The Many Roles Magnesium Plays
Magnesium is one of the most crucial yet often overlooked nutrients. It is the fourth most common mineral in the body, and the second most abundant mineral in human cells. This amazing mineral acts as a cofactor for more than 350 separate enzyme systems. Magnesium is essential for energy production. For each molecule of ATP our mitochondria produce, we need a molecule of magnesium. Magnesium relaxes the muscles while opposing the contracting force of calcium. A few other highlights of the importance of magnesium include the fact that the human body is home to approximately 25 grams of magnesium, 40% of which is found within our cells, and the other 60% is stored in our bones and teeth.1
Functions from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/
Key Benefits of Magnesium
- Sufficient magnesium intake may significantly reduce the risk of frailty in men.2
- Magnesium supplementation may decrease bone breakdown. Postmenopausal women saw decreased bone breakdown markers, and increased osteocalcin after taking 1,830 mg of magnesium citrate daily for one month.3
- In a large cohort study, those in the top 31% of mg intake had a 41% reduction in relative risk of stroke, compared with those with the lowest mg intake.4
- An analysis of magnesium intake in 88,375 women found that risk of sudden cardiac death was significantly lower in those in the highest quartile of both magnesium intake, and plasma magnesium concentration.5
- A 50-mg increase in magnesium intake per day was associated with 22% less calcification of the coronary arteries, and 12% less abdominal aortic calcification.6
Blood Sugar Control:
- A randomized-controlled trial found that subjects who supplemented with magnesium chloride saw significantly lower fasting blood sugar levels and reduced insulin resistance (better blood sugar control).7
- Oral magnesium intake has been shown to decrease frequency and intensity of migraines.8
- Depressed patients who supplemented with 500 mg of magnesium daily for eight weeks saw significant improvements in depression status.9
- Supplementing with 400 mg of magnesium daily showed improvements in heart rate variability, indicating that participants in the magnesium group lowered their stress levels.10
- Those with lower magnesium intake were more likely to have shorter sleep duration than those with higher magnesium intake.11
Magnesium Deficiency Is Dangerous, and All Too Common
According to data from NHANES 2013-2016, 48% of American adults get less than the EAR (Estimated Average Requirement), which is the amount required to prevent deficiency in HALF of the adult population.12
The mean daily intake of magnesium in the US adult population, without accounting for supplements, was 288 mg per day, significantly less than even the RDA.13
Aside from the United States, a 2016 study reported that two-thirds of people surveyed in developed countries received less than their minimum daily magnesium requirement.14
On top of the fact that we aren’t consuming enough magnesium at baseline, magnesium absorption requires that several factors be in place. For example, magnesium requires both parathyroid hormone and vitamin D for proper absorption. Further, magnesium absorption is hindered by a diet low in vitamin B6, or high in saturated fats.15
Scientists estimate that our ancestors of the hunter and gatherer societies had a usual magnesium intake of about 600 mg per day, much higher than the average intake of today.16
So, we see a perfect storm—low intake of magnesium-rich foods, frequent intake of foods that interfere with magnesium absorption, and a metabolism that was designed for, and traditionally received, higher magnesium intake.
Rethinking the Serum Magnesium Test: Chronic, Latent Magnesium Deficiency
Kumassa et al. reported that, as of 2011, an estimated 14 million people worldwide are at risk for magnesium deficiency based on food supply data.17 They estimate that if this figure were based on dietary intake, it would be much higher.
Sub-clinical magnesium deficiency is becoming increasingly common. Researcher Ronald Elin discusses the existence of chronic latent magnesium deficiency, a low-grade magnesium deficiency that often goes unnoticed. Why? Well, patients with chronic, latent magnesium deficiency often have yet to develop clinical symptoms (like those listed below), and have serum magnesium levels that are within lower half of the normal range.18 This is because serum magnesium does not always correlate with tissue levels. Magnesium is slowly leeched from our bones as needed to maintain serum concentrations. So, because serum magnesium is tightly regulated and supported by our tissues, it is not reflective of our overall tissue and bone magnesium stores.
Chart from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20736141/
The Magnesium Deficiency Quiz
Mild Magnesium Deficiency:
- Loss of appetite
- Numbness & tingling
- Muscle cramps
- Sensitive to light
- Calcium or potassium deficiency (hypocalcemia, hypokalemia)
Severe Magnesium Deficiency:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Calcifications of soft tissue
- Psychotic behavior
- Hearing loss
- Heart Failure
- Impaired memory
Magnesium Lost in Food Processing
The Standard American Diet (SAD) typically contains a large percentage of processed foods. But what does processing do to the magnesium content of our food? Well, oftentimes, it greatly decreases the magnesium content, with which we already struggle to get enough in our diet.
Here are a few startling statistics:
- In the processing of whole wheat flour to enriched white flour, you lose 87% of the magnesium.
- In the processing of a whole baked potato to potato chips, per 150 calories, you lose 60% of the magnesium.
- Adding 1.5 mmol of phytic acid, a common commercial preservative, to white bread reduced magnesium absorption from 33% to 13% in human studies.
- White rice has 77% less magnesium per cup than brown rice.
- One ounce of almonds gives you about 80 mg of magnesium, while 1 tablespoon of almond butter only gives you 45 mg.
- One ounce of peanuts gives you about 74 mg of magnesium, while two tablespoons of peanut butter only contains 49 mg.
