Along with whole grains and leafy greens, a number of foods help ensure adequate magnesium. (ThinkStock)

Along with whole grains and leafy greens, a number of foods help ensure adequate magnesium. (ThinkStock)

Magnesium’s a mineral that makes a big contribution

Did you know magnesium is truly a rock star? This major mineral is rarely talked about and often gets less limelight than other nutrients — although every organ in the body relies on it.

Are you getting enough magnesium for optimal health?

Magnesium is a team player among key nutrients that contribute to many essential body functions. It plays an important role in building bones with calcium and vitamin D, keeping our heart and blood vessels healthy, activating enzymes, keeping muscles relaxed and helping with energy production. Along with calcium and potassium, it lowers blood pressure. And with sodium and potassium, it regulates fluid balance. It may even help protect against type 2 diabetes and migraine headaches.

Magnesium is found in many foods — although a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2000 show 68 percent of U.S. adults consume less than the daily recommended amount. Those deficiency estimates increase to 60-80 percent among the elderly.

Our modern, highly processed food and refined grain diet may be to blame. Processing whole grains reduces the magnesium content significantly, so our intakes have declined over the last few decades.

Adding to that problem is the fact that only one-third of the magnesium we ingest is absorbed. Also, medical conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis, diabetes, pancreatitis, kidney disease and taking diuretics can upset the magnesium balance in our bodies. Too much coffee, salt, soda or alcohol as well as heavy menstrual periods, excessive sweating (among athletes) and prolonged stress can also lower magnesium levels.

Inadequate magnesium appears to reduce serotonin levels and antidepressants have been show to raise brain magnesium. A 2008 study found that magnesium was as effective as the tricyclic antidepressants in treating depression among people with diabetes. Some studies suggest that magnesium may help relieve premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms like bloating, insomnia, weight gain, breast tenderness and leg swelling. New research is showing strong support for magnesium supplements as they have been shown to reduce frequency and intensity of migraine headaches.

How much do you need? Adult men ages 19 and over need 420 mg daily. Adult women ages 19 and over need 320 mg daily.

As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I recommend all grains you eat be whole grains to ensure a higher magnesium intake. Other good sources of magnesium include: tofu, beans, green leafy vegetables, wheat bran, nuts, bran, oats, barley, dairy, dried figs, apricots, dates, bananas and baked potatoes with skin.

If these foods are not a regular part of your diet, you may need a magnesium supplement. The best forms to take are magnesium citrate, gluconate and lactate — all of which are more easily absorbed. Check with a registered dietitian nutritionist or a knowledgeable health-care provider for guidance and monitoring before you take any supplement. Children and individuals with kidney or heart disease should not take magnesium supplements. It’s rare to overdose on magnesium from food so it’s prudent to maximize your dietary intake first.

Kim Larson is a registered dietitian nutritionist, founder of Total Health,, and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition &Dietetics.

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