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Home > Articles on Health > Magnitude of Magnesium

Magnitude of Magnesium

When we think of health and minerals, we mostly think of calcium and iron. Product labels proudly announce the presence of these minerals, and we are encouraged to obtain adequate amounts of them.

But are we missing the boat? Might there be a "more important" mineral?

Although we don’t really believe that one mineral is "more important" than another—we need them all—we should give more attention to magnesium. This little-known mineral plays a large part in our health.

A mineral of great magnitude

Magnesium makes up about 0.05 percent of our total body weight, or about 20 to 30 grams. It is the fourth most common mineral in the body, and the body’s second most abundant positively charged particle (next to potassium). Within the cells, magnesium plays a critical role in the function of more than 300 enzymatic reactions involving glucose, fat, protein, and more.

According to the Harvard Heart Letter (August 1991), when magnesium levels are low, a host or problems can arise. Studies have shown that people who consume greater amounts of magnesium from hard water or their diet are less prone to cardiovascular disease and sudden death than those with a lower magnesium intake. This may be because low blood levels of magnesium promote atherosclerosis. Lower magnesium levels may also raise blood pressure or lead to arrhythmias. Some studies have noted improved survival after a heart attack in patients given magnesium supplements. Obstetricians have found that the developing placenta and fetus drain maternal magnesium stores, and low levels of magnesium may contribute to the cardiovascular problems seen in women during pregnancy.

But magnesium does more than contribute to good cardiovascular health. Magnesium helps turn food into energy and transmit electrical impulses across nerves and muscles. These impulses generate what’s called neuromuscular contraction, which causes your muscles to flex. Thus, a deficiency in magnesium may result in muscle cramps—those who are physically active have a greater need for this mineral than the more sedentary.

Magnesium has been used for asthma, as it helps relax the lung muscles that open the airways for easier breathing. It is currently gaining interest in relation to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) as many CFS patients have low blood magnesium levels and magnesium may improve energy levels.

Magnesium is also important in controlling blood sugar levels, as it plays a central role in the secretion and action of insulin. It can improve insulin response and reaction. It is also being studied for its positive effect on fibromyalgia, migraine and tension headaches, osteoporosis, and premenstrual syndrome.

Magnesium deficiency?

Many health professionals believe that few people get enough of this important mineral. The problem starts at the beginning of the food chain. Vegetables, pulses (peas, beans, and lentils), and cereals are good sources of magnesium, but because of depleted soils, these foods carry less of this mineral. What’s more, today’s eating habits often preclude these foods in favor of sugary and fatty foods.

Even if we are eating magnesium-rich foods, we may not be getting enough magnesium. Only 30 to 50 percent of our average daily intake is absorbed in the small intestines.

Compounding this are factors that inhibit absorption. High amounts of calcium, oxalic acid (found in spinach), phytates (found in whole grain cereals), and poorly digested fats interfere with absorption. Phosphates are also a problem. They bind to magnesium in the bowel and prevent its absorption. Phosphates, of course, are in abundance in carbonated soft drinks, and, according to The Big Family Guide to All the Minerals, a 12-ounce can of a carbonated soft drink, which might contain 30 mg of phosphate, might eliminate the same amount of magnesium from the diet.

Magnesium levels are also difficult to check. That’s because most magnesium resides within the cells—60 percent is found in the bones and 28 percent in soft tissue, with most of this found in the liver and muscle. Only about 2 percent of our magnesium is found in body fluids, including blood serum, which is where mineral levels are generally tested.

Although figures vary, it is safe to say that some 80 percent of us are not getting enough of this valuable mineral. That means that 80 percent of us are missing out on an easy way to improve our health and truly find optimum health.

Getting it

Considering that the magnesium absorption through the digestive tract is low and that so much can interfere with it, what is a good way to get magnesium?

First, it always pays to increase your magnesium levels through the foods you eat. Although not all of it is absorbed, foods contain so many other nutrients and phytochemicals that the first option is always diet.

One can also consider oral supplementation, but here, low absorption plays a role and you do not get the "extras" that make magnesium-rich foods worthwhile.

There is also the intravenous option, but who really wants to do this?

There may be another way, and that is through the skin. Soaking in magnesium-rich water may be the perfect way to help supplement your magnesium levels. The magnesium (and other helpful minerals) found in waters are absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream and are distributed throughout the body.

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