Magnesium: Why Your Heart is Begging You for More of This Essential Nutrient
Magnesium rarely edges out other more talked about nutrients
like vitamin E or calcium to make front-page news -- but it
should. Magnesium plays a vital role in several hundred of
your body's functions, including normal heart function, but
the majority of Americans are not getting enough in their
An estimated 68 percent of Americans don't get enough
magnesium from their diets.
As many as 68 percent of Americans do not consume the daily
recommended amount of magnesium, according to a government
study. 19 percent do not consume even half of it.
Even the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary
Supplements (ODS) points out that, "For many people,
dietary intake may not be high enough to promote an optimal
magnesium status, which may be protective against disorders
such as cardiovascular disease and immune dysfunction."
Magnesium's Role in Your Body
According to ODS, "Magnesium is needed for more than
300 biochemical reactions in the body." It helps to:
Maintain normal muscle and nerve function
Keep heart rhythm steady
Support a healthy immune system
Keep bones strong
Regulate blood sugar levels
Promote normal blood pressure
Maintain energy metabolism and protein synthesis
"There is an increased interest in the role of magnesium
in preventing and managing disorders such as hypertension,
cardiovascular disease, and diabetes," says ODS, and
it is this increasing knowledge that magnesium is a major
player in heart health that has peaked many scientists' interest.
Highlights of studies on the topic include:
The American Heart Journal reported that patients with
good magnesium levels who had undergone surgery to replace
damaged coronary arteries were less likely to die or
have a heart attack in the following year than those
with poor magnesium levels.
A strong link was found between optimum levels of magnesium
and a lowered risk of coronary heart disease, as
reported in the American Journal of Cardiology.
In a study of cardiac bypass surgery patients by Duke
University Medical Center researchers, those with low
magnesium levels were twice as likely to experience
a heart attack or die from all causes than those with
A long-term study of men by researchers at the University
of Virginia School of Medicine found that those with the
lowest magnesium intake were twice as likely to have
had coronary heart disease problems than those with
the highest intake.
Evidence suggests that low magnesium levels increases
the risk of abnormal heart rhythms, which may increase
the risk of complications after a heart attack, according
Heart disease patients who received a magnesium supplement
twice a day for six months had a 14 percent improvement
in exercise duration and were less likely to experience
exercise-related chest pain than those who received
"A growing body of evidence," explains Jerry L.
Nadler, MD, division chief of endocrinology and metabolism
at the University of Virginia, "suggests that magnesium
plays a pivotal role in reducing cardiovascular risk and may
be involved in the pathogenesis of diabetes itself."
Signs of Deficiency
Recommended dietary allowances for magnesium are as follows:
Boys and girls aged 1-3: 80 mg/day
Boys and girls aged 4-8: 130 mg/day
Boys and girls aged 9-13: 240 mg/day
While whole grain is an excellent source of magnesium,
refined grains (like this white bread) contain little
of the nutrient.
Americans may have less-than-optimal magnesium levels and
not experience signs of deficiency. For instance, while the
recommended daily amount of magnesium for adult men is 420
mg/day, most eat only 327 mg/day. Early signs of actual deficiency
Loss of appetite
Fatigue and weakness
More severe magnesium deficiency can result in:
Severe magnesium deficiency can lead to low levels of calcium
and potassium in the blood.
How to Get More Magnesium in Your Diet
Eating a variety of magnesium-rich foods is the best way
to get more of this essential nutrient. Remember that it's
possible to have sub-optimal magnesium levels and not experience
any actual symptoms.
"A diet rich in magnesium would benefit everyone, especially
people with risk factors for type 2 diabetes, such as obesity,
hypertension, elevated blood lipid levels, or a family history
of diabetes," said Monika Waelti, PhD, of the Swiss Federal
Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland,
Some of the best food sources of
"Hard" drinking water is also a good source of
the nutrient. "Hard" water typically has a higher
concentration of magnesium salts than "soft" water.
Unless your magnesium levels are very low, magnesium supplements
are generally not needed.
"Increasing dietary intake of magnesium can often restore
mildly depleted magnesium levels," ODS reported. So go
ahead and indulge in some magnesium-rich favorites like guacamole
with some whole-grain crackers, baked acorn squash, fruit
salad and mixed greens. You'll be well on your way to a healthy
magnesium level and, as more and more research is pointing
out, a healthy heart to go along with it.
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