Every so often, someone will ask me if I have a favorite nutrient, and the nutrient that quickly comes to mind is – magnesium. This is one of the nutrients, or in this case a mineral, that is important for many of our regular bodily functions, and is a cofactor for more than 300 biochemical reactions in our bodies. In contrast, Vitamin C is involved in around seven reactions as a cofactor. While calcium is more often stressed as being a critically important nutrient, it’s really magnesium that has the starring role! A common factor with people diagnosed with hypertension, elevated C Reactive protein, osteoporosis, migraines and asthma to name a few, is that there are typically low levels of magnesium present when these folks are tested. Let’s look a little deeper at how this important mineral supports our optimal health.
As I already indicated, calcium is one of our important minerals. We store calcium in our bones, where it is responsible for the structural strength of our bones, and then available for other uses in our body as well. Our bones are constantly being broken down and rebuilt as part of our normal bone maintenance, and the many associated operations would not happen without magnesium. Another important nutrient for bone health is Vitamin D, and as with calcium, magnesium is a critical cofactor for these nutrients to work effectively. Magnesium is required for our body to convert Vitamin D to its active and useful form in its many operations in our bodies, including calcium absorption.
Magnesium is a cofactor for the minerals that play an important role in cardiovascular health. By supporting the transport of potassium and calcium into muscle and nerve cells, magnesium supports muscle contraction and healthy heart rhythm. Low levels of magnesium are connected to heart beat irregularities know as arrhythmias. By supporting the flexibility of our bodies smooth muscles, magnesium supports a more elastic lining of our arteries, which may result in healthier blood pressure.
A key to optimal health is blood sugar balance. When we have optimal levels of magnesium, we use our insulin more efficiently to do its job to get sugar where we need it. Low levels of magnesium have been implicated in studies in insulin resistance or pre-diabetes. Magnesium supports the health and function the beta cells in our pancreas where our insulin is stored.
We have a long association of magnesium and relaxation. Magnesium plays an active role in the receptors in our brains that can be stimulated by nutrients such as glutamates, keeping the level of stimulation down, resulting in a sense of calm or relaxation. Studies have found that children with ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, had low levels of magnesium. Magnesium plays an important role in in serotonin function, which when out of balance can contribute to the frequency of migraines. Studies have found that there was more than a 40 percent reduction of migraine frequency with magnesium supplementation.
These are just a few of the over 300 biochemical reactions in our bodies that rely on magnesium – so how do we get our magnesium levels up to healthy levels? First of all, since we can not produce magnesium in our bodies, our food choices are important, as well as how we prepare those foods. Unfortunately, our food ingredients are not as nutritious as they used to be. We grow most of our food in poor soils with lots of chemical inputs. If the minerals are not in the soil, they won’t be present at harvest. We strive to grow everything bigger and faster, not leaving time for the nutrients we need to come up from the soil (if they are there) into the plants.
Nuts are one of our high quality food options for magnesium, but as with grain and legumes, they contain the anti-nutrients, phytate and phytic acid, which bind to minerals including magnesium. Instead of benefiting from the magnesium in that handful of nuts, we have (sorry to be indelicate) mineral rich poop. Phytate and phytic acid levels can be reduced somewhat by soaking, sprouting or fermenting these foods before we consume them. Other food sources of magnesium include, green leafy veggies, dark chocolate and seeds, such as sesame and flax, salmon cod and halibut.
The RDA (recommended daily allowance) for magnesium is between 320 and 420 mg daily. B vitamins support absorption in the gut, so it is advised to include a B-complex supplement as part of your vitamin protocol, especially if you have any stress in your life, since you will use your B vitamins faster. It can be a challenge to get enough magnesium, so many folks will take a daily magnesium supplement. One of my favorites choices is Magnesium Glycinate. In this supplement magnesium is combined with the amino acid glycine, which is also known as a nutrient that supports relaxation. Here is a list from Dr. Josh Axe’s website of magnesium-rich foods, and how much we need to eat to get our magnesium levels up.
Top 10 Magnesium-Rich Foods
Here the top 10 magnesium-rich foods based on magnesium content (values of mg in food from the USDA):
Spinach, cooked -1 cup: 157 milligrams (39 percent DV or RDA)
Swiss chard, cooked -1 cup: 150 milligrams (38 percent DV)
Dark Chocolate -1 square: 95 milligrams (24 percent DV)
Pumpkin seeds, dried -1/8 cup: 92 milligrams (23 percent DV)
Almonds -1 ounce: 75 milligrams (19 percent DV)
Black beans-1/2 cup: 60 milligrams (15 percent DV)
Avocado-1 medium: 58 milligrams (15 percent DV)
Figs, dried -1/2 cup: 50 milligrams (13 percent DV)
Yogurt or kefir-1 cup: 46.5 milligrams (12 percent DV)
Banana-1 medium: 32 milligrams (8 percent DV)