Magnesium is a very important mineral that our body requires on a daily basis in a fairly large amount. It is one of the six macrominerals (sodium, chlorine, potassium, calcium and phosphorus) that is essential for normal cellular activity, activating enzymes, contributing to energy production, regulating calcium, Vitamin D and potassium levels and giving hardness to bones and teeth. Magnesium is required by every organ of the body to function properly, but mostly by the heart, muscle and kidneys. It resides mostly in and on our bones (65%), but also in muscle and body fluids. Magnesium is absorbed mostly in the small intestines, but also in the colon. Daily adult female requirements are 320 mg, males 450 mg, children 250 mg or less depending on age. Consult your pediatrician for advice in children under 14.

You can get all the magnesium you need in food, but most people do not eat enough of the foods high in magnesium to maintain optimal levels on a daily basis. While most people may not be truly deficient, it is estimated that the majority of the population have very low levels. Magnesium can also be poorly absorbed due to certain medical conditions or taking medications.

Medical conditions causing magnesium deficiencies include: vomiting, diarrhea, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Ulcerative Colitis, diabetes, pancreatitis, hyperthyroidism (overactive) and kidney disease. Medications and other ingested substances that interfere with magnesium absorption include: certain antibiotics, diuretics (like Lasix or HCTZ), too much coffee, soda, alcohol, excessive menstrual periods, excessive sweating and prolonged stress (like from trauma or surgery).

Magnesium deficiency may present as agitation/irritability, anxiety, restless leg syndrome (RLS), fatigue, muscle cramps, sleep disorders, heart rhythm abnormalities, confusion, nausea, vomiting, poor nail growth and, in the worst case scenario, seizures.

Getting an adequate amount of magnesium daily has been shown to improve or prevent the following conditions: asthma, depression, diabetes, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, migraine headaches, osteoporosis, premenstrual syndrome and restless leg syndrome. It is used in such pregnancy conditions as preeclampsia/eclampsia to prevent seizures.

Foods rich in magnesium

Rich dietary sources of magnesium include nuts, whole grains and leafy green vegetables. (Please note that these 3 categories of food are a reoccurring theme on what you need to increase in your daily food consumption to have better health and reduce the incidence of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity.) To list a few specifics, nuts: uncooked pumpkin seeds (1/4 cup = 184 mg), sunflower seeds (1 cup = 455 mg), sesame seeds/tahini (1/4 cup = 127 mg), almonds/cashews/pine nuts/mixed nuts (1 cup = 395 mg), grains: cooked brown rice (1 cup = 83 mg), cooked bulgur wheat (1 cup = 58 mg), cooked whole grain oats (1 cup = 56 mg), leafy green vegetables: cooked Swiss chard/spinach (1 cup = 156 mg), beans: black beans ( 1 cup = 120 mg), navy beans ( 1 cup = 107 mg), soybeans/Edamame (1 cup = 392 mg), baked/broiled Chinook Salmon (4 oz = 138 mg).

Since magnesium is excreted by the kidneys on a regular basis, magnesium toxicity is mostly unheard of from food sources. It is always best to get your nutrients from food sources. If you think you cannot get the amount of magnesium you need from the foods you eat and want to take a supplement, it is best to take a Vitamin B complex with magnesium since the level of Vitamin B6 determines how much magnesium will be absorbed into cells. Do not take magnesium supplements if you have heart or kidney disease unless directed by your physician. It is best to first consult with your physician before taking any magnesium supplements.