Of all the minerals required by the human body, calcium garners the most attention. But magnesium is an equally important micronutrient. Studies show it helps with osteoporosis, pain, depression, heart health, memory loss, and stroke. In fact, the body uses magnesium for more than 300 known metabolic processes.
And there’s one more thing magnesium has going for it…you can safely take it as a supplement. (Calcium on the other hand, you should never take as a supplement. You should only get it from food sources.)
That’s good news, because in a new analysis, researchers found men and women with adequate magnesium intake–from foods and supplements–had a much lower risk of developing obesity and metabolic syndrome. I’ll tell you more about that study in a moment, but first let’s back up…
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for magnesium is 310 to 320 mg per day for women, and 400 to 420 mg per day for men. Now–as you know, the U.S. government sets the RDAs to help people avoid outright nutritional deficiencies. But they’re a far cry from helping you achieve optimal health.
Unfortunately, most people don’t even meet these paltry RDAs for magnesium, if they follow the standard American diet. In fact, researchers estimate as much as 68 percent of the U.S. adult population is magnesium deficient.
And it’s not primarily our fault.
Over the past century, commercial agricultural practices have severely depleted the mineral levels in the soil. In fact, in each decade the USDA performed analyses on agricultural foods, they found the nutrient levels declined. As a result, many of the magnesium-rich foods–such as green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains–just aren’t as nutritious as they were 60 years ago.
Fortunately, you can also get magnesium in dairy, eggs, and meats. But your body only absorbs about 30 to 40 percent of the magnesium you consume through foods. So supplementation is a great solution for most people, as the new study showed…
For this analysis, researchers used data on 14,000 men and women who participated in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 2001 and 2010. NHANES began in the 1960s. And it’s still the single best source of long-term health and nutrition information in the U.S. It assesses the health of both adults and children through interviews and physical exams.
This time around, researchers looked at NHANES participants who met the RDA of magnesium from foods alone. They found these men and women had lower systolic blood pressure compared to men and women with inadequate intake. They also had higher HDL (good) cholesterol. Furthermore, they had a “significantly” lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome, obesity, and high blood pressure.
Now, here’s where things got more interesting…
The researchers also looked at men and women who upped their magnesium through foods and supplementation. These men and women had a lower risk of developing elevated glycohemoglobin, a measure of blood sugar control. They also had a lower risk of developing an elevated waist circumference or becoming overweight or obese.
Clearly, magnesium plays a much larger role in the human body than most doctors realize. Unfortunately, they don’t have the tools to measure whether a patient has a magnesium deficiency. So you should keep an eye out for these general symptoms:
- GI problems
- Poor concentration
- Numbness of hands or feet
Of course, a deficiency in B vitamins or vitamin D can also cause these general kinds of problems. So make sure to keep those levels up as well through daily supplementation. (Go for a high-quality vitamin B complex daily and up to 10,000 IU daily of vitamin D.)
There’s one thing right about the RDA for magnesium: An outright deficiency can and does cause disease. And many people are deficient in the U.S.
It all begins and ends with good nutrition. As I mentioned, you can find magnesium in dairy, eggs, and meats. You can also find it in smaller amounts in green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains. But even if you follow these healthy food guidelines, I still recommend taking a daily supplement that contains 200 mg of magnesium.
- “Elevation of Brain Magnesium Prevents and Reverses Cognitive Deficits and Synaptic Loss in Alzheimer’s Disease Mouse Model.” Journal of Neuroscience, 2013; 33 (19): 8423
- “Magnesium Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.” National Institutes of Health. Available at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/. Accessed February 13, 2014
- “Dietary Magnesium Usual Intake is Associated with Favorable Diabetes-Related Physiological Outcomes and Reduced Risk of Metabolic Syndrome: An NHANES 2001-2010 Analysis,” J Hum Nutr Food Sci 2(4): 1044