When it comes to the minerals your body needs to perform well, calcium and potassium tend to get most of the attention. Yet, magnesium, a mineral responsible for more than 300 reactions throughout your body, is a key player in optimal nutrition and overall health. It helps to metabolize food, maintain strong bones, and control inflammation, but its most important job of all is regulating heart rhythm.
Magnesium & Heartbeat
Magnesium contributes to the transportation of electrolytes into a cell. Electrolytes, including potassium and calcium, are critical for the nerve signals and muscle contractions needed to maintain a stable heartbeat. According to the 2012 Framingham Heart Study, low magnesium correlates with atrial fibrillation, a heart malfunction in which the organ’s electrical system creates quivers in the upper chambers, ultimately creating an irregular heartbeat.
While further studies must be completed to determine whether increased magnesium intake can boost heart health, there do appear to be clear benefits of getting enough magnesium. One meta-analysis of more than 20 studies indicate magnesium supplements can lower blood pressure. This could ultimately contribute to improved heart health, since high blood pressure can lead to the thickening of the arteries, increasing the risk for heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. Separately, a link between elevated heart attack risk and low magnesium levels has also been established.
How Much Magnesium Does Your Body Need?
Healthy individuals have roughly 25 grams of magnesium stored in their bodies, which is concentrated mostly in the bones. Less than 1% is found in the blood, which is why diagnosing a magnesium deficiency presents challenges. With that said, certain populations are known to face a greater risk for a deficiency, including people with conditions that deplete the mineral. Individuals with gastrointestinal diseases, type 2 diabetes, and alcoholism may have low magnesium. Additionally, people taking diuretics and proton pump inhibitors share a greater risk for a magnesium deficiency.
Individuals with a diagnosed magnesium deficiency may be recommended for supplements, as increasing intake of the mineral could help avoid serious health issues, including irregular heartbeat, seizures, and muscle spasms. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA), or daily level of intake sufficient for nearly all healthy individuals, is 420 mg for male adults aged 31 and up, and 320 mg for women of the same age. Younger people may need less, while women who are pregnant may need more. Speak to your physician to determine what may be best for you.
Dietary Sources of Magnesium
While some foods, such as cereals, are enriched with added magnesium, there are also many food sources which are naturally high in the mineral. Almonds boast the greatest amount of magnesium, with 80 mg per serving. Spinach, cashews, soymilk, black beans, avocado, potatoes, and yogurt are also good sources of the nutrient.
Of course, if you’re experiencing symptoms such as irregular heartbeat or muscle spasms, it’s important to get to the bottom of it by consulting your physician before beginning any supplement regimen. For the right individuals, the benefits of magnesium can extend beyond heart health, leading to reduced inflammation and insulin resistance as well as improved exercise performance.