Experts estimate that 50 to 80 percent of Americans are deficient in magnesium, and this crucial mineral is required for the functioning of more than 300 enzyme systems driving a diverse array of biological reactions in your body. The positive improvements I’ve seen in people (including myself!) after boosting magnesium levels are astounding, and the best part? You see results FAST. Let’s explore why you need magnesium and how it can improve your health.
Of course I recommend obtaining your nutrients from food, above all. Mother nature has provided us with all the fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals in the proper ratios with the needed cofactors for maximum absorption in the plants and animals we eat. But did you know that estimates suggest we’re only getting a fraction of the minerals we need from our current food supply?
Today’s soil is grossly depleted of nutrients thanks to modern farming practices and environmental toxicity, and 87 percent of us aren’t eating enough vegetables. A century ago, we were getting an estimated 500 milligrams of magnesium from the food we ate, both due to naturally nutrient-rich soil and the fact that we had less access to packaged convenience foods stripped of nutrients. Today, estimates suggest we’re only getting 150 mg a day from our food supply (you need at least 400 mg daily). Not only are we not eating nearly enough vegetables to provide us with the vitamins and minerals we need, we are relying increasingly on skeletonized, refined foods that actually rob the body of essential nutrients.
Back to magnesium: It’s one of the most abundant minerals in your body and required for more than 300 different enzymatic and biochemical reactions, including mitochondrial function in the cell, protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation (source). That means if you don’t have enough, nagging symptoms start to surface (have you ever wondered why so many people have high blood pressure?!) Unfortunately, you can’t get a truly accurate reading of your magnesium status via blood work because only 1 percent of the magnesium in your body is found in your blood; the majority resides in your bones and soft tissue.
Low magnesium levels are associated with high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, migraines, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia.
Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency
(note: research in conventional medical journals will tell you that true magnesium deficiency is rare unless you have a chronic condition such as alcoholism or use of meds that cause the body to flush more magnesium. However, less than ideal, therapeutic levels of magnesium in the body play a role in the development of many chronic conditions and disease!)
- sleep disturbances
- chronic pain
- palpitations, abnormal heart rhythm
- muscle cramps or spasm
- numbness, tingling, eyelid spasms!
Conditions Associated with Low Levels of Magnesium
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Adrenal Fatigue
- Heart Disease
- Atrial Fibrillation
- Heart Palpitations
- Congestive Heart Failure
- Kidney Stones
Ten Reasons You Need Magnesium
1) You have high blood pressure, heart palpitations, or other cardiovascular issues. Low levels of magnesium are the best predictor of heart disease and are associated with high blood pressure, arterial plaque build-up, calcification of soft tissues, cholesterol, hardening of the arteries. Scary, right? Magnesium is a major factor in relaxing the smooth muscles within the blood vessels, thereby reducing vascular resistance and blood pressure. Magnesium relaxes the central nervous system and stabilizes cardiac conductivity. A study published in the International Journal of Cardiology in 1996 found that taking 600 mg of magnesium daily reduced systolic blood pressure by an average of 7.6 mm Hg and diastolic pressure by an average of 3.8 mm Hg (source) Increasing dietary magnesium intake is associated with a reduced risk of stroke, heart failure, diabetes, and all-cause mortality (source) Side note: magnesium is super safe for use during pregnancy and can be used to treat high blood pressure, eclampsia and preeclampsia.
2) You struggle with anxiety and stress. Magnesium is the ultimate calming mineral. It seems to act favorably in the brain to regulate stress response and reduce release of cortisol. (source) In addition, stress and anxiety speed up your metabolic processes, causing more magnesium to be flushed from the body. Magnesium taurate is the best form to supplement for anxiety.
3) You drink a lot of coffee or booze: also causes magnesium to be flushed from the body. Both these beverages may contribute to anxiety.
4) You have insomnia. Many studies (here’s just one) corroborate that magnesium improves sleep and has a positive effects for insomniacs. It’s a natural relaxant and is a crucial mineral necessary to produce calming brain minerals (like GABA, explained above) and inhibit the excitatory, like glutamate. Magnesium is the first supplement I recommend for insomnia, often in the form of Natural Calm.
