Fact checked by Aimee McNew for Accuracy
Magnesium is one of the most abundant minerals in the body and it’s essential for many body processes.
While calcium gets a lot of attention when it comes to mineral supplementation, magnesium is equally as important. Without enough, you might suffer from anxiety, sleep problems, bone problems, and muscle spasms, along with many other problems.
Read on to learn more about this important mineral, research-backed health benefits, and how to make sure you’re getting enough on a regular basis.
What is Magnesium?
There are many minerals in the body that are required in higher amounts. While calcium is the most abundant, magnesium is the fourth most abundant. Without enough magnesium, humans can’t function on a basic cellular level.
Magnesium is required for many things, including: (source)
- ATP production in cells (which gives them energy)
- Making DNA and RNA
- Cellular communication
- More than 300 enzyme reactions
- Bone health
- Muscle contraction and reduction of muscle spasms
- Healthy blood pressure
- Normal glucose levels
- Healthy fat metabolism
- Neurotransmitter production
While magnesium is found in many food sources, even slightly low levels can result in body processes that are not optimal.
14 Common Symptoms of Low Magnesium Levels
Low levels of magnesium can cause many symptoms, and even with plenty of food sources, magnesium deficiency or insufficiency is still a worldwide problem today. (source)
Most American adults don’t get enough. The recommended daily amount for adult men is 420 milligrams and for adult women is 320 milligrams, yet most fall close to 100 milligrams short each day from what they need. (source)
Sometimes people may not eat enough magnesium, but other times low circulating levels can happen because it isn’t absorbed well in the digestive tract and the body can’t put it to use.
Magnesium losses can also happen from certain health conditions such as diabetes, kidney disorders, and alcoholism. Excessive exercise and sweating can also lead to magnesium losses or imbalances since it also functions as an electrolyte.
Symptoms of low magnesium levels can be mild or attributed to other causes, but can often include one or more of the following: (source)
- Muscle contractions or spasms
- Restless legs
- Muscle weakness
- Irritability and mood swings
- Feelings of excessive fatigue
If you have one or more of these symptoms and wonder if you could be low in magnesium, the best way to find out is to have your doctor test your blood levels.
14 Amazing Health Benefits of Magnesium
Low levels of magnesium can cause a host of unpleasant symptoms, but the health benefits of magnesium are far-reaching. They range from better bone health to healthy muscles and beyond.
1. Bone Health and Osteoporosis Prevention
Magnesium is essential for bone health, including bone density and the prevention of osteoporosis. (source)
Magnesium is a mineral that is crucial for bone formation and affects how osteoblasts and osteoclasts function in bone breakdown, remodeling, and rebuilding.
A lack of magnesium can result in more brittle bones and fewer nutrients available for rebuilding. Magnesium also influences parathyroid and thyroid hormones which can affect bone density.
Research consistently shows that women with osteoporosis have lower levels of magnesium. (source)
2. Healthy Blood Pressure Levels
Magnesium helps to promote healthy muscle function, and the heart is arguably one of the most important muscles in the body. It also plays a vital role in promoting normal blood pressure.
One of the main contributors to heart disease is elevated blood pressure.
Magnesium supplementation and maintaining healthy levels can reduce average blood pressure by up to 12 points. (source)
3. Headache and Migraine Relief
Headaches and migraines can be life-altering and debilitating, especially when they occur with frequency.
Magnesium deficiency or low levels can increase spasms in the brain that can result in severe headaches and head pain and has also been associated with migraine and tension headaches. (source)
Regular supplementation with magnesium can reduce the occurrence of headaches by more than 41 percent and can also reduce how severe they are when they do occur. (source)
4. Healthy Hydration Levels and Electrolyte Balance
Electrolytes help to regulate fluid balance inside and outside the cells. While most people know that potassium is an electrolyte or can help muscle cramps, magnesium is equally important for the same reasons.
Magnesium is one of the four electrolyte minerals in the body required for proper fluid balance. The others are potassium, sodium, and chloride, although calcium is also essential for healthy fluid balance.
Magnesium helps to promote healthy biochemical reactions in the cells, which are facilitated by proper fluid balance and exchange between the cells.
Without enough magnesium, calcium and potassium transport is hindered and nearly every cell in the body can be affected.
5. Reduced Risk of Heart Attack
A major aspect of heart health is blood pressure, and magnesium can help lower levels. But the heart is also a muscle and when magnesium levels are too low, the risk for heart attack increases.
This mineral is required for proper electrical impulse transmission in the heart and also helps to widen blood vessels, decrease inflammation, and prevent blood platelets from clotting—all factors that can contribute to the development of heart disease and increase the risk of heart attack. (source)
By optimizing magnesium levels, the risk of heart disease can decrease by 30 percent.
6. Supports Healthy Blood Sugar
Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and insulin resistance all have in common that the body loses the ability to properly handle blood sugar.
This leads to higher levels of blood glucose circulating throughout the body which can be harmful to cells in nearly every organ, including the brain, the heart, and the liver. (source)
Supplementing with magnesium and boosting dietary intake can help to reverse the effects of metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance and can help to address obesity and blood pressure problems. (source)
7. Neurological and Brain Health
Magnesium supports the brain and overall nervous system by improving the chemical communication that happens between nerves, known as nerve impulses. It can also improve and support neurological disorders and nerve regeneration after damage.
8. Fights Depression and Anxiety
Magnesium is especially helpful for supporting mental health and for decreasing associated symptoms with depression and anxiety.
