Scientists know the Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) is linked to a reduced risk of chronic disease, but not all the secrets responsible for this benefit have been unveiled. A new study shows one reason why the eating plan is so healthful: it has a high magnesium content.

The research from Zhejiang University and Zhengzhou University in China is the largest to date on the subject, including data from more than one million people from nine countries. Those who consumed the most dietary magnesium had a 10-percent reduced risk of coronary heart disease, 12-percent reduced risk of stroke and 26-percent reduced risk of type 2 diabetes compared to those who consumed the least.

Each extra 100-mg intake of dietary magnesium per day lowered the likelihood of heart failure by 22 percent, stroke by 7 percent and type 2 diabetes by 19 percent. The additional quantity also decreased the all-cause mortality risk by 10 percent.

“Low levels of magnesium in the body have been associated with a range of diseases but no conclusive evidence has been put forward on the link between dietary magnesium and health risks. Our meta-analysis provides the most up-to-date evidence supporting a link between the role of magnesium in food and reducing the risk of disease,” said Fudi Wang, lead author from the School of Public Health at Zhejiang University, in a statement.

“The current health guidelines recommend a magnesium intake of around 300 mg per day for men and 270 mg per day for women. Despite this, magnesium deficiency is relatively common, affecting between 2.5 percent and 15 percent of the general population. Our findings will be important for informing the public and policy makers on dietary guidelines to reduce magnesium deficiency related health risks,” added Wang.

Magnesium is essential for health, as it plays a critical role in more than 300 biological functions such as glucose metabolism, DNA synthesis and protein production. In addition, it helps maintain a steady heartbeat, supports immunity and strengthens bones, as well as enhances muscle and nerve function.

The mineral is found in foods featured prominently in the Mediterranean diet such as green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, oily fish and beans. Foods that are particularly rich sources of the mineral include spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, salmon, and dark chocolate.

This analysis that explored the connection between dietary magnesium and several diseases involved 40 epidemiological studies covering a 17-year period. Intake of the mineral was measured using 24-hour dietary recalls or self-reported food frequency questionnaires.

The researchers noted that it wasn’t possible to rule out the influence of other biological or lifestyle factors on the results. Nonetheless, the large size of the analysis produced strong findings that were consistent regardless of gender and study location. The results were published in the open access journal BMC Medicine.



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