Magnesium and potassium: what they are for and what are the benefits



Magnesium and potassium are great protagonists of advertising, because – especially in the hottest months of the year – they are offered as a panacea against heat and fatigue. “In fact, these are two essential minerals for health, but they don’t always need to be supplemented,” she comments female doctor Francesca Finellinutritionist biologist. “When we hear about them on TV, we associate them only with the supplements in sachets or tablets that we can find in pharmacies, while the simple daily diet can provide us with enough”.

Because you need magnesium and potassium

Magnesium and potassium are the two most abundant minerals in our cells and they work in close synergy with each other: «The passage of potassium in and out of the cells is guaranteed by a particular biochemical mechanism, known as an ion pump, which works thanks to sodium and magnesium. The magnesium it is essential for the production of cellular energy, promotes the transmission of nerve impulses, balances blood sugar, reduces blood pressure, supports heart activity, reduces the formation of atherosclerotic plaques, counteracts sleep disorders, relieves mental fatigue and regulates the metabolism of many other micronutrients, such as calcium, phosphorus, zinc and vitamin C », Dr. Finelli lists.

The potassium, on the other hand, it is called “heart mineral”, because it controls neuromuscular activity and consequently normalizes the heartbeat, correcting any anomalies (arrhythmias): “Furthermore, just like magnesium, it regulates the balance of minerals at the cellular level , helps maintain normal blood pressure, prevents muscle cramps, reduces the formation of atherosclerotic plaques and thrombi inside the arteries ». By the way, according to some studies, magnesium and potassium could also diminish the risk of kidney stones, but more research is needed to confirm this.

What causes the lack of magnesium and potassium

Deficiency of magnesium and potassium can have anutritional originthat is linked to an unbalanced diet and too low in these two minerals, or it can depend on other causes, such as aintense physical activity where you do not worry about replenishing them after training, abundant summer sweating or problems that cause a poor absorption of micronutrientssuch as prolonged use of diuretics and laxatives or digestive system disorders leading to vomiting and diarrhea.

«Even elderly people or pregnant women may have varying needs compared to the general population, which, on the other hand, according to the data reported by the Italian Society of Human Nutrition, easily reaches the right levels of minerals and vitamins. In other words, following healthy eating habits, it is quite rare to arrive at a deficiency of magnesium and potassium », the expert points out.

From what we can understand that we are lacking

Although rare, the deficiency of these two minerals manifests itself with vague symptoms, such as a feeling of physical and mental fatigue, muscle cramps, reduced appetite, black mood, nervousness and sometimes constipation. “We pay attention especially in the most delicate periods of life, such as childhood, adolescence, pregnancy or old age, which require a more controlled balance of the various micronutrients”, explains Dr. Finelli.

When you need supplements

«A varied and balanced diet, rich in whole grains, fruit, vegetables and legumes, is able to guarantee us the correct daily intake of magnesium and potassium, so supplements can be useless. For example, an excellent source of these minerals are especially the green leafy vegetablessuch as spinach and broccolibut also the dried fruitsuch as walnuts, almonds or cashews, and the fresh one, such as figs and bananas », says the expert.

«Specifically rich in magnesium are i dairy products, which, however, must be paired with foods containing potassium to complete the mineral picture, such as a side dish of potatoes, tomatoes or beets », suggests Dr. Finelli. By the way, for reaching the right quantities every day, it doesn’t take much: 200 grams of cooked artichokes, 50 grams of Grana Padano or 30 grams of almonds are enough to satisfy the daily need for magnesium, while a banana is enough to get to the right levels of potassium. “Even water can provide a certain amount of magnesium, so it is always good to consult the nutritional label on the bottles on the market to find out the quantities”, advises the expert.

When taking supplements

If, on the other hand, the doctor evaluates the need for a supplement, there are no universal rules in terms of dosage. From time to time, it is necessary to check on the package if particular indications are given, because there is no ideal moment in which to take these preparations: “Of course, if the aim is to get the right sprint to face the day, it can be a good habit to integrate these minerals in the morning. A sportsman, on the other hand, should delay them before and during physical activity. But also in this case the advice of the specialist is fundamental ».

What are the contraindications

Despite their many benefits, magnesium and potassium are contraindicated in case of kidney failure: when the kidneys are no longer able to perform their “filter” function correctly, the levels of these two minerals increase excessively in the blood, leading to side effects potentially dangerous.

Excessive doses they can lead to diarrhea, nausea, abdominal cramps and mental confusion, but also sudden drops in blood pressure, lethargy, muscle weakness and breathing difficulties, up to cardiac arrest “, warns the expert. “But attention should also be paid in case of reduced liver function or when there are low blood levels of sodium, calcium and chlorine. So, any supplement must always and only be recommended by the doctorin order to make it safe and balanced ».

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