Magnificent magnesium

Dr Barbara Wilson

Magnesium is involved in many varied processes in our bodies – from nerve function and energy production to muscle relaxation and bone formation.

The recommended daily amount (RDA) of magnesium is between 300 and 420mg, depending on age and sex. Most men do reach their RDA but according to government reports, many women only take in around 90% of their requirement.

A lack of magnesium in the body can make us more susceptible to muscle cramps and muscle fatigue. Very low magnesium status can cause complications of heart disease and diabetes, and severe deficiency can lead to the heartbeat becoming irregular, general fatigue, muscle spasms, irritability, nervousness and confusion.

But don’t worry – there are many sources of magnesium. Eating a varied diet which includes fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy produce, grains, nuts, legumes, meat, fish and poultry or protein foods such as soy and tofu will ensure that you reach your target.

All of these foods contain around 20% of the average RDA: 2 slices of bread, 1 oz of breakfast cereal, a cup of rice or pasta, half a cup of beans, broccoli or spinach, 3oz of fish, meat or poultry, 2 tbs of nuts or a cup of milk.

Taking extra magnesium may also have active health benefits such as:

· Relaxing muscles: Relaxing the muscles that control blood vessels can lower blood pressure and so reduce our risk of heart attack and stroke. Relaxing body muscles can ease the symptoms of fibromyalgia, a rheumatic disorder and magnesium, along with calcium, which are involved in muscle contraction, may lessen the pain from muscle cramps associated with excessive physical activity. Menstrual cramps can also be relieved and asthma symptoms can be minimized through the relaxing of the bronchial muscles.

· Preventing and treating heart disease: Magnesium helps coordinate the heart rhythm, regulates the nerves which stimulate the heart and can prevent spasms of the heart muscle (angina). It has been found that magnesium supplements can decrease the frequency of arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat) and aid the recovery from a heart attack by stabilizing heart rhythm, preventing blood clot formation and expanding coronary arteries.

· Prevent complications associated with diabetes: One complication is eye disease.

· Protect against migraines: Many migraine sufferers have low magnesium levels, so adequate status may prevent these headaches by maintaining a healthy blood flow to the brain.

· Helping to prevent osteoporosis: Magnesium is needed to convert vitamin D into a form easily used by the body. Vitamin D then helps with the absorption of calcium, needed to form our bones and protect against the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis.

· Reducing emotional irritability: Together with vitamin B6, magnesium is needed to produce the feel-good brain chemical serotonin. Low levels of serotonin can lead to depression, anxiety and irritability. Magnesium and vitamin B6 can help reduce these symptoms in depression and premenstrual syndrome.

It is unlikely that you will get too much magnesium but symptoms include diahorrea, nausea and lethargy.

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