Magnesium is the fourth most common mineral found in the human body and it supports functions that range from bone health to blood pressure and muscle function.
This powerhouse mineral is often overlooked, even when you eat a balanced diet.
Your body is unable to function at its best when you lack this mineral, so it’s best to understand how magnesium benefits you.
One key reason for the development of chronic diseases, weight gain and ageing before one’s time is due to chronic inflammation.
One study linked magnesium deficiency to chronic inflammation, i.e. children with the lowest blood magnesium levels also had the highest levels of an inflammatory marker known as C-reactive protein (CRP).
These children were also noted to have higher blood sugar and triglyceride levels.
For pre-diabetics, the overweight and older adults, eat fatty fish or magnesium supplements to help reduce CRP and other inflammation markers.
You might be magnesium-deficient if you often experience migraines.
A 2016 review of 21 published studies found that patients saw their headache symptoms alleviated after receiving intravenous (IV) magnesium.
They even saw a drop in frequency of their headaches and pain levels, which suggests that magnesium might be even more effective than over-the-counter painkillers for relieving headaches.
Insulin resistance hinders the absorption of sugar from the bloodstream to the body’s cells.
It is associated with metabolic syndrome, which is a group of health conditions that occur simultaneously, including high blood sugar, increased fat around the abdomen (central obesity), high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.
This leads to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease.
Supplementing with magnesium, which helps muscle and liver cells absorb sugar from the bloodstream, reduces insulin resistance.
This has been found to be true even in people with normal blood sugar levels.
Although research has yet to conclusively link magnesium deficiency to an increased risk of depression, one study involving 9,000 people found that those under the age of 65 with the lowest magnesium intake had a 22% greater risk of depression, compared to those with higher magnesium intake.
Another randomised controlled trial in depressed older adults found that 450mg of magnesium supplement per day improved mood as effectively as an antidepressant drug.
There is also some evidence that it helps to reduce anxiety and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms, such as bloating and water retention.
Still, more research is needed on the benefits of magnesium on our mood.
Magnesium is just as important as calcium and vitamin D for building strong bones.
Without magnesium, calcium supplements may actually be less effective, which is why doctors recommend keeping a two to one balance of calcium to magnesium.
For women, the recommended daily intake of magnesium is up to 320mg daily, and for men, it is 420mg daily.
Every cell in the human body requires magnesium to function properly.
Bones contain about 60% magnesium. Other places magnesium is concentrated include the soft tissues and blood.
Magnesium acts as a helper for enzymes to perform biochemical reactions like converting food into energy, repairing DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), contracting and relaxing muscles, turning amino acids into protein, and regulating neurotransmitters that act as messengers for our brain and nervous system.
Animal studies suggest the following reasons why magnesium benefits your athletic performance.
Firstly, it charges your muscles with bursts of glucose or energy.
Secondly, it helps rids your body of lactic acid.
These two processes are critical to maintaining energy levels during your workout.
If you love to workout regularly, magnesium supplements may help you improve your performance.
A 2016 peer review of studies that involved 600,000 women and men indicated that people with a higher dietary intake of magnesium lowered their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 17%, compared with those who had the lowest intake.
A 2019 study published in the journal Nutrients, saw 42 people with type 2 diabetes participating in a randomised trial where one group took magnesium supplements for three months and another group didn’t.
The ones who took magnesium appeared to have an improvement in insulin resistance and blood sugar control, compared to those who didn’t.
Research has found that supplementing one’s magnesium intake is associated with roughly a two-point decline in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
These findings come from a review of 34 double-blind, randomised placebo-controlled studies involving over 2,000 people with high blood pressure.
Another 2009 study found that magnesium lowered blood pressure in people with high blood pressure (hypertension), but had no effect on those with normal levels.
So if you haven’t yet developed hypertension, don’t take magnesium as a preventive measure.
Sources of magnesium
It is always recommended to get your nutritional needs from food sources first.
Some foods that are high in magnesium are cashew nuts, almonds, black beans, avocados, salmon, mackerel, pumpkin seeds, quinoa and dark chocolate.
Those on medications like antibiotics, heart medicines and diuretics, are not advised to take magnesium supplements.
The type of magnesium in supplements that absorb well are magnesium citrate, glycinate, orotate and carbonate – check the ingredient list to see which type of magnesium the supplement contains.
Do check with your doctor before taking a supplement.
Magnesium is essential for the body to perform optimally and provides many disease-fighting benefits.
However, many of us are not getting enough from the food that we eat.
You may experience poor health symptoms as a result of not getting enough magnesium.
Consider taking a supplement to improve your magnesium levels, if necessary.
If you are concerned that your magnesium levels are low, but aren’t sure, consult a doctor to get tested and to obtain further advice on supplements.
Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, and a functional medicine practitioner. For further information, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.