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Magnesium is a macromineral that is involved in multiple processes in the body, including the production of 300 enzymes.

Our body needs magnesium to produce energy, synthesize DNA, form healthy bones, control blood sugar levels and nerve impulses, contract and relax muscles, and maintain normal blood pressure and healthy heart rhythm.

Adult females need 310-320 milligrams (mg) of magnesium a day—pregnant women need 40 mg more. Adult males need 400-420 mg of magnesium a day. Each day, the kidneys flush out 120 mg of magnesium through urine.

Deficiency of magnesium (hypomagnesemia) is linked to health problems from muscle cramps to an irregular heartbeat. Though this is rare, in extreme cases, magnesium deficiency can trigger a chain of events leading to sudden cardiac death. Both low and high levels of magnesium in the body have been linked to dementia risk.

In pregnant women, magnesium deficiency has been linked to gestational diabetes, preterm labour, preeclampsia and intrauterine growth restriction (when the foetus is smaller than expected for their gestational age).

We should be able to get all the magnesium we need from dietary sources such as green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, and grains and legumes. Our body absorbs 30-70% of magnesium present in food—this is a good figure compared with 15-35% of the iron that is absorbed from animal-based foods (iron absorption from plant sources is less than this even). Magnesium absorption takes place mainly in the small intestine.

According to one estimate, though, 60% of adults fail to fulfil their daily minimum requirement of magnesium from food. There are a few factors that can hinder the absorption of magnesium in the body. These include:

It is difficult to assess when someone has a magnesium deficiency, as most of the magnesium in the body is locked inside bones and cells—only 1% is present in our blood. (Read more: Magnesium test)

Read on to know just the right amount of magnesium for you by age and life stage, why you need magnesium, where to get it from and the side effects of too much or too little magnesium.

  1. Magnesium RDA or recommended daily allowance
  2. Benefits of magnesium
  3. Side effects of magnesium
  4. Magnesium sources
  5. Who should take a magnesium supplement?

The healthy body contains about 25 grams of magnesium—roughly 60% of it is in the bones, 20% in skeletal muscle, 19% in soft tissues and a marginal amount in bodily fluids like the blood.

Here’s how much magnesium we need daily, depending on age, gender and stage of life:

Age

Male

Female

Pregnant women

Lactating women

0-6 months

30 mg

30 mg

   

7-12 months

75 mg

75 mg

   

1-3 years

80 mg

80 mg

   

4-8 years

130 mg

130 mg

   

9-13 years

240 mg

240 mg

   

14-18 years

410 mg

360 mg

400 mg

360 mg

19-31 years

400 mg

310 mg

350 mg

310 mg

31-50 years

420 mg

320 mg

360 mg

320 mg

51 years and above

420 mg

320 mg

   

Source: National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, US

United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) data show that typically, Indian infants consume 24mg of magnesium a day while adults take 300-680 mg per day.

Magnesium is a macromineral (like calcium, sodium and phosphorus), which means that we need more than 100 mg of it a day. It is important for several functions in the body such as:

  • Enzyme production: Enzymes are proteins that facilitate reactions responsible for all bodily processes from respiration to digestion and reproduction. Magnesium activates 600 enzymes and is a cofactor in the production of some 300 enzymes in the body (cofactor means it has to be present to help the process along though it isn’t an ingredient in these enzymes).
  • Heart health: A study with 9,820 participants, more than half of them women, found a link between low magnesium levels in the blood and coronary heart disease and sudden cardiac death. The researchers said that magnesium controls heart rhythm and carotid intima-media thickness (thickness of intima and media, two layers of the carotid arteries that supply blood to the face, neck and brain), but they could not yet figure out the actual mechanism of why or how low blood magnesium leads to such negative outcomes for heart health.
  • Bone health: Magnesium activates vitamin D in the body and helps maintain the calcium-phosphate homeostasis in the body to grow and keep bones healthy. The calcium-phosphate homeostasis (calcium and phosphate maintain a delicate balance in the body; when the amount of calcium in the blood is high, phosphate declines and vice-versa). Research also shows that magnesium deficiency is a risk factor for osteoporosis.
  • Healthy nervous system: Magnesium helps nerves transmit messages and in neuromuscular conduction. It also protects nerves against excitotoxicity—when nerve cells become overly stimulated and start to die. Inadequate levels of magnesium are linked to mental health issues like depression and different types of dementia including Alzheimer’s disease. Research shows that magnesium may help to prevent and treat neurological conditions such as migraine and depression. It may also have therapeutic value for people living with anxiety and anxiety-related disorders, chronic pain and stroke risk.
  • Body temperature: Magnesium helps the body to regulate temperature. Doctors use this knowledge to induce therapeutic hypothermia (drop in temperature) using magnesium sulphate for the treatment of acute stroke.
  • Better sleep: Magnesium is said to improve sleep quality in people who have difficulty sleeping. Prescribed supplements may even help some people with insomnia due to restless legs syndrome.
  • During periods: Low quantities of magnesium in the blood is linked to premenstrual syndrome. Additionally, taking magnesium during periods has been shown to prevent menstruation migraines and fluid retention.
  • During pregnancy: Magnesium is important for the development of the baby. That’s why the requirement for magnesium in pregnant women is roughly 12% more than women of the same age group who are not expecting. Magnesium supplements during pregnancy may help to reduce the risk of preeclampsia and intrauterine fetal growth restriction.

