Magnesium is an essential nutrient. It enables key metabolic processes, contributes to bone strength, and acts as a cofactor in hundreds of enzymatic reactions.1 Despite its central role in physiology and health, magnesium is under-consumed by most Americans, leading to chronic magnesium deficiency and increased risk for multiple serious health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and depression.2 The main factors underlying reduced magnesium intake are the declining nutrient content of produce and refined grains, and increased consumption of processed foods, both of which are common in the Standard American Diet (SAD). Boosting magnesium intake to recommended levels requires people to improve the quality of their diets by increasing consumption of whole foods, reducing intake of processed foods, and possibly using daily magnesium supplements.
This article reviews the central importance of magnesium in the human body, the causes and consequences of magnesium deficiency, and approaches to improve magnesium status and overall health.
Why Is Magnesium Important?
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant cation in the human body. It plays a central role in energy production, glycolysis, and the synthesis of proteins and nucleic acids (DNA and RNA).1 Among other actions, magnesium is a cofactor for more than 300 enzymes and is essential to cell growth and function, energy storage and production, stabilization of cell membranes, nerve conduction, muscle contraction, and the function of ion channels (Figure 1).3-4
Unfortunately, multiple survey studies from the United States, Europe, and other regions have demonstrated that the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of magnesium remains unmet in a large proportion of the population, likely as a result of SAD dietary patterns.5-8 It is estimated that about half of the United States population consumes less than the RDA of magnesium.6,9 The estimated severity of magnesium deficits has led some experts to suggest that many people need greater than 300 milligrams of magnesium per day to replete and maintain body stores.10