Parents have a challenging job ensuring their kids get enough of the essential nutrients from foods and, if that fails, from supplements. Part of the challenge involves knowing enough about various vitamins, minerals, and other players and how they work together to help children be the best they can be. One of the more important minerals is magnesium, and here's why kids need it.
First of all, kids who don't consume enough magnesium experience the same symptoms as adults: muscle twitches, muscle spasms, constipation, trouble sleeping, fatigue, irregular heartbeat, and irritability. These unpleasant and uncomfortable symptoms can make it difficult for children to not only learn but to play and engage in everyday activities.
Children are under-diagnosed when it comes to magnesium deficiency, but they develop magnesium deficiency for the same reasons as adults. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), juvenile delinquency, and childhood depression are associated with magnesium deficiency, and some experts say these conditions can be caused by the deficiency.
Magnesium is involved in more than 600 biochemical processes in the body. Therefore, lacking sufficient magnesium has the potential to impact dozens, if not scores of bodily functions.
Yet another benefit of magnesium is that it has been shown to be helpful in the prevention and management of mental challenges that are common to children. Let's take a closer look at the reasons why kids need magnesium.
- One notable reason for ensuring your child gets enough magnesium is the association between sufficient magnesium and reduced behavior problems, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, and anxiety.
- Helping your child get through constipation can be a challenge, but taking a magnesium citrate supplement can work wonders. This supplement works with the body by relaxing the intestinal tract and attracting water, which then softens and bulks up stool, making it easier to go.
- Magnesium is a critical mineral for bone health, and it is essential for children to consume enough magnesium to work in sync with calcium and other minerals to establish a strong bone infrastructure early in life.
- Magnesium plays a big role in boosting brain function, which is critical for learning.
- Stress is a big part of our lives, and that includes the lives of our children. Magnesium is important for regulating the nervous system and helping to prevent anxiety, nervousness, stress, and irritability, as well as support better sleep (it can help with insomnia).
Magnesium for Children's Bones
When a child is taken off dairy for allergies, constipation, bowel upsets, or frequent infections, parents will often ask, "How can my kids get calcium for their bones if I don't give them dairy?" But it is unlikely they ask about magnesium. But they should, and here's why when it comes to bone health: A 2013 study showed that the amount of magnesium consumed and absorbed by the body is a key predictor of a child's bone health. The researchers found that intake of dietary calcium was not significantly associated with total bone mineral content or density. This 2013 study presented at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Washington, DC, validates magnesium's vital importance. It confirms that magnesium works synergistically with calcium. Magnesium regulates the proper amount of calcium in a child's body and marches it straight into the bones. Calcium, if it's not balanced with magnesium, ends up depositing in a child's kidneys, coronary arteries and cartilage, not in the bones and teeth where it is needed the most.
Lead researcher, Steven A. Abrams, MD, FAAP, professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said, "Calcium is important, but, except for those children and adolescents with very low intakes, may not be more important than magnesium." For researchers to boldly state that calcium "may not be more important than magnesium" represents a huge breakthrough in helping people grasp the importance of magnesium in bone health. Until now, it's been all about calcium for both children and adults.
How much magnesium do kids need?
The National Institutes of Health recommends the following daily intake of magnesium for children.
- Up to age 6 months: 30 mg
- Age 6 to 12 months: 75 mg
- Age 1 to 3 years: 80 mg
- Age 4 to 8 years: 130 mg
- Age 9 to 13 years: 240 mg
- Age 14 to 18 years: 360 mg for females and 410 mg for males
If you want to identify how much magnesium your child is consuming every day, keep a record of his or her food intake for two or three days. You can estimate magnesium intake using various nutritional information websites for various foods.
How can you convince kids to get more magnesium?
Foods that are magnesium-rich include leafy green veggies, dark chocolate, beans, nuts, seeds, avocados, fish, whole grains, yogurt, bananas, and dried fruit. Unless your child likes and eats many of these foods on a regular basis, he or she may have low magnesium levels. Smoothies are a great way to introduce magnesium without being obvious about it: a dark chocolate, nut, avocado, dark leafy greens, and banana smoothie can be amazing. Throw all these ingredients into a blender, add some milk and enjoy!
Other ways to incorporate more magnesium-rich foods into your diet is to sprinkle nuts and/or seeds on cereal or yogurt, snack on bananas and dried fruit, choose whole-grain cereals and breads, and make desserts that incorporate nuts, seeds, and dried fruit.
Supplements are another way to incorporate enough magnesium into your daily diet, and a very important one because the USDA says the level of magnesium in foods had dropped by more than half in the last 100 years.
It's best to select a multivitamin/mineral or multi-mineral supplement that offers a balance of minerals. Discuss your child's magnesium supplement needs with a knowledgeable healthcare professional and be sure to let the professional know about your child's dietary magnesium intake.
[Editor's note: Our partner, Natural Vitality offers a variety of magnesium products and a CALM Specifics Kids formula made just for kids that also includes ingredients that will help them focus easier.]
Black LJ et al. Low dietary intake of magnesium is associated with increased externalizing behaviors in adolescents. Public Health Nutrition 2015 Jul; 18(10): 1824-30
National Institutes of Health. Magnesium
Starobrat-Hermelin B, Kozielec T, "The effects of magnesium physiological supplementation on hyperactivity in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Positive response to magnesium oral loading test." Magnes Res, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 149–156, 1997.
Abrams SA, et al. Magnesium metabolism in 4-year-old to 8-year-old children. J Bone Miner Res. 2014;29(1):118-22.