The Power of Magnesium for Long-Term Health
Magnesium is one of the most important minerals for long-term health. It’s needed to maintain the ‘pumps’ that control the movement of salts in and out of cells.
It is also essential for nerve conduction, muscle relaxation, healthy bones and just about every metabolic reaction in the body – including energy production.
Good intakes are even associated with longevity, yet lack of magnesium is one of the most common mineral deficiencies.
Of course, none of the following information is intended to be medical advice, but, we hope that it gives you something to discuss with your doctor on your next visit.
Magnesium and Longevity
Magnesium helps to relax smooth muscles in blood vessel linings, to lower blood pressure, reduce arterial spasm and protect against heart attack and stroke. By regulating the flow of salts in and out of cells, magnesium also reduces the risk of abnormal heart rhythms.
Having an optimal intake of magnesium is associated with a lower risk of death from just about any medical cause at any age, including heart attack, stroke and cancer.
Research involving people with resistant high blood pressure also shows that taking magnesium improved treatment response and reduced their blood pressure measurements by an astonishing 18.7/10.9 mmHg, on average.
How Much Magnesium Do You Need?
Recommended intake for magnesium vary from 375mg in the EU to 400mg in the US. Food processing strips out magnesium and other minerals from food, so that average intake is below estimated needs (in both Europe and the US) at around 323 mg for males and 228mg for females.
If you are experiencing annoying symptoms such as constipation, insomnia, tiredness all the time, muscle cramps, restless legs, or even blood pressure that is not easy to control, then a lack of magnesium could be involved.
How to Get Magnesium in Your Diet
In studies that linked magnesium with longevity, those living the longest obtained their magnesium from nutrient-dense whole foods such as dark green leaves, beans, fish, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and wholegrains.
These are all foods that you probably already associate with a healthy diet, but the good news is that dark chocolate is also an excellent magnesium source. For me, that’s a great excuse to enjoy some dark chocolate coated Brazil nuts as a regular healthy snack.
Diet should always come first, and you should be able to obtain enough magnesium from food alone. In some areas, hard water is also a good source of magnesium.
If you are cutting back on food to lose weight, or simply can’t eat as much as you used to, then magnesium supplements are available to help boost your intake and overcome any deficiency symptoms.
Magnesium is often combined with calcium and vitamin D in bone health supplements, or combined with B vitamins in supplements designed to help boost energy production and reduce fatigue.
One of the problems with magnesium is that it is an effective laxative – a quality recognised by the Victorians who valued the use of Epsom Salts.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, of course, and many people (myself included) find that taking a magnesium supplement at night helps to relax muscles to promote a good night’s sleep, and encourage bathroom regularity (apologies if this is too much information!)
An EU safety review of magnesium concluded that doses of up to 400mg magnesium per day would not be expected to cause side effects. Do keep in mind, though, that some people are more sensitive to the laxative effect of magnesium than others.
Magnesium oxide is one of the most popular forms included in supplements as, gram for gram, it provides the most magnesium (600mg per gram). The oxide is less well absorbed than other forms, however, so more can remain in the bowel to have a laxative result.
If you are sensitive, then magnesium citrate – which contains 113mg magnesium per gram – may suite you better. The ‘gentlest’ form, because it contains the least magnesium, is magnesium gluconate which supplies 58mg magnesium per gram.
Absorbing Magnesium through the Skin
You can also absorb magnesium ions through the pores of your skin. Magnesium oil, magnesium body butter and magnesium bath flakes are becoming increasingly popular ways to get extra magnesium.
Adding a handful of magnesium salts (e.g., Epsom Salts, Dead Sea Salts) to your evening bath will leave your skin feeling lovely and soft and can improve dry skin conditions – including eczema and psoriasis.
The muscle relaxing effect of magnesium will also help you enjoy a really good night’s sleep. Researchers have found that soaking in magnesium-enriched mineral water helps to improve muscle and joint pain, and is helpful if arthritis or other causes of pain interfere with sleep, too.
If you experience persistent niggling symptoms, as always, seek medical advice before taking supplements.
Do you take magnesium supplements? Do you think you might benefit from trying them? How do you incorporate magnesium into your diet? Please join the conversation below.
Dr. Sarah Brewer is a medical nutritionist, nutritional therapist and the author of over 60 popular health books. Follow her Nutritional Medicine blog at DrSarahBrewer.com, her blood pressure advice at MyLowerBloodPressure.com and her health product reviews at ExpertHealthReviews.com. For nutrition and recipe tweets follow @DrSarahB and for general health and fitness tweets follow @DrSarahBHealthy.