Magnesium - The Alcoholic's Balm - Information on Deficiency, Benefits, Food Sources

All human tissues contain small quantities of magnesium. The adult human body contains about 25 g of this mineral, the greater part of which is present in bones in combination with phosphate and carbonate. Bone ashes contain less than one per cent magnesium.

About one-fifth of the total magnesium in the body is present in the soft tissues inside the cells, where it is mainly bound to protein. The bones seem to provide a reserve supply of this mineral in case of a shortage elsewhere in the body.

Magnesium is a light, silver-white, malleable, and ductile metallic element. It burns with a very hot, bright flame and is used to form light-weight alloys. Biochemists call magnesium the 'cool, alkaline, refreshing, sleep ­promoting mineral'. It helps to keep one calm and cool during the sweltering summer months. Intake of diuretics and alcohol can render magnesium ineffective.

Active absorption of this mineral occurs in the ileum of the small intestine. Magnesium may compete with and decrease calcium absorption from the intestine. The parathyroid hormone, parathormone, which 'Controls serum calcium levels, has a similar effect on magnesium. Almost twice the amount of magnesium is stored in bones as compared with soft tissues. Bone magnesium is, however, not readily exchanged with the magnesium of soft tissues.

Since a greater part of magnesium in the diet is not absorbed, it is excreted in the stools. About one-third of the amountingested is excreted in the urine. Urinary excretion is reduced in magnesium deficiency. The magnesium content in the blood is about 2 to 3 mg/ 100 ml.

Recommended Daily Allowance - Magnesium
Men 350 mg
Women 300 mg
Children 150-200 mg
Infants 40-60 mg

Magnesium Benefits - Functions in the Body

Magnesium helps to keep the nerves relaxed. It is necessary for all muscular activity. It is an activator of most of the enzyme systems involved in the metabolism of carbohydrate, fat, and protein. It is necessary for the activation of alkaline phosphatase, an enzyme involved in calcium and phosphorus metabolism. Magnesium also helps in the utilisation of vitamins B and E. It functions with other minerals such as calcium, sodium, and potassium in maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance. Adequate levels of magnesium are necessary for normal neuromuscular contractions. This mineral is also involved in the production of lecithin. It prevents the building up of cholesterol and consequent artherosclerosis.

Magnesium promotes a healthier cardiovascular system and thus helps prevent heart attacks. It aids in fighting depression. It helps to prevent calcium deposits in kidneys and gallstones. It also provides relief from indigestion.

Magnesium Rich Food Sources

Magnesium is widely distributed in foods. It is a part of the chlorophyll in green vegetables. Other good sources of this mineral are nuts, soya beans, alfalfa, apples, figs, lemons, peaches, almonds, whole grains, brown rice, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds. Cereals and vegetables normally contribute more than two­thirds of the daily magnesium intake.

See, information on magnesium supplements.

Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms

Magnesium deficiency is unlikely to arise in human beings due to an inadequate intake of foods contaihing it. Deficiency may, however, occur under the same metabolic condition that leads to a lack of potassium, namely, excessive loss due to chronic diarrhoea.

Magnesium deficiency has been observed in patients with certain clinical conditions where magnesium intake or absorption has been decreased and magnesium excretion increased. These conditions include chronic alcoholism, diabetes, malabsorption syndrome, renal disease, disorders of the parathyroid gland, and post surgical stress.

Continuous deficiency of magnesium also causes a loss of calcium and potassium from the body with consequent deficiencies of these minerals. Deficiency can lead to kidney damage: and kidney stones, muscle cramps, atherosclerosis, heart attack, epileptic seizures, nervous irritability, marked depression and confusion, impaired protein metabolism, and premature wrinkles. Magnesium deficiency increases an individual's susceptibility to high blood pressure.

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