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If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Water, food, sleep: We’re all familiar with the basic necessities. But we’re clearly less comfortable with the minerals.
Maybe that’s why we generalize and think of each as having one main health benefit: calcium for strong bones, potassium to keep away muscle cramps, iodine for thyroid health. While we’re severely underestimating all of these essential minerals and their health benefits, we may be selling magnesium short most of all.
Magnesium is one of our body’s essential minerals, which means it is required for critical processes and functions in the body. This small but mighty mineral is required for over 600 chemical reactions in the body, and we’re not talking about minor ones (Baaij, 2015).
It plays a key role in keeping our heartbeat steady, regulating our blood pressure, and building and maintaining bone health. Magnesium is also required for proper muscle and nerve function, energy production, DNA replication, and RNA synthesis. Its effects ripple out across both our mental and physical health. And you might not be getting enough.
Potential benefits of magnesium
With an essential mineral like magnesium, it’s important to distinguish between health benefits and basic functions.
Magnesium works in tandem with calcium, relaxing the heart muscles after calcium makes them contract, generating heart contractions. That’s vital for your survival as a happy, healthy human. The potential health benefits of magnesium listed below are about thriving, not surviving.
Here’s what may happen when you supplement with magnesium.
1. May improve exercise performance
Maintaining your heart rhythm isn’t the only way magnesium is involved with muscle contractions. And it’s not hard to see how better functioning of your muscles, and how they contract and relax, could lead to improved performance overall.
In one very small study done on volleyball players, the athletes’ jumping improved with 350 mg of magnesium daily for four weeks—even if the players weren’t deficient. Their levels of lactate, which sometimes takes the form of lactic acid, also dropped (Setaro, 2014).
If you’ve played sports, you might know this byproduct of your body turning carbs into energy when oxygen levels are low for the achy, burning feeling it can cause in your muscles. It’s worth noting, though, that an earlier study found that magnesium supplements have no effect on athletes who were not deficient in the essential mineral (Nielsen, 2006).
Another very small study looked at how supplementation with magnesium orotate affected triathletes. After four weeks, the triathletes had lower cortisol and insulin levels after supplementation than the placebo group. Researchers believe that at least part of this is due to how the mineral increases the availability of glucose in the blood.
Several studies support the idea that magnesium can help improve exercise performance in the elderly, athletes, and people with chronic health conditions such as coronary artery disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (Amaral, 2012; Veronese, 2014).
15 foods filled with magnesium
2. Help with anxiety and depression
If you suffer from anxiety, you’re probably familiar with cortisol, the stress hormone. That also means you likely noticed that it decreased in athletes in one study, despite the strain of exercise.
Reviews of studies have looked into whether or not magnesium has an effect on anxiety-related issues but overall stated that the evidence isn’t strong enough to know for sure (Boyle, 2017).
The connection between magnesium and depression is a bit more clear. Studies have shown that magnesium deficiency may be associated with depression. In fact, one of these studies found that in people under 65, the lowest levels of magnesium were associated with a 22% jump in risk of developing the mental health condition (Tarleton, 2015).
And in those already deficient in the essential mineral, one small study found that supplementing with 450 mg of magnesium daily was as effective as an antidepressant in improving mood in elderly individuals with type 2 diabetes (Barragán-Rodríguez, 2008).
You should never alter your medication without talking to your healthcare provider, but it may be worth discussing the role a magnesium supplement might play in your treatment plan for depression or anxiety.
3. Lower blood pressure
High blood pressure doesn’t sound nearly as scary as it is. The condition, also called hypertension, can lead to serious heart health complications, including heart attack or stroke.
And while holistic approaches to lowering blood pressure are usually your best bet, magnesium may deserve a place in the lineup. Oral magnesium is associated with a small decrease in blood pressure in those with mild to more elevated hypertension. And it might not work for people with more normal blood pressure looking to lower theirs.
One study looked at adult men with normal magnesium levels. Those who came in with higher blood pressure saw their numbers lowered with magnesium. However, those who came in with more normal numbers did not (Lee, 2009).
4. Help reduce inflammation
A 2014 study found that having low magnesium levels, not even low enough to be considered a deficiency is associated with a decrease in a blood test value that is typically used as a marker to indicate inflammation in the body (Nielsen, 2014).
5. May improve bone health
When it comes to bone health, it’s all about getting enough magnesium—not too little, but not too much either.
Magnesium deficiency is a risk factor for osteoporosis, a condition characterized by progressive bone loss, because it plays an important role in bone health, from affecting the secretion of calcium-regulating parathyroid hormone to promoting inflammation.
But it’s important to work hand-in-hand with your healthcare provider, as striking the perfect balance with magnesium is essential. One study found that lower magnesium levels were associated with lower bone density, but also that high doses above the recommended dietary allowance were associated with an increased risk of wrist and lower arm fractures (Orchard, 2014).
