Magnesium is a critical mineral that the body uses for hundreds of important body processes. It is necessary for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. Along with calcium, we need magnesium for the proper function of muscles and nerves. Sufficient levels of magnesium are necessary to maintain a healthy heart, bones, and to regulate blood sugar and blood pressure levels. Our body needs magnesium to generate energy. The mineral is present in a variety of foods and beverages, but many people may still fall short of optimum levels. In these cases, our doctor may recommend that we take magnesium supplements.
An adult body contains around 25 gram (g) of magnesium, 50–60% of which the skeletal system stores. The rest is present in muscle, soft tissues, and bodily fluids. Almonds, spinach, and cashew nuts are some of the foods highest in magnesium. If a person cannot get enough magnesium through their diet, their doctor may recommend taking supplements.
Magnesium is most commonly used for constipation, as an antacid for heartburn, for low magnesium levels, for pregnancy complications called pre-eclampsia and eclampsia, and for a certain type of irregular heartbeat (torsades de pointes).
Good sources of magnesium –
Magnesium is found in a wide variety of foods, including:
- green leafy vegetables – such as spinach
- brown rice
- bread (especially wholegrain)
- dairy foods
Wheat products lose magnesium when the wheat is refined, so it is best to choose cereals and bread products made with whole grains.
Benefits of Magnesium –
Magnesium is one of seven essential macrominerals. These macrominerals are minerals that people need to consume in relatively large amounts at least 100 milligrams (mg) per day. Microminerals, such as iron and zinc, are just as important, though people need them in smaller amounts.
People who have Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, alcoholism, and type 2 diabetes are at risk for having inadequate magnesium levels. These conditions either impair nutrient absorption, increase magnesium requirements of the body, or deplete mineral stores, resulting in low magnesium levels. Older people are more likely to suffer from low magnesium levels as well because magnesium absorption decreases with age and our kidneys excrete more of the mineral as we get older. Older adults are also more likely to have medical conditions or take medications that decrease levels of this mineral.
Bone Health – While most research has focused on the role of calcium in bone health, magnesium is also essential for healthy bone formation. Research from 2013 has linked adequate magnesium intake with higher bone density, improved bone crystal formation, and a lower risk of osteoporosis in females after menopause.
Magnesium may improve bone health both directly and indirectly, as it helps to regulate calcium and vitamin D levels, which are two other nutrients vital for bone health.
Inflammation Fighter – Inflammation is a normal response in the body that facilitates healing, but it can be harmful when it occurs in excess or at inappropriate times. Chronic inflammation has been linked to conditions like arthritis, heart disease, and diabetes. Results of studies suggest that low magnesium levels are associated with higher levels of inflammation. Getting adequate magnesium is one way to decrease inflammation and help reduce the risk of chronic conditions.
Diabetes – Research has linked high magnesium diets with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. This may be because magnesium plays an important role in glucose control and insulin metabolism. A magnesium deficiency may worsen insulin resistance, which is a condition that often develops before type 2 diabetes. On the other hand, insulin resistance may cause low magnesium levels.
In many studies, researchers have linked high magnesium diets with diabetes. However, researchers need to gather more evidence before doctors can routinely use magnesium for glycemic control in people with diabetes.
Cardiovascular Health – The body needs magnesium to maintain the health of muscles, including the heart. Research has found that magnesium plays an important role in heart health. Magnesium deficiency can increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular problems. This is partly due to its roles on a cellular level. The authors observe that magnesium deficiency is common in people with congestive heart failure and can worsen their clinical outcomes.
People who receive magnesium soon after a heart attack have a lower risk of mortality. Doctors sometimes use magnesium during treatment for congestive heart failure (CHF) to reduce the risk of arrhythmia, or abnormal heart rhythm. According to a 2019 meta-analysis, increasing magnesium intake may lower a person’s risk of stroke. They report that for each 100 mg per day increase in magnesium, the risk of stroke reduced by 2%.
Some research also suggests that magnesium plays a role in hypertension. However, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS), based on current research, taking magnesium supplements lowers blood pressure “to only a small extent.”
The ODS call for a “large, well-designed” investigation to understand the role of magnesium in heart health and the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
Squash Migraines – Low levels of magnesium are linked to the release of brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) and constriction of blood vessels in the brain that trigger migraines. Getting adequate magnesium may help reduce the frequency of debilitating migraines by an average of just a little more than 40 percent.
The American Migraine Foundation report that people frequently use doses of 400–500 mg per day for migraine prevention. The amounts that may have an affect are likely to be high, and people should only use this therapy under the guidance of their doctor.
Anxiety – Magnesium levels may play a role in mood disorders, including depression and anxiety. According to a systematic review from 2017, low magnesium levels may have links with higher levels of anxiety. This is partly due to activity in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is a set of three glands that control a person’s reaction to stress.
However, the review points out that the quality of evidence is poor, and that researchers need to do high quality studies to find out how well magnesium supplements might work for reducing anxiety.
The amount of magnesium if any person need is:
- 300mg a day for men (19 to 64 years)
- 270mg a day for women (19 to 64 years)
People should be able to get all the magnesium they need from their daily diet.
Risks of Magnesium –
Magnesium supplements can benefits any person if they need them, but supplements can cause side effects and may potentially interact with other medications and other supplements that they are taking. Magnesium is ‘Likely Safe’ for most people when taken by mouth appropriately. Doses less than 350 mg daily are safe for most adults. In some people, magnesium might cause stomach upset, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and other side effects. When taken in very large amounts (>350 mg daily), magnesium is ‘Possibly Unsafe’. Large doses might cause too much magnesium to build up in the body, causing serious side effects including an irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, confusion, slowed breathing, coma, and death.
Magnesium inadequacy or deficiency can result from excess consumption of alcohol, a side effect of certain medications, and some health conditions, including gastrointestinal disorder and diabetes. Deficiency is more common in older adults.
Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include:
- a loss of appetite
- nausea or vomiting
- fatigue or weakness
Symptoms of more advanced magnesium deficiency include:
- muscle cramps
- personality changes
- heart rhythm changes or spasms
Research has linked magnesium deficiency with a range of health conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and migraine.
Magnesium seems to slow blood clotting. In theory, taking magnesium might increase the risk of bleeding or bruising in people with bleeding disorders. Alcohol abuse increases the risk for magnesium deficiency.
Diabetes increases the risk for magnesium deficiency. Poorly controlled diabetes reduces how much magnesium the body absorbs. High doses of magnesium (typically delivered by IV) should not be given to people with heart block.
However, a high intake of magnesium from supplements can lead to gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhea, nausea, or cramping. Very large doses can cause kidney problems, low blood pressure, urine retention, nausea and vomiting, depression, lethargy, a loss of central nervous system (CNS) control, cardiac arrest, and possibly death. People with a kidney disorder should not take magnesium supplements unless their doctor advises that they do so.
People should be able to get all the magnesium they need by eating a varied and balanced diet. If any person take magnesium supplements, don’t take too much as this could be harmful. Having 400mg or less a day of magnesium from supplements is unlikely to cause any harm.