Magnesium: Give This Mineral Some Respect

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What do magnesium and Rodney Dangerfield have in common? Neither gets much respect. Most people know very little about this important mineral, although it’s the fourth most abundant mineral in the body.

About 50% of the body’s magnesium is found in bone, and the other 50% is found in tissues and organs. Very little is found in the blood, yet the body carefully regulates the amount of blood magnesium to keep levels constant. This important mineral plays many crucial roles, including the following:

  • Maintaining nerve and muscle function
  • Regulating heartbeat
  • Keeping bones healthy
  • Supporting the immune system
  • Regulating blood pressure
  • Regulating blood glucose levels
  • Helping with metabolism and protein synthesis

More and more evidence points to the role of magnesium in helping to prevent Type 2 diabetes. In fact, results from three very large studies—the Nurses’ Health Study, the Health Professionals’ Follow-up Study, and the Iowa Women’s Health Study (which together involved over 150,000 men and women)—indicate that people who consume a diet rich in magnesium have a lower risk of getting Type 2 diabetes. While most of the studies looking at magnesium and diabetes risk have involved white women and men, a new study of approximately 41,000 African-American women enrolled in the Black Women’s Health Study showed that those who consumed a high-magnesium diet were less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. The results of this study are published in this month’s issue of the journal Diabetes Care.

Children at risk for diabetes can benefit from a magnesium-rich diet as well. A study looking at obese children showed that those who did not get enough magnesium in their diet were more likely to have insulin resistance, putting them at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.

So, what if you already have diabetes? Is there a link between magnesium and diabetes? Magnesium helps control blood glucose levels in the body by regulating insulin secretion from the pancreas. While there’s no evidence that magnesium from food or supplements will help lower blood glucose levels, there is evidence that people with uncontrolled diabetes tend to have low magnesium levels in their blood. High blood glucose levels can cause magnesium to be lost in the urine. Furthermore, low magnesium levels can lead to high blood pressure, which is more common in people with diabetes than in people without. And people who have heart disease or who have had a heart attack often do better, clinically, when given magnesium supplements.

In case you still need to be convinced about the importance of getting enough magnesium, further evidence points to the benefit of magnesium in helping to lower inflammation in the body. Inflammation can occur in places such as the joints, gums, or blood vessels, and can affect other organs as well.

The Daily Value for magnesium is 400 milligrams per day. Good sources of magnesium include leafy green vegetables, nuts, dried beans and peas, potatoes, avocados, bananas, and whole-grain foods. Magnesium supplements are available but should only be taken under your health-care provider’s supervision, since too much magnesium can lead to magnesium toxicity, whose symptoms include irregular heartbeat, muscle weakness, difficulty breathing, and mental status changes.

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