It works by suppressing overstimulation of the HPA axis, which can work to decrease cortisol, the stress hormone, and other signals that can trigger excessive anxiety, depression, and mood disturbance. (source)
Magnesium is required for the production of several neurotransmitters, hormones, and enzymes. When magnesium levels are low, the levels of these crucial compounds can be low, too, resulting in increased hormone sensitivity and mood disturbance. (source)
Research associated low levels of magnesium with depression in both animal and human studies. (source)
Supplementing with magnesium can not only improve signs and symptoms of major depression, but can also work to improve postpartum depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders, like OCD.
It has even been shown to help speed recovery from traumatic brain injury. (source)
9. Improves Fatigue Problems and Supports Healthy Energy Levels
Without access to enough magnesium, every cell can struggle to produce energy individually. This translates to an overall lack of body energy and systemic fatigue in many cases.
It has even been associated with chronic fatigue syndrome. (source) Supplementation with magnesium has been shown to improve chronic disorders associated with extreme fatigue.
10. Promotes Healthy Kidneys
The kidneys are essential detox organs in the body and low levels of magnesium have been associated with kidney problems and even chronic kidney disease. (source)
Magnesium helps to support healthy electrolyte levels in the body, and without healthy fluid balance, the kidneys can be more prone to developing stones, calcifications, infections, and disease.
11. Improves Sleep Quality
Sleep problems are a pervasive problem across the world, with nearly one-third of all adults struggling with acute episodes of insomnia at any given time. Magnesium helps to support muscle relaxation and a quiet mind, both of which can be essential for healthy sleep.
It can also help to alleviate other problems with sleep: anxiety, restless legs, high stress levels, and early morning waking. Supplementing with magnesium also comes with few side effects and is much lower risk than sleep aids or sleep remedies, and does not increase next-day drowsiness.
12. Lowers Inflammation
Inflammation is a healthy response designed to promote healing in the body. But chronic inflammation can quickly lead to diseases, disorders, and chronic pain.
It is associated with conditions like arthritis that lead to overall body pain. Magnesium helps to protect nerve cells and can reduce inflammation in tissues and joints, providing relief for inflammatory conditions.
13. Reduces Signs of Aging
While getting older is inevitable, sometimes humans age more quickly in cells due to low levels of nutrients and inflammation.
Magnesium helps to decrease systemic inflammation and promotes cellular energy, which keeps them functioning properly and reduces the chances of early-onset aging signs and can delay typical signs of aging from happening. (source)
14. Naturally Alleviates PMS Symptoms
Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, can be a debilitating time of the cycle for many women. Magnesium supplementation can reduce many symptoms that can make life miserable, including cramps, fatigue, irritability, and bloating from water retention. (source)
In order to provide balance, it should be supplemented throughout the whole cycle, and not just during signs of PMS.
Magnesium can also help to reduce anxiety and mood disturbances associated with hormone changes in the menstrual cycle, especially when paired with vitamin B6. (source)
Foods That Are High in Magnesium
Magnesium can be obtained from many different food sources. They include:
- Spinach (1 cup = 49 percent RDA)
- Swiss chard (1 cup = 47 percent RDA)
- Black beans (1 cup = 37 percent RDA)
- Mung beans (1 cup = 30 percent RDA)
- Almonds (¼ cup = 30 percent RDA)
- Cashews (¼ cup = 28 percent RDA)
- Potatoes (1 medium = 26 percent RDA)
- Pumpkin seeds (¼ cup = 14 percent RDA)
- Avocado (1 medium = 12 percent RDA)
- Banana (1 medium = 11 percent RDA)
- Broccoli (1 cup = 10 percent RDA)
- Brussels sprouts (1 cup = 10 percent RDA)
Other food sources also provide magnesium, including leafy greens, other fruits and vegetables, whole grains, red meat, and seafood. Additionally, dark chocolate that is 75 percent or darker is also a good source.
How to Take Magnesium Supplements
Even if you eat a diet rich in magnesium foods, you could still have low levels. This is because the digestive tract may have trouble breaking down and absorbing magnesium from foods if you have existing health conditions, low stomach acid, or other intestinal disorders like celiac disease, SIBO, or Crohn’s disease.
Supplementing with magnesium can help to boost levels and support overall health. Magnesium comes in several different supplemental forms. They include:
- Magnesium chelate: This type is highly absorbable and gentle, although over-supplementation could lead to diarrhea or intestinal disturbance.
- Magnesium citrate: This type also absorbs well but may also lead to laxative effects.
- Topical magnesium oil: Some recommend boosting magnesium levels by using a topical oil, however, it is much harder to regulate a dose this way.
- Magnesium glycinate: This form absorbs well but doesn’t lead to intestinal upset, making it the gentlest and best form for supplementation.
Doses can range for supplements from 100 milligrams to 300 or more. Keep in mind that the recommended daily amount for women is 320 and men is 420 milligrams.
You won’t want to regularly supplement with higher levels than that since you’re likely getting some from food sources. Excessive levels of magnesium from supplementation can disrupt other minerals in the body.
Don’t take more than 500 milligrams a day as levels higher than this can lead to toxicity. Always speak with your doctor about dosing and recommendations.
You can get your magnesium levels tested if you don’t know where you stand.
This article was fact checked for accuracy by Aimee McNew, MNT, a certified nutritionist. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
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Aimee McNew, MNT, CNTP, is a certified nutritionist who specializes in women’s health, thyroid problems, infertility, and digestive wellness. She ate her way back to health using a Paleo diet, lost 80 pounds, and had a healthy baby after numerous miscarriages. She focuses on simple nutrition practices that promote long-lasting results.