6. Help regulate insulin
How’s this for tiny-but-mighty? Magnesium is critical for regulating insulin’s actions and low magnesium has been linked to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. But supplementing with this essential mineral may also help you achieve a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
People with the highest magnesium intake were a considerable 47% less likely to develop this chronic disease, a study that tracked 4,497 people in the United States for 20 years found (Kim, 2010).
Types of magnesium supplements: the differences explained
7. May relieve migraines
We’re not telling you to ditch the specialized migraine medication yet, but science around these debilitating headaches and magnesium is promising.
One study found increased blood flow to key areas of the brain, which researchers say may help with the treatment of migraines that present without an aura, a variety of mostly visual symptoms that can include flashing lights or zigzag lines that do not happen to all migraine sufferers or at each episode (Köseoglu, 2008).
A 2015 study might be the most hopeful, though. In it, researchers gave patients either magnesium sulfate or a common prescription migraine medication and tested their pain severity at different points in time. They found that magnesium not only treated pain more effectively than these common medications but also worked faster (Shahrami, 2015).
Larger, more robust clinical trials need to confirm these findings, but some researchers already suggest treatment with the mineral for all migraine suffers because of the low cost and minimal side effects.
8. May reduce PMS symptoms
If you experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS), you already know how uncomfortable it is. For those of you who don’t, this common condition in women in their childbearing years can come along with symptoms like cramping, water retention, exhaustion, and changes in mood.
Low magnesium levels have been reported in women who suffer from PMS. Researchers have also found that repeated magnesium supplementation might help improve mood, pain, and water retention in women during their menstrual cycles.
9. Widely available and safe for most
We all need magnesium, and many of us aren’t getting enough, but it’s an easy problem to solve. Supplements are available online, in health stores, and even in many drugstores.
Even better, there are many magnesium-rich foods that are common and likely already part of your diet. That means you don’t have to rely on one source to meet your daily needs.
Magnesium supplements commonly cause diarrhea or loose stools, especially when taken in doses over 350 mg per day. Check with a medical professional before starting magnesium supplementation.
How to get enough magnesium
Dietary supplements like oral magnesium are helpful, especially for people with issues absorbing minerals who might need a higher dose. But dietary magnesium does appear important, so don’t ignore it entirely in favor of supplements.
Magnesium-rich foods are mercifully common, so you shouldn’t have to go out of your way to incorporate them into your diet or hunt them down at pricey supermarkets. You might even be eating several of them now if you follow a generally healthy diet: fiber-rich whole grains, black beans, and avocado are good food sources, as are leafy greens, cashews, and, yes, even dark chocolate. .
Luckily, if you’re enjoying a diet low in processed foods, you’re likely already well on your way to meeting your recommended daily allowance of 400–420 mg for adult men and 310–320 mg for adult women.
But a lifestyle that supports the adequate intake of magnesium doesn’t have to avoid supplements. Some people are more sensitive to oral magnesium, so you should work with a medical professional to test your tolerance and tailor your specific supplementation program based on your reaction.
No matter the plan for improving your magnesium status, follow the medical advice you’re given. Hypermagnesemia, or having too much magnesium, can also be dangerous.
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- 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. doi: 10.1684/mrh.2008.0149. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19271419
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- Kim, D. J., Xun, P., Liu, K., Loria, C., Yokota, K., Jacobs, D. R., & He, K. (2010). Magnesium Intake in Relation to Systemic Inflammation, Insulin Resistance, and the Incidence of Diabetes. Diabetes Care, 33(12), 2604–2610. doi: 10.2337/dc10-0994. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20807870
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- Orchard, T. S., Larson, J. C., Alghothani, N., Bout-Tabaku, S., Cauley, J. A., Chen, Z., et al. (2014). Magnesium intake, bone mineral density, and fractures: results from the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 99(4), 926–933. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.067488. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24500155
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- Setaro, L., Santos-Silva, P. R., Nakano, E. Y., Sales, C. H., Nunes, N., Greve, J. M., & Colli, C. (2013). Magnesium status and the physical performance of volleyball players: effects of magnesium supplementation. Journal of Sports Sciences, 32(5), 438–445. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2013.828847. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24015935
- Shahrami, A., Assarzadegan, F., Hatamabadi, H. R., Asgarzadeh, M., Sarehbandi, B., & Asgarzadeh, S. (2015). Comparison of Therapeutic Effects of Magnesium Sulfate vs. Dexamethasone/Metoclopramide on Alleviating Acute Migraine Headache. The Journal of Emergency Medicine, 48(1), 69–76. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2014.06.055. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25278139
- Tarleton, E. K. & Littenberg, B. (2015). Magnesium Intake and Depression in Adults. The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, 28(2), 249–256. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2015.02.140176. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25008857
- Veronese, N., Berton, L., Carraro, S., Bolzetta, F., Rui, M. D., Perissinotto, E., et al. (2014). Effect of oral magnesium supplementation on physical performance in healthy elderly women involved in a weekly exercise program: a randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 100(3), 974–981. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.080168. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25008857
Dr. Mike is a licensed physician and the Director, Medical Content & Education at Ro.