Magnesium, an abundant mineral in the body, is naturally present in many foods, added to other food products, available as a dietary supplement, and present in some medicines (such as antacids and laxatives). Magnesium is a cofactor in more than 300 enzyme systems that regulate diverse biochemical reactions in the body, including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation. Magnesium is required for energy production, oxidative phosphorylation, and glycolysis. It contributes to the structural development of bone and is required for the synthesis of DNA, RNA, and the antioxidant glutathione. Magnesium also plays a role in the active transport of calcium and potassium ions across cell membranes, a process that is important to nerve impulse conduction, muscle contraction, and normal heart rhythm.
An adult body contains approximately 25 g magnesium, with 50% to 60% present in the bones and most of the rest in soft tissues. Less than 1% of total magnesium is in blood serum, and these levels are kept under tight control. Normal serum magnesium concentrations range between 0.75 and 0.95 millimoles (mmol)/L.
Assessing magnesium status is difficult because most magnesium is inside cells or in bone. Magnesium homeostasis is largely controlled by the kidney, which typically excretes about 120 mg magnesium into the urine each day. Urinary excretion is reduced when magnesium status is low. Dietary surveys show that many people consume less than the recommended intakes for magnesium.
Symptomatic magnesium deficiency due to low dietary intake in otherwise-healthy people is uncommon because the kidneys will limit urinary excretion of this mineral when intake is low. However, habitually low intakes or excessive losses of magnesium due to certain health conditions, chronic alcoholism, and/or the use of certain medications can lead to a magnesium deficiency. Chronic low intakes can induce changes in biochemical pathways that can increase the risk of illness over time.
Food sources include nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, avocado, legumes, and whole grains.
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- U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.
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