Sodium and potassium are both minerals essential to water balance and healthy nerve function. It is common in the American diet for a person to consume too much sodium and too little potassium. High sodium levels and low potassium intake appear to lead to high blood pressure and heart disease, according to Harvard School of Public Health. Magnesium can play a small role in helping you regulate the balance of potassium, sodium and other electrolytes in your body.
Sodium and potassium function as a pair of nutrients that determine the potential for cell signaling in your body. Potassium is known as an anion when it is broken down because it has more electrons than protons and carries a negative charge. Sodium is known as a cation because it has more protons than electrons and carries a positive charge. When there is ample potassium inside of your cells and sodium outside of your cells, proper cell signaling from your nervous system can take place.
Magnesium’s role in the balance of sodium and potassium is that of an intermediary. Potassium is unable to cross the cell membrane on its own, and requires magnesium to unlock the door for its entrance. Once the cell membrane is open, the cell can absorb all of the potassium it needs for a proper balance. This process of achieving sodium and potassium balance accounts for 20 to 40 percent of the resting energy your body expends, demonstrating how crucial it is to healthy body function.
It is exceedingly rare for you to have a magnesium deficiency, even if the foods you eat are somewhat lacking in the mineral. Conditions such as malabsorption syndromes, kidney disease and chronic alcoholism can deplete the amount of magnesium in your body over time. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, experimentally induced magnesium deficiency results in low serum potassium levels and a high retention rate for sodium that can cause muscle disorders, nausea, vomiting and personality changes.
Obtaining enough magnesium to improve your sodium and potassium balance may be as simple as adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet. These types of foods are often rich in both magnesium and potassium. Increasing your intake of these minerals may help expel some excess sodium from your body, and lower your blood pressure as a result. A simple rule to follow to improve your sodium and potassium balance is to eat more fresh and frozen foods while avoiding canned and processed foods.
- Harvard School of Public Health: Shifting the Balance of Sodium and Potassium in Your Diet
- Linus Pauling Institute; Magnesium; Jane Higdon, Ph.D.; April 2003
- Linus Pauling Institute; Potassium; Jane Higdon, Ph.D.; February 2004
- University of Maryland Medical Center; Magnesium; Steven D. Ehrlich, N.M.D.; June 2009
- Colorado State University; Potassium and Health; J. Anderson, et al.; August 2008