Magnesium

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Last Updated Jul 17, 2020
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Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body and performs a host of important health functions.  Read on to find out why magnesium is so important for the body.

The Role of Magnesium

Magnesium is called a macromineral, which means that the food we eat must provide us with hundreds of milligrams of magnesium every day.  Magnesium is found mostly in the bones but it is also found in muscles and in other cell types and body fluids.  Like all minerals, magnesium cannot be made by the body, and thus must be obtained from food sources.

Magnesium is necessary in the body for a variety of reasons.  It helps with the formation of bone and teeth, and assists the absorption of calcium and potassium.  It is also needed for cellular metabolism and the production of energy through its help with enzyme activity.  Magnesium is used for muscle tone of the heart and helps with controlling blood pressure.  It helps to prevent the calcification of soft tissue and may help to prevent cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and certain forms of cancer, and it may reduce cholesterol levels.  Magnesium helps the parathyroid gland to process vitamin D and a shortage here can cause absorption problems with calcium.

Magnesium Deficiency

Because magnesium has so many roles in the body, a deficiency in magnesium can present in many ways.  Many symptoms involve changes in nerve and muscle function.  Such changes include muscle weakness, tremor, and spasm.  In the heart muscle, magnesium deficiency can result in arrhythmia, irregular contractions, and increased heart rate.  Because of the role it plays in the bones, magnesium deficiency can cause the softening and weakening of bones.  Other symptoms of a deficiency include imbalanced blood sugar levels, headaches, elevated blood pressure, elevated fats in the bloodstream, depression, seizure, nausea, vomiting, and lack of appetite.

Deficiency may occur when the dietary intake of magnesium is insufficient but it can also occur if there are problems in the digestive tract.  Problems with the digestive tract include malabsorption, diarrhea, and ulcerative colitis.  Physical stress can also contribute to magnesium deficiency such as cold stress, physical trauma, and surgery.  Kidney disease and alcoholism can also contribute to magnesium deficiency.

An Excess of Magnesium

Too much magnesium most commonly presents with diarrhea, and this is seen most often when magnesium is taken as a dietary supplement.  An excess of magnesium can also be associated with generalised symptoms such as increased drowsiness or a sense of weakness. 

Dietary Sources of Magnesium

Magnesium is found in:

• dairy products
• fish
• meat and seafood
• legumes
• apples
• apricots
• avocadoes
• bananas
• wholegrain cereals
• nuts
• dark green vegetables
• cocoa

Originally published on Oct 29, 2008

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