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What you need to know about magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays many critical roles in the body. However, despite its importance, this mineral is largely under-consumed and is easily depleted. Here’s what science has to say about the importance of magnesium and subsequent supplementation.

If you’re looking for ways to level up your health, then magnesium may be for you. From improved sleep to migraine management and reduced blood pressure, this mineral can greatly benefit your health when taken in the right amounts. Here’s everything you need to know about magnesium and why science says you should include it in your supplement routine. 

Why is magnesium important?

Magnesium plays many critical roles in the body–including protein synthesis, bone health, energy production, disease prevention, and heart, muscle, and nerve function–and is involved in over 600 enzymatic reactions [3]. 
Despite its importance in the body, magnesium is largely under-consumed and is easily depleted by both stress and sweat [1, 2]. As such, it’s estimated that 60% of adults do not meet the RDA for magnesium [17].

How much magnesium do you need?

Magnesium needs vary by age and gender. Here is the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for magnesium [4]:
  • Males 14-18 years: 410 mg/day
  • Males 19–30 years: 400 mg/day
  • Males 31+ years: 420 mg/day
  • Females 14-18 years: 360 mg/day (400 mg/day during pregnancy)
  • Females 19–30 years: 310 mg/day (350 mg/day during pregnancy)
  • Females 31+ years: 320 mg/day (360 mg/day during pregnancy)

Sources of magnesium

You can obtain magnesium through food or supplementation.
Baby spinach on a wooden background

Dietary sources

Chlorophyll-containing green vegetables (like spinach, kale, peas, lima beans, and artichokes) are rich in magnesium, as well as nuts, seeds and whole grains. Legumes, fruit, meat and fish contain moderate amounts of magnesium as well [15].
Supplements on a spoon with produce in the background

Supplements

Supplemental magnesium comes in different forms which vary in its medical uses, absorption, and potential side effects. Here are the best forms of magnesium for treating a deficiency, constipation, preventing migraines and easing muscle soreness [18].
  • Magnesium citrate vs. magnesium glycinate: Magnesium citrate is more commonly used to treat constipation, whereas magnesium glycinate is the best form for increasing magnesium levels, treating deficiency, and having the fewest potential side effects. 
  • Magnesium oxide: This is the best form of magnesium for preventing migraines, and has been found to be as effective as valproate sodium without adverse effects.
  • Magnesium sulfate: This is the best form of magnesium for soothing aching muscles, and is also found in Epsom bath salts. 
If you’re confused by how much (and what form of) magnesium you should take, there’s no need to worry. At Elo Health, we take the guesswork out of the equation by overlaying your blood biomarker results, wearable data, and questionnaire answers to recommend the right nutrition and supplements for you. Your personalized daily smart supplement pack contains custom-dosed nutrients selected for your biomarkers, health data, and goals, based on the latest available science. Moreover, Elo’s formulary includes over 60 nutrients (including magnesium), all of which undergo rigorous third-party testing.

How long does magnesium stay in your body?

Magnesium stays in your body for roughly 24 hours. Magnesium excretion follows a circadian rhythm, with maximal excretion occurring at night, primarily by the kidneys and mostly through urine and stool [15]. How much magnesium is absorbed depends more on your overall magnesium status than how much you take. The lower your magnesium level, the more of this mineral your gut will absorb. When magnesium intake is low, the kidneys also reduce excretion of magnesium in the urine and feces [15].
Magnesium supplements can be taken at any time of day, but it’s recommended to take them with food to reduce the potential for digestive upset.

Benefits of magnesium

Magnesium has an array of health benefits, so here’s what science has to say about its importance in your body.
Bed with white sheets and white pillows

Better sleep.

If you struggle with sleep, then magnesium supplementation may be the answer to getting better shut-eye. Studies have found that adults who took 320 mg/day of magnesium citrate showed significant improvements in sleep quality, with other clinical trials demonstrating that 325-375 mg/day of supplemental magnesium can also have positive effects [6]. 

Lower blood pressure.

Evidence suggests that magnesium supplementation appears to reduce blood pressure in individuals with magnesium deficiency or elevated blood pressure (>140/90) [5]. 

Reduced asthma symptoms.

Research shows that magnesium supplementation may slightly reduce asthma symptoms in individuals with untreated asthma [5].

Improved diabetic conditions.

