Vitamins + Supplements


What is Magnesium and What Does it Do?

Magnesium, a mineral found abundantly in the body, is naturally present in many foods, available as a dietary supplement, and an ingredient in medications including laxatives and antacids. Magnesium is an important component of key enzyme systems in the body, including protein synthesis and muscle and nerve function, as well as regulation of blood glucose levels and blood pressure.

Why is Magnesium important/necessary? (health effects of vitamin/supplement on body)

It is important to note that magnesium is required for energy production, assisting with key bodily processes known as oxidative phosphorylation and glycolysis. As well, magnesium contributes to the structural development of bone and is required for the synthesis of DNA, RNA, and the antioxidant glutathione. Finally, magnesium plays a role in the active transport of calcium and potassium ions across cell membranes—a process that is key to conduction of nerve impulses, contraction of muscle fibers, and normal rhythm of the heart.

What Magnesium does for your Body?

Many experts agree that magnesium may be the most overlooked mineral. No one has yet popularized a simple way to remember it, in the way that we usually associate potassium with bananas, calcium with bone health, and sodium with blood pressure. Magnesium, however, is a particularly useful mineral that many doctors, nutritionists, and researchers consider to be possibly the most important nutrient for your overall health.

Magnesium plays an essential role in hundreds of chemical reactions in your body, from helping you maintain your energy levels, allowing you to relax, and sustaining your heart and blood vessel health. And most people do not get enough magnesium on a daily basis.

So, what does magnesium do for your body? What is it good for?

  • It is commonly used in over-the-counter laxative medicines as a means to alleviate constipation
  • Magnesium is found in antacid medications used to relieve heartburn, acid indigestion, and upset stomach
  • Magnesium promotes restful sleep and acts as a calming agent. It is excellent for reducing insomnia
  • It also improves brain function and fights depression
  • Magnesium is also a natural calcium-channel blocker, which may be key to regulating healthy blood pressure
  • It helps decrease inflammation, which can beneficially impact many bodily systems
  • Healthy magnesium levels help lower cortisol, the stress hormone, which helps you return to a more relaxed state faster
  • Together with calcium, magnesium is key to the maintaining bone health
  • It helps the heart muscle function properly and also protects blood vessels, thereby helping your body fight heart disease
  • Due to its natural ability to act as a blood thinner, experts believe that magnesium may prove key to the prevention of serious cardiovascular complications, including heart attack and stroke

How Much Magnesium Do I Need?
The exact amount of magnesium you should consume each day depends on your age, gender, diet, and individual health-related factors, including pregnancy and lactation. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the average daily U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of magnesium, as consumed from foods, is:

Age Male Female Pregnant Lactating
Birth to 6 months 30 mg 30 mg —   — 
7 to 12 months 75 mg 75 mg —    — 
1–3 years 80 mg 80 mg —   —  
4–8 years 130 mg 130 mg —   —  
9–13 years 240 mg 240 mg —    — 
14–18 years 410 mg 360 mg 400 mg 360 mg
19–30 years 400 mg 310 mg 350 mg 310 mg
31–50 years 420 mg 320 mg 360 mg 310 mg
51+ years 420 mg 320 mg  —  —


So, what does this mean for you? See the “What foods have Magnesium” section for more information.

What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough Magnesium (Signs of Deficiency?)

Magnesium deficiency, also referred to as hypomagnesia, may present serious problems to your health. Luckily, such a deficiency may be relatively easily remedied through an increase of magnesium in diet, oral supplements, and in severe cases, intravenous supplementation. Magnesium deficiency may present itself in any number of ways; here are a few signs and symptoms to look out for:

  • Agitation, irritability, anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Nauseas and vomiting
  • Muscle spasm and weakness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hyperventilation
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Low blood pressure
  • Insomnia and other sleep disorders, including restless leg syndrome
  • Seizure

Talk to your doctor if you think you may be experiencing a deficiency in magnesium. A standard serum magnesium test can help diagnose severe hypomagnesemia. Long-term inadequate intake of magnesium may be dangerous to your health and can increase the risk of medical complications and illnesses, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and migraine.

While magnesium deficiency is often effectively treated with an oral supplement, your doctor may recommend treatment through an alternate method of administration such as dermal absorption using Epsom salts, enema, nebulizer therapy, as well as intravenous or intramuscular injection.

What Foods have Magnesium? How do you get enough from foods?

Leafy green vegetables, soybeans, raw nuts, and fruit are the best food sources of magnesium. As with all minerals in foods, magnesium must be present in the soil where the food is grown. The best food sources of magnesium include:

  • Beans, especially soybeans
  • Whole grains, including bran
  • Nuts like almonds and brazil nuts
  • Seeds, including flaxseed, sesame, and sunflower
  • Leafy greens
  • Dry cocoa powder—and even dark chocolate

While a diet rich in these foods will help regulate your intake of magnesium, supplementation may prove necessary. Refer to the “What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough Magnesium (Signs of Deficiency?)” section of this page for information on magnesium supplementation.

Possible Side Effects of too much Magnesium

It is important to note that getting too much magnesium—also referred to as hypermagnesemia–may possibly be unsafe. Doses less than 350 mg daily are safe for most adults. Large doses might cause too much magnesium to build up in the body, leading to serious side effects such as irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, confusion, slowed breathing, coma, and even death.

For more information on the dosage of magnesium that is correct for you, refer to the “How Much Magnesium Do I Need?” section of this page.

 Other names for Magnesium

Epsom salts—or magnesium sulfate—can be found at your local drugstore. Epsom salt baths have been used for many generations to treat various health-related issues. Essentially, Epsom salts break down into magnesium and sulfate when placed in water. An Epsom salt bath, therefore, is thought to provide your body with magnesium supplementation through your skin. To that end, people use Epsom salt baths as a home treatment for:

  • Arthritis pain and swelling
  • Sore muscles after working out
  • Insomnia
  • Tired, swollen feet
  • Bruises and sprains
  • Fibromyalgia—a condition that causes pain throughout the body, including muscles, ligaments, and tendons
  • Ingrown toenails
  • Psoriasis—a disease that causes red, itchy, scaly skin
  • Soreness from diarrhea during chemotherapy
  • Sunburn pain and redness

It is important to note that Epsom salt baths—while largely believed to provide therapeutic relief—have not been clinically proven to treat or heal any medical condition. And while taking an Epsom salt bath probably won’t hurt you, but if you have questions, be sure to check with your doctor before you jump in the tub.

Special Considerations for Magnesium

While magnesium has proven essential to key systems in the body, including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, and blood pressure regulation, its benefits in other area of medicines remains to be explored. Perhaps the segment of medicine that may reap the most benefit from magnesium is in the prevention of diabetes. Researchers have proven a direct correlation between magnesium and blood glucose levels. Accordingly, these data have shown the following:

  • Magnesium levels are inadequate in people with diabetes
  • People with higher magnesium levels do not develop diabetes
  • Magnesium supplementation appears to help reverse pre-diabetes

It is interesting to note that the overall health benefits of magnesium may not have yet been fully realized. Be sure to talk to your doctor about your magnesium intake during your annual check-up.

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