Magnesium is an essential mineral that accounts for about 0.05 percent of the body's total weight. Nearly 70 percent of the body's supply is located in the bones together with calcium and phosphorus, while 30 percent is found in the soft tissues and body fluids.
Magnesium is involved in many essential metabolic processes. Most magnesium is found inside the cell, where it activates enzymes necessary for the metabolism of carbohydrates and amino acids. By countering the stimulative effect of calcium, magnesium plays an important role in neuromuscular contractions. It also helps regulate the acid-alkaline balance in the body.
Magnesium helps promote absorption and metabolism of other minerals, such as calcium, phosphorus, sodium, and potassium. It also helps utilize the B complex and vitamins C and E in the body. It aids during bone growth and is necessary for proper functioning of the nerves and muscles, including those of the heart. Evidence suggests that magnesium is associated with the regulation of body temperature. Sufficient amounts of magnesium are needed in the conversion of blood sugar into energy.
Magnesium appears to be widely distributed in foods, being found chiefly in fresh green vegetables, where it is an essential element of chlorophyll. Other excellent sources include raw, unmilled wheat germ, soybeans, milk, whole grains, seafoods, figs, corn, apples, and oil-rich seeds and nuts, especially almonds.
Nearly 50 percent of the average daily intake of magnesium is absorbed in the small intestine. The rate of absorption is influenced by the parathyroid hormones, the rate of water absorption, and the amounts of calcium, phosphate, and lactose (milk sugar) in the body. Vitamin D is necessary for the proper utilization of magnesium. When the intake of magnesium is low, the rate of absorption may be as high as 75 percent; when the intake is high, the rate of absorption may be as low as 25 percent.
The adrenal gland secretes a hormone called aldo-sterone, which helps to regulate the rate of magnesium excretion through the kidneys. Losses tend to increase with the use of diuretics and with the consumption of alcohol.
The National Research Council recommends a daily magnesium intake of 350 milligrams for the adult male and 300 milligrams for the adult female. The amount increases to 450 milligrams during pregnancy and lactation. It is estimated that the typical American diet provides 120 milligrams per 1000 kilocalories, a level that will barely provide the recommended daily intake.
Evidence suggests that the balance between calcium and magnesium is especially important. If calcium consumption is high, magnesium intake needs to be high also. The amounts of protein, phosphorus, and vitamin D in the diet also influence the magnesium requirement. The need for magnesium is increased when blood cholesterol levels are high and when consumption of protein is high.
Magnesium toxicity (hypermagnesia) is rare but can occur when urinary excretion is unusually decreased, when there is a considerable increase in absorption of the mineral, and sometimes after intramuscular injection. Certain bone tumors and cancers can raise the magnesium level in the body. Toxic symptoms can result in depression of the central nervous system and in extreme cases, death.
Deficiency Effects and Symptoms
Magnesium deficiency can easily occur. The mineral is refined out of many foods during processing. The cooking of food removes magnesium. Oxalic acid, found in foods like spinach, and phytic acid, found in cereals, form salts binding magnesium in the body.
Magnesium deficiency can occur in patients with diabetes, pancreatitis, chronic alcoholism, kwashiorkor, cirrhosis of the liver, arteriosclerosis, kidney malfunction, a high-carbohydrate diet, or severe malab-sorption as caused by chronic diarrhea or vomiting. Some hormones when used as drugs can upset metabolism and cause local deficiencies.
Magnesium deficiency is thought to be closely related to coronary heart disease.83 An inadequate supply of this mineral may result in the formation of clots in the heart and brain and may contribute to calcium deposits in the kidneys, blood vessels, and heart.
Symptoms of magnesium deficiency may include apprehensiveness, muscle twitch, tremors, confusion, irregular heart rhythm, depression, irritability, and disorientation.
Studies have shown that painful uterine contractions experienced by women toward then end of pregnancy could result from a deficiency of magnesium.
Beneficial Effect on Ailments
Magnesium is vital in helping prevent heart attacks and severe coronary thrombosis. Magnesium seems to be important in controlling the manner in which electrical charges are utilized by the body to induce the passage of nutrients in and out of cells. It has been successfully used to treat prostate troubles, polio, and depression. It has also proved beneficial in the treatment of neuromuscular disorders, nervousness, tantrums, sensitivity to noise, and hand tremor.
In alcoholics, the magnesium levels in the blood and muscles are low. Magnesium treatment helps the body retain magnesium and often helps control delirium tremens.
Magnesium helps to protect the accumulation of calcium deposits in the urinary tract. It makes the calcium and phosphorus soluble in the urine and prevents them from turning into hard stones. Adequate amounts of magnesium can help reduce blood cholesterol and help keep the arteries healthy.
Magnesium, not calcium, helps form the kind of hard tooth enamel that resists decay. No matter how much calcium is ingested, only a soft enamel will be formed unless magnesium is present.
Magnesium therapy has been effective in treating diarrhea, vomiting, nervousness, and kwashiorkor. Since magnesium works to preserve the health of the nervous system, it has been successfully used in controlling convulsions in pregnant women and epileptic patients. Because magnesium is very alkaline, it acts as an antacid and can be used in place of over-the-counter antacid compounds.
1. Magnesium and Kidney Stones. A thirty-three-year-old pregnant woman had passed at least eight to twelve stones during previous pregnancies. She was
given 500 to 1500 milligrams of magnesium daily over a period of 6 weeks.
Results. The pregnancy during which she was given the oral dose of magnesium was the first one during which she did not pass a single kidney stone.