Magnesium Losses in the Soil
A 2007 study found the following declines in the magnesium content of our food from 1940 to 2002:21
- Vegetables decreased 24%
- Fruit decreased 17%
- Meat decreased 15%
- Cheeses decreased 26%
As intensive, industrialized farming practices become the norm, we are seeing decreases in the mineral content of fruits, vegetables, and even some animal products, specifically in those grown through these modern practices.22
So, even increasing our intake of fruits and vegetables may not be the most efficient way to ensure we get an optimal level of magnesium each day.
Why Use Ionized Magnesium+?
In addition, serum magnesium exists in three fractions: protein-bound, complex-bound, and free, ionized form. The free, ionized form of magnesium in our serum is the only biologically active form.23 This is why here at Alkaline for Life; we use and recommend the ionized form of magnesium.
- Uwitonze, A. M., and M. S. Razzaque. 2018. Role of magnesium in vitamin D activation and function. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association 118(3):181–189. doi:10.7556/jaoa.2018.037.
- Veronese, N., et al. 2017. Dietary magnesium and incident frailty in older people at risk for knee osteoarthritis: An eight-year longitudinal study. Nutrients 9(11):1253. doi:10.3390/nu9111253.
- Aydin, H., et al. 2010. Short-term oral magnesium supplementation suppresses bone turnover in postmenopausal osteoporotic women. Biological Trace Element Research 133(2):136–143. doi:10.1007/s12011-009-8416-8.
- Bain, L. K. M., et al. 2015. The relationship between dietary magnesium intake, stroke and its major risk factors, blood pressure and cholesterol, in the EPIC-Norfolk Cohort. International Journal of Cardiology 196:108–114. doi:10.1016/j.ijcard.2015.05.166.
- Chiuve, S. E., et al. 2011. Plasma and dietary magnesium and risk of sudden cardiac death in women. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 93(2):253–260. doi:10.3945/ajcn.110.002253.
- Hruby, A., et al. 2014. Magnesium intake is inversely associated with coronary artery calcification: The Framingham Heart Study. Cardiovascular Imaging 7(1):59–69. doi:10.1016/j.jcmg.2013.10.006.
- Rodríguez-Morán, M., and F. Guerrero-Romero. 2003. Oral magnesium supplementation improves insulin sensitivity and metabolic control in type 2 diabetic subjects: A randomized double-blind controlled trial. Diabetes Care 26(4):1147–1152. doi:10.2337/diacare.26.4.1147.
- Chiu, H. Y., et al. 2016. Effects of intravenous and oral magnesium on reducing migraine: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Pain Physician 19(1):E97-E112.
- Rajizadeh, A., et al. 2017. Effect of magnesium supplementation on depression status in depressed patients with magnesium deficiency: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Nutrition 35:56–60. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2016.10.014.
- Wienecke, E., and C. Nolden. 2016. Langzeit-HRV-Analyse zeigt Stressreduktion durch Magnesiumzufuhr.” [Long-term HRV analysis shows stress reduction by magnesium intake] MMW - Fortschritte der Medizin 158(6):12–16. doi:10.1007/s15006-016-9054-7.
- Cao, Y. T., et al. 2018. Magnesium intake and sleep disorder symptoms: Findings from the Jiangsu nutrition study of Chinese adults at five-year follow-up. Nutrients 10(10):1354. doi:10.3390/nu10101354.
- S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2019. Usual nutrient intake from food and beverages, by gender and age: What we eat in America, NHANES 2013-2016.
- Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. 2020. Scientific report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee: Advisory report to the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Washington. D.C. Accessed 21 July 2020.
- Guo, W. L., et al. 2016. Magnesium deficiency in plants: An urgent problem. The Crop Journal 4(2):83–91. doi:10.1016/j.cj.2015.11.003.
- Johnson, S. 2001. The multifaceted and widespread pathology of magnesium deficiency. Medical Hypotheses 56(2):163–170. doi:10.1054/mehy.2000.1133.
- Vormann, J. 2003. Magnesium: Nutrition and metabolism. Molecular Aspects of Medicine 24(1-3):27–37. doi:10.1016/S0098-2997(02)00089-4.
- Kumssa, D., et al. 2015. Global magnesium supply in the food chain. Crop and Pasture Science. 10.1071/CP15096.
- Elin, R. J. 2010. Assessment of magnesium status for diagnosis and therapy. Magnesium Research 23(4):S194-198. doi: 10.1684/mrh.2010.0213.
- DiNicolantonio, J. J., et al. 2018. Subclinical magnesium deficiency: A principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis. Open Heart 5(1):e000668. doi: 10.1136/openhrt-2017-000668.
- NIH (National Institutes of Health). 2020. Magnesium: Fact sheet for health professionals. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Washington. D.C.
- Thomas, D. 2007. The mineral depletion of foods available to us as a nation (1940-2002): A review of the 6th edition of McCance and Widdowson. Nutrition and Health 19(1–2):21–55. doi:10.1177/026010600701900205.
- Longevity Institute. 2020. Our food is deprived of minerals: The proof. Longevity Institute Newsletter 16. Accessed 22 July 2020.
- Saha, H., et al. 1998. Serum ionized versus total magnesium in patients with intestinal or liver disease. Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine 36(9):715–718. doi:10.1515/CCLM.1998.126.