Magnesium: Benefits, Uses, Side Effects (Comprehensive Guide)

Are you considering adding magnesium to your diet?

This little mineral is crucial to hundreds of processes in your body. It has the potential to help with…

… anxiety, depression, insomnia, athletic performance, migraines, blood pressure, and more!

Read below to discover the amazing things this mineral can do and the potential health benefits it can provide.

What Is Magnesium?

Magnesium is an essential mineral that your body needs in large amounts. In fact, every cell in your body relies on magnesium to do its job!

Magnesium is a co-factor. This means that it helps biochemical reactions happen in your body. Some of these reactions include:

  • Muscle contractions
  • Nerve firing
  • Making proteins
  • Regulation blood sugar levels
  • Regulating blood pressure levels

Magnesium, along with calcium and other minerals, contributes to the structure of your bones. Without magnesium, your bones would be brittle and prone to breaking.

When you eat food, it must be turned into a form of energy called ATP that your cells can use. Magnesium is needed for that conversion of food into energy to happen.

The genetic material within your cells, called DNA, needs magnesium to take shape. It is also required to make glutathione, a powerful antioxidant produced by your body.

Magnesium is what is called an antagonist to calcium. This means that it counters the actions of calcium in the body – for instance, calcium causes muscle to contract, while magnesium causes them to relax.

Magnesium is a vitally important mineral. Without it, your body wouldn’t be able to process food, build strong bones, or move!

How Much Magnesium Do I Need?

The RDA, or recommended daily allowance, of Magnesium is different for men and women. The current recommendations are:

  • Men – 400 to 420 mg per day
  • Women – 310 to 320 mg per day

Are Magnesium Deficiencies Common?

There is still debate over whether magnesium deficiencies are common or not. Even medical professionals and scientists cannot agree on whether we should be concerned about getting enough magnesium from diet alone.

Some of this may be due to the fact that magnesium deficiencies are difficult to test for.

About 55% of the magnesium in your body is in your bones, while the rest of it is stored in soft tissues. A very, very small percentage of the magnesium in your body is stored in the blood.

This means that, when you get a blood test to determine your magnesium levels, it will not be able to tell you how much magnesium is in your entire body. It will only show the small amount that’s in your blood.

There is not currently a method of magnesium testing that can accurately assess your magnesium levels.

Sometimes a food diary will be used to determine your magnesium intake, especially if you visit a dietitian. This can help the dietitian discover whether you get enough magnesium from diet alone.

What Are Signs Of A Magnesium Deficiency?

Early signs of a magnesium deficiency include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness

Signs of a more serious or advanced magnesium deficiency include:

  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Muscle cramps
  • Seizures

What Foods Contain Magnesium?

Many foods, especially nuts and seeds, contain rich amounts of magnesium. Most professionals agree that it is possible to get enough magnesium from diet alone without using supplements. Foods containing magnesium include:

FoodAmountMg of Magnesium
Pumpkin Seeds¼ cup raw185 mg
Brazil Nuts¼ cup raw130 mg
Tempeh¾ cup prepared115 mg
Salmon1.5 oz prepared90 mg
Spinach½ cup cooked85 mg
Beans1 cup cookedApprox. 75 mg
Quinoa½ cup cooked63 mg
Edamame½ cup cooked50 mg

What Are Some Health Benefits of Magnesium?

1. Headaches and Migraines

According to the American Migraine Foundation, magnesium shows promise as a way to treat and even prevent migraines. This is especially true for people who experience an aura with their migraines, or have migraines related the PMS.

Intravenous, or IV, magnesium sulfate is an effective emergency treatment for severe, difficult to treat migraines. If you go to an emergency room with a migraine, this is one of the treatments you may receive.

It is thought that magnesium is able to prevent a process called cortical spreading depression. This is a series of signals in your brain that causes, among other things, the visual phenomena known as an aura.

Magnesium can also reduce the pain-causing chemicals produced in the brain and reduce narrowing of the blood vessels.

Magnesium oxide tablets are safe to take and may be an effective supplement to help people with headaches and migraines prevent an attack.

