Magnesium is the 11th most abundant element by mass in the human body; its ions are essential to all living cells, where they play a major role in manipulating important biological polyphosphate compounds like ATP, DNA, and RNA. Hundreds of enzymes thus require magnesium ions to function. Magnesium is also the metallic ion at the center of chlorophyll, and is thus a common additive to fertilizers. Magnesium compounds are used medicinally as common laxatives, antacids (i.e., milk of magnesia), and in a number of situations where stabilization of abnormal nerve excitation and blood vessel spasm is required (i.e., to treat eclampsia). Magnesium ions are sour to the taste, and in low concentrations help to impart a natural tartness to fresh mineral waters.
Because of the important interaction between phosphate and magnesium ions, magnesium ions are essential to the basic nucleic acid chemistry of life, and thus are essential to all cells of all known living organisms. Over 300 enzymes require the presence of magnesium ions for their catalytic action, including all enzymes utilizing or synthesizing ATP, or those that use other nucleotides to synthesize DNA and RNA. ATP exists in cells normally as a chelate of ATP and a magnesium ion.
Plants have an additional use for magnesium in that chlorophylls are magnesium-centered porphyrins. Magnesium deficiency in plants causes late-season yellowing between leaf veins, especially in older leaves, and can be corrected by applying Epsom salts (which is rapidly leached), or else crushed dolomitic limestone to the soil.
Food sources of magnesium
Magnesium is a vital component of a healthy human diet. Human magnesium deficiency (including conditions that show few overt symptoms) is relatively common, with only 32% of the United States meeting the RDA-DRI; low levels of magnesium in the body has been associated with the development of a number of human illnesses such as asthma, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
Adult human bodies contain about 24 grams of magnesium, with 60% in the skeleton, 39% intracellular (20% in skeletal muscle), and 1% extracellular. Serum levels are typically 0.7 – 1.0 mmol/L or 1.8 - 2.4mEq/L. Serum magnesium levels may appear normal even in cases of underlying intracellular deficiency, although no known mechanism maintains a homeostatic level in the blood other than renal excretion of high blood levels. Intracellular magnesium is correlated with intracellular potassium. Magnesium is absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract, with more absorbed when status is lower. In humans, magnesium appears to facilitate calcium absorption. Low and high protein intake inhibit magnesium absorption, and other factors such as phosphate, phytate, and fat affect absorption. Absorbed dietary magnesium is largely excreted through the urine, although most magnesium "administered orally" is excreted through the feces. Magnesium status may be assessed roughly through serum and erythrocyte Mg concentrations and urinary and fecal excretion, but intravenous magnesium loading tests are likely the most accurate and practical in most people. In these tests, magnesium is injected intravenously; a retention of 20% or more indicates deficiency. Other nutrient deficiencies are identified through biomarkers, but none are established for magnesium.
Spices, nuts, cereals, coffee, cocoa, tea, and vegetables are rich sources of magnesium. Green leafy vegetables such as spinach are also rich in magnesium as they contain chlorophyll, which is rich in magnesium. Observations of reduced dietary magnesium intake in modern Western countries compared to earlier generations may be related to food refining and modern fertilizers that contain no magnesium.
Numerous magnesium dietary supplements are available. Magnesium oxide, one of the most common because it has high magnesium content per weight, has been reported to be the least bioavailable. Magnesium citrate has been reported as more bioavailable than oxide or amino-acid chelate (glycinate) forms.
Magnesium in the blood is freely filtered at the kidneys, and for this reason it is difficult to overdose on magnesium from dietary sources alone. With supplements, overdose is possible, however, particularly in people with poor renal function; occasionally, with use of high cathartic doses of magnesium salts, severe hypermagnesemia has been reported to occur even without renal dysfunction. Alcoholism can produce a magnesium deficiency, which is easily reversed by oral or parenteral administration, depending on the degree of deficiency.
Detection in biological fluids
Magnesium concentrations in plasma or serum may be measured to monitor for efficacy and safety in those receiving the drug therapeutically, to confirm the diagnosis in potential poisoning victims or to assist in the forensic investigation in a case of fatal overdosage. The newborn children of mothers who received parenteral magnesium sulfate during labor may exhibit toxicity at serum magnesium levels that were considered appropriate for the mothers.