Magnesium-Rich Foods to Prevent a Stroke

More magnesium may mean a lower risk of stroke.

Researchers looked at seven studies that followed a total of roughly 240,000 people for eight to 15 years. The risk of an ischemic stroke was 9 percent lower for each 100 milligrams of magnesium the participants reported eating per day.

That’s consistent with a 2015 study that tracked nearly 181,000 nurses for more than 21 years and found a 17 percent lower risk of ischemic stroke among the women who consumed the most magnesium (around 400 mg a day) compared with those who consumed the least (around 230 mg a day).

What is an ischemic stroke?

An ischemic stroke is the result of a blood clot that decreases the amount of blood flow to the brain. Approximately 85 percent of strokes are ischemic strokes.

Neurons in the brain require oxygen more than most other cells because of their energy needs. Considering that there are only two primary sources of blood flow to the brain (the internal carotid arteries and the vertebral arteries), a blood clot can do severe damage in a short amount of time.

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Brain tissue deprived of oxygen can quickly lead to cell death. 

Prevention is key. Once a stroke begins, brain tissue is already dying.

Magnesium is found in a variety of good foods. Among the best sources:

  • leafy greens
  • beans
  • seafood
  • nuts
  • tofu
  • yogurt
  • whole grains.

Most daily multivitamin-and-mineral supplements can fit only about 50 to 100 milligrams of magnesium into their pills, so don’t rely on multis for most of your daily magnesium. The Recommended Dietary Allowance is 320 mg for women—and 420 mg for men—over 30. Note: More than 350 mg of magnesium from dietary supplements may cause diarrhea and stomach cramps.

How does magnesium lower the risk of stroke?

Magnesium-rich foods may help to lower blood pressure, which lowers the risk of stroke. What’s more, people who get more magnesium from food have lower insulin levels and a lower risk of diabetes. And magnesium is one of the few minerals that have been tested in randomized trials for its impact on the risk of diabetes.

For example, when German researchers randomly assigned 32 overweight people with insulin resistance to take either magnesium (365 milligrams a day) or a placebo for six months, fasting blood sugar dropped and insulin sensitivity improved in the magnesium takers. “The smaller randomized trials suggest benefits for glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity,” says JoAnn Manson, director of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “It’s possible that taking a magnesium supplement could reduce your risk of diabetes,  but larger randomized trials are needed to prove it.”

What to do: It’s worth eating magnesium-rich foods, even though it’s too early to know for certain if magnesium prevents strokes, because this may also help prevent diabetes. Whole grains, such as quinoa, wild rice, and wheatberries are rich in magnesium, versatile in the kitchen, and most are relatively easy to prepare.

Introduce magnesium into your diet through these recipes:

  • Cilantro and Lime Bulgur: Bulgur cooks quickly, and has a mild, nutty flavor. 
  • Lentil and Grain Salad: This recipe is full of nutrition, including kale—a magnesium-rich super food.
  • White Beans, Sausage, and Kale Stew:  Kale and beans are both good sources of magnesium in this recipe. It is also easy to make this a vegetarian stew by using a vegetarian sausage or seitan instead of the turkey sausage.
  • Three Bean Salad: This is the staple salad for summer cookouts in the southern U.S. This recipe includes edamame, which is a twist on the more traditional three bean salad, but feel free to vary the beans according to your preference.
  • Baby Kale Salad: This recipe has a nice tang with the lemon juice, and can be prepared well ahead of time.

Of course, diet is only one of the factors in lowering your risk for a health-related issue. Exercise, regular doctor visits, and a healthy lifestyle all contribute to your well-being. However, eating foods to prevent a stroke will offer both health benefits, and an exciting array of recipes.

Do you have a favorite ingredient or recipe for magnesium-rich foods? 

Sources: Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 95: 362, 2012; Am. J. Clin. Nutr.  May 6, 2015  pii: ajcn100354; Diabetes Care 34: 2116, 2011; Diab. Obes. Metab. 13: 281, 2011; Neuroscience 2nd ed. Purves D, Augustine GJ, Fitzpatrick D, et al., editors. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates; 2001.

This post was originally published in 2014 and is updated regularly.

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