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Why is Magnesium so Important in the Body?

Magnesium is the seventh most abundant mineral on earth and is found in a wide variety of plant-based foods. In fact, magnesium is at the center of every chlorophyll molecule. Many types of milk products, as well as fish and seafood, are also high in magnesium.

Despite its ubiquitous nature, magnesium deficiency is extremely prevalent throughout the world. Due to a lack of accurate testing for magnesium, exact statistics on magnesium deficiency worldwide can only be estimated. But in a 2017 study published by the British Cardiovascular Society, the researchers concluded:

“[…] because of chronic diseases, medications, decreases in food crop magnesium contents, and the availability of refined and processed foods, the vast majority of people in modern societies are at risk for magnesium deficiency.[…] Subclinical magnesium deficiency increases the risk of numerous types of cardiovascular disease, costs nations around the world an incalculable amount of healthcare costs and suffering, and should be considered a public health crisis.”
(Lopez H, Leenhardt F, Coudray C, Rémésy C. Minerals and phytic acid interactions: Is it a real problem for human nutrition? Int J Food Sci Tech. 2002;37:727-39.)

When scientists claim that magnesium deficiency should be considered a public health crisis, it shows just how important magnesium – and the lack of it – is for our health.

Magnesium is involved in over 600 cellular reactions in your body, from making DNA to maintaining a healthy heartbeat. It’s particularly important for the proper functioning of your brain, heart, and skeletal muscles. On the other hand, magnesium deficiency has been linked to reduced immune function, migraine headaches, depression, asthma, and heart disease.

In fact, animal research as early as 1936 implicated low magnesium intake in atherosclerosis – the hardening of arteries. And numerous studies since then have confirmed that low magnesium is associated with all known cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, and arterial plaque build-up.

Magnesium also has a close relationship with calcium. These two minerals need to be in balance to maintain certain bodily functions, such as keeping an even heartbeat and blood pressure. Magnesium is required to transport calcium across cell membranes, so a magnesium deficiency can quickly lead to a calcium deficiency because the calcium simply cannot get into your cells.

This also means that increasing your calcium intake will not help if you are deficient in magnesium. Any unabsorbed calcium will remain in your bloodstream and eventually be excreted. If excessive amounts of calcium are consumed, this can lead to arterial plaque buildup and raise your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Phytic acid is known to reduce magnesium absorption when there is a high amount of phytic acid in relation to magnesium. Although, it’s important to note that this situation would be nearly impossible if you ate a primarily whole foods diet. Unrefined foods that are high in phytate are also typically rich in magnesium, including whole grains, legumes, and nuts.

Magnesium absorption will only be restricted by phytic acid in low-magnesium foods, which would primarily include refined, processed foods. This imbalance between the amounts of phytic acid and minerals is another insidious way the nutrient-inhibiting effects of phytic acid are magnified in a modern diet of processed foods.