Magnesium is an important electrolyte needed for proper muscle, nerve, and enzyme function. It also helps regulate energy production in cells and is needed to move other electrolytes (potassium and sodium) into and out of cells.
Magnesium has been found to help ward off the formation of blood clots, lower blood pressure, prevent complications related to diabetes, assist in maintaining bone strength, and contribute to greater life expectancy by reducing the risk of heart disease and by limiting the effects of free radical damage.
Magnesium is one of the most abundant minerals in the body and is found mainly inside the bones and cells. Only a tiny amount of magnesium is normally present in the blood. It is absorbed through the small intestine during food digestion. A balanced diet contains enough magnesium for the body's needs.
Magnesium deficiency is rare, but when it occurs it is often caused by conditions that interfere with the ability of the intestines to absorb magnesium from food, by poor diet, or by losing magnesium from prolonged vomiting or diarrhea. People who have diabetes and those who drink excessive amounts of alcohol, overuse diuretics, or have burns over a large area of their bodies are at high risk for developing a magnesium deficiency. Symptoms of a magnesium deficiency include weakness, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, tremors, and seizures.
Green vegetables such as spinach provide magnesium because the center of the chlorophyll molecule contains magnesium. Nuts (especially almonds), seeds and some whole grains are also good sources of magnesium.
Although magnesium is present in many foods, it usually occurs in dilute form. As with most nutrients, daily needs for magnesium are unlikely to be met from a single serving of any single food. Eating a wide variety of foods, including five servings of fruits and vegetables daily and plenty of whole grains, helps to ensure an adequate intake of magnesium.
Because magnesium readily dissolves in the water used to refine foods, and also in the water-rich parts of certain foods which are removed during refining, the magnesium content of many refined foods is low. Whole-wheat bread has twice as much magnesium as white bread because the magnesium rich germ and bran are removed when white flour is processed.
Magnesium is essential for the development and maintenance of healthy bones. If taken in relatively high amounts, it works together with calcium and vitamin D to help keep bones strong and prevent osteoporosis.