Supplemental magnesium may be beneficial for those with (or at risk of developing) diabetes and/or diabetic neuropathy. Studies show magnesium supplementation can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce fasting insulin levels in both type 2 diabetics and those at risk of type 2 diabetes [5]. Additionally, one trial found long-term magnesium supplementation (300 mg/day over 5 years) significantly reduced symptoms associated with diabetic neuropathy in type 1 diabetics with low magnesium levels [7]. 
Moreover, studies have shown that those who consume higher amounts of magnesium in their diet have a significantly lower risk of developing diabetes. One meta-analysis of seven large clinical studies found that a 100 mg/day increase in total magnesium intake decreased the risk of diabetes by 15% [4]. 

Migraine management.

If you suffer from chronic migraines, then you may want to consider taking magnesium. Research suggests that supplementation may reduce migraine severity, but not frequency, with 600 mg of elemental magnesium/day [8]. Another more recent clinical trial found 500 mg of  magnesium oxide twice daily to be as effective as valproate sodium at preventing migraine attacks without adverse side effects [9].
Stressed man with blue sweatshirt

Reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Magnesium plays a big role in regulating brain function, as studies have found that a deficiency of this mineral is linked to depression-like changes in the brain [10]. As such, research suggests that magnesium supplementation may help alleviate symptoms of depression and reduce anxiety, but more research is needed in this area to establish efficacy and treatment standards [5,11,12,13].

Easier bowel movements.

If you suffer from occasional constipation, a little magnesium can help get things moving. Magnesium citrate has a gentle laxative effect that helps relax the bowel and draw water into the intestines, making stool easier to pass. For best results, it’s recommended to drink a tall glass of water immediately before or after taking magnesium citrate.

Improved muscle function.

Magnesium supplements are marketed for the prevention of muscle cramps, but there is lacking scientific evidence to support this claim as magnesium supplementation does not appear to be effective for reducing or preventing leg cramps [14]. However, magnesium can promote normal muscle function, contraction, and relaxation, so if you’re wondering how much magnesium to take for leg cramps, you should follow the RDA guidelines for your age group.

What causes low magnesium?

Chronically low levels of magnesium have been associated with a number of health conditions including migraines, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, stroke, high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes [3,4]. Several factors can cause low magnesium, including [4]: 
  • Poor diet
  • Gastrointestinal diseases (like Chron’s and celiac)
  • Diabetes
  • Aging 
  • Long-term vomiting or diarrhea
  • Kidney problems 
  • Certain medications (including diuretics and proton pump inhibitors)
  • Alcoholism 

Side effects of magnesium

Common side effects of magnesium include stomach upset, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping [4]. When taken in very large amounts (exceeding 350 mg daily), magnesium is possibly unsafe. 
Though rare, consuming around 5,000 mg/day from supplements or medications can cause magnesium toxicity and/or serious side effects including irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, confusion, slowed breathing, coma, and possibly death [16]. Risk of magnesium toxicity is greater in those with poor or reduced kidney function which can severely reduce magnesium excretion [4]. 

Who shouldn’t take magnesium supplements?

Magnesium supplementation isn’t right for everyone, as supplements may interact with certain medicines (including diuretics, heart medicines, and some antibiotics) and could cause negative issues if you have diabetes, or kidney, heart, or intestinal disease [16]. 
Before taking a magnesium supplement, talk to your doctor to see if it’s right for you.

Summary

Magnesium plays many critical roles in the body (such as protein synthesis, bone health, energy production, and heart, muscle, and nerve function), yet despite it being involved in over 600 enzymatic reactions in the body, many people don’t get enough magnesium in their diet. Magnesium is critical to disease prevention and overall health and appears to have beneficial effects on sleep, blood pressure, asthma, diabetes, migrantes, depression, and digestive health. 
You can obtain magnesium through dietary sources–like spinach, kale, artichokes, nuts, seeds, fruits, whole grains, and legumes–and/or supplementation, as this will bridge any nutritional gaps in the diet or help those who are at risk for magnesium deficiency. However, magnesium supplementation isn’t right for everyone, as supplements may interact with certain medicines (including diuretics, heart medicines, and some antibiotics) and could cause negative issues if you have diabetes, or kidney, heart, or intestinal disease. Before taking a magnesium supplement, talk to your doctor to see if it’s right for you.
Disclaimer: The text, images, videos, and other media on this page are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to treat, diagnose or replace personalized medical care. 

