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Magnesium Health Benefits

Updated on November 28, 2014

There are many health benefits of magnesium. In particular, it is important to have enough for you body's needs. Magnesium is a cofactor in as much as 300 enzymes in the body and hence is a necessary mineral in the processes of many organ systems.

Magnesium is involved in cell transport activities and in producing cellular energy aerobically or anaerobically.

Magnesium does a whole host of internal processes that are too lengthy and technical to list here. Here are just some of the health benefits of magnesium.

Magnesium the Relaxation Mineral

Magnesium is involved in the functioning of muscles and nerves. It is involved in production of energy and protein. It helps regulate serotonin in the brain and help aid sleep.

Dr. Mark Hyman wrote on HuffingtonPost that it is the "Most Powerful Relaxation Mineral Available" and is an antidote to stress and may even improve your sleep.[10]

Magnesium deficiency can result in anxiety and in severe cases panic attacks.

Magnesium help reduce the release of cortisol and adrenaline. Magnesium can stand at the blood brain barrier and help prevent the stress hormone from coming into the brain.[18]

According to the book, The Happiness Diet, magnesium is the third essential element of happiness, where number 1 is vitamin B12 and number 2 is iodine.

Magnesium contributes to strong bones

Dr. Christaine Northrup writes in HuffingtonPost that "When it comes to building healthy bones, magnesium is as important as calcium and vitamin D are!"[14]

Vitamin D is needed to for the body to absorb calcium. And magnesium is needed to turn vitamin D into its active form. Dr. Carolyn Dean says ...

"It turns out that all the enzymes metabolizing vitamin D require magnesium as a necessary co-factor"[20]

So for those people taking high doses of vitamin D, the body uses up a lot of magnesium in metabolizing it and one should make sure there is adequate amounts of magnesium.

Magnesium and Hearth Health

Magnesium plays important role in regulating blood pressure. Inadequate magnesium intake is linked to high blood pressure, increased risk of abnormal heart rhythms, and higher risk of cardiovascular diseases.[4]

Magnesium Reduces Risk of Diabetes

Magnesium deficiency is linked to insulin resistance condition often found in the obese and in Type 2 diabetes. This is because magnesium is an important co-factor in the enzymes used in metabolizing carbohydrates.[17]

Magnesium Improves Insulin Resistance

The book Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? When My Lab Tests are Normal writes ...

"It appears to optimize insulin secretion, activate glucose transport for insulin-mediated glucose uptake, and to improve insulin intercellular transcriptional response." [page 193]

Magnesium for Brain Health

Magnesium is beneficial of brain health primarily in its role of mitigating stress. Magnesium guard against the excitatory calcium and glutamate overactivating the NMDA receptor in the brain. With chronic magnesium deficiency, it is possible that over-excitatory response of calcium and glutamate can damage or kill brain cells in the long term.[18]

When stressed, we will excrete out a lot of magnesium in our urine. From an evolutionary point of view, this makes sense. Since under a stress response needed to survive a tiger attack, the body do not want magnesium calming our response down.

In our modern world, we often have chronic stress and chronic magnesium deficiency. And the depleted magnesium content in our soil and food is not helping either.

To see how important magnesium is to brain health, just count the number of times that Dr. Emily Deans mentions magnesium in "Episode 13 – Dr. Emily Deans on nutrition and mental health" of Chris Kresser's podcast.

Magnesium plays a role in converting the amino acid trytophan into the neurotransmitter serotonin which regulate appetite and sleep cycle. Magnesium deficiency can lead to low serotonin which may lead to depression, insomnia, and migraine headaches.[19]

Magnesium Deficiency

Magnesium is so critical that your body will rob magnesium from your cells in order to maintain the right level of magnesium in the blood.[1] Therefore, blood tests are not a very good indicator of magnesium deficiency. Because your cells can be low in magnesium when the level of magnesium in your blood level indicates okay. 99% of the body's magnesium is contained in the cells.

Rather than rely solely on blood test, one needs to also look for the symptoms of magnesium deficiency by a doctor that is familiar with detecting magnesium deficient condition.

The RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for magnesium is 350 mg daily. But US Intake of magnesium is only 250 mg. Both the RDA and the US intake is low, if you compare it with the 700 mg of magnesium that our hunter-gatherer ate in the Paleolithic era. Data based on table on page 18 of Primal Body, Primal Mind which is sourced from Eaton, S. B. et al. 1997 "Paleolithic nutrition revisited: twelve year retrospective on its nature and implication".

Muscle cramp/twitches (for example at night), anxiety, panic attacks are possible signs of magnesium deficiency.

Dr. Mark Hyman About Magnesium

Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency

Estimates are that 15% to as much as half of Americans may be deficient in this nutrient and don't know it.[10]

Speaking generally, some symptoms are mentioned in the following sources ...

  • The National Institute of Health says "loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and weakness. As magnesium deficiency worsens, numbness, tingling, muscle contractions and cramps, seizures (sudden changes in behaviors caused by excessive electrical activity in the brain), personality changes, abnormal heart rhythms, and coronary spasms can occur"[12]
  • Dr. Mark Hyman says "Anything that is tight, irritable, crampy, and stiff -- whether it is a body part or an even a mood -- is a sign of magnesium deficiency."[10]
  • Dr. Michael Schachter mentions a whole list of symptoms insomnia, anxiety, hyperactivity heart arrhythmias, and others on his website linked here.
  • MedlinePlus listed symptoms linked here[9]

The National Institute of Health says ...

"Many of these symptoms are general and can result from a variety of medical conditions other than magnesium deficiency. It is important to have a physician evaluate health complaints and problems so that appropriate care can be given."[12]

Because magnesium is used by so many different processes in the body, magnesium deficiency can cause are wide range of symptoms from constipation to having panic attacks. And sometimes it can be mis-diagnosed or confused with other conditions (fibromyalgia for example).

In the book The Magnesium Miracle, it tells the story of a person who had a panic attack while driving across a bridge. This was caused because she did not have enough magnesium after going on a "liquid protein diet". Such a diet is not recommend and can be very dangerous. [page 47-48]

Why Deficiency in Magnesium?

Why are so many people deficient in magnesium. It is because our highly processed diets of white bread, white rice, and other baked good contains almost no magnesium and are high in sodium. says ...

"The refining and processing of grains and other foodstuffs typically results in loss of 70% or more of the magnesium content (as well as other nutrients). ... The sodium and phosphate found in high amounts in many of today's processed and prepared foods hinder the use of magnesium in the body. ... phosphates and polyphosphates bind magnesium in the gut, leading to magnesium malabsorption. Phosphates are found in soft drinks, especially cola beverages (essentially devoid of nutritional value), and polyphosphate preservatives are ubiquitous in baked goods."[4]

Excessive alcohol and caffeine can cause your body to excrete magnesium. Stress also can cause us to lose magnesium. The Magnesium Miracle says ...

"It's not just a theory that stress causes magnesium deficiency and a lack of magnesium magnifies stress. Experiments where adrenaline is given intravenously produce a decrease in magnesium as well as calcium, potassium, and sodium. Without enough magnesium to relax arteries and muscles, blood pressure rises and the heart muscle cramps." [page 47]

Dr. Mark Sircus on Magnesium Deficiency

That is why the body has to regulate magnesium levels in the blood to be in a very precise range. Dr. Mark Sircus says in the video that ...

"If the level of magnesium drops in the blood just a little bit, you are going to have a heart attack."[1]

Certain medications can also cause the body to waste magnesium or hinder its absorption by the body. Phosphates in certain soft drinks makes it difficult for the body to absorb magnesium.

Magnesium From Foods

Our body's can not produce magnesium on its own. We have to get it from our diet. Some foods high in magnesium are pumpkin seeds, broccoli, spinach, swiss chard, soybeans, halibut, and certain beans, nuts, and seeds.

Kelp, dark green vegetables, nuts, tofu, brown rice, avocado, shrimp, garlic are also some of the foods that contain magnesium. The reason dark green vegetables are a good source of magnesium is because magnesium is the central atom in the chlorophyll molecule, which the body can extract slightly better if the plant is cooked. Chlorophyll is what causes the leaves to be green. This molecule in plants is responsible for converting sunlight into energy for the plant.

WebMd says ...

