Magnesium is an essential mineral for human nutrition. It plays hundreds of roles within the body including synthesizing protein and assisting in the functioning of certain enzymes, particularly in the brain. Ailments as diverse as asthma, allergies, fibromyalgia, mitral-valve prolapse, attention deficit disorders and migraines have been linked to magnesium deficiencies. Yet, for all its power and importance -- compared to its more talked-about cohorts like calcium -- magnesium doesn't get much notice. Even mild deficiencies of magnesium can lead to nervousness, noise sensitivity, irritability, insomnia, depression, muscle weakness and cramps.
While deficiencies are possible, excessive amounts of magnesium within the body are almost unheard of because your body naturally eliminates excess amounts of magnesium. In fact, the rare occasions of overload are almost always linked to the use of magnesium when it is supplemented as a medication. Dr. Bradley Collins, an internist at East Jefferson General Hospital, says most of the magnesium deficiencies seen in his practice are among patients who are taking diuretics. The problem can be compounded significantly if a person is taking a diuretic and abusing alcohol. He suggests that any patient taking a diuretic remind their physician to keep an eye on their magnesium levels in order to avoid symptoms of deficiencies such as lethargy, confusion and muscle cramps. For most people, getting enough magnesium should be as simple as taking a supplement.
"Unless you have an existing kidney or renal condition, most people could safely take a magnesium supplement daily as a means of assuring themselves a safe and healthy magnesium level," Collins says. As an example of physicians who, early on, recognized the value of magnesium supplements, Collins points to ophthalmologists who have reacted to the many articles and studies linking healthy magnesium volumes to improved eyesight by suggesting their patients add a magnesium supplement if they do not get enough in their normal diet. Such supplements are available over the counter and don't require a prescription.
The health risks of magnesium deficiency cross all cultural and geographic borders. According to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (USNAS), there have been more than 50 studies conducted in nine countries that have indicated an inverse relationship between hard water, or water deficient in magnesium and calcium, and mortality rates from cardiovascular disease. This link has proved so strong, the USNAS believes the addition of calcium and magnesium to soft-water supplies might reduce the annual cardiovascular death rate in America by 150,000.
Of course, it is difficult to report hard data on how many people suffer from deficiencies because most cases go undetected. There are recommended daily amounts of magnesium for each of us. The government's recommended volumes: 1-3 years old, 80 milligrams; 4-8 years old, 130 milligrams; 9-13 years old, 240 milligrams; 14- to 18-year-old boys, 410 milligrams; and 14- to 18-year-old girls, 360 milligrams; adult females, 310 milligrams; pregnant women, 360-400 milligrams; women who are breastfeeding, 320-360 milligrams; and adult males, 400 milligrams.
Nature has anticipated one of our most primary needs by making magnesium abundantly available. Following any reasonably healthy diet will provide you more than enough magnesium. Foods rich in magnesium include vegetables -- particularly the dark green and leafy varieties -- soy products, legumes and seeds, nuts such as almonds and cashews, whole grains, and fruits like bananas, apricots and avocados.