Helping to regulate everything from muscle and nerve function to blood pressure, magnesium is a vital nutrient for great health.
But how can you make sure you’re not falling short on your magnesium intake? Platinum’s nutritionist Louise Pyne finds out.
As the fourth most abundant mineral in the body, it plays an important role in health and wellbeing. “Magnesium is actually responsible for over 300 enzyme reactions. These reactions regulate processes such as protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, immune function, blood sugar control, heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure, bone development and energy production. It really is essential to the function of every cell in our body,” explains GP and ﬁtness instructor, Dr Folusha Oluwajana.
The silent epidemic
Unfortunately, mild magnesium deﬁciency often doesn’t produce any obvious symptoms which means that many of us face a risk of undiagnosed deﬁciency as we get older. Due to a decline in oestrogen levels post-menopause, women are at a heightened risk of low intracellular magnesium levels (a deﬁciency of magnesium inside cells, which make up 99% of total body magnesium).
In fact, it’s thought that magnesium deﬁciency is strongly associated with a higher risk of osteoporosis. On a positive note however, one study found that women who supplemented with 290mg of elemental magnesium for 30 days led to a decrease in bone loss.
Certain diuretics (blood pressure lowering medication) and proton pump inhibitors (drugs used to treat digestive problems such as gastroesophageal reﬂux disease and peptic ulcers) can also cause magnesium loss, and because conventional diagnosis is carried out via blood serum and not via tissue or bone, testing doesn’t really give a correct indication of total body levels. Symptoms of deﬁciencies only tend to be identiﬁed when symptoms are dangerously low. Early signs of deﬁciency include loss of appetite, vomiting, nausea and fatigue.
Things to look out for as symptoms worsen include muscle twitches, low serum calcium or potassium levels and irregular heart rhythms.
Our kidneys control magnesium balance and typically expel around 120mg of magnesium into urine each day. This ﬁnely tuned process means that as magnesium drops, the kidneys will excrete less magnesium in order to try and retain the correct balance. “It should be noted that this process becomes increasingly difﬁcult if we have persistently low dietary magnesium intake,” adds Dr Oluwajana.
Increase your intake
Women aged up to 64 years require 270mg of magnesium per day, and like all nutrients, magnesium should ideally be obtained through a carefully balanced diet.
Having said this, the way food is grown or processed may have a different effect on how our body absorbs the nutrient and worryingly, dietary magnesium levels have declined by 21% since 1940, due to changes in common farming practices.
Fortunately, there are still plenty of great food sources that are high in this vital mineral.
Snacking on nuts and seeds will help to give you an extra boost, while chlorophyll-rich leafy greens, legumes, plain yoghurt and ﬁbrous wholegrains will all help to top up levels. It’s also possible to get your ﬁx through fortiﬁed foods like breakfast cereals but make sure to read food labels in order to avoid high sugar content in fortiﬁed options.
And if you’re still struggling to stock up through food alone, supplements offer a more concentrated dose. Magnesium is available in lots of different forms, and studies show that aspartate, citrate, lactate and chloride forms are more absorbable in the gut compared with magnesium oxide and sulfate (which can be associated with unpleasant side effects).
Increasing your intake by too much (high doses of 400mg or more per day) can cause symptoms such as diarrhoea, stomach cramps and nausea, so lower your dose under the supervision of a qualiﬁed health practitioner or try a different form in order to minimise unwanted symptoms.
With its properties as an anti-stress nutrient, magnesium could also boost your beauty routine. The mineral plays an important role in warding off hair loss and maintaining healthy hair growth.
What’s more, beauty experts have discovered that using the nutrient in facial oils, moisturising lotions and serums can help to give skin an extra lift, and it’s thought that slathering magnesium-rich products onto your skin could help to reduce acne and rosacea by regulating cortisol levels and stabilising cellular processes.
And for those who want to go one step further, there’s the growing trend of intravenous vitamin (IV) therapy, where a concentrated liquid infusion of magnesium is injected into your bloodstream.
Whilst there’s no hard evidence to support the claims and indeed some experts have rubbished the practice, it hasn’t stopped its popularity.
Intravenous shots can take the form of one sole nutrient (like magnesium) or alternatively a cocktail of vitamins and minerals, but it doesn’t come cheap — you can expect to pay a minimum of £200 for a single shot. Supplements are a cheaper and far less controversial option to boost intake.