There are several essential minerals that need to be part of our diet because our bodies cannot function normally when they are absent or consumed in smaller than the required amounts. Based on the amounts required for health, these minerals are called major or trace minerals, with major minerals being needed in larger quantities than trace minerals.
Magnesium, a major mineral, and zinc, a trace element, are two minerals that play vital roles in the body and are essential for health. (1)
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body and is categorized as a major mineral or macro mineral, along with other minerals such as calcium and phosphorus. Many healthcare providers recommend taking magnesium, calcium, and zinc together. As much as 60 percent of the magnesium in the human body is found in the bones, while the rest is found circulating in blood, body fluids, muscle, and soft tissue. (2) In fact, almost every cell in your body contains magnesium as it is needed for more than 600 metabolic reactions. (3)
Unlike magnesium, zinc comes under the category of trace minerals, not because it is any less important than magnesium, but because it is needed in smaller amounts as compared to major minerals. Your body needs a constant supply of zinc to carry out more than 300 enzymatic activities in the body, protein synthesis, and wound healing. (4, 5)
In a perfect world, you can get sufficient amounts of magnesium from foods such as spinach, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grain foods. Zinc intake can be met by including foods such as oysters, crab, lobster, beans, nuts, and dairy products. The problem is, our food supply isn’t what it used to be and has therefore left many people deficient in many micronutrients. The main culprit in this disturbing nutritional trend is soil depletion: Modern intensive agricultural methods have stripped increasing amounts of nutrients from the soil in which the food we eat grows.
The recommended daily intake of magnesium for adult men over the age of 19 years ranges from 400 to 420 milligrams and for women over 19 years ranges from 310 to 320 milligrams. Daily zinc needs for men and women are 11 milligrams and 8 milligrams, respectively. If you do not regularly eat the above listed foods, you may want to take magnesium and zinc supplements. (6)
Taking care of your health and ensuring that you have a strong immune system has never been more important than now as we live through the global pandemic of COVID-19. A poor immune system increases the risk of infections from the coronavirus as well as other viruses. Several vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, and folate; and minerals such as zinc, magnesium, iron, selenium, and copper are necessary for building and supporting a strong immune system. Poor intake of these nutrients compromises immunity, leading to an increased risk of infections. (7)
While all nutrients mentioned above are essential for maintaining health and enhancing immunity, the focus of this article is on magnesium and zinc, two minerals that need to be part of your diet on a daily basis.
Magnesium is an anti-inflammatory nutrient that reduces the action of pro-inflammatory molecules and regulates the development of lymphocytes.(1) Deficiency of magnesium has been associated to increased levels of serum or plasma C-reactive protein, which is indicative of chronic inflammatory stress and that could increase risk for chronic diseases. Magnesium supplementation has been found to decrease levels of serum or plasma C-reactive protein, suggesting that magnesium may reduce risk of chronic diseases. (8)
In addition to anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant roles, zinc is involved in activating white blood cells called T-lymphocytes that are critical to your body's immune system. These cells eliminate infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses or fungi and prevent the onset of infection. (9)
Several brain processes need magnesium and zinc for normal functioning and a deficiency of these nutrients may play a role in depression. (10) Low magnesium levels have been associated with anxiety, low stress tolerance, nervousness and depression. (11) Similarly, low serum zinc levels in people with depression have been reported in several studies. (12)
Although more research is needed, magnesium and zinc may elevate mood and have antidepressant effect due to their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. (10)
Low magnesium intake has been found to be associated with risk of type 2 diabetes in several studies. (11) People with diabetes may benefit by taking magnesium supplements as it may reduce insulin resistance and help with management of hyperglycemia. (13)
Similarly, zinc supplementation was reported to significantly reduce insulin, fasting and post-prandial blood sugar levels as well as hemoglobin A1C levels. (14)
Although good bone health is often associated with calcium, magnesium, and zinc are also involved in maintaining and supporting bone health. Magnesium is essential for activating vitamin D, which in turn enables efficient absorption of calcium for growth and maintenance of bones, in addition to reducing risk of osteoporosis. (15) Zinc also plays a role in bone growth and bone regeneration in addition to being essential for normal skeletal growth and playing a role in lowering risk of osteoporosis. (16)
Apart from the above health benefits, both these minerals play other important roles in health and prevent onset of serious medical conditions.
Some other health benefits of magnesium include its role in the nervous system where it helps regulate neurotransmitters. Magnesium also is necessary for normal muscle function, formation of protein, conversion of food into energy, improve sleep and synthesis of DNA.
Even though zinc is a micronutrient, it plays several important roles such as helps heal wounds, supports normal growth and development during periods of rapid growth such as childhood and adolescence, and is essential for protein and DNA synthesis. Zinc deficiency has been associated with retarded growth and poor immune system.
Eating a balanced diet can help you meet your nutritional needs for these essential minerals. If you are unable to meet needs of these two essential mineral from your diet, consider taking dietary supplements in the form magnesium capsules and zinc caplets or even a multivitamin to meet your requirements.
Please consult your healthcare provider before taking a supplement. Many supplements are not reviewed by the food and drug administration.