Magnificent magnesium – the role it plays in our diet

magnesium and food

What role does magnesium have in your diet? Are you getting enough and if not what are the symptoms? Thrive Expert and Nutritionist Anne Lecomber guides you through the questions on this magnificent mineral.

Magnesium has been called the ‘forgotten mineral’ due to it being comparatively understudied.

Unlike minerals such as sodium, calcium and potassium, where their functions are clearly defined, there is still ongoing research into magnesium’s role in human health. Textbooks, blogs, and even scientific journals often cite magnesium as being required for over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, however recent enzyme databases indicate that this figure is closer to 600.

Whilst magnesium is well known to be important for the brain and nervous system, heart, skeletal muscles and bone health, the mineral is required in all cells where energy is produced, and where DNA metabolism occurs.

With magnesium present in so many foods it is entirely possible to get your daily requirements through food.

What does the latest research say?

In recent years, there has been increasing focus on magnesium’s role in mood disorders. The internet is full of accounts of magnesium supplements alleviating symptoms, but it should be noted that results from clinical trials where researchers administered magnesium as a treatment for depression have not been consistent to date. The multifactorial nature of depression means it’s challenging to determine single causes, and often when treating depression, various approaches are recommended. Therefore, it’s highly likely that magnesium supplements may improve symptoms for a few but not all individuals.

It was magnesium’s recognised role as a muscle relaxant in Epsom salts, and its role as an effective sleep aid when combatting broken sleep and insomnia, that led to the hypothesis that magnesium deficiency could be linked with depression. Chronic stress has been shown to cause magnesium deficiency by leading to increased excretion of magnesium in the urine due to hormonal disruption. Magnesium is proving to be an incredibly important and exciting mineral!

How much magnesium should we be getting from our diet?

In the UK, the recommended daily allowance for magnesium is 300mg and 270mg for men and women aged 19 – 64 years respectively. Magnesium is found in many foods, and some great sources are green leafy vegetables, wholegrain rice and bread, nuts and seeds.

Could I be deficient in magnesium?

The problem doctors have is that there is no agreement for the best method when determining a magnesium deficiency. Blood tests are the standard test in the UK however, an individual could be deficient in body magnesium but have adequate blood magnesium, and concurrently can appear to be deficient according to blood tests, with an absence of a true deficiency. The symptoms of a magnesium deficiency are non-specific but can include; dizziness, muscle twitches, weakness and cramps, impaired moods, osteoporosis and fatigue. Therefore, a magnesium deficiency is normally suspected when a patient presents with several symptoms.

Should we all be taking a magnesium supplement – not necessarily!

With magnesium present in so many foods, including; spinach, kale, figs, nuts, seeds, peas broccoli and seafood to name but a few, it is entirely possible to get your daily requirements through food, although there are factors that increase your risk for a magnesium deficiency.

Factors that increase your risk for a magnesium deficiency.

• Malnutrition
• Impaired absorption and/or diarrhoea
• Vomiting
• Impaired kidney function
• Medication
• Disruption of endocrine system
• Stress
• Alcoholism
• Excessive or prolonged exercise
• Excessive lactation

Tips to ensure you get enough magnesium from your diet.
• Eat a varied, plant-based diet.
• Limit your intake of processed foods
• Limit alcohol and caffeine
• Reduce your fizzy drink intake
• Take time to relax!
• If you have gastrointestinal issues, seek medical advice.
• Some medications may affect your body magnesium levels. Seek advice from your GP or dietitian.

If you are at risk for a magnesium deficiency, and feel you may benefit from taking supplements, always consult your GP, and start on low doses.

Marles, R. J (2013) Mineral nutrient composition of vegetables, fruits and grains: The context of reports of apparent historical declines. Journal of Food Composition and Analysis. Volume 56, March 2017, Pages 93-103

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Article written by Thrive Expert – Anne Lecomber. Anne has a firstclass honours (BSc) degree in Human Nutrition from the University of Greenwich and is one of our Thrive Experts. And has over 15 years’ experience working in the fitness industry as a Personal Trainer and Bodybuilder.