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What are the Dietary Reference Intakes for magnesium?

Recommendations for magnesium are provided in the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) developed by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences [4]. Dietary Reference Intakes is the general term for a set of reference values used for planning and assessing nutrient intake for healthy people. Three important types of reference values included in the DRIs are Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA), Adequate Intakes (AI), and Tolerable Upper Intake Levels (UL). The RDA recommends the average daily intake that is sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97-98%) healthy individuals in each age and gender group. An AI is set when there is insufficient scientific data available to establish a RDA for specific age/gender groups. AIs meet or exceed the amount needed to maintain a nutritional state of adequacy in nearly all members of a specific age and gender group. The UL, on the other hand, is the maximum daily intake unlikely to result in adverse health effects. Table 2 lists the RDAs for magnesium, in milligrams, for children and adults [4].

Table 2: Recommended Dietary Allowances for magnesium for children and adults [4]

Age
(years)
Male
(mg/day)
Female
(mg/day)
Pregnancy
(mg/day)
Lactation
(mg/day)
1-3 80 80 N/A N/A
4-8 130 130 N/A N/A
9-13 240 240 N/A N/A
14-18 410 360 400 360
19-30 400 310 350 310
31+ 420 320 360 320

There is insufficient information on magnesium to establish a RDA for infants. For infants 0 to 12 months, the DRI is in the form of an Adequate Intake (AI), which is the mean intake of magnesium in healthy, breastfed infants. Table 3 lists the AIs for infants in milligrams (mg) [4].

Table 3: Recommended Adequate Intake for magnesium for infants [4]

Age (months) Males and Females (mg/day)
0 to 6 30
7 to 12 75

Data from the 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey suggest that substantial numbers of adults in the United States (US) fail to consume recommended amounts of magnesium. Among adult men and women, Caucasians consume significantly more magnesium than African-Americans. Magnesium intake is lower among older adults in every racial and ethnic group. African-American men and Caucasian men and women who take dietary supplements consume significantly more magnesium than those who do not [6].


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When can magnesium deficiency occur?

Even though dietary surveys suggest that many Americans do not consume recommended amounts of magnesium, symptoms of magnesium deficiency are rarely seen in the US. However, there is concern about the prevalence of sub-optimal magnesium stores in the body. For many people, dietary intake may not be high enough to promote an optimal magnesium status, which may be protective against disorders such as cardiovascular disease and immune dysfunction [7-8].

The health status of the digestive system and the kidneys significantly influence magnesium status. Magnesium is absorbed in the intestines and then transported through the blood to cells and tissues. Approximately one-third to one-half of dietary magnesium is absorbed into the body [9-10]. Gastrointestinal disorders that impair absorption such as Crohn's disease can limit the body's ability to absorb magnesium. These disorders can deplete the body's stores of magnesium and in extreme cases may result in magnesium deficiency. Chronic or excessive vomiting and diarrhea may also result in magnesium depletion [1,10].

Healthy kidneys are able to limit urinary excretion of magnesium to compensate for low dietary intake. However, excessive loss of magnesium in urine can be a side effect of some medications and can also occur in cases of poorly-controlled diabetes and alcohol abuse [11-18].

Early signs of magnesium deficiency include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and weakness. As magnesium deficiency worsens, numbness, tingling, muscle contractions and cramps, seizures, personality changes, abnormal heart rhythms, and coronary spasms can occur [1,3-4]. Severe magnesium deficiency can result in low levels of calcium in the blood (hypocalcemia). Magnesium deficiency is also associated with low levels of potassium in the blood (hypokalemia) [1,19-20].

Many of these symptoms are general and can result from a variety of medical conditions other than magnesium deficiency. It is important to have a physician evaluate health complaints and problems so that appropriate care can be given.

References