Magnesium is one of the major minerals of the human body. In relation to health, many have used it on the superficial level to help prevent muscle cramps and assist with bowel regularity. But magnesium’s benefits go much deeper than that as it also serves as a reliable predictor of all aspects of heart disease.
Roughly more than 50% of Americans are deficient in this mineral, despite it playing a key role in more than 350 enzymes and being involved in virtually every metabolic process occurring in the body. Studies have suggested an association between low serum magnesium levels and cardiovascular disease and future risk of hypertension and stroke. Furthermore, numerous studies have shown that low serum magnesium is associated with vascular calcification, but there have been few studies examining a relationship to coronary artery calcification.
In a study published in Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases, researchers analyzed 34,553 participants who underwent coronary multi-detector computed tomography and serum magnesium level measurement over a 2-year period. According to the analysis, low serum magnesium was associated with coronary artery calcification even after adjustment for several other health and lifestyle factors. Low serum magnesium was also significantly associated with coronary artery calcification for those at low risk for developing cardiovascular disease. Surprisingly, it was even still present in groups without risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, and obesity.
Keep in mind that serum (in the blood) magnesium represents only 1% of magnesium stores. Magnesium is homeostatically controlled in the serum and measuring serum magnesium levels provides many false negatives. By the time this barometer is low, one is already very deficient in magnesium, as the body cannot maintain the serum magnesium levels. Diabetics are also notable for commonly having low magnesium. Measuring RBC magnesium is the most accurate test that can be done by most laboratories.
We have seen decades of increased dietary calcium intake in the American population that has not been balanced with an increase in dietary magnesium intake, and as a result the majority of adults have become magnesium deficient. Dietary calcium-to-magnesium ratios have continued to increase, and studies are showing that calcium supplements not balanced with magnesium actually contribute to an increase in the risk of heart disease.
On the other end of the spectrum, we also want to optimize our magnesium levels, not just avoid a deficiency. In a review of three studies of over 85,000 women and 42,000 men, individuals who consumed the most magnesium lowered their risk of developing diabetes more than 30 percent during the next 12 to 18 years compared to those who consumed the least amount. The studies suggest that magnesium influences the action of insulin in the body. A lack of magnesium may worsen insulin resistance, triggering the onset of diabetes.
The current RDA for magnesium is 310-320 milligrams (mg) for adult women, and 400-420 mg for adult men. Average intake among Americans tends to lag about 100 mg below these recommended levels. Those most likely to have low blood levels include the elderly and those who take diuretic medications, which increase the excretion of magnesium. The best food sources are green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and dried beans. Start today to make a push to optimize your magnesium levels and you’ll be helping to maintain several areas of your overall health.