Given magnesium’s major role in bone health, you might think your doctor regularly checks your magnesium along with your calcium and vitamin D levels. Unfortunately, there’s currently no accurate blood test (because very little magnesium resides in your blood), so magnesium deficiency is dramatically underdiagnosed. Among its many roles, this calming essential mineral nourishes your nervous system and eases anxiety, insomnia, irritability and depression.

Fast Fact: An estimated 50-80% of Americans are deficient in magnesium.  

Why You Need It: Magnesium is required by every cell in your body and is involved in the workings of more than 300 enzyme systems. In addition to being one of the major minerals that make up your bones, magnesium plays important roles in energy production, blood sugar regulation, activation of muscles and nerves, protein synthesis, production of the anti-oxidant glutathione, and neurotransmitter release. Magnesium’s role in preventing heart disease and promoting cardiovascular health is widely accepted. A meta-analysis that looked at 16 studies and over 300,000 participants found that higher blood levels of magnesium were associated with a 30% lower risk of cardiovascular disease. In a large-scale, long-term study, researchers found that the higher the magnesium intake, the lower the risk of dying from stroke, heart failure and coronary artery disease for women, and the lower the risk of dying from stroke for men. Magnesium’s ability to prevent kidney stone formation is also well documented.

Magnesium deficiency is common in people with migraines. Low magnesium levels are also linked to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, sudden cardiac death, metabolic syndrome, menstrual cramps, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, osteoporosis and asthma. Prescription medications such as antibiotics, diuretics, painkillers and cortisone can deplete levels of magnesium in the body. Magnesium is also lost through stress and lack of sleep.

Best Food Sources: Whole grains, dried seaweed, nuts (almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, Filberts, pecans, and English walnuts), peanuts, and seeds (sunflower, pumpkin) are excellent sources. Also, tofu, dried figs, apricots, dates, avocado, black beans, dark-green leafy vegetables (spinach and chard are tops), and yes, dark chocolate.  

Supplement Suggestions: Recommended forms (more easily absorbed, gentler on the stomach) include chelated magnesium, magnesium glycinate, magnesium malate, magnesium threonate, or if you could benefit from a mild laxative, magnesium citrate. Epsom salt baths or foot baths are another good source. Taking magnesium at bedtime can help relax your muscles, prevent middle-of-the-night leg cramps, and promote a restful sleep.

Need to Know: Food processing removes magnesium, whereas whole foods are plentiful in magnesium.

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