Most of us are familiar with the countless health benefits of nutrients like iron, calcium, and vitamin C, but what about magnesium? For many, the word conjures up the chalky laxatives and salt baths of our childhood, and while both are technically accurate descriptions, this miracle mineral is all that...and so much more.
In fact, when it comes to getting the most nutritional bang for your buck, research shows that magnesium may just be your body’s new best friend. The problem? An estimated two thirds of Americans don’t get the recommended daily amounts of this magnificent mineral and 80% may actually be deficient—and this is one deficit your body can’t afford.1
What Does Magnesium Do?
As the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body, magnesium is a cofactor in over 300 enzyme-driven biochemical reactions. This means that magnesium plays a role in most of our major bodily processes, from regulating blood pressure and muscle and nerve function to supporting DNA and RNA synthesis, producing energy within cells, and balancing electrolytes. Around 40% of all the magnesium in our body exists within cells, while 60% is in our teeth and bones, and less than 1% circulates in our blood.1
Because of its vital intracellular work, magnesium is crucial to our overall physical and emotional health and well-being—there’s hardly an organ or system that doesn’t rely on it to function optimally. Some of the best magnesium benefits include:
• High energy levels. Magnesium activates adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the main source of cellular energy. Without enough of it in your body, you can experience debilitating fatigue and zapped energy levels.
• Strong exercise performance. By increasing glucose availability during—and lactate clearance after—exercise, magnesium can drastically improve exercise performance.2 And, magnesium intake can also reduce the temporary inflammatory immune response that often occurs after strenuous exercise, and can even help increase muscle strength.3,4
• Restful sleep. Magnesium has a remarkable ability to calm and relax the body and mind, which certainly can help you achieve quality sleep, but research shows that it’s also associated with increases in sleep-inducing melatonin and decreases in sleep-busting cortisol to help you get your zzz’s.5 In addition, magnesium works with your cells to stay in tune with their circadian rhythms, so your internal daily clock keeps on ticking.6
• Comfortable regularity. Not being able to experience “business as usual” can really put a damper on your day, and low magnesium levels are associated with increased irregularity.7 Fortunately, getting enough magnesium can keep things moving so you feel your best, day after day.
• Calm mood. It’s a vicious cycle—not only do stress and anxious thoughts lead to increased magnesium depletion, but magnesium deficiency often leads to more anxious feelings. The good news is that magnesium works to lower cortisol (the “stress” hormone) and to bind and activate GABA receptors, essential for encouraging calming and relaxing feelings.8
• Relaxed muscles. When it comes to muscle contractions, magnesium is calcium’s counterpart: calcium contracts muscles and magnesium relaxes them.1 With such high recommendations for calcium intake in the past several decades, many people are overloaded on calcium, and their muscles are feeling the strain. Fortunately, supplemental magnesium can help keep your muscles nice and loosey-goosey.
• Supported heart health. Remember, your heart is a muscle, and it relies on an appropriate balance of magnesium and calcium to function properly. Research indicates that magnesium therapy can help correct electrical disturbances that can lead to an irregular heart rate.9
• Healthy blood sugar levels. A high intake of magnesium is associated with healthy glucose and insulin metabolism, while a low intake is associated with metabolic impairment.10 Having plenty of magnesium in your body can help you utilize glucose properly, reducing insulin resistance.
• Strong bones. We frequently hear about how important calcium is for bone health, but it turns out that magnesium is just as (if not more) crucial for strong bones. Research shows that low magnesium intake is associated with lower bone mineral density all over the body.11
And just think, this list is only a snippet of all that magnesium can do for your health! Indeed, researchers have discovered 3,751 magnesium binding sites on human proteins—this means that there’s still a lot to learn about all the ways magnesium impacts our body.12 One emerging new frontier in science is how magnesium affects the microbiome.
The Link Between Magnesium and Gut Health
As scientists continue to learn more and more about how important our gut microbiome is to our overall physical and mental health, they’re able to determine how individual nutrients, like magnesium, impact our microbial mix. In one study, researchers discovered that mice on a magnesium deficient diet had lower levels of beneficial Bifidobacteria in their guts.13
And in other studies, dietary magnesium deficiency led to depressive and anxious behavior in mice, leading researchers to discover that a lack of this essential mineral causes an imbalance in the microbiota-gut-brain axis, whereby our gut bacteria help to regulate our mood and mental state.14,15
What does all this mean? Not only is magnesium directly responsible for countless regulatory and life-supporting functions throughout our body (and its depletion is undoubtedly a factor in nearly every health issue), but it has a direct positive effect on our friendly flora as well.
