Magnesium: the Rodney Dangerfield of minerals

Nancy Teeter, RDN

If magnesium was a comedian, it could imitate Rodney Dangerfield and say, “I don’t get no respect.” In this article, I want to tell you why magnesium should get more respect and what you can do to ensure that you get enough.

Magnesium is an essential mineral which is involved in over 300 chemical reactions in your body. Older adults often have lower dietary intakes of magnesium and absorption of this mineral declines with age. In addition, adults are more likely to have chronic diseases or take medications that alter magnesium status. For example, prescription proton pump inhibitors such as Nexium and Prevacid (when taken for a year or more) can cause low magnesium levels. Magnesium deficits are associated with an increased risk of a number of diseases and conditions including: hypertension and cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and metabolic syndrome.

Studies in the United States suggest that a majority of adults only get 66 percent of the daily value for magnesium from their food intake. Insufficient amounts of magnesium can contribute to a wide range of physical symptoms including: depression, irregular heartbeat, loss of appetite, fatigue and weakness, migraine headaches or muscle spasms.

Magnesium is widely available in plant foods though few individual foods are extremely high in the mineral. Magnesium-rich foods include: spinach, pumpkin seeds, summer squash, soybeans, sesame seeds, black beans, quinoa and cashews. If you would like to receive a sample menu which incorporates many of the healthy magnesium-rich foods, send me an email at [email protected].

Supplementing with magnesium is generally safe, though older adults are more likely to have impaired kidney function than younger individuals, and they should avoid taking more than 350 milligrams per day of supplemental magnesium without doctor approval. Magnesium-only supplements come in several forms with magnesium oxide being the least expensive; however, it is also less well absorbed and more likely to cause diarrhea. Forms such as citrate and chloride may be better absorbed. To ensure that you are getting the proper amount of magnesium, check the supplement fact panel for the amount of elemental magnesium and not the amount of the total compound (e.g. magnesium chloride). As with all supplements, it is important to understand that the FDA does not evaluate the quality of magnesium supplements. For quality assurance, check the bottle for certifications from USP, NSF or Consumer Laboratory.

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Note: Nancy Teeter, a SaddleBrooke resident, is a registered dietitian nutritionist. She loves to cook and to share her knowledge of nutrition and health.