"Foods that are high in fiber are generally high in magnesium. Dietary sources of magnesium include legumes, whole grains, vegetables (especially broccoli, squash, and green leafy vegetables), seeds, and nuts (especially almonds). Other sources include dairy products, meats, chocolate, and coffee."[15]

Interesting that it mentions chocolate. Do you know people who crave chocolate when they are stressed? Some articles suggests that people who are deficient in magnesium tend to crave chocolate. Somehow the body knows or "remembers" that chocolate is a source of magnesium.

Magnesium Supplements?

Ideally, healthy individual should get their magnesium from foods rather than supplements. But certain individuals can consider magnesium supplements. Carolyn Dean goes further to say in The Magnesium Miracle that "I have come to the conclusion that everyone could benefit from extra supplementation."[page 16]

If you do use supplements, get the form that can be absorbed better by the body.

Dr. Hyman says ...

"The most absorbable forms are magnesium citrate, glycinate taurate, or aspartate, although magnesium bound to Kreb cycle chelates (malate, succinate, fumarate) are also good. Avoid magnesium carbonate, sulfate, gluconate, and oxide. They are poorly absorbed (and the cheapest and most common forms found in supplements)."[10]

In another video, he recommends at least 400 mg of magnesium.

Dr. Michael Schachter says ...

"The cheapest is probably magnesium oxide, but this form is not absorbed as well as some other forms, which include chelated magnesium, magnesium glycinate and magnesium aspartate. Dr. Baker feels that the prescription form of magnesium chloride, known as Slow-mag, has been most useful for his patients. I have found that magnesium taurate, an unusual form of magnesium in which magnesium is chemically combined with the amino acid derivative taurine, is particularly well utilized and beneficial."[8]

Some magnesium supplements contain a combination of two or more forms of magnesium -- probably to reduce cost by diluting it with cheaper forms. So look for the ones with the pure good forms.

Other Benefits of Magnesium

There had been some suggestion that magnesium may help certain women with PMS.

In the Reader's Digest book Your Health, What Works, What Doesn't, it talks about PMS. Although it says that Vitamin B6 and Calcium may work better, the book puts magnesium as "works for some" saying that ...

"If your major issue with PMS is bloating or cramps, give magnesium a try." [page 316]

Although drinking enough water is the best way to reduce risk of kidney stones, Dr. Mercola writes on his site that another way to help reduce risk of kidney stones is to get adequate amounts of magnesium. As magnesium is needed for proper calcium absorption and metabolism. For those taking a lot of calcium, they need to make sure they have the right balance of magnesium.

Magnesium Warning

The RDA (recommended daily allowance) on magnesium is around 300 mg a day for adults, but could be more for certain individuals. In general, men can tolerate a little more magnesium than woman. You can see charts of RDA value on and NIH website based on age and gender.

Reader's Digest and NIH says the daily Tolerable Upper Intake Levels on magnesium is 350 mg a day for adults.[11][12] It is less for children.

WebMd says that 350 mg per day for most adults is likely safe. Larger does is "possibly unsafe".[15]

Although it is difficult to overdose on magnesium if you take it in food form, It is possible to overdose on magnesium if you take supplements. Overdose risk is greater if you have decreased kidney function so that your body is not able to rid excess magnesium. Diarrhea, nausea, appetite loss, muscle weakness, and irregular heartbeat are just some possible symptoms of magnesium overdose[10][12] Note that the symptoms of magnesium overdose are similar and easily confused with symptoms of magnesium deficiency. Hence it is important consult with your doctor first and be monitored during magnesium supplementation.

As with all supplements, magnesium can interact negatively with prescription drugs (such as high blood pressure medication, muscle relaxants, water pills, antibiotics, etc). Magnesium can reduce the effectiveness of certain antibiotics as well as impair the absorption of medications. Not all supplements may be suitable for your individual case or for people with certain conditions.

If you have kidney disease or severe heart disease (including bradycardia or arrhythmias), or myasthenia gravis, or bowel obstruction, then do not take magnesium supplements without consulting with your doctor.

Magnesium in Liquid form

Trace Minerals Research - Ionic Magnesium, 400 mg, 2 fl oz liquid
Trace Minerals Research - Ionic Magnesium, 400 mg, 2 fl oz liquid

It has a measured dropper for you to drop liquid magnesium into your juice or other beverages.



Contents are only opinion at the time of writing (last updated February 2012). Author of this article is not a medical professional and may receive revenue from the display ads and links within the article.


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