Did you know Magnesium is the ninth most abundant element in the Universe? It forms in large stars, as a result of chemical fusion between Helium and Neon. As a result, it is found all around us: in the Earth’s crust, ground soil and natural mineral water, at the centre of every chlorophyll molecule within plants, and of course within us.
This cosmic mineral is needed for over 300 different chemical processes within the human body, which explains why it’s found in each and every cell within us. Our little unsung hero is an essential cofactor in energy metabolism and modulates inflammation. Plus, it plays important roles in calcium and vitamin D metabolisms, pain signalling, insulin release, bone health, and the maintenance of muscle and nerve function, to name just a few. Alongside Calcium, Magnesium boasts the highest number of approved claims for minerals on the EU register for Nutrition and Health Claims, most of which reflect absolutely crucial functions.
Yet, to quote a recently published review on subclinical magnesium deficiency, “the evidence in the literature suggests that subclinical magnesium deficiency is rampant and one of the leading causes of chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, and early mortality around the globe, and should be considered a public health crisis”.
And it’s not just a global problem, it’s a national one too. In a recent analysis of British adult diets, all age groups studied (20-60 years) showed sub-optimal intake of magnesium, well below the daily Reference Nutrient Intakes (RNI) for the mineral, with almost 15% of them below the Lower Reference Nutrient Intakes (LRNI). Such levels are dangerously low.
In arthritis specifically, a recent study found that 68% of men and 44% women with osteoarthritis of the knee were consuming below the daily estimated average requirements for Magnesium, and that low intakes were strongly associated with worse knee pain and function, when adjusted for all other factors.
The tricky thing is, sub-clinical Magnesium deficiency is a silent assailant: it displays no symptoms, is difficult to diagnose, and has been associated with many chronic conditions or their complications – including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and osteoporosis. It is therefore essential to strive for an optimal Magnesium intake, sourced ideally from a well-balanced and varied diet.
The good news is, Magnesium isn’t too hard to come by, in theory. The best sources include unrefined wholegrain cereals including brown rice and wholegrain bread, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, dark chocolate (>70% cocoa), avocados, bananas, tofu, and some oily fish such as salmon and mackerel. All the great stuff that’s good for you anyway.
But, if it’s so easy to source, why has Magnesium deficiency become so widespread in our society? Well, from a dietary perspective, the main culprits include intensive farming leading to nutrient-poor soil and magnesium losses during the refinement or processing of foods. Which means that processed foods, fats, refined flour and sugar – which are synonymous with modern-day Western diets – are all devoid of Magnesium. Same for the water we drink, if we use a water softener or filter for our tap water, which are growing in popularity. Other contributors include excessive alcohol consumption, and certain types of medications (including diruetics) causing Magnesium losses.
So, make sure you redouble your efforts to embrace the universe’s most abundant, naturally-occurring, and under-recognised gift to your health and well-being. Magnificent magnesium, indeed.