The fourth most abundant mineral in the body. Found in bones, teeth, and red blood cells, magnesium serves as a building block for DNA and is an essential element required for proper functioning of the nervous, muscular, and cardiovascular systems. Given that the mineral is required for the catalytic action of over 300 enzymes, its effects are extensive across all bodily systems. The journal Diabetes Care finds that magnesium supplementation improved insulin response and glucose handling in elderly and non-insulin-dependent diabetics. The journal Diabetes Care reveals that magnesium supplementation protects against the development of Type II Diabetes in men and women, particularly in overweight individuals. Stroke journal discusses the benefits of magnesium supplementation in treating eclampsia and preeclampsia, while Nutrients finds higher magnesium intake correlates with lower risk of coronary heart disease. Magnesium also has a beneficial effect on migraine, protects against high blood pressure, plays crucial role in DNA and RNA synthesis, and has beneficial effect on depression and anxiety.
Magnesium — which comes from the obsolete root word magnes, which was used to mean magnet or magnetic power — may not be the most present mineral in our bodies in terms of its quantity, but it’s certainly one of the most crucial to overall health. This unsung hero participates in more than 300 biochemical reactions in our body. Among these many duties, magnesium aids in muscle contraction, including that of the heart’s, which in turn supports normal rhythm and blood pressure. It’s a vital element for nerve function, producing blood platelets, maintaining bone density, and is known to be involved in glucose and insulin metabolism.
In fact, studies have shown that a diet rich in magnesium may help protect against metabolic syndrome, a deadly quartet of risk factors including excess fat, hypertension, high blood sugar, and abnormal cholesterol – all instigators of diabetes and heart disease. A 2016 study in Scotland made an exciting breakthrough about the huge role magnesium plays in how fast cells convert nutrients into energy and in regulating the body’s internal clock. This will hopefully provide us with insight needed to treat metabolic issues as well as a number of functions tied to circadian rhythm.
We continue to discover the potential benefits of magnesium, ranging from helping to prevent migraines to treating anxiety, severe asthma, and ADHD. One 8-year study of 60, 806 participants released in December of 2015 shows promise in using magnesium to prevent pancreatic cancer. And while findings are preliminary, another study released the same month suggests that this key mineral could possibly slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
Considering all of the important roles that magnesium plays in the body — and the fact that a magnesium deficiency is one of the leading nutrient deficiencies in adults with an estimated 80 percent being deficient in this vital mineral — it’s a good idea to consider taking magnesium supplements regularly and eating magnesium-rich foods.
The amount of research regarding the benefits of magnesium and the need to take magnesium supplements to counteract a deficiency is staggering.
For many people, a magnesium deficiency — also known as hypomagnesemia, with “hypo” meaning under, “magnes” referring to magnesium and “-emia” meaning in the blood — causes noticeable negative symptoms, including muscle aches or spasms, poor digestion, anxiety, and trouble sleeping. Yet, magnesium deficiency is often overlooked and rarely tested. Therefore, magnesium may be one of the most underutilized but most necessary supplements there is.
Dr Sircus says that magnesium is the perfect anti-depressant and anti-violence medication:
Magnesium is essential in regulating central nervous system excitability thus magnesium-deficiency may cause aggressive behavior, depression, or suicide. Magnesium calms the brain and people do not need to become severely deficient in magnesium for the brain to become hyperactive. One study confirmed earlier reports that a marginal magnesium intake overexcites the brain’s neurons and results in less coherence–creating cacophony rather than symphony—according to electroencephalogram (EEG) measurements.
There is an epidemic of magnesium deficiency in America and in populations around the world. This is, in part, what is driving such surges in violence? The two most basic requirements for the normal operation of our brain are a sufficient energy supply and an optimal presence of biochemicals involved in transmitting messages. Magnesium is crucial in both the production of energy and neurotransmitters, not to mention the integrity of the blood brain barrier. It is bedrock science that connects magnesium to neurological disorders.
Medical science is clear though that magnesium deficiency or imbalance plays a role in the symptoms of mood disorders. Observational and experimental studies have shown an association between magnesium and aggression anxiety ADHD bipolar disorder depression and schizophrenia. Patients who had made suicide attempts (by using either violent or nonviolent means) had significantly lower mean CSF magnesium level irrespective of the diagnosis.