5) You use marijuana. While cannabis can be very therapeutic in treating a number of conditions, marijuana can deplete the body’s magnesium stores, one reason it causes anxiety in some people (source). Magnesium is necessary for GABA production, your body’s calming neurotransmitter, which is also depleted greatly by marijuana use.
6) You crave chocolate. It’s one of the highest food sources of magnesium and may indicate lower magnesium levels.
7) You have type 2 diabetes, high insulin, or blood sugar regulation issues. There’s a lot of info out there about magnesium, insulin, and diabetes. Overall, magnesium keeps your metabolism running smoothly and offers protection against type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. One study found those with the highest magnesium intake reduced their risk of metabolic problems by 71 percent. Magnesium is highly protective against diabetes, so if you’re at risk or have diabetes, supplementation is recommended. (source)
8) You are constipated. Magnesium has an overall relaxing effect and also relaxes the intestinal muscles. It attracts water in the intestines to help initiate peristalsis. I recommend a 500mg starting dose before bed. If nothing happens, increase by 100mg until you see results. Magnesium citrate and oxide have the best laxative and stool softening qualities. Be careful not to take too much or you’ll end up with the runs.
9) You have migraines. Research shows that people with migraines often have low levels of magnesium in the brain. Some studies indicate that 200-600 milligrams (mg) of magnesium per day may reduce frequency of migraines. (source) Magnesium threonate is the best form for migraines.
10) You’re a sugar junkie; you don’t like vegetables (or eat minimal veggies); you eat fast food; you tend to eat packaged and boxed foods. All these foods deplete magnesium and mineral stores in the body, ESPECIALLY sugar. And if you’re not getting magnesium-rich foods like plants, beans, and nuts, your magnesium stores are likely too low.
Best Food Sources of Magnesium
Remember that the magnesium content of your food is only as good as the richness of magnesium in the soil in which the plant was grown.
- dark, leafy greens such as spinach, chard, kale, collards, beet greens, etc
- green juices
- sea vegetables like nori, kelp, wakame. Or try Sea Snax.
- quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice
Best Way to Supplement Magnesium
Depending upon your goal for supplementation, I usually recommend magnesium bisgylcinate, a chelated form of magnesium that provides high levels of absorption and bioavailability, and is ideal for those who are trying to correct a deficiency. I use this form personally and have great success with it, though it will cause loose stool if you take too much. This is the one I use and recommend. Glycinate is a good all-around magnesium and less expensive than threonate. A great choice for general daily use.
Threonate offers the best absorption via the blood brain barrier and action on a cellular level (source). This form is great for everyone but particularly effective for migraines, sleep, anxiety, and memory decline. You can take up to 2 grams because this form is least likely to cause diarrhea.
Magnesium taurate contains a combination of magnesium and taurine, a calming amino acid. This one is good for heart issues, insomnia, and calming.
I don’t recommend the cheaper forms such as oxide and citrate, but they do work for constipation.
Magnesium oil or gel is another way to use magnesium and is best used to bring up low levels. I’ve seen it work mostly for muscle aches and sleep. This study shows its effectiveness for fibromyalgia pain. Some women also report that it’s great for morning sickness and nausea during pregnancy. It’s easily absorbed transdermally. I recommend this one.
Keep in mind that calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin K2 all work together synergistically for best absorption: they’re all required together for each to perform properly, especially for healthy bones! You can usually find these nutrients bundled together correctly in a multi, where adding extra magnesium in addition would be ok. But you may not reap all the benefits of magnesium without its cofactors, so make sure and get plenty of calcium (easily accessible in leafy greens!) and K2, richest in fermented foods. Do NOT take calcium alone, as it can lead to calcification when it builds up without magnesium as an antagonist.
Finally, magnesium is very safe. The worst thing that happens with you take too much is diarrhea. Not super pleasant, but not toxic either!
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.