There’s one mineral that’s so important for health and so lacking in the foods Americans eat that medical researchers from around the country recently attended a workshop in Massachusetts just to discuss this single nutrient.

The folks at the workshop, which included academics from Northwestern, the University of Minnesota, Indiana University and other institutions, concluded that the US needs “increased public health emphasis and educational messages” to get all of us to take in more magnesium.1

When you’re short of magnesium, your body can’t make use of vitamin D, and you run an increased risk of bone fractures, cancer, inflammation, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

D and magnesium are best buddies.

Research at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine shows that when the level of magnesium in your body drops, you can’t metabolize vitamin D. The result: the vitamin gets stored and stays inactive instead of helping to improve your well-being.2

“People are taking vitamin D supplements, but don’t realize how it gets metabolized. Without magnesium, vitamin D is not really useful or safe,” warns researcher Mohammed S. Razzaque, a professor of pathology.

According to Prof. Razzaque, taking D supplements without enough magnesium can cause your calcium and phosphate levels to climb. The increase in circulating calcium can lead to its collection in the arteries. This change, in turn, hardens the blood vessels and may lead to the buildup of artery blockages that starve the heart muscle of its blood supply.

On the other hand, Prof. Razzaque points out, if you have plenty of magnesium, the combination of vitamin D and magnesium helps your body avoid the bone-weakening effects of osteoporosis and lowers the risk of fractures.

The benefits of magnesium include:

Lowers the risk of cancer: A study at Indiana University shows that magnesium may drop your chances for pancreatic cancer, a deadly killer that is the fourth leading cause of US cancer deaths. In this analysis involving 66,000 people, the researchers found that every 100 mg increase in magnesium intake reduced the risk of pancreatic cancer by 24 percent.3

Reduces blood pressure: A review study involving more than 2,000 people shows that magnesium supplements lead to a “significant reduction” in blood pressure.4

Protects against diabetes: A study by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and scientists in Asia indicates that the more magnesium you consume, the more your risk for type 2 diabetes drops. This review study looked at a range of research involving more than 560,000 people.5

Strengthens bones: Although research into how magnesium can affect your risk for bone fractures has provided mixed results, studies do show that older women with more magnesium have stronger bones.6 And research in England has found that both men and women who take in more magnesium have better bone and muscle strength as they get older.7

How Much to Take

Now while the recommended daily allowance for magnesium is 420 mg for men and 320 mg for women, the typical daily US diet has about half of that. That’s why about one of every two Americans is short of this nutrient.

The chief culprit causing our low-magnesium levels is our heavy consumption of processed foods which have had a slew of nutrients, including magnesium and fiber, removed.

Foods that are high in magnesium include beans, nuts, whole grains and green leafy vegetables. You can also get plenty of magnesium through supplements.

My own feeling is that just about everybody should be taking magnesium supplements. Aside from the fact that so many of our foods are poor magnesium sources, our bodies may not be absorbing much of the magnesium from our meals.

Magnesium supplements give some people diarrhea. That’s why milk of magnesia is an effective laxative. I’m told that magnesium oxide is the most likely to loosen the bowels, while magnesium citrate is less likely to. I take a chelated form of magnesium (bound to amino acids) because my research indicates this is the most absorbable form (likewise for most other minerals – I prefer chelated forms).