The Critical Importance Of Magnesium in Nutrition And General Well-Being

Products rich in magnesium on wooden spoons.
Products rich in magnesium on wooden spoons. Copyright: ceglik / 123RF Stock Photo

♠ Magnesium helps regulate calcium transport and absorption

♣ It stimulates the secretion of the hormone calcitonin which helps the integration of calcium into bone and in bone mineral reabsorption.

♥ It promotes nerve and muscle function.

♦ A magnesium-rich diet might reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke and general heart disease.

♠ May reduce the incidence of bone fractures in men.

Magnesium is the  second most abundant mineral in the body after calcium. It is an essential cation required in a range of physiological processes of the human body. Leroy (1926) and Kruse et al. (1933) first described the essentiality of magnesium to animals. It is the eighth most common element (mineral) in the Earth’s crust. 

Top Ten Foods Rich In Magnesium

Generally, the green, leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and chard are the best because they contain so much of the green pigment, chlorophyll. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for men is 400 milligrams and for women, 310 milligrams per day.

Informatic describing 10 sources of magnesium in the diet. Spinach, cahrd, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, almonds, black beans, avocado, figs, dark chocolate and banana are all mentioned.
Top ten magnesium foods vector. Copyright: kninwong / 123RF Stock Photo
  1. Spinach — 1 cup contains 157 milligrams (40% DV)
  2. Chard — 1 cup contains 154 milligrams (38% DV)
  3. Pumpkin seeds — 1/8th cup contains 92 milligrams (23% DV)
  4. Yogurt or Kefir — 1 cup contains 50 milligrams (13% DV)
  5. Almonds — 1 ounce contains 80 milligrams (20% DV)
  6. Black Beans — ½ cup contains 60 milligrams (15% DV)
  7. Avocado — 1 medium contains 58 milligrams  (15% DV)
  8. Figs — ½ cup contains 50 milligrams (13% DV)
  9. Dark Chocolate — 1 square contains 95 milligrams (24% DV)
  10. Banana — 1 medium sized banana contains 32 milligrams (8% DV)

Other foods that are also high in magnesium include: salmon, coriander, cashews, goat cheese and artichokes.


  • – A cofactor in more than 300 enzymatic reactions including enzymes involved in energy  metabolism, especially glucose metabolism and nucleic acid or DNA synthesis.
  • – Essential for proper protein production.
  • – Required for effective absorption of calcium and ameliorates osteoporosis.
  • – Protective effect against a variety of diseases.

Magnesium deficiency leads to poor glucose tolerance and is a risk factor in cardiovascular disease especially those associated with diabetes (Ma et al., 1995).  The daily magnesium intake in the Western diet is sufficient  enough but increased dietary intake would reduce many disease risks associated with low serum concentrations of this mineral (Vormann, 2003).

Improving Brain Function

The mineral is also need for brain function and supplements have been prescribed for people suffering concussion. One palatable form is magnesium L-threonate whilst magnesium citrate is another possibility. A number of studies have demonstrated it helps with reversing memory loss, improving recognition and learning. It also helps to maintain the health of neuron cells and increase neural plasticity. The threonate anion apparently crosses the blood brain barrier more easily which implies it can enter brain synapses.

Role In Reducing Diabetes

Meta-analyses have long suggested that levels of magnesium intake are associated with a reduction in type-2 diabetes.  Unfortunately these earlier studies suffered from inconsistencies in sample size and reporting on magnesium consumption.

Researchers from the Zhejiang University and Zhengzhou University in China analysed data from over 1 million people from nine countries in 40 studies performed between 1999 and 2016 (Fang et al., 2016). They looked at the levels of dietary magnesium ingested from self-reported food frequency questionnaires and 24-hour dietary recalls. Given the variations in reporting intakes of magnesium and how the categories were defined, the researchers looked at the effect of a 100 mg per day increase in magnesium intake on general health and well-being.

The data suggested a magnesium-rich diet could  reduce type-2 diabetes by 26% in that group taking the highest magnesium doses. Even an extra 100 mg per day could reduce type-2 diabetes by about 19%.

Role Of Magnesium In Reducing Heart Disease And Stroke

Meta-analyses have long suggested that levels of magnesium intake are associated with a reduction in heart disease and stroke.  Issues on reporting hampered interpretation as in the assessment on diabetes.

The same meta-analysis (Fang et al., 2016) reported for studies into type-2 diabetes showed similar reductions for level of stroke and heart disease generally. Those taking the highest doses of this mineral per day, reduced their heart disease potential by 10% and risk of stroke by 12%. Likewise, an extra 100 mg per day could reduce stroke risk by about 7%.

The lead author, Dr. Fudi Wang (lead author and researcher from the school of Public Health at Zhejiang University) is reported as saying:-

Low levels of magnesium in the body are associated with a range of diseases but no conclusive evidence has been put forward on the link between dietary magnesium and health risks.”

“Our meta-analysis supports a link between magnesium in food and reducing the risk of disease.”

Symptoms Of Deficiency

The symptoms of clinically low serum magnesium or overt hypomagnesemia  include the following conditions. These are possible indicators of chronic latent magnesium deficiency.  

  • ADHD
  • Asthma
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Chest pain (angina)
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Cluster headaches
  • Coronary artery disease and atherosclerosis
  • Depression
  • Epilepsy
  • Hypertension
  • Migraine
  • Osteoporosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Premenstrual syndrome
  • Sleep problems
  • Type II diabetes

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EFSA Requirements For Magnesium

In July 2015, EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) set adequate intakes (AIs) at 350 mg/day for men and 300 mg/day for women. The AI for children was set at a range from 170 to 300 mg per day and was age related.

Even though the mineral is essential, its deficiency is common even in developed countries. Between 15 and 20% of the population in these nations only take about 30% of the adequate intake level.

Dietary magnesium is absorbed mostly in the small intestine via passive paracellular transport, which is driven by an electrochemical gradient and solvent drag (Graham et al., 1960; Aliaga et al., 1990).


Aliaga, I.L., Miller, D.L., Wilson, H.D., Schedl, H.P. (1990) Effects of resection on absorption and secretion of divalent cations by small intestine of rat. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 52(5) pp. 867–71.

Fang, X., Wang, K., Han, D., et al. (2016) Dietary magnesium intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and all-cause mortality: a dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. BMC Med. 2016;14:210. DOI: 10.1186/s12916-016-0742-z

Graham, L.A., Caesar, J.J., Burgen, A.S. (1960) Gastrointestinal absorption and excretion of Mg 28 in man. Metabolism. 9 pp. 646–59.

Kruse, H.D., Orent, E.R. & McCollom, E.V. (1933). Studies on magnesium deficiency in animals. III. Chemical changes in the  blood following magnesium deprivation. J. Biol. Chem., 100, pp. 603–643

Leroy, J. (1926). Necessity of magnesium for growth of mice. Comptes Rendus des Séances et Mémoires de la Société de Biologie, 94, pp. 431.

Vormann, J. (2003). Magnesium: nutrition and metabolism. Molecular Aspects of Medicine, 24,   pp.  27–37.

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  1. According to the web, magnesium helps me maintain normal muscle and nerve function, supports a healthy immune system, keeps heart rhythm steady, and keeps bones strong. I buy these for my husband and he is in excellent health so I presume that the magnesium is helping.

  2. Nice article. I think you have given a good account of why magnesium is so important. I run a small health food shop so it seemed appropriate to flag it up. Willbe looking for other articles about other minerals too.

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