Eat more fruits. Eat more fish. Eat more red meat. Vitamins, Omega-3 and Iron are three minerals which gain the most attention from doctors, nutritionists and the fitness community. But there’s an unsung hero which is equally as essential, if not more so, than the aforementioned triumvirate – Magnesium.
In the human body, more than 300 biochemical reactions rely on magnesium. It helps maintain a healthy immune system and nerve function, relaxes muscles and is essential in the structural development of bones. Magnesium regulates heart rhythm and glucose levels, and aids the production of energy and protein.
Magnesium is naturally present in foods such as whole grains and seeds, beans and peas, almonds, cashews, broccoli, spinach, okra and dark chocolate, as well as bananas. It is absorbed through the bowel and then stored mainly in bone and soft tissues.
Magnesium deficiency is rare in healthy people but may be a consequence of a poor diet, health conditions such as diabetes and digestive issues, medications and alcoholism. For example, high fat diets can stifle the its absorption. The recommended daily allowance for magnesium sits at 420mg for men and 320mg for women. As much as half of the United States’ total population is estimated to be on a diet which is magnesium-deficient. In such cases, magnesium supplements may be needed to compensate for the deficiency.
A study published in The Journal of American Osteopahtic Association found that Vitamin D – which helps absorb calcium and promote bone growth – could not be metabolised with low magnesium levels.
“People are taking Vitamin D supplements but don’t realise how it gets metabolized. Without magnesium, Vitamin D is not really useful or safe,” said the study co-author and professor of pathology at Lake Eerie College of Osteopathic Medicine, Mohammed S. Razzaque MBBS, PhD.
Deficiency in magnesium or Vitamin D has been linked to a number of disorders including cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome and skeletal deformities. Razzaque also noted that magnesium can reduce osteoporosis by mitigating the risk of bone fracture commonly caused by low Vitamin D levels.
Research has also found that upping magnesium intake may be a viable way of enhancing cognitive abilities. Director of the Center for Learning and Memory at Tsinghua University, Professor Guosong Liu, led the study which examined the link between magnesium and brain function.
“Magnesium is essential for the proper functioning of many tissues in the body, including the brain and, in an earlier study, we demonstrated that magnesium promoted synaptic plasticity in culture brain cells,” explained Dr. Liu.
“Moreover, half the population of industrialised countries has a magnesium deficit, which increases with aging. This may very well contribute to age-dependent memory decline; increasing magnesium intake might prevent or reduce such decline.”
New evidence has backed up these suggestions, but underlined the importance of monitoring intake. People who had both higher and lower levels of magnesium were found to be at greater risk of developing dementia.
Study author Brenda C.T.Kieboom, MD, MSc, of Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands said: “Since the current treatment and prevention options for dementia are limited, we urgently need to identify new risk factors for dementia that could potentially be adjusted. If people could reduce their risk for dementia through diet or supplements, that could be very beneficial.”