Mg deficiency increases susceptibility to the physiologic damage produced by stress. The adrenergic effects of psychological stress induce a shift of Mg from the intracellular to the extracellular space, increasing urinary excretion and eventually depleting body stores. – Dr. Leo Galland
The Need for Magnesium Supplements
A magnesium deficiency can cause significant symptoms. Some of the most prominent include: (1)
- hypertension and cardiovascular disease
- kidney and liver damage
- peroxynitrite damage that can lead to migraine headaches, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma or Alzheimer’s disease
- nutrient deficiencies, including vitamin K, vitamin B1, calcium and potassium
- restless leg syndrome
- worsened PMS symptoms
- behavioral disorders and mood swings
- insomnia and trouble sleeping
- recurrent bacterial or fungal infections due to low levels of nitric oxide or a depressed immune system
- tooth cavities
- muscle weakness and cramps
- eclampsia and preeclampsia
Why is magnesium deficiency so common? A few factors are at play: soil depletion that lowers the amount of magnesium present in crops; digestive disorders that lead to malabsorption of magnesium and other minerals in the gut; high rates of prescription medication and antibiotic use that damages the digestive tract to the point that magnesium cannot be absorbed and properly utilized from foods.
The body loses stores of magnesium every day from normal functions, such as muscle movement, heartbeat and hormone production. Although we only need small amounts of magnesium relative to other nutrients, we must regularly replenish our stores either from foods or magnesium supplements in order to prevent deficiency symptoms.
The kidneys primarily control levels of magnesium within the body and excrete magnesium into the urine each day, which is one reason why urinary excretion is reduced when magnesium and other electrolyte statuses are low. Magnesium is actually the least abundant serum electrolyte in the body, but it’s still extremely important for your metabolism, enzyme function, energy production and for balancing nitric oxide in the body.
Types of Magnesium Supplements
Magnesium is naturally present in some foods, synthetically added to other food products and available as a dietary supplement. Additionally, it’s found in some over-the-counter medicines, such as antacids and laxatives.
Magnesium supplements are available in a variety of forms. The absorption rate and bioavailability of magnesium supplements differs depending on the kind — usually types that dissolve in liquid are better absorbed in the gut than less soluble forms.
It’s believed that magnesium in citrate, chelate and chloride forms are absorbed better than magnesium supplements in oxide and magnesium sulfate form. Here’s a bit about the different types of magnesium supplements that you’ll likely come across:
- Magnesium Chelate — highly absorbable by the body and the kind found in foods naturally. This type is bound to multiple amino acids (proteins) and used to restore magnesium levels.
- Magnesium Citrate — magnesium combined with citric acid. This may have a laxative effect in some cases when taken in high doses but is otherwise safe to use for improving digestion and preventing constipation.
- Magnesium Chloride Oil — an oil form of magnesium that can be applied to skin. It’s also given to people who have digestive disorders that prevent normal absorption of magnesium from their food. Athletes sometimes use magnesium oil to increase energy and endurance, to dull muscle pain, and to heal wounds or skin irritation.
- Magnesium Glycinate — highly absorbable, this is recommended for anyone with a known magnesium deficiency and less likely to cause laxative effects than some other magnesium supplements.
- Magnesium Threonate — has a high level of absorbability/bioavailability since it can penetrate the mitochondrial membrane. This type is not as readily available, but as more research is conducted, it may become more widely used.
- Magnesium Orotate — these supplements have orotic acid, and magnesium orotate is beneficial to the heart.
How do you know if you should use magnesium supplements? According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), assessing magnesium levels is difficult because most magnesium is inside cells or in the bones and not within the blood. This can make blood test results misleading when it comes to determining a magnesium deficiency. (2)
The most common method for assessing magnesium status is by measuring serum magnesium concentrations in the blood or by measuring concentrations in saliva and urine, but no single method is considered totally comprehensive and accurate. Because magnesium supplements have such few risks for side effects and toxicity, many health care professionals now recommend that adults take supplements regularly to prevent deficiency.
Recommended Daily Allowance of Magnesium
These are the current RDAs for magnesium depending on your age and gender — intakes vary on different individual factors — according to the NIH:
- Infants–6 months: 30 milligrams
- 7–12 months: 75 milligrams
- 1–3 years: 80 milligrams
- 4–8 years: 130 milligrams
- 9–13 years: 240 milligrams
- 14–18 years: 410 milligrams for men; 360 milligrams for women
- 19–30 years: 400 milligrams for men; 310 milligrams for women
- Adults 31 years and older: 420 milligrams for men; 320 milligrams for women
- Pregnant women: 350–360 milligrams
- Women who are breastfeeding: 310–320 milligrams
Magnesium is connected to other nutrients within the body, including calcium, vitamin K and vitamin D. Experts believe that one of the reasons magnesium supplements are so beneficial is because they help counterbalance high levels of calcium that can accumulate in the body when people take calcium supplements regularly. Similarly, taking vitamin D in high levels, or being deficient in vitamin K2, can lower magnesium stores in the body and contribute to a deficiency.
