Miranda Kerr swears by it, while Drew Barrymore says she takes supplements each night. Magnesium is an essential mineral that’s used to treat muscle cramps, anxiety, headaches, insomnia and period pain.
If that wasn’t enough, it’s also packed in some of our favourite foods (and yes, that includes avocado toast). But despite its indisputable benefits, many Australian adults don’t get their recommended dosage of magnesium each day.
So why is it so important for our wellbeing? A cofactor for more than 300 enzymes, magnesium is used by our bodies in more than 600 reactions, including some of our most critical functions. These include the regulation of both skeletal muscle (hence why it’s popular with gymgoers for treating leg cramps) and the smooth muscle of our heart and blood vessels. It also promotes nerve regeneration, regulates blood glucose and is used by our bodies to produce the energy and protein that form the building blocks of life. Because magnesium plays a vital role in calcium absorption and activating vitamin D, it also helps keep our teeth and bones healthy and strong, so it may also help with the prevention of osteoporosis as we get older.
Given its many benefits, we can run into trouble if we run too low on magnesium. The symptoms of a deficiency can include a loss of appetite, fatigue, weakness, muscle spasms, shaking, pins and needles, hyperexcitability, nausea, vomiting and abnormal heart rhythms.
Thankfully, it’s present in a wide range of everyday foods, so severe deficiencies tend to be rare. But while most of us consume a certain level of magnesium each day, some people aren’t getting enough. In fact, it’s estimated that around a third of Australian adults don’t meet the recommended daily dosage requirements, which are 310-320mg per day for non-pregnant women and 400mg-420mg per day for men.
Those who especially need to watch out for low magnesium levels include the elderly and people with underlying health conditions such as coeliac disease, Crohn’s disease and insulin resistance. Taking excessive amounts of zinc can interfere with magnesium absorption, as can a diet that’s too low in protein. And because alcohol causes our kidneys to excrete excessive amounts of magnesium, deficiencies also tend to be more common in people suffering from alcoholism.
So what can we do to make sure we’re meeting our magnesium requirements? As a rule of thumb, it’s good to remember that green veggies (including peas and leafy greens) tend to be a good source. That’s because magnesium is central to the chlorophyll molecule, which gives plants their green colour.
Kelp is also an excellent source, along with legumes, beans, nuts, quinoa, chia seeds, mackerel, halibut and tofu, as well as wholegrains, avocados and even dark chocolate.
Of course, diet isn’t the only way to get your daily magnesium hit. Visit your local chemist or health food store and you’ll find a host of magnesium powders, capsules and tablets in the vitamin section. While there’s no upper limit when it comes to how much magnesium you get from your diet, the recommended daily limit for magnesium in supplements is 350mg – it’s therefore important to ensure you’re not taking too much of a good thing.
Consult a doctor before taking supplements, since there are some health conditions and medications that can raise your magnesium absorption and increase the risk of toxicity.
Given that magnesium plays such a pivotal role in our everyday health and wellbeing, ensure you’re getting your recommended daily dose. If you think you could be deficient, the best way to confirm this is with a blood test. While supplements can be useful, eating a varied diet that includes plenty of plant-based and whole foods is the best first step.
Looking for some nutritious recipes? Find them here.