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Magnesium in diet

Magnesium is an essential mineral for human nutrition.

Function

Magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It helps to maintain normal nerve and muscle function, supports a healthy immune system, keeps the heart beat steady, and helps bones remain strong. It also helps regulate blood glucose levels and aid in the production of energy and protein. There is ongoing research into the role of magnesium in preventing and managing disorders such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.

Food Sources

Most dietary magnesium comes from vegetables, such as dark green, leafy vegetables. Other foods that are good sources of magnesium:

  • Fruits or vegetables (such as bananas, dried apricots, and avocados)
  • Nuts (such as almonds and cashews)
  • Peas and beans (legumes), seeds
  • Soy products (such as soy flour and tofu)
  • Whole grains (such as brown rice and millet)

Side Effects

Side effects from increased magnesium intake are not common because the body removes excess amounts. Magnesium excess almost always occurs only when magnesium is supplemented as a medication.

Lack of magnesium (deficiency) is rare. The symptoms include:

  • Hyperexcitability
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sleepiness

Deficiency of magnesium can occur in people who abuse alcohol or in those who absorb less magnesium due to:

  • Burns
  • Certain medications
  • Low blood levels of calcium
  • Problems absorbing nutrients from the intestinal tract (malabsorption)
  • Surgery

Symptoms due to a lack of magnesium have three categories.

Early symptoms:

  • Anorexia
  • Apathy
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Muscle twitching
  • Poor memory
  • Reduced ability to learn

Moderate deficiency symptoms:

  • Heart (cardiovascular) changes
  • Rapid heartbeat

Severe deficiency:

  • Continued muscle contraction
  • Delirium
  • Numbness
  • Seeing or hearing things that aren't there (hallucinations)
  • Tingling

Recommendations

These are the recommended daily requirements of magnesium:

Children:

  • 1 - 3 years old: 80 milligrams
  • 4 - 8 years old: 130 milligrams
  • 9 - 13 years old: 240 milligrams
  • 14 - 18 years old (boys): 410 milligrams
  • 14 - 18 years old (girls): 360 milligrams

Adult females: 310 - 320 milligrams

  • Pregnancy: 350 - 400 milligrams
  • Breastfeeding women: 310 - 360 milligrams

Adult males: 400 - 420 milligrams

Alternative Names

Diet - magnesium

References

Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. DRI Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Vitamin D, and Fluoride. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1997.

Yu ASL. Disorders of magnesium and phosphorus. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 120.

Rakel D, ed. Integrative Medicine. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007.

Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Magnesium. Accessed February 12, 2013.

Update Date: 2/18/2013

Updated by: Alison Evert, MS, RD, CDE, Nutritionist, University of Washington Medical Center Diabetes Care Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

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