Key takeaways

  • Magnesium plays many critical roles in the body–including protein synthesis, bone health, energy production, disease prevention, and heart, muscle, and nerve function–and is involved in over 600 enzymatic reactions [3]. 
  • Magnesium supplementation can be beneficial for bridging nutritional gaps in the diet or for those who are at risk for magnesium deficiency.
  • Magnesium is critical to disease prevention and overall health and appears to have beneficial effects on sleep, blood pressure, asthma, diabetes, migrantes, depression, and digestive health. 
  • Common side effects of taking magnesium supplements include stomach upset, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Extremely large doses can be dangerous or even fatal.
  • If you take diuretics, heart medicines, or antibiotics, or have diabetes, intestinal disease, heart disease, or kidney disease, talk to your doctor before starting a magnesium supplement.

References

  1. de Baaij, J. H., Hoenderop, J. G., & Bindels, R. J. (2015). Magnesium in man: implications for health and disease. Physiological reviews, 95(1), 1–46. https://doi.org/10.1152/physrev.00012.2014
  2. Schwalfenberg, G. K., & Genuis, S. J. (2017). The Importance of Magnesium in Clinical Healthcare. Scientifica, 2017, 4179326. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/4179326
  3. Volpe S. L. (2013). Magnesium in disease prevention and overall health. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 4(3), 378S–83S. https://doi.org/10.3945/an.112.003483
  4. Office of Dietary Supplements - Magnesium. (2022, March 1). National Institutes of Health (NIH). Retrieved March 15, 2022, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/
  5. Patel, K. (2022a, January 21). Magnesium. Examine.Com. Retrieved March 15, 2022, from https://examine.com/supplements/magnesium/
  6. Nielsen, F. H., Johnson, L. K., & Zeng, H. (2010). Magnesium supplementation improves indicators of low magnesium status and inflammatory stress in adults older than 51 years with poor quality sleep. Magnesium research, 23(4), 158–168. https://doi.org/10.1684/mrh.2010.0220
  7. De Leeuw, I., Engelen, W., De Block, C., & Van Gaal, L. (2004). Long term magnesium supplementation influences favourably the natural evolution of neuropathy in Mg-depleted type 1 diabetic patients (T1dm). Magnesium research, 17(2), 109–114.
  8. Köseoglu, E., Talaslioglu, A., Gönül, A. S., & Kula, M. (2008). The effects of magnesium prophylaxis in migraine without aura. Magnesium research, 21(2), 101–108.
  9. Karimi, N., Razian, A., & Heidari, M. (2021). The efficacy of magnesium oxide and sodium valproate in prevention of migraine headache: a randomized, controlled, double-blind, crossover study. Acta neurologica Belgica, 121(1), 167–173. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13760-019-01101-x
  10. Eby, GA., Eby, KL., Murk, H. Magnesium and major depression. In: Vink R, Nechifor M, editors. Magnesium in the Central Nervous System [Internet]. Adelaide (AU): University of Adelaide Press; 2011. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507265/
  11. Barragán-Rodríguez, L., Rodríguez-Morán, M., & Guerrero-Romero, F. (2008). Efficacy and safety of oral magnesium supplementation in the treatment of depression in the elderly with type 2 diabetes: a randomized, equivalent trial. Magnesium research, 21(4), 218–223.
  12. Tarleton, E. K., Littenberg, B., MacLean, C. D., Kennedy, A. G., & Daley, C. (2017). Role of magnesium supplementation in the treatment of depression: A randomized clinical trial. PloS one, 12(6), e0180067. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0180067
  13. Boyle, N. B., Lawton, C., & Dye, L. (2017). The Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress-A Systematic Review. Nutrients, 9(5), 429. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9050429
  14. Garrison, S. R., Korownyk, C. S., Kolber, M. R., Allan, G. M., Musini, V. M., Sekhon, R. K., & Dugré, N. (2020). Magnesium for skeletal muscle cramps. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 9(9), CD009402. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD009402.pub3
  15. Jahnen-Dechent, W., & Ketteler, M. (2012). Magnesium basics. Clinical kidney journal, 5(Suppl 1), i3–i14. https://doi.org/10.1093/ndtplus/sfr163
  16. MAGNESIUM: Overview, Uses, Side Effects, Precautions, Interactions, Dosing and Reviews. (n.d.). WebMD. Retrieved March 15, 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-998/magnesium
  17. Volpe, S. L. (2015). Magnesium and the athlete. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 14(4), 279–283. https://doi.org/10.1249/jsr.0000000000000178 
  18. Sherrell, Z. M. (2021, March 23). Types of magnesium supplements and their benefits. Medical News Today. Retrieved March 24, 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/types-of-magnesium