This Mineral Relieves Headaches, Eases Anxiety, And Curbs Sugar Cravings—But 68% Of Us Don't Get Enough Of It

Could this be the cause of your killer period cramps?

October 17, 2016
magnesium foods
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What if we told you your chocolate cravings could be quelled without that double fudge brownie? Or that your period cramps, constipation, or even anxiety had a surprisingly easy fix—no drugs required? The potential solution: magnesium, an essential mineral that most of us aren't consuming enough of. 

Why So Many Of Us Have A Magnesium Deficiency

Approximately 68 percent of Americans aren't getting the recommended daily 310-320 milligrams for women or 400-420 milligrams for men of magnesium, a mineral that plays a role in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. "In general, people don't consume enough vegetables, especially green leafy ones—some of the best sources of magnesium—and consume too many processed and refined grains, which are stripped of minerals," says registered dietitian nutritionist Katie Shields. "What's more, industrial agricultural and water purification practices deplete our soil and water of naturally occurring magnesium."

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Related: 5 Signs You're Not Getting Enough Vitamin D

Killer Menstrual Cramps—Plus Other Signs You Could Be Deficient

Because magnesium plays a role in so many reactions in the body, being low in the mineral can cause you to feel crummy in a number of ways. Magnesium aids in muscle relaxation and blood flow, so having a deficiency can cause everything from worsened period cramps to tension headaches to muscle fatigue to constipation, says Shields. The mineral also plays a role in blood sugar regulation and has a calming effect on the nervous system, so a deficiency often triggers cravings for sugar and can contribute to anxiety and difficulty sleeping. 

How To Hit Your Daily Quota Via Food

While magnesium may not be a cure-all for every one of your aches, pains, and mystery ailments, making a point to hit your daily quota with the right foods helps ensure that your body has what it needs to function optimally. In general, foods that are high in fiber are good sources, says Shields: Think leafy vegetables such as kale, Swiss chard, and seaweed. Other good sources include broccoli, squash, nuts (particularly almonds), seeds, legumes (especially edamame and black beans), and even raw cacao powder. (Here's a handy cheat sheet for getting your daily dose of magnesium from food.) You can get a hefty dose of magnesium in this Ultimate Post-Workout Recovery Smoothie Bowl.

woman in bathtub
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Another way to get a dose of magnesium: Soak in a tub with Epsom salts, which are high in magnesium sulfate. Run a hot bath, add a cup of Epsom salts, and soak for 20 to 30 minutes two or three times per week. No tub? Even soaking your feet will do the trick, says Shields.

Related: 13 Power Foods That Lower Blood Pressure Naturally

Should You Take A Supplement?

"Obtaining nutrients from whole food sources is always preferable, but it can be difficult to get enough magnesium through food alone," says Shields. "So I do recommend magnesium supplements." How much? Magnesium supplements are likely safe for most adults when taken in low doses (100-300 milligrams per day). Shields typically recommends taking magnesium glycinate, as this form is readily absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract, and dividing your intake throughout the day—100 milligrams up to three times a day. If you take magnesium in excess, you might experience loose stools, nausea, or vomiting. Talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian who can assess your diet and other medications, supplements, or herbs you may be taking for potential interactions or adverse effects. 

This article was originally published by our partners at Prevention.

Tags: nutrition