The silver white alkaline earth metal magnesium, derived from the Greek Magnēsios = magnetic stone, is known to most people.
Magnesium was identified in 1755 by Joseph Black in Edinburgh and first brought to its metallic pure form in 1808 in London by Sir Humphry Davy. Since then, the mineral has been used in many areas. Magnesium is a light metal that is very popular as a component for various alloys in vehicle construction and aerospace engineering. Almost half of the magnesium metal produced is used for alloys. A car, for example, contains about 15 to 25 kg of magnesium. But it is also used as corrosion protection for marine paints and in hydrogen technology.
Fortunately, magnesium is not a rare metal! It is already abundant in our oceans alone. For example, 17% of the dissolved salts in seawater are magnesium compounds. Both for its many technical applications and for its function in our body's enzyme system, it is indispensable to the world as we know it. In plant cell walls, bound magnesium serves as Mg2+ (as well as Ca2+) for cross-linking proteins.
In addition, the central atom magnesium is present in chlorophyll, which is also called the green blood of plants because it has a similar structure to haemoglobin in human red blood cells. Without magnesium, photosynthesis would not be possible .
Effect of the mineral on the body
As an enzyme component and coenzyme, magnesium is involved in about 300 different enzyme reactions in the body. It works on different levels for the organism: magnesium is needed so that our nervous system can function properly. It also plays an important role in the transmission of stimuli in the nerve cells and in human muscle contraction. It is also involved in the regulation of hormones and neurotransmitters and is responsible for the activation of vitamin D in the kidneys. The mineral also influences energy metabolism and mental functions. It is also essential as an important cofactor for various ATP-dependent enzymes and thus for the provision of energy in our body. It also maintains electrolyte balance and acts as a calcium antagonist by controlling calcium influx at the cell membrane. The mineral is even involved in human cell division and also serves for a functioning protein synthesis .
Magnesium for the bones
Magnesium contributes to the normal maintenance of our bones as well as our teeth and is indispensable in its function for the body. The body of an adult contains about 25 g of magnesium, of which 50% to 60% is found in the bones alone. Less than 1% of the total magnesium is found in the blood serum. The rest is present in the cells of our muscles and organs . When there is a magnesium deficiency, the body relies on maintaining magnesium levels in the blood. In this case, it is forced to mobilise magnesium from the bones, which has a negative effect on bone health if this condition persists. Therefore, a sufficient magnesium supply is a helpful prevention against fractures caused by osteoporosis. This has also been proven in studies: women who take the recommended magnesium intake have a 30% lower risk of fractures compared to those who take too little magnesium .
Magnesium and the human energy balance
Most people have probably already learned about part of the mineral's effect in chemistry class. When magnesium is heated, the mineral burns as a glistening bright flame, which can be symbolically described as the magnesium role for the energy balance in the body. Magnesium influences the energy metabolism of our mitochondria in the breakdown and energetic utilisation of energy-providing macronutrients (carbohydrates, lipids, proteins) . It is also involved in the activation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the form of the magnesium-ATP complex and is probably the most important part of ATP . It has the function of transferring a phosphate group from ATP to a substrate, which is an essential step in the energy supply of our body . ATP is the universal energy carrier of our cells, providing our bodies with 90-95% of the energy they need. ATP can only develop its full potential with a sufficient magnesium supply!
Magnesium and the cardiovascular system
Magnesium also plays an important role in our cardiovascular system. According to the Society for Magnesium Research, a magnesium deficiency can be a factor in the development of cardiac arrhythmias. This is due to an increase in neuromuscular excitability, which can also promote high blood pressure. The positive effects of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure are currently being researched . In the association's diagnostic and therapeutic recommendations, it is recommended to have the magnesium status (as well as other electrolytes) checked. Patients with cardiac arrhythmias should pay attention to a magnesium-rich diet .
Magnesium and sleep
Magnesium not only helps to reduce tiredness and fatigue. An adequate magnesium intake can even help you fall asleep. About a quarter of all adults suffer from a sleep disorder. Compared to people with magnesium deficiency, people with well-filled magnesium stores not only fall asleep faster, but also sleep through the night better. Studies in the sleep laboratory have shown that taking magnesium when deficient is beneficial for the restorative deep sleep phase .
Magnesium and diabetes
In Germany alone, around 8 million people currently suffer from diabetes. Almost every tenth person is affected and about 600,000 new cases are diagnosed every year . Many doctors are now trying to draw attention to the fact that too much sugar and too little exercise are not the only reasons for this. It is very likely that low magnesium intake is also involved.
People who are deficient in magnesium are about twice as likely to get diabetes as people with normal magnesium levels . There are probably several reasons for this: on the one hand, absorption via the gastrointestinal tract may be disturbed, and on the other hand, there may be a lack of magnesium-rich foods due to the often strictly prescribed diets. In addition, diabetics have an increased excretion of magnesium in the urine.
