Why Magnesium Matters

A lack of magnesium can make matters worse for the millions of people who suffer from migraines and PMS; a shortage also contributes to osteoporosis by preventing the body from absorbing calcium. In sufficient amounts, on the other hand, it can ease symptoms of heart disease and diabetes. It may even help ward off hypertension, a condition that strikes one in four adults in this country.

Many of the symptoms of low magnesium are not unique to its deficiency, making it difficult to diagnose with 100% accuracy. Thus quite often low levels go completely unrecognized… and untreated.

Yet chronic low intake of magnesium is not only extremely common but linked to several disease states, indicating the importance of considering both overt physical symptoms and the presence of other diseases and conditions when considering magnesium status.

In fact, up to 80 percent of people in the United States may be magnesium deficient. The upshot is that most of us could use a boost, says Cynthia Sass, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. If your diet is high in foods that deliver the mineral, she recommends a multivitamin with at least 50 percent of the RDA. If it’s less than stellar, bump that to 80 percent. Here’s what you’ll get in return.

Premenopausal women would do well to keep their eye on the mineral as well, in part for the same osteoporosis protection, but also to ease symptoms of PMS. In one study, PMS sufferers who downed 200 milligrams of magnesium daily had significantly less bloating and weight gain than those on dummy pills. As a natural diuretic, it boots sodium and water out of the tissue and into the bloodstream so it can be excreted by the kidneys. Taking an Epsom salt bath can help build your magnesium.

It may also be helpful for people who suffer from migraine headaches. Scientists suspect it helps by widening blood vessels that otherwise constrict and impede blood flow to the brain. And it appears to control the availability of brain messengers like serotonin, which for some people keep migraines at bay. Blood pressure control

Experts have long studied magnesium as a preventive for hypertension, since it’s the mineral that tells arteries when to relax. In one of the most widely touted studies, researchers monitored the diets of more than 30,000 men for four years. By the end of that time, those who ate the most magnesium-rich foods had a significantly lower risk of hypertension than volunteers who skimped on the nutrient.

Certainly anyone at risk for high blood pressure, which includes people who are obese or who have a family history of the disease, should make sure they’re getting enough magnesium. But since hypertension is so common, it wouldn’t hurt us all to stay well stocked.

The definition of magnesium deficiency seems simple, but it is complicated by the lack of available clinical tests for the assessment of magnesium status. Ideally we would define magnesium deficiency as a reduction in the total body magnesium content. Tests should be available to identify which tissues are deficient and the state of magnesium in these tissues. Unfortunately, this definition is incompatible with current technology.

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