As you might have heard (or felt), your heart contracts and relaxes to create what we know as a heartbeat. Well, magnesium facilitates the transport of electrolytes to your heart, which helps it contract and relax, says Sunny Vikrum Malhotra, MD, NY state board-certified cardiologist with Premier Cardiology and president of Cardiac Registry Support. Heart muscle relaxation isn’t the same as when you mentally zone out on the beach. Instead, it's the vital half of every heartbeat and is recorded as diastolic pressure (the lower number of the blood pressure metric the doctor takes when you visit). Diastolic pressure, according to the American Heart Association, is the pressure in between heartbeats when your heart relaxes, fills with blood, and receives oxygen. Systolic pressure is the amount of pressure exerted when your heart contracts, pumping blood into your body via your arteries. Getting enough magnesium—310 to 320 mg for adult women and 400 to 420 mg for adult men, according to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS)—helps your heart rhythm stay healthy.
So what happens if you don’t have enough magnesium
There aren’t a lot of obvious short-term low magnesium symptoms, says Mariell Jessup, MD, cardiologist, American Heart Association chief medical officer. On top of that, your body is really smart. In healthy adults, your kidneys limit the excretion of magnesium to maintain proper nutrient levels, according to the ODS.
Problems arise for those that have chronically low magnesium levels. Symptoms can include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and weakness, the ODS says. A 2018 literature review published in the International Journal of Endocrinology suggests that chronically low magnesium levels (also known as hypomagnesemia) put individuals at a higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, migraines, and depression. And longer-term lack increases your risk of heart conditions like high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat conditions like atrial fibrillation, and, in the extreme, heart failure. However, the emphasis here is on chronic low magnesium.
Where can you get more magnesium
There is good news amidst all of this. It is pretty easy to get your daily value of magnesium and reap the benefits from food sources. Supplementation is possible, but most people do not have to take magnesium supplements unless their doctor recommends it. Magnesium is very common in foods like spinach, nuts, fish, chocolate, seeds, and some whole grains, Dr. Jessup says. And before you reach for any supplements, it’s important to note that you shouldn’t exceed the recommended magnesium amount. Too much magnesium can result in nausea, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, or more severe symptoms like heart palpitations and cardiac arrest if taken at toxic levels. Additionally, the magnesium in supplements can interact with some types of antibiotics and other medicines, so it’s always wise to double-check your supplement choices with your doctor.
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