Magnesium does not get the respect — or attention — it deserves. Two out of three Americans fail to consume the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for magnesium — 320 mg for women and 420 mg for men. Overlooked and underappreciated, magnesium is responsible for more than 700 enzyme-activated biochemical reactions in the body and it helps create energy. As our body’s fourth most abundant mineral, magnesium plays a vital role in regulating blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar levels, maintaining nerve function and keeping muscles relaxed. Magnesium is also a critical "calming" mineral, potent in its ability to alleviate stress.
While a magnesium-rich diet benefits everyone, it is especially helpful for women dealing with PMS, dysmenorrhea (painful periods), infertility, pregnancy and weight management issues. We talked to Dr. Carolyn Dean, author of The Magnesium Miracle, who shares her expert insights with us. "Fluctuating sex hormones affect magnesium levels, making women more sensitive to magnesium deficiency than men," she says.
PMS: Ever wonder why you crave chocolate before your period? It’s because your body is clamoring for magnesium, and, ounce for ounce, dark chocolate (80-plus percent cocoa) has more magnesium than any other food. Magnesium levels fluctuate during a woman’s cycle. The higher the estrogen or progesterone, the lower the magnesium. During the second half of the menstrual cycle, when both estrogen and progesterone are elevated, magnesium plummets. This can result in spasms in the brain arteries — a prelude to PMS and migraines. Increasing dietary and supplemental magnesium can help relieve PMS-related symptoms, such as headaches, bloating, low blood sugar, dizziness, fluid retention and sugar cravings.
Dysmenorrhea (painful periods): If you’re doubled over in agony when you get your period, consider taking magnesium before it arrives. Dean states that women who suffer from painful periods can get relief by taking high doses of magnesium, starting with 300 mg of powdered magnesium citrate, and slowly working up to 900 or 1,200 mg (if needed).
Infertility: Low magnesium may be a culprit if you’re having difficulty getting pregnant. "Magnesium deficiency can cause spasms in a woman’s fallopian tubes, preventing egg implantation," says Dean.
Pregnancy: If you’re pregnant, you need more magnesium — at least 360 mg to meet the RDA for pregnant women. Taking magnesium regularly throughout pregnancy can help prevent complications and reduce your risk of preeclampsia, premature births and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), says Dean.
Weight: Magnesium activates enzymes that control digestion, absorption and the use of proteins, fats and carbs. Magnesium also enables insulin to escort glucose into cells, where it is converted into energy for the body. Without enough magnesium, both insulin and glucose levels become elevated; and when your body is unable to use the insulin properly, excess glucose is stored as fat — most visibly around your middle. Chronic magnesium deficiency can lead to hypoglycemia, anxiety, obesity and diabetes.
Ask your doctor for a magnesium RBC (red blood cell) test, which measures intracellular levels of magnesium. "The optimal level is 6.5 — within a range of 4.2 to 6.8. Below 6.0, you are magnesium deficient," says Dean.
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