What to Know About Magnesium and Its New Health Claim

doctor checking patient's blood pressure
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Magnesium is one of those nutrients (a mineral, actually) that most people have heard of and know that we need, but it doesn’t get much consideration compared to the “biggie” minerals like calcium or iron. However, as magnesium is the fourth most common mineral in our bodies, it’s worth our attention—and a new health claim will certainly help pull it into the spotlight.

What is the new magnesium health claim?

In January, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new qualified health claim for magnesium, specifically about the mineral reducing the risk of high blood pressure (also known as hypertension). The new claim is the type known as a “qualified health claim,” which means that there is credible scientific evidence that the food or nutrient reduces the risk of a disease, but not the significant scientific agreement necessary to earn an “authorized health claim.” Hence, the FDA included the phrase “credible but inconsistent and inconclusive evidence” in the three approved versions of the claim, which can be used on foods or supplements. The simplest version of the claim reads “Inconsistent and inconclusive scientific evidence suggests that diets with adequate magnesium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure (hypertension), a condition associated with many factors.”

What does magnesium do for health?

Aside from its potential role in blood pressure regulation, magnesium is well known for being involved in hundreds of cellular reactions that take place in the body, including helping to produce DNA and regulating muscle contractions around the body (including maintenance of a healthy, regular heartbeat). It is also involved in maintaining bone mineral density (that may help prevent fractures) and may even help improve sleep quality, too. 

How much magnesium do I need?

Adult males need 410-420 mg of magnesium per day, while adult females need 240-320 mg per day. Most Americans don’t reach these levels of intake, yet in most cases, no deficiency symptoms are experienced by otherwise healthy people. However, having chronically low levels can increase the risk of certain diseases like high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Usually, the more severe deficiencies result from excess alcohol consumption, type 2 diabetes, as well as some GI disorders like Crohn’s disease. It is possible to get adequate magnesium from a healthy diet, and getting too much from food is rarely a problem. The same can’t be said for magnesium supplements, which can interact with medications and have side effects (e.g. stomach upset, diarrhea and nausea). As always, check with your doctor before taking any supplement.

Which foods are good sources of magnesium?

Magnesium is widespread in the food system, so if you eat a varied and generally healthful diet you won’t have to look far to find it. Plus, you’ll likely start seeing the new magnesium health claim appearing on some of these foods soon, so that will be help, too.

Some good sources of magnesium include star-earning foods from the following groups:

  • Legumes
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole grains
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Water (tap, mineral and bottled), depending on the source

Smaller amounts can be found in fish, poultry, and beef. And, lucky for us, dark chocolate is also a decent source of magnesium (look for those at least 70% cocoa for the highest levels).

Bottom line on the magnesium health claim and your blood pressure

The health claim may be helpful if you’re looking to increase your intake of specific foods rich in magnesium, but you can eat more of these foods now—without a healthy claim to point them out. Also, simply because a magnesium supplement bears a claim on its label doesn’t mean it’s necessary or even appropriate for you. First, ask your physician about whether supplementing with this mineral is a good idea.

Finally, as the FDA notes in their discussion of the approved magnesium claim, high blood pressure is a condition impacted by many factors—not just magnesium status.

Other things you can do diet-wise to help your blood pressure include eating plenty of potassium-containing foods, and cutting back on sodium.  Most people know that sodium is often related to blood pressure (we’ve covered its role in this blog before).

If you are looking to make a more comprehensive dietary shift to help decrease your blood pressure or hypertension risk, the DASH diet (short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is highly recommended among health authorities. It’s a good overall healthy eating plan that could be followed by the whole family in most cases. For more information on the DASH diet, check out our previous post on the DASH diet and review the many materials available on the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s website.