Leafy grains are a good source of magnesium which can be increased by daily supplements. Magnesium is turning out to be a vital nutrient for bodily functions. REUTERS

Not only is magnesium crucial in converting food into fuel, it also controls when this takes place and how efficiently. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh and the MRC Laboratory for Molecular Biology in Cambridge have just added to the repertoire of benefits from the nutrient vital for a host of body functions.

They used molecular analysis to find that concentrations of magnesium rose and fell in a 24-hour cycle in all cell types, affecting the internal clocks of cells. This oscillation is critical to sustain the 24-hour clock in cells with an impact on metabolism in human, algae and fungi cells. Equally important was magnesium's role in the cell's ability to burn energy.

The 24-hour cycle in cells is expected to be linked to whole body clocks that influence sleeping and waking rhythms, hormone release, body temperature and other important bodily functions in people. It was already known that magnesium is essential to help living things convert food into fuel.

Dr Gerben van Ooijen, of the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences, who led the study, said: "Internal clocks are fundamental to all living things. They influence many aspects of health and disease in our own bodies, but equally in crop plants and micro-organisms. It is now essential to find out how these fundamentally novel observations translate to whole tissue or organisms, to make us better equipped to influence them in complex organisms for future medical and agricultural purposes."

Why you need magnesium
Magnesium is a key nutrient involved in many vital body functions besides energy production. The brain and heart are examples of soft tissues containing the highest concentrations of magnesium in the body, indicating how important the nutrient is. Magnesium levels are important for the body to correctly use calcium in the cells. Even a small deficiency can lead to a dangerous calcium imbalance and lead to problems like calcification.

It increases bio-availability of calcium, bone strength, lowers cholesterol and triglycerides in blood, decreases insulin resistance, enhances vitamin d absorption, regulates blood pressure, enhances circulation and so on.

Water was once a rich source of magnesium till fluorides became common and formed insoluble compounds. Hard water contains more magnesium.

Magnesium in the body is depleted by high consumption of caffeine, sugar, alcohol and processed food as also intake of hypertension medicine, diuretics, insulin, and certain antibiotics (among others). Sweating is a natural phenomenon by which magnesium is lost.

Magnesium deficiency can lead to low blood calcium and potassium levels, loss of appetite, nausea, arrhythmia (irregular heart beat), chronic digestive problems, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, gluten-related disorders, endocrine problems, vitamin D deficiency, diabetes and even cardiac arrest.

Blood tests are relatively ineffective in detecting magnesium levels as less than 1% of magnesium is in the blood. The indirect way is to look out for symptoms like fatigue, depression, muscle cramps, headaches, palpitations, concentration problems, insulin resistance, carbohydrate craving, poor dental health, gut disorders and kidney problems.

Supplements and skin sprays are ways to complement the magnesium in diet. Foods like green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, nuts, seeds and dried fruits and whole grains are sources of magnesium.