive build-up of magnesium in your system with supplementation. Since magnesium acts as a laxative, diarrhoea is often the first symptom of excessive magnesium in the body. You might also have nausea, vomiting and abdominal cramping. To prevent this, the US Institute of Medicine recommends a maximum dose of 350mg of supplemental magnesium a day for adult men and women. Of course, it’s best to consult a doctor before taking supplements.