Magnesium is a mineral essential for several bodily functions, including muscle and nerve function, regulation of blood sugar and blood pressure control.

A new study has shown that a diet rich in magnesium can help promote brain health while reducing the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. It is also crucial for the health of the heart, muscles and kidneys.

An adult body stores around 25 grams of magnesium, of which 50% to 60% is in the bones. When the body has low levels of magnesium, it may not show immediate signs of deficiency as the vital functions continue until the mineral is drained out of cells and bones.

However, if a person with a habitual poor intake loses magnesium or has reduced absorption due to medical conditions, it can cause long-term health complications.

Warning signs of deficiency

Muscle spasms and weakness, fatigue, poor appetite and nausea are some of the early signs to watch out for. As the situation worsens, people may experience mood or personality changes, tingling sensations, insomnia and abnormal heartbeat. Extreme deficiency can lead to conditions such as hypocalcemia (low calcium levels) or hypokalemia (low potassium levels).

When the magnesium deficiency is left untreated, it can raise the risk of osteoporosis, migraine headaches, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. The deficiency of magnesium is treated using supplements when it is mild and through IV (intravenous therapy) when the condition is severe.

How much magnesium is needed?

For adults above the age of 19, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of magnesium is 400-420 milligrams per day for men and 310 to 320 milligrams per day for women. Almonds, cashews, bananas, legumes, whole grains, leafy greens, including spinach, kale, and mustard greens, fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and halibut are good dietary sources of magnesium.

According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 48% of people in the U.S. get less magnesium from food and beverages than their estimated average requirement (EAR), and the dietary intake is particularly low in people above the age of 71.

EAR denotes the average daily intake of minerals needed to meet the requirements of 50% of healthy individuals. The EAR for magnesium is 350 mg/day for men above 31 years of age and 265 mg/day for women of the same age.

Who is at risk of deficiency?

People with chronic diarrhea and gastrointestinal issues such as Chron's disease and celiac disease can have malabsorption of magnesium from the gut. People with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes are at risk when there is increased loss of magnesium through urine. Factors such as excessive use of alcohol, vitamin D deficiency and fatty stools from poor functioning of the pancreas also elevate the risk.