A study by Nurses Health and Professionals Follow-up came to the following conclusion: the higher the magnesium intake, the lower the risk of developing diabetes. The study participants with a high magnesium intake had a 1/3 lower risk of developing diabetes than those with a lower magnesium intake . But how can the influence of magnesium be explained in this respect?
Our body's own hormone insulin has the task of transporting glucose (sugar) from the blood into our cells so that it can be used there for energy production. Since permanently elevated blood sugar levels can lead to tissue damage in the nerves and blood vessels, our body is concerned with transporting excess sugar into the cells as quickly as possible. To open the cells for glucose uptake, magnesium is needed as a cofactor. If there is too little magnesium, the insulin cannot work sufficiently, which means that more and more insulin is released. Unfortunately, insulin also has the property of inhibiting fat breakdown and promoting fat storage in fat cells. Obesity is therefore also associated with diabetes. A vicious circle that gets worse and worse if nothing is done. Magnesium also influences the B vitamins, which, among other things, influence the utilisation of proteins, fats and carbohydrates . Unfortunately, the added sugar in processed foods hardly provides any magnesium. On the contrary: it even consumes it! Therefore, carbohydrate intake is differentiated in this way and a distinction is made between whether 100 grams of carbohydrates are taken in the form of isolated sugar or in the form of fruit or oatmeal. Oatmeal, for example, not only has additional fibre, it also slows down the release of glucose and contains magnesium itself!
Unfortunately, there is less magnesium in today's food compared to over 100 years ago. The overfertilisation of our soils with artificial fertilisers containing potassium leads to the displacement of magnesium in plants and thus to a lower magnesium content in food. Before the introduction of artificial fertilisers in the 20th century , this problem did not exist. A study that examined the mineral content of foods in a period between 1940 and 1991 found that the magnesium content of vegetables decreased by 24% . For some physicians, this is the main reason why magnesium deficiency is so widespread today!
The magnesium deficiency
Magnesium is a mineral that is often deficient. The daily requirement for adults ranges from 250 to 380 mg, depending on age and gender . In Germany alone, 26% of men and 29% of women do not reach the daily amount of magnesium recommended by the D-A-CH reference values . Deficiencies are particularly frequent among young adults and older persons. In particular, people with diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and the endocrine systems as well as alcoholics are affected by a deficiency. In addition to a diet low in magnesium, sporting activity is also a factor that can lead to an undersupply. During intensive sporting activity, a high proportion of magnesium is lost, especially through sweat.
Symptoms of magnesium deficiency
Muscle cramps and muscle tension are probably the symptoms most commonly associated with a magnesium deficiency. Magnesium plays an important role in regulating muscle tension and relaxation. In the body, the mineral is the so-called antagonist (opponent) to calcium. Magnesium itself controls relaxation, whereas calcium supports tension. For the human body to function optimally, there must be a balance here. If the amount of magnesium in the body is too low, there is often an excess of calcium . Cramps develop in which the muscles contract suddenly and very painfully. Calf cramps in particular, along with muscle tension, are a clear indication of an insufficient magnesium supply. The so-called "eyelid flutter", where the eyelid twitches uncontrollably, and general muscle twitching can also be the consequences of a magnesium deficiency.
Other symptoms of a deficiency are the following: Restlessness, nervousness, irritability, lack of concentration, fatigue, general feeling of weakness, headaches and even cardiac arrhythmia .
Balanced magnesium intake with food supplements
For a long time, athletes have been using magnesium salts such as magnesium citrate as dietary supplements against muscle cramps. How much magnesium is actually absorbed depends not only on factors such as intestinal diseases but also on how high the demand is and how much is available. In general, it can be said that the relative magnesium absorption decreases with increasing amounts of magnesium. For example, if you consume 36 mg of magnesium through food, such as chia seeds, 65% of it is absorbed by the body. However, with a higher amount of magnesium, about 973 mg, only about 11% is absorbed .
Since magnesium is classified as non-toxic and, according to the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, side effects such as a drop in blood pressure or muscle weakness can only occur at doses of more than 2500 mg, magnesium poisoning is rare. In short, a possible magnesium oversupply is no cause for concern, unlike other mineral overdoses such as iron. An undersupply, however, is !
The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment recommends not exceeding the daily maximum of 250 mg of magnesium with the intake of food supplements . According to the Federal Institute, taking too much can cause diarrhoea. However, every person reacts differently! Nevertheless, it should be noted that only a small portion of most supplements is actually absorbed - the rest remains in the intestine. Magnesium binds water there, which in turn makes the stool so liquid that an overdose can lead to side effects! Therefore, it is recommended with all food supplements not to exceed the stated daily dose.
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in Lebensmitteln Toxikologische und Ernährungsphysiologische Aspekte
Teil II S. 134