Magnesium: the Mineral Workhorse
Clinical Herbalist Reviewed on September 30, 2011 by Paulina Nelega, RH
Magnesium is the 4th most abundant mineral in the body, yet deficiency of this vital mineral is all too common. This is primarily due to commercial farming practices, which deplete the soil of vital nutrients. Crops can only take up minerals that are available in the soil they’re grown in – so if that soil is depleted, then the crops growing in them will be, too.
A deficiency of magnesium can contribute to muscle tension, spasms, foot and leg cramps, and constipation. Magnesium helps keep our muscles relaxed and, along with calcium, plays an important role in regulating bone metabolism. It’s involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body including activating enzymes, converting blood sugar into energy, and helping to regulate vitamin C, phosphorous, sodium and potassium metabolism – that’s a lot of work, for one little mineral!
An interesting feature about magnesium is its association with the chlorophyll molecule of plants, and the hemoglobin molecule of our red blood cells. Chlorophyll shares similarities, structurally, with hemoglobin, including carrying a centrally-located metal ion. In chlorophyll, this ion is magnesium, whereas in hemoglobin it is iron. Iron is important for transporting oxygen in the blood and removing waste gases, like CO2; magnesium is necessary for the conversion of CO2 to oxygen in plants, which is then released into the atmosphere. Opposite, yet complementary roles, and an example of our shared evolution.
Leafy greens such as spinach, collards, and chard are excellent dietary sources of this important mineral. Other magnesium-rich foods include beans, peas, nuts, seeds and whole, unrefined grains.
Here’s a chart of the magnesium content of many foods, to help make sure you’re getting enough (~400 mg per day for adults) of nature’s little workhorse!
Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan