The Health Benefits of Magnesium

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When it comes to getting the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function, chances are you’re familiar with the big ones, like iron, vitamins C and D and calcium. You’ve probably also heard about magnesium but probably haven’t been sure if you really need to prioritize it. Experts will be quick to tell you it’s important.

According to New York City-based Bianca Tamburello, RDN, a registered dietitian in New York City, magnesium plays an important role in many body functions, including regulating blood pressure and blood sugar, creating energy, and maintaining optimal bone health. That’s why it’s important to ensure you’re getting enough.

Why is magnesium important?

While magnesium deficiency isn’t common among healthy individuals, you want to be sure that you have the optimal amount. Research has shown that low magnesium intake can lead to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, inflammation, heart disease, stroke, migraine headaches, asthma, and colon cancer. According to Tamburello, getting enough magnesium is also important in aiding the body in proper absorption of calcium and potassium, two other important minerals.

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Can you take too much magnesium?

It is possible to get too much of a good thing, which is why it’s important to seek counsel related to your individual needs before starting to take a magnesium supplement, Tamburello says. Getting too much magnesium through a supplement can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, and stomach pain.

“Taking a magnesium supplement is not for everyone, so you should talk to your doctor before starting one,” she says. While high magnesium levels seem to have some beneficial effects—they’ve been associated with a decreased risk of osteoporosis and diabetes, and the lessening of lessen migraine symptoms (if your magnesium levels were low), explains Tamburello, there are risks of getting too much. It can be toxic, she says. According to the National Institutes of Health, adults should take no more than 350 mg of a magnesium supplement daily. Additionally, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that men 31 and older aim for 420 mg of magnesium per day through food alone or through food and a supplement combined.

“It’s important to note that the magnesium supplement daily limit (350 mg) is lower than the overall recommended daily magnesium intake (420 mg from foods, beverages, and supplements),” Tamburello explains. “This is because the body reacts differently to concentrated amounts of minerals and vitamins found in supplements.”

Can you get enough magnesium through food?

You can, especially if you fill up on magnesium-rich foods including pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, salmon, almonds and almond butter, peanuts and peanut butter, raisins, and chickpeas, Tamburello says. Fruits such as guava, banana and dried figs are also high in magnesium, as are vegetables including spinach and Swiss chard.

If you’ve confirmed with a health care professional that you do need more magnesium, Tamburello recommends trying to bring your levels up through food first, rather than through supplements. Natural sources provide other key vitamins and minerals as well as magnesium.

The bottom line: Talk to your doctor if you think you may have a magnesium deficiency. A healthcare provider can help you determine if you can get back on track by simply tweaking your diet, or if adding a supplement can be beneficial.

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