It is estimated that over 200 million Americans, more than 2/3 of the US population, do not get enough magnesium. This is important because magnesium is a mineral that plays a critical role in the human body. Magnesium helps maintain normal muscle and nerve function; studies point to magnesium’s efficacy for treating muscle and nerve pain as well as its ability to reduce cramping. Magnesium also keeps the heart rhythm steady and supports a healthy immune system. Magnesium also helps regulate blood sugar levels, promotes normal blood pressure, and is known to be involved in energy metabolism and protein synthesis. Recent study has focused on the role of magnesium in preventing and managing disorders such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

Bone health is supported by many factors, most notably calcium and vitamin D. However, some evidence suggests that magnesium deficiency may be an additional risk factor for postmenopausal osteoporosis. This may be due to the fact that magnesium deficiency alters calcium metabolism and the hormones that regulate calcium. Several human studies have suggested that magnesium supplementation may improve bone mineral density.

Even with an optimal diet, magnesium and other nutrient deficiencies can occur for several reasons. If the soil in which foods are grown has been depleted of nutrients, including magnesium, so are the foods that are grown in it. Add to that the fact that processed foods and refined grains are generally low in magnesium (another good reason to avoid white bread and opt for whole grain, since magnesium is concentrated in the germ and the bran of grains and refining flour removes them). If we could get adequate magnesium in our diet, absorption would still pose a problem for many of us. Our ability to absorb magnesium is affected by conditions such as diabetes and liver disease. Using nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, and excess sugar depletes magnesium; so do drugs such as antacids, diuretics, birth control pills, albuterol, insulin, corticosteroids and some antibiotics.

What to do? The recommended daily allowance for magnesium is 400 mg/day. Consider taking a quality multivitamin that provides 100% of the Recommended Daily Value for magnesium and the other essential vitamins and minerals as a good foundation for a healthful diet. Most dietary magnesium comes from vegetables, such as dark green, leafy vegetables. Other foods that are good sources of magnesium include, fruits (bananas, dried apricots, and avocados); nuts (almonds and cashews); peas, beans (legumes), and seeds; soy products (soy flour and tofu); and, whole grains (brown rice and bran cereal).

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