February is Heart Health Month. One of the most important minerals for our heart and our overall health? Magnesium. With an estimated 70 percent of Americans deficient, most of us are just not getting enough of it.
More than 300 biochemical processes in the body require magnesium, including fatty acid metabolism, muscle and nerve functions, heart rhythms, and brain functioning. The fourth most abundant mineral in the body, magensium is critical minerals for our bone health. It improves the absorption of vitamin D, and helps to get calcium into the bone (not the arteries). Taking too much or poorly absorbed forms of calcium, or taking it without the key co-factors like magnesium, can lead to calcifications in areas where it is not wanted, like the arteries of the heart, kidneys and breast tissue.
Studies show that higher blood levels of magnesium can be associated with a lower risk of sudden cardiac death, and it is also beginning to emerge as an important mineral for cancer prevention. A study from Sweden reported that women with the highest magnesium intake had a 40 percent lower risk of developing cancer than those with the lowest intake of the mineral. Heavy alcohol consumption also depletes magnesium, which could be one reason that heavy alcohol use raises our risk of both heart disease and breast cancer; as well as other symptoms of magesium deficiency, like migraines.
There are many other signs of deficiency: kidney stones, restless leg syndrome, osteoporosis, frequent fractures, agitation, unexplained muscle aches/pains, ADHD, twitches, and many more.
Magnesium is found in green leafy vegetables, some nuts and seeds, and avocados. But one of the best food sources is cacao, the main ingredient in dark chocolate. That is a likely reason that eating dark chocolate is associated with a 30 percent reduced heart disease risk.
If you or a loved one does suffer from a heart attack, get them to a hospital and ask for intravenous magnesium. Receiving IV magnesium after a heart attack is associated with a 25 percent higher rate of survival of the heart muscle.
When choosing chocolate, go dark: the higher content of cacao, the better (choose 70 percent or higher). A square or two a day just might keep the doctor away. So eat your dark chocolate this Valentine's Day without guilt—it is a heart healthy source of magnesium! Try these magnesium-rich recipes made with cacao:
- Dark Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes (gluten free & vegan)
- CocoNuttZo Chocolates
- Dark Chocolate Made with Coconut oil
- Choco-Banana Super Smoothie
- The Best Black Bean Brownies - Ever!
And you can read more about the health benefits of magnesium here:
*This content is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons experiencing problems or with questions about their health or medications, should consult their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before taking the above foods, herbs, vitamins or supplements to be sure there are no interactions.
Sara Vance is a Clinical Nutritionist. She offers nutritional counseling, school assemblies, group classes, kids healthy cooking, and more.