This is why it’s important to be careful when using any supplement, including magnesium supplements. Consuming any supplement in doses that are too high can create an imbalance in other nutrients and toxicity. Hence, I usually recommend getting magnesium or other nutrients from food sources, as foods naturally contain other important balancing nutrients.
In the case of deficiency, a person may need to take a supplement for a certain period of time. However, if possible, try to use food-based supplements in these cases, or be aware of how nutrients — such as calcium and magnesium — work together and how certain dosages and intakes can interact with one another.
Other benefits of magnesium supplementation include its ability to improve insulin sensitivity and metabolic control in type 2 diabetics. In a randomized, double-blind, controlled study, diabetic “subjects who received magnesium supplementation showed significant higher serum magnesium concentration and lower HOMA-IR index, fasting glucose levels, and HbA1c than control subjects.” This led researchers to conclude that “oral supplementation with MgCl2 solution restores serum magnesium levels, improving insulin sensitivity and metabolic control in type 2 diabetic patients with decreased serum magnesium levels.” (9)
Best Food Sources of Magnesium
Magnesium is found in such foods as green leafy vegetables, avocados, bananas, melon, legumes, nuts, seeds and certain whole grains. A good rule of thumb is that if a food contains dietary fiber, it also probably provides magnesium.
Magnesium is also added to some cereal grains (although this isn’t the preferred source, since refining the grains removes important, naturally occurring nutrients from the grain’s germ and bran).
Here are the top 12 foods high in magnesium (percentages based on the RDA for adult women of 320 milligrams/day):
- Spinach: 1 cup cooked: 157 milligrams (49 percent)
- Swiss Chard: 1 cup cooked: 150 milligrams (47 percent)
- Black Beans: 1 cup cooked: 120 milligrams (37 percent)
- Mung Beans: 1 cup cooked: 97 milligrams (30 percent)
- Almonds: ¼ cup: 97 milligrams (30 percent)
- Cashews: ¼ cup: 91 milligrams (28 percent)
- Potatoes: 1 large: 85 milligrams (26 percent)
- Pumpkin Seeds: 1/4 cup: 42 milligrams (13 percent)
- Avocado: 1 raw: 39 milligrams (12 percent)
- Bananas: 1 banana: 37 milligrams (11 percent)
- Broccoli: 1 cup cooked: 32 milligrams (10 percent)
- Brussels Sprouts: 1 cup cooked: 32 milligrams (10 percent)
Try the following recipes are full of magnesium:
Are There Any Concerns with Magnesium Supplements?
Too much magnesium from food sources alone doesn’t pose a risk because any excess magnesium that the body doesn’t need is easily flushed out in the urine. It’s possible, however, to ingest too much magnesium from magnesium supplements, although toxicity is very rare and not thought to be a threat to most people.
One side effect of too much magnesium supplements is the laxative effect that it potentially causes, such as diarrhea and sometimes nausea and abdominal cramping. Indeed, magnesium supplements that include magnesium carbonate, chloride, gluconate and oxide can cause digestive issues. Usually this happens when someone goes over a 600 milligrams dose of magnesium, causing magnesium to produce osmotic activity in the intestines and colon, which can overstimulate the bowels. To prevent a laxative effect, stick to the proper dose of magnesium and aim to have no more than 300-400 milligrams at one dose.
Final Thoughts on Magnesium Supplements
- Magnesium deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world, and while I recommend getting as much as you can from magnesium-rich food sources, magnesium supplements can help some people.
- Coming from the root word magnes, magnesium is one of the most crucial minerals for the body. It’s involved in over 300 biochemical functions in the body.
- Some of the most common magnesium supplements include magnesium chelate, citrate, chloride oil, glycinate, threonate and orotate. You can take magnesium supplements orally or even get intravenous magnesium. It’s much more common to find and use oral magnesium supplements vs. intravenous supplements.
- There are few risks associated with magnesium supplementation, but if you experience a laxative effect or symptoms like diarrhea, nausea or cramping, you may be taking too much magnesium.
- Why you need magnesium if you’re constantly stressed or anxious
- Magnesium: The Missing Link to Better Health
- Increase Your Magnesium Intake
- Magnesium — One of the Most Important Nutrients for Heart Health
- 9 Signs You Have Magnesium Deficiency and How to Treat It
- 9 Common Types of Magnesium Explained
- Magnesium: Meet the Most Powerful Relaxation Mineral Available