Start with your magnesium consumption. That’s right—low levels of this crucial mineral, sometimes called the “forgotten mineral”, can have serious health consequences. And here’s the kicker—only about 20 percent of Americans are getting the recommended daily allowance (RDA).
Magnesium is a mineral that is important in more than 300 biological functions in the body. It is required for the proper growth and maintenance of bones as well as the proper function of nerves, muscles, and many other parts of the body. It supports the immune system and aids regulation of blood sugar levels and blood pressure. The U.S. RDA for magnesium for women is 310 to 320 mg. daily and 350 to 400 mg. daily for pregnant women; however, in the United Kingdom, the RDA is 700 mg. daily.
Foods that are rich in magnesium include leafy green vegetables, legumes, fruits, peas, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and—thankfully—chocolate. Many Americans have low levels of magnesium—possibly from a diet too low in fruits and vegetables. However, magnesium levels in some fruits and vegetables have dropped as a result of magnesium-depleted soil. Sometimes supplements are necessary.
Magnesium and Heart Disease
Magnesium is important for a variety of reasons, but the most compelling new research indicates that low levels of this mineral drastically increase the risk for heart attack. The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, included 7,664 adult participants who were part of a prospective population-based cohort study known as the Prevention of Renal and Vascular End-Stage Disease (PREVEND) study.[i] All participants were healthy and free of any known heart disease at the beginning of the study. The researchers checked the magnesium levels of participants and then tracked them for an average of 10.5 years. Those with the lowest urinary levels of magnesium were 70 percent more likely to die from heart disease, compared to people with higher levels, even after other cardiovascular threats were taken into consideration.
The researchers concluded that low magnesium levels are an independent risk factor for heart disease, while a diet that’s rich in this vital mineral may be protective. In fact, a randomized study of 194 heart-attack patients showed that intravenous magnesium significantly reduced in-hospital death rates compared to placebo.[ii] Patients treated with the IV magnesium had one-quarter of the death rate compared to their counterparts and also had lower rates of irregular heartbeats and congestive heart failure. A follow-up study five years later showed that nearly twice as many patients in the placebo group had died from heart disease or other causes and those still surviving had higher rates of impaired heart function than those in the magnesium group.[iii]
Magnesium and Other Chronic Conditions
Magnesium has also been linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes—because it plays a key role in carbohydrate metabolism and may influence insulin activity. It also boosts bone density, which may provide protection against osteoporosis. What’s more, the mineral has consistently been linked to lower blood pressure levels.
Getting Enough Magnesium
Chances are, you may not be getting enough magnesium. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include chronic fatigue, weakness, insomnia, poor memory, mental fog, nausea, muscle cramps, tingling, and numbness.
Most of us are eating a diet that is too high in calcium and too low in magnesium, a combination that can actually increase the risk of heart attacks.
If you think you might be deficient in magnesium, talk with your healthcare provider. You may want to increase your dietary intake of magnesium-rich foods—but a supplement might also be necessary.
[i] Joosten MM, Gansevoort RT, Mukamal KJ, et al. Urinary and plasma magnesium and risk of ischemic heart disease. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Published early online March 13, 2013. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.054114
[ii] Shechter M, Hod H, Chouraqui P, et al. Magnesium therapy in acute myocardial infarction when patients are not candidates for thrombolytic therapy. The American Journal of Cardiology. 1995; 75(5): 321-323.
[iii] Shechter M, Hod H, Rabinowitz B, et al. Long-term outcome of intravenous magnesium therapy in thrombolysis-ineligible acute myocardial infarction patients. Cardiology. 2003; 99(4): 205-10.