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Along with phosphorus, magnesium follows a close second behind calcium as the most common mineral in the body. Around 86% of all the magnesium is found in the bones (60%) and muscles (26%), with the rest being distributed between the other soft tissues (especially brain, heart, liver and kidney) and bodily fluids.

Functions of magnesium in the body

  • Important role in energy production (involved in over 300 enzyme reactions, many related to ATP)
  • Involved in the synthesis of nucleic acids and proteins (cell reproduction)
  • Opposes calcium to relax muscles
  • Required for cell sodium/potassium pumps to operate (cell metabolism and nerve function)
  • Stops calcium entry into blood vessel and heart cells, reducing blood pressure by limiting spasm and constriction
  • Regulates calcium metabolism by affecting parathyroid hormone and calcitonin, as well as potassium and sodium.
  • Necessary for hormonal activity
  • Can help to prevent kidney and gall stones by its effect on calcium levels.
  • May help prevent diabetes

Magnesium deficiency

Magnesium deficiency can be caused by a lack of magnesium in the diet, by an excess of calcium or by other factors which may increase excretion or limit absorption. Magnesium deficiency is common in the West and is often underestimated due to the reliance on serum (blood) concentrations. As most of the magnesium is found in the tissues and not serum, this will show up only severe deficiencies.

Symptoms of magnesium deficiency

Muscle cramps
Menstrual cramps
Sugar cravings
Fatigue / tiredness
"Nervousness" / Anxiety
"Tics" (involuntary muscle twitches, especially on the face)
Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar)
Childhood hyperactivity
High blood pressure
Poor circulation
Kidney / gall stones

In most cases, deficiency of magnesium is not due to insufficient intake, but is a result of factors that increase excretion or reduce absorption.

Some other medical conditions that may contribute to magnesium deficiency are:

Congestive heart failure (CHF)
Digitalis toxicity
Excessive sweating
Resection of the ileum (upper end of the bowel)

Association with other minerals and vitamins

Magnesium is not only intimately involved in regulating levels of calcium, it is also closely associated with potassium (especially intracellular potassium) and phosphorus (through it's effect on energy production and ATP - Adenosine Tri Phosphate, which is the main cellular energy source in the body).

Factors which reduce magnesium absorption

High calcium intake
Alcohol (excessive)
Irritation of the digestive tract

Factors which increase calcium excretion

Use of diuretic (heart and blood pressure) drugs
Liver and kidney disease
Oral contraceptive use
Excessive exercise
Excessive tea and coffee drinking

Many women are particularly deficient in calcium during their menstrual period

Normal amounts of calcium in the diet

Age mg/day
Children (0-1 year) 55 - 80
Children (1-10 years) 85 - 200
11yrs+ (inc adults) 280 - 300
Lactation 320

Sources of dietary magnesium

Source mg/100g Source mg/100g
Kelp 760 Sunflower seeds 38
Wheat bran 490 Barley 37
Wheat germ 336 Dandelion leaves 36
Almonds 270 Garlic 36
Cashews 267 Fresh green peas 35
Molasses 258 Sweet potato 31
Buckwheat 229 Blackberries 30
Brazil Nuts 225 Broccoli 28
Hazelnuts 184 Cheddar cheese 25
Roasted peanuts 180 Cauliflower 24
Millet 162 Carrots 23
Pecans 142 White fish 23
Rye 115 Celery 22
Bean Curd 111 Chicken 21
Dried Coconut 90 Asparagus 20
Brown rice 88 Beef 18
Whole-wheat bread 76 Potatoes 17
Dried Apricots 62 Tomatoes 14
Corn 48 Oranges 13
Avocado 45 Whole milk 13
Parsley 41 Eggs 12

Magnesium supplements

Magnesium is best taken as part of a broad-spectrum multimineral supplement. This will help to limit the potential negative effect of taking too much magnesium on calcium, potassium and some other minerals. Absorption of magnesium into cells requires the presence of Vitamin B6.

People requiring additional magnesium.

Those with Pancreatitis
Congestive Heart Failure
Digitalis toxicity
Excessive sweating (or exercising)

People with kidney disease or severe heart disease should take magnesium supplements ONLY under the direction of their medical practitioner.

Which form of magnesium to take?

Some forms of magnesium, such as magnesium hydroxide, magnesium oxide, magnesium carbonate, magnesium chloride and magnesium sulphate (Epsom salts) may cause diarrhoea, and should, in most cases, be avoided.

Back from magnesium to minerals

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