The dose recommended by the American Migraine Foundation is 400-500 mg per day, but check with your doctor to find out what dose is best for you.

2. Muscle Cramps

Magnesium supplements are often recommended for people who experience muscle cramps. This is because magnesium plays a very important role in the movement of our skeletal muscles.

Magnesium and calcium work together to allow your muscles to move. Calcium contracts your muscles, while magnesium allows them to relax.

Without enough magnesium, calcium can work overtime and cause your muscles to contract without relaxing. As anyone who has ever experienced a muscle cramp knows, this can be extremely painful.

Although the importance of magnesium to muscle relaxation is well known, there aren’t many studies that support the use of magnesium to relieve muscle cramps. This isn’t to say it doesn’t work, however – many people find that their painful muscle cramps and spasms go away after incorporating magnesium into their routine.

3. Insomnia

One of the ways magnesium deficiency can show itself is as insomnia, or trouble sleeping.

Magnesium helps the body maintain normal levels of the neurotransmitter GABA, or Gamma-amino butyric acid. This natural chemical allows your body to maintain a normal sleep-wake cycle.

Currently, there aren’t many studies supporting magnesium as an insomnia cure. However, many case studies and personal experiences are backing up the ability of magnesium to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

In fact, some people report that they have to take their magnesium supplements at night because they work so well that they fall asleep soon after taking them!

4. Anxiety

Magnesium is widely sold as a supplement that promotes relaxation and calm, peaceful feelings.

Because of magnesium’s importance to brain and nerve health, it is likely that a magnesium deficiency could produce anxiety symptoms or make already-present anxiety worse.

According to a review of available studies, there is good evidence suggesting that magnesium based foods and supplements could relieve feelings of stress and anxiety when taken consistently.

5. Depression

Magnesium is an important part of your body’s ability to regulate mood. It is thought that one of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency could be depressed thoughts.

One study done in 2006 noticed that participants with major depressive disorder improved in less than one week when given 125-300 mg of magnesium daily.

The study suggested that low magnesium, especially when coupled with high levels of calcium, can worsen or even cause depression and related disorders like anxiety, headache, sleeplessness, and irritability.

Another 2008 study done on older adults with diabetes found that magnesium supplementation improved symptoms of depression just as well as an antidepressant.

6. Constipation

If you have ever taken too much magnesium, you’ll be familiar with the unpleasant side effect of diarrhea.

While this isn’t a good thing or most people, individuals with constipation can find relief from magnesium’s ability to soften stool.

Magnesium is known as an osmotic laxative. This means that it increases the amount of water in your intestines, making your stool softer and easier to pass.

Make sure to drink enough water when taking magnesium for constipation to avoid dehydration.

7. Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia, sometimes referred to as toxemia, is a condition that some women develop when they’re pregnant.

The main symptom of preeclampsia is high blood pressure, followed by high levels of protein in the urine. Women may also experience swelling in the arms, hands, legs, and feet.

If not treated, preeclampsia can progress to eclampsia. This is a life-threatening condition for mom and baby and is most known for causing seizures.

The exact cause of preeclampsia and eclampsia is unknown. Typically, the treatment for eclampsia is to induce labor or preform a c-section.

For women who are too early in their pregnancy to deliver, magnesium is often used as an alternative treatment.

Magnesium sulfate is used as a way to prevent seizures associated with eclampsia and is given intravenously by a doctor.

One study has looked at using magnesium supplements in pregnant women as a way to prevent complications such as preeclampsia. Women who took a magnesium supplement during pregnancy had much few complications, including preeclampsia.

If you are interested in taking magnesium during pregnancy, check with your doctor first to determine a safe dosage.

8. Dyspepsia

Dyspepsia, also known as indigestion or heart burn, is a common symptom of GERD.

Indigestion occurs when the muscle that separates the esophagus from the stomach is weak and doesn’t close all the way. This allows stomach acid to creep into the esophagus, causing burning pain and discomfort.