Where Has the Magnesium Gone?
With so much going for it—and so much at stake if we don’t get enough—why are more than three quarters of Americans likely deficient in magnesium?
1. Depleted soil. The problem begins with our soil. You see, changes in farming practices over the last century have left our soils depleted of critical nutrients, including magnesium. This means that our ancestors, just by eating plenty of freshly grown plant-based foods, consumed loads more magnesium than we have access to in our foods today.
2. Standard American diet. The typical Western diet includes tons of sugar-laden, acidic foods (think fried, processed, and artificially flavored) that leach minerals like magnesium from our bodies, in part to counteract the acidity and keep our pH in a healthy range. Also, it takes approximately 54 molecules of magnesium to process just one molecule of sugar—given that most Americans consume nearly 22 teaspoons of sugar each day, it’s clear where our magnesium is (and isn’t) going.
3. Medication. Many different medications either deplete magnesium or block its absorption in the body, including antacids, acid blockers, antibiotics, diuretics, steroids, hormone replacers, and many more. Even calcium supplements—especially paired with a typical high calcium diet—can throw off your body’s delicate magnesium balance. Experts estimate that, while an ideal ratio of calcium to magnesium is 1:1, most Americans hover at around 10:1.
4. Stress. As a society, we are under more stress than ever, and once anxiety and stressful feelings become chronic, our already-low magnesium levels take a huge hit, which in turn makes us feel more anxious. The cycle perpetuates until we are so low on the mineral that our physical and mental health take a turn for the worse. Trouble sleeping, muscle cramps and twitches, low energy, hormonal imbalances, irritability, loss of appetite, and an irregular heartbeat are just some of the many signs that you may be low in magnesium.
Fortunately, magnesium deficiency is eminently reversible—it’s relatively easy to boost your intake and assimilation of this underappreciated mineral!
How to Get the Most out of Magnesium
Because many foods don’t have enough magnesium to replete even a mild deficiency, taking a multi-pronged approach when it comes to upping your magnesium consumption is best. Here’s how you can start bringing more magnesium into your life right away:
• Food. Chocolate lovers, you’re in luck...dark chocolate is one of the best natural sources of magnesium, with over 90 mg in just one square! Spinach, chard, almonds, pumpkin seeds, black beans, and avocados are also great sources: aim to include several servings of magnesium-rich foods every day to top off your body’s supplies.
• Oral supplements. Magnesium supplements come in many forms, and each has a somewhat different effect in the body. Magnesium citrate, for example, has a high rate of absorption but can cause loose stools, while magnesium glycinate is very easy to digest and is great for replenishing the body’s stores. Magnesium oxide is a cheap form often used in multivitamins, but has a very low absorption rate, and magnesium malate is a potent energy booster. Be patient; it can take time to find the perfect magnesium for your unique body, but it’s well worth the wait.
• Topical and transdermal. If you sense you may be low in magnesium, the quickest, and easiest, way to top up your levels is by using magnesium transdermally by applying it to your skin. Because it bypasses the digestive system, transdermal magnesium is perfect for those who get digestive upset from oral supplements, have absorption issues, or who just want quick results. In fact, consistent topical application of concentrated magnesium chloride oil (from a pristine, unpolluted source) can restore magnesium levels in just weeks, compared to the many months oral supplementation can take. Taking an Epsom salt bath (made of magnesium sulfate) can also gently raise your levels, and is a wonderful, nourishing way to relax and pamper yourself.
Magnesium is the ultimate multitasker; it brings both the spark of life and a calm sense of peace and relaxation to our everyday existence, and it can have a profound impact on every aspect of our health and happiness. So, take the time to get to know and appreciate this mighty mineral—you won’t be disappointed!
1. Ismail, A. A., & Ismail, N. A. (2016). Magnesium: A Mineral Essential for Health Yet Generally Underestimated or Even Ignored. Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences, 6(4). doi:10.4172/2155-9600.1000523
2. Chen, H., Cheng, F., Pan, H., Hsu, J., & Wang, M. (2014). Magnesium Enhances Exercise Performance via Increasing Glucose Availability in the Blood, Muscle, and Brain during Exercise. PLoS ONE, 9(1). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0085486
3. Dmitrašinović, G., Pešić, V., Stanić, D., Plećaš-Solarović, B., Dajak, M., & Ignjatović, S. (2016). ACTH, Cortisol and IL-6 Levels in Athletes Following Magnesium Supplementation. Journal of Medical Biochemistry, 35(4). doi:10.1515/jomb-2016-0021
4. Zhang, Y., Xun, P., Wang, R., Mao, L., & He, K. (2017). Can Magnesium Enhance Exercise Performance? Nutrients, 9(9), 946. doi:10.3390/nu9090946
5. Abbasi, B., Kimiagar M., Sadeghniiat, K., Shirazi, M.M., Hedayati, M., Rashidkhan,i B. (2012). The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Journal of Research In Medical Sciences, 17(12), 1161-9.
6. Feeney, K. A., Hansen, L. L., Putker, M., Olivares-Yañez, C., Day, J., Eades, L. J., . . . Ooijen, G. V. (2016). Daily magnesium fluxes regulate cellular timekeeping and energy balance. Nature, 532(7599), 375-379. doi:10.1038/nature17407
7. Murakami, K., Sasaki, S., Okubo, H., Takahashi, Y., Hosoi, Y., & Itabashi, M. (2006). Association between dietary fiber, water and magnesium intake and functional constipation among young Japanese women. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition,61(5), 616-622. doi:10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602573
8. Boyle, N.B., Lawton, C., & Dye, L. (2017). The Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress—A Systematic Review. Nutrients,9(5), 429. doi:10.3390/nu9050429
9. Ganga, H. V., Noyes, A., White, C. M., & Kluger, J. (2013). Magnesium Adjunctive Therapy in Atrial Arrhythmias. Pacing and Clinical Electrophysiology, 36(10), 1308-18. doi:10.1111/pace.12189
10. Hruby, A., Meigs, J. B., Odonnell, C. J., Jacques, P. F., & Mckeown, N. M. (2013). Higher Magnesium Intake Reduces Risk of Impaired Glucose and Insulin Metabolism and Progression From Prediabetes to Diabetes in Middle-Aged Americans. Diabetes Care,37(2), 419-427. doi:10.2337/dc13-1397
11. Orchard, T. S., Larson, J. C., Alghothani, N., Bout-Tabaku, S., Cauley, J. A., Chen, Z., . . . Jackson, R. D. (2014). Magnesium intake, bone mineral density, and fractures: results from the Womens Health Initiative Observational Study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,99(4), 926-933. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.067488
12. Piovesan, D., Profiti, G., Martelli, P. L., & Casadio, R. (2012). The human "magnesome": detecting magnesium binding sites on human proteins. BMC Bioinformatics,13(Suppl 14). doi:10.1186/1471-2105-13-s14-s10
13. Pachikian, B. D., Neyrinck, A. M., Deldicque, L., Backer, F. C., Catry, E., Dewulf, E. M., . . . Delzenne, N. M. (2010). Changes in Intestinal Bifidobacteria Levels Are Associated with the Inflammatory Response in Magnesium-Deficient Mice. Journal of Nutrition,140(3), 509-514. doi:10.3945/jn.109.117374
14. Jørgensen, B. P., Winther, G., Kihl, P., Nielsen, D. S., Wegener, G., Hansen, A. K., & Sørensen, D. B. (2015). Dietary magnesium deficiency affects gut microbiota and anxiety-like behaviour in C57BL/6N mice. Acta Neuropsychiatrica,27(05), 307-311. doi:10.1017/neu.2015.10
15. Jørgensen, B. P., Winther, G., Kihl, P., Nielsen, D. S., Wegener, G., Hansen, A. K., & Sørensen, D. B. (2015). Dietary magnesium deficiency alters gut microbiota and leads to depressive-like behaviour. Acta Neuropsychiatrica,27(03), 168-176.
Emily Courtney is a Writer and Editor at Hyperbiotics and mom to two fun and active boys. Emily is passionate about natural wellness and helping others learn about the power of probiotics for vibrant health! For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.