Last updated by Dr Sarah Brewer on
Magnesium is one of the most important minerals for optimum health, yet most of us don’t get enough. Magnesium is needed for over 350 enzymes and metabolic pathways to run smoothly and, among other actions, helps to reduce arterial spasm, maintain a healthy blood pressure, relax muscles, promote sleep and improve glucose control. As a result of all these beneficial effects, researchers have found that people with the highest dietary intakes of magnesium were 37% less likely to die from any medical cause, over a 5 year follow-up period, than those with the lowest magnesium intakes.
Magnesium helps you live longer
The finding that magnesium helps you live longer came from a large study involving 7216 Spanish adults, aged 55 – 80 years. Those taking part were at high risk of a heart attack or stroke through having type 2 diabetes, or at least three major risk factors such as family history, smoking, being overweight, having a high blood pressure or a cholesterol imbalance.
Volunteers were asked to supplement their usual relatively healthy Mediterranean-style diet with either nuts (to boost magnesium intakes) or extra virgin olive oil (to boost mononunsaturates) while a third control group were advised to generally cut back on their intake of fats.
Participants who obtained the most magnesium from their food (average 454mg/day) were 34% less likely to die during the study from any medical cause than those with the lowest intakes (average 318mg per day). A good magnesium intake was also associated with a 23% lower risk of a cardiovascular death and a 50% lower risk of a cancer-related death.
This is not just a fluke finding, as a large meta-analysis that crunched data from 19 studies, involving almost 533,000 people, found the risk of cardiovascular events (heart attack, stroke) was 15% lower in those with the highest dietary magnesium intake and 33% lower in those with the highest blood levels of magnesium.
Magnesium deficiency is common
Unfortunately, a low magnesium intake is common. Adults need around 375mg per day according to the EU Nutrient Reference Value or 400mg according to the US Daily Value. Yet average adult intakes in Europe and the US are around 323 mg for males and 228mg for females. At least 65% of adults have low intakes, rising to over 80% by the age of 70 plus.
If you want to live as long as possible, it makes sense to increase your intake of this important mineral. Good food sources of magnesium include nuts and seeds (especially pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, almonds and cashews), dark green leaves (especially spinach and Swiss chard), beans (especially soy, lentils and white beans), fish (especially mackerel), dried fruit (especially figs) and wholegrains (especially quinoa, millet, Bulgur wheat and brown rice). Avoid processed cereal products as stripping off the outer fibre coating of rice and other grains removes almost all their magnesium content.
Drinking water in hard-water areas is also a good source of magnesium and can supply as much as 100mg per day.
Chocolate Brazil nuts anyone?
Another good source of magnesium is dark chocolate, so you could do a lot worse than selecting a handful of unsalted, mixed nuts and a square or two of dark chocolate as your daily treat.
Dark chocolate coated Brazil nuts are literally a match made in Heaven!
Click here to read more about the health benefits of magnesium.
Are you getting enough magnesium from your diet? Or do you take supplements?
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