Magnesium, often in the form of magnesium hydroxide, is a common ingredient in many over-the-counter acid reducers. It is currently an accepted treatment for the painful symptoms associated with reflux.

Magnesium works by neutralizing the acid in the stomach, but this can cause problems when used long term.

Using acid reducers, over time, can lead to complications. These include vitamin deficiencies, trouble digesting proteins, overgrowth of bacteria, stomach ulcers, and the overproduction of stomach acid.

9. Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance is a condition that occurs when your body’s cells don’t respond to insulin as well as they used to. When this happens, the cells can’t absorb glucose from your bloodstream as efficiently.

Over time, insulin resistance increases blood sugar levels and can lead to Type 2 Diabetes.

If you have insulin resistance, a diet low in magnesium may lead to the development of Type 2 Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome. Consider adding some magnesium rich foods, like spinach or pumpkin seeds, to your diet.

10. Type 2 Diabetes

People diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes also tend to have low levels of magnesium. Magnesium is important for regulating insulin, the hormone that allows your cells to absorb sugar from your bloodstream.

According to a review of many studies, magnesium supplementation may be able to reduce fasting blood sugar levels in people with type 2 Diabetes.

Magnesium supplementation also had the added benefit of raising HDL. HDL ,or high-density lipoprotein, is the good cholesterol.

11. Blood Pressure

Magnesium is a mineral that is very important to the proper functioning of your heart muscle.

Magnesium and calcium work in opposite directions to make your heart pump. Calcium causes your heart muscles to contract, while magnesium allows them to relax.

Magnesium deficiencies can lead calcium to work overtime, causing an irregular heartbeat.

Many studies have shown that magnesium supplementation can have a modest but positive effect on high blood pressure.

One impressive study done on people with hypertension showed that magnesium supplementation of 450 mg daily reduced blood pressure greatly. The participants all had a confirmed magnesium deficiency.

While magnesium may not cure you of your high blood pressure unless you have a deficiency, it can be a useful tool to help you bring your blood pressure into a healthier range.

12. Inflammation

Low levels of magnesium have been linked to higher CRP levels.

CRP, or C-Reactive Protein, is a marker of inflammation in the body that is checked using a blood test. The higher your CRP level, the more inflammation you have.

High CRP levels, over time, can lead to chronic disease.

Magnesium supplements have been shown to decrease CRP levels, specifically in people who are overweight or prediabetic.

13. Premenstrual Syndrome

Premenstrual syndrome can have a wide variety of symptoms, including depressed mood, muscle cramps, headache, changes in appetite, and fatigue.

Although many women put up with these symptoms every month, they’re not normal!

One study looked at the relationship between PMS symptoms and levels of vitamin D, calcium, and magnesium. Women experiencing symptoms were discovered to be low in all three of these vitamins and minerals.

Another study was able to successfully treat PMS symptoms with a combination of magnesium and vitamin B6.

14. Asthma

In the case of a severe asthma attack, emergency room doctors may administer intravenous or nebulized magnesium sulfate.

One study found that IV magnesium in particular can be useful for controlling an asthma attack. The same study found that oral magnesium supplements did not have the same effect and could not control an attack.

Because of magnesium’s relaxing effect on muscles, it is thought that this mineral might help the airways relax during an attack. It can also reduce inflammation of the airways and prevent muscles from spasming.

Other than use during an emergency, there isn’t much evidence supporting daily magnesium supplementation for asthma relief. More research needs to be done in this area.

Speak with your doctor if you are interested in taking magnesium supplements to improve asthma symptoms.

15. Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease, or clogged arteries, is the most common type of heart disease in the United States.

There have been many studies done linking low levels of magnesium to many different types of heart disease, including increased risk of death caused by heart disease and sudden cardiac death.

In people with clogged arteries, magnesium has been shown to be an excellent supplement to take. This is because It is well tolerated, cheap, and easy to use. It is especially beneficial for people at a high risk. This includes people in heart failure, the elderly, and people who are currently hospitalized.