It is difficult to get too much magnesium from food, as the kidneys usually do a good job of flushing out the extra with urine. In people who overdose on magnesium supplements or those who have a kidney problem that gets in the way of proper disposal of extra magnesium, the following symptoms may be seen:

In extreme cases, excess magnesium could lead to

Many nuts and seeds, grains and legumes and fruits and vegetables contain magnesium. Some of the richest dietary sources of magnesium include:

There are a lot of magnesium supplements available in the market. But before you take one, consider these three things:

  • It’s important to remember that most of us can indeed get our daily minimum dose of magnesium from food. For those of us who need extra magnesium or can’t absorb magnesium from food properly because of health conditions like diabetes or GERD, a doctor may recommend magnesium supplements.
  • If you have been asked to take magnesium supplements by a doctor, take only the recommended dosage as excess magnesium can cause symptoms ranging from cramps and nausea to diarrhoea.
  • Magnesium can interfere with some medicines. So if you are on antibiotics or taking bisphosphonates for osteoporosis, talk to your doctor about the appropriate time gap between taking the medicine and magnesium supplements.

References

  1. United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization [Internet]. Magnesium. In "Human Vitamin and Mineral Requirements: Report of a joint FAO/WHO expert consultation Bangkok, Thailand", Rome, 2001.
  2. Naithani M., Bharadwaj J. and Darbari A. Magnesium: The fifth electrolyte. Journal of Medical Nutrition & Nutraceuticals, 2014; 3(2): 66-72.
  3. Lynne M. Dalton, Deirdre M. Ní Fhloinn, Gergana T. Gaydadzhieva, Ola M. Mazurkiewicz, Heather Leeson and Ciara P. Wright. Magnesium in pregnancy, Nutrition Reviews, September 2016; 74(9): 549–557.
  4. Ems T., St Lucia K., Huecker M.R. Biochemistry, iron absorption. [Updated 2020 Apr 30]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing.
  5. Richard Hurrell and Ines Egli. Iron bioavailability and dietary reference values. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May 2010; 91(5): 1461S–1467S.
  6. Swaminathan R. Magnesium metabolism and its disorders. The Clinical Biochemist. Review, May 2003; 24(2): 47-66. PMID: 18568054.
  7. Shaker J.L. and Deftos L. Calcium and phosphate homeostasis. [Updated 2018 Jan 19]. In: Feingold KR, Anawalt B, Boyce A, et al., editors. Endotext [Internet]. South Dartmouth (MA): MDText.com, Inc.; 2000-
  8. Swaminathan R. Physiological functions of magnesium. In "Magnesium metabolism and its disorders". The Clinical Biochem Review. May 2003; 24(2): 47-66. PMID: 18568054.
  9. Uwitonze A.M. and Razzaque M.S. Role of magnesium in vitamin D activation and function. Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, March 2018; 118(3): 181–189.
  10. National Institutes of Health. [Internet]. U.S. Magnesium.
  11. Kirkland A.E., Sarlo G.L. and Holton K.F. The role of magnesium in neurological disorders. Nutrients, 6 June 2018; 10(6): 730. PMID: 29882776.
  12. Richard M. Zweifler, Marc E. Voorhees, M. Asim Mahmood and Mel Parnell. Magnesium sulfate increases the rate of hypothermia via surface cooling and improves comfort. Stroke, 2004: 2331-4.
  13. Paolo Martelletti and Martina Guglielmetti. Approaching the appropriate pharmacotherapy of menstrual migraine. Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, 2020; 20(1): 1-2.
  14. Zarean E. and Tarjan A. Effect of magnesium supplement on pregnancy outcomes: A randomized control trial. Advanced Biomedical Research, 31 August 2017; 6: 109. PMID: 28904937.
  15. Cleveland Clinic, US [Internet]. Magnesium rich food.
  16. Kieboom B.C., Niemeijer M.N., Leening M.J, et al. Serum magnesium and the risk of death from coronary heart disease and sudden cardiac death. Journal of the American Heart Association, 22 January 2016; 5(1): e002707.
  17. American Osteopathic Association via ScienceDaily [Internet]. Low magnesium levels make vitamin D ineffective. 26 February 2018.
  18. Jahnen-Dechent W. and Ketteler M. Magnesium basics. Clinical Kidney Journal, 2012; 5(suppl 1): i3-i14. PMID: 26069819.
  19. Ahsan S.K. Metabolism of magnesium in health and disease. Journal of the Indian Medical Association, 1997; 95(9): 507-510. PMID: 9529585.
  20. HealthDirect, Australian Government's Department of Health [Internet]. Foods high in magnesium.
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