Magnesium is essential for more than 300 different biochemical reactions in the body. But many of us aren’t getting enough, and the consequences can range from irritating PMS or muscle spasms to insomnia and anxiety, to serious illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.
Even a seemingly perfect diet doesn’t guarantee adequate amounts of the mineral. “Many people are switching to organic foods, but don’t realize that when the soil is depleted of magnesium, then plants will not have an opportunity to take up magnesium,” says Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, and author of The Magnesium Miracle. Today’s soil is severely depleted to the point where, for example, collard greens—vegetables that should be a rich source of the mineral—contain 85 percent less magnesium than they did in 1975.
According to the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, large dietary surveys of Americans “suggest that substantial numbers of adults in the United States fail to get recommended amounts of magnesium in their diets.”
Beware Calcium Overload
Magnesium and calcium work together, and an imbalance can wreak havoc. “If we consume too much calcium without sufficient magnesium,” says Dean, “the excess calcium is not utilized correctly and may actually become toxic, causing painful conditions such as kidney stones or calcification of the arteries, leading to heart attack and cardiovascular disease.”
Ideally, a diet should contain equal amounts of each mineral, as it did in the days of cavemen. But in today’s diets, the calcium:magnesium ratio ranges from 5:1 to 15:1, with a substantial shortage of magnesium. Doctors advising patients to take high dosages of calcium is one contributing factor, and another is that calcium—but not magnesium—is added to dairy products, cereal, orange juice, and other foods.
- Stroke. A recent review, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, analyzed studies with a total of more than 240,000 people. It found that for each additional 100 mg of magnesium daily, risk of an ischemic stroke (when an artery to the brain is blocked) decreased by 9 percent.
- Heart Disease. Another review of research with nearly 1,200 people, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that magnesium intake between 120 and nearly 1,000 mg daily reduced blood pressure enough to significantly lower the risk for heart disease. Additionally, high cholesterol can sometimes be related to magnesium deficiency.
- Insomnia, Anxiety, and More. More people today suffer from conditions related to magnesium shortfalls, including insomnia, fibromyalgia, restless legs syndrome, and greater use of antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications. “Magnesium,” says Dean, “could turn all these conditions around.”
How Much Is Enough?
These daily Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for magnesium, from the government, are an estimate of average needs and may not be sufficient for an individual:
No specific dosages of magnesium have been determined for particular health situations and individual needs vary substantially. Too much can have a laxative effect. Dean recommends starting with 150 to 200 mg daily and building up to 400 mg once or twice per day. We can also absorb magnesium by soaking in a relaxing bath with Epsom salts.
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