It is thought that magnesium helps improve coronary artery disease by reducing calcium build-up in the arteries. It can also improve vascular tone, reduce irregular heartbeats, and has a slew of other heart-health-promoting benefits.

15. Restless Legs Syndrome

Restless leg syndrome is a frustrating condition that is still an ongoing area of research.

A few small, older studies have been done to discover whether magnesium may play a role in restless leg syndrome. These studies were able to show that magnesium supplementation could reduce uncontrollable leg movements and creepy-crawly feelings.

Magnesium was also found to be useful for people with insomnia caused by restless leg syndrome.

16. Athletic Performance

As you exercise, your need for magnesium increases. Most people, including athletes, are more than likely deficient in magnesium. This can lead to lowered athletic performance.

Magnesium might improve exercise performance by making it easier for your muscles to use glucose for energy. Magnesium can also reduce or delay the build up of lactate in the muscles.

Lactate, or lactic acid, is what causes muscles to fatigue and give-out during longer work-outs.

Some studies have even seen an association between magnesium supplementation and increased muscle strength.

17. Vertigo

If you’ve searched for a cure for vertigo online, you’ve likely seen testimonials that magnesium is able to provide relief.

While many people seem to be able to get rid of their vertigo using magnesium supplements, there is no evidence supporting that magnesium can be the cure for this inner ear condition.

According to Harvard Health, a vitamin D deficiency may be a more likely cause of vertigo than low magnesium.

If you have vertigo and are interested in trying magnesium or vitamin D supplements, speak with your doctor about amounts of each supplement that are right for you.

18. Fertility

While women have long been blamed for infertility, more and more research is being done showing that men can have an effect on conception as well.

In one study, low magnesium levels were linked to decreased sperm motility. When magnesium was added to sperm in a lab setting, motility increased. Magnesium also rose the production of sperm by 80%.

19. Cholesterol

A magnesium deficiency is known to cause increased blood triglycerides and increased levels of cholesterol.

In one study done on people with prediabetes who were deficient in magnesium, magnesium supplementation was able to significantly reduce triglyceride levels.

People taking magnesium supplements also experienced an increase in HDL, or the good cholesterol.

20. ADHD

Magnesium supplementation has shown promise as a potential treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

One small study showed that oral magnesium supplementation for 6 months was able to significantly decrease hyperactive behavior.

Another more recent study confirmed that magnesium supplementation was able to improve hyperactivity and cognitive functions in children with ADHD.

Both studies confirmed that most of the hyperactive children involved had magnesium deficiencies before the study began.

What Are Some Side Effects Of Magnesium Supplementation?

The most common side effect of magnesium supplementation is diarrhea. If this occurs, talk with your doctor about reducing the amount of magnesium you’re taking.

Rarer, more severe side effects of magnesium supplementation include:

  • Dizziness
  • Paralysis
  • Trouble Breathing

Does Magnesium React With Any Medications?

Magnesium has the potential to interact with prescription and over-the-counter medications. This is seen especially in medications that contain magnesium.

Always check with your doctor before starting a magnesium supplement, especially if you are currently on any medications or other supplements.

Magnesium supplements can interact with:

  • Osteoporosis medications
  • Antibiotics
  • Diuretics
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors
  • Acid Reducers/Blockers

Takeaway Notes

  • Magnesium is an essential mineral that is important for hundreds of processes in your body.
  • Men need about 400 mg per day, while women need about 310 mg per day.
  • Foods containing high amounts of magnesium include spinach, pumpkin seeds, tempeh, and salmon.
  • Signs of a magnesium deficiency include fatigue, trouble sleeping, and loss of appetite.
  • Magnesium supplementation can have many health benefits, including reducing headaches, improving PMS, alleviating insomnia, and helping with depression and anxiety.
Kelli Yates
Kelli Yates
Kelli Yates is a health and nutrition writer, dietetics student, and co-host and creator of The Nutrition Nerds Podcast. In her spare time she teaches the free class Well-Fed Survival: Eating Healthy After A Disaster, which helps people build nutritious emergency food supplies and prepare for natural disasters.
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