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How Important is Magnesium for Children?

written by: BStone • edited by: Rhonda Callow • updated: 5/19/2011

It is no surprise that children need calcium for strong teeth and bones, as well as proper growth. What about magnesium? Magnesium is essential for children, but not only for bone health - this mineral acts as an instigator and regulator for many of the body's critical functions.

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    Why Children Need Magnesium

    Why is magnesium for children so crucial for well-being? Growing children require adequate magnesium stores in order to thrive. This mineral is involved in over three hundred biochemical reactions, playing a key role in a smoothly running, healthy body. It is often a catalyst for enzyme activity, particularly for energy production, energy that every organ needs to work efficiently.

    Magnesium is a component for bone and teeth development. It is arguably more important than calcium because magnesium is required for mineral absorption in the first place. It also works to balance calcium. Too much calcium in the body leads to calcification of cells, and eventually organs, aging an otherwise young healthy body. Magnesium helps to prevent this process.

    For the cardiovascular system, this mineral regulates blood pressure by maintaining a steady heartbeat. It is useful in times of stress, anxiety, and even insomnia to help the body become calm - a lack of magnesium is often linked to irritability in children. Magnesium also protects the arteries from the stress of blood pressure changes. A magnesium deficiency throughout childhood can encourage heart disease later in life.

    This mineral is also necessary for immune health, nerve and muscle function, and the management of blood sugar levels. It helps the body to break down carbohydrates in order to produce and maintain the correct amount of insulin in the body. Magnesium is the fourth most prolific mineral in the body, with half of its content being found in the skeletal structure, the other half in body tissue and organs, and one percent in the blood. Without it, children are more at risk for a number of health problems.

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    Diseases Linked to a Magnesium Deficiency in Children

    Magnesium deficiency in children is actually rare as the body stores this mineral; it is almost always present at some level. Many children, however, do not consume enough magnesium, leaving them with reduced reserves and potentially opening the door for more serious problems.

    The first signs of a magnesium deficiency are fatigue and weakness, loss of appetite, and nausea. If mineral stores continue to deplete other symptoms occur - confusion, trouble sleeping, a short temper, poor digestion, a rapid heartbeat, and even tantrums. A lack of this mineral in the body constricts the flow of nerve and muscle impulses, causing irritability and nervousness. Eventually, magnesium deficiency manifests as numbness or tingling, muscle spasms, and abnormal heart patterns.

    A study of children, ages eleven to nineteen, showed a correlation between low magnesium levels and the risk of developing asthma. ADHD is also believed to be linked with a lack of magnesium in the diet. In one study of children with ADHD, 95% had magnesium deficiency. Magnesium supplements for children helped to alleviate behavioral problems associated with the disease.

    Because of magnesium's role in the breakdown of carbohydrates and subsequent production of insulin, it is thought that low levels of magnesium are associated with childhood diabetes. A study done by the American Diabetes Association evaluated obese children, who tend to consume more processed and fatty foods, as opposed to mineral rich whole foods. The obese children did in fact have much lower levels of magnesium, with over half not getting enough of the mineral.

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    Good Sources of Magnesium

    Fortunately, magnesium can be found in almost any whole food. This mineral is present in meat, fish, dairy, tofu, most nuts, some whole grains, and a wide range of fruits and vegetables, including green leafy vegetables, avocados, regular and sweet potatoes, corn, peas, garlic, tomatoes, bananas, apples, and cantaloupe. Three ounces of halibut supplies 90 milligrams of magnesium; two tablespoons of peanut butter, 50 milligrams; a cup of yogurt, 45 milligrams, and a whole banana, 30 milligrams.

    The daily recommended requirement of magnesium for children varies with age and gender. Young babies, under six months of age only need 30 milligrams, found in breast milk or formula. From seven to twelve months, they require 75 milligrams. Toddlers need around 80 milligrams per day; children from four to eight years need 130. From the age of nine to thirteen, the daily amount of magnesium jumps to 240 milligrams. During the teenage years, girls need 360 milligrams, while boys require 410 milligrams.

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    Magnesium Supplements for Children

    The best way for children to absorb magnesium is through eating whole foods. It is almost impossible to overdose on this mineral through food. Magnesium supplements for children are an option, although a health care provider should always be consulted first. Too much of this mineral can cause an upset stomach and diarrhea. In cases of a severe overdose, it can be very dangerous, causing lowered blood pressure, confusion, and vomiting.

    When giving your child supplements, or simply providing them with a well-balanced diet, be sure to include either B-complex vitamins, or vitamin B6 rich foods. Many good sources of this nutrient are also good sources of magnesium - bananas, avocados, salmon, spinach, and potatoes. The amount of vitamin B6 in the body determines how much magnesium is absorbed by the cells.

    The road to optimum health for children is a well-balanced diet, with a focus on variety. Understanding the importance of magnesium for children is just one aspect of total nutrition. Teaching children healthy eating habits allows them to become healthy adults.

    Sources:

    Balch, Phyllis, A. "Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Fourth Edition" (Penguin Group, 2006).

    Office of Dietary Supplements

    University of Maryland Medical Center