Feeling tired or stressed out? There might be more to blame than your busy schedule, and the answer could be as simple as getting enough magnesium. Magnesium is involved in hundreds of processes in your body, yet it’s one of the top vitamin deficiencies in the world.
Magnesium supplements can be an everyday health hack, especially during colder seasons. Read on to learn all about the health benefits of magnesium and many uses of magnesium.
What Does Magnesium Do?
Magnesium helps regulate a diverse range of biochemical reactions, including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood pressure regulation and blood glucose control.1 It is essential for energy production because the primary energy source for your cells (an enzyme known as adenosine triphosphate, or ATP) can’t function without the help of magnesium.
Magnesium is involved in the synthesis of DNA and RNA and contributes to the healthy development of bones. It is also involved in transporting calcium and potassium to cells, which is important for muscle, nerve and heart functions.1
Magnesium Benefits: What is Magnesium Good for?
Magnesium supports overall health and wellness. It helps support your bones and your heart, as well as your digestive system. But the two magnesium benefits you are most likely to notice are increased energy levels and reduced stress or anxiousness.
If you don’t have enough magnesium in your diet, your energy levels might be low and you may be more prone to stress, restlessness, nervousness and irritability. It might sound contradictory, but magnesium is energizing, calming and relaxing. Plus, magnesium helps support healthy nerve function and it helps regulate stress hormones.
A Quick List of the Benefits of Magnesium
- Healthy bones as magnesium is involved in the structural development of bones, as well as the transport of calcium and potassium through cell membranes2
- Heart health, which is also related to the transport of calcium and potassium
- Digestive health since magnesium can help relax muscles in the digestive tract and help calm stomach acid; certain types of magnesium are frequently used in over the counter digestive remedies
- Energy since magnesium is required for cellular energy production2
- Magnesium deficiency is associated with increased stress and feelings of anxiousness. Increased magnesium intake at sufficient levels can help support a healthy stress response and reduce occasional anxiousness. 3
- Better sleep and less stress since magnesium supports healthy nerve function and the healthy functioning of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors, which calms the brain and reduces tension4
- Healthy muscle function and a reduction in occasional leg cramps due to magnesium deficiency. This is in part due to magnesium’s role in potassium absorption and muscle relaxation.2
- Blood pressure support, because magnesium helps blood vessels relax and enables calcium and potassium absorption, both of which are needed for healthy blood pressure5,6
- Healthy muscle function for many of the same reasons, including potassium absorption and blood vessel relaxation6
Magnesium supplements are most frequently used to promote calmness, soothe tired muscles, support heart health, boost cellular energy, and promote cognitive health.
If you have experienced gastrointestinal disturbances, you may have already taken some form of magnesium without even knowing it. Various forms of magnesium are a common ingredient in many over the counter digestive remedies. You are probably familiar with magnesium sulfate as well, which is also known as Epsom salts and used for everything from bath soaks to fertilizing lawns.
Magnesium for Sleep
Magnesium can help you get a more restful night of sleep because it encourages healthy functioning of GABA receptors, which play a key role in helping your brain 'shut off' at night so you can rest. Magnesium reduces tension, supports the healthy functioning of nerves and helps regulate stress hormones3,4 that left unchecked can leave us awake and staring at the ceiling at night.
Magnesium for Stress and Anxiousness
Magnesium’s ability to make you less anxious is related to many of the same functions that help you sleep better, including reduced tension and a calmer mind and body. Magnesium supplements help support a healthy stress response. And be sure to give your supplements time to work. You may notice some results soon after taking your first magnesium supplement, but it takes time to build up your body’s magnesium levels.
Magnesium for Digestive Issues
If your digestion isn’t going as smoothly as you’d like, or you are having other gastrointestinal disturbances, magnesium oxide or magnesium lysinate could help. Magnesium is a top ingredient in many digestive tonics because, as mentioned above, it helps relax muscles in the digestive tract and calms stomach acid.
Magnesium for Leg Cramps
Low magnesium can contribute to leg cramps2, as can low potassium and calcium levels. Since magnesium enables the cellular transport of potassium and is needed for calcium absorption, if you are low in magnesium you might not be getting enough potassium or calcium either. Cramps due to low potassium levels aren’t just limited to your legs. Magnesium supports healthy muscle function throughout your body.6
Magnesium Citrate Weight Loss
Magnesium citrate is used by some people in an effort to aid weight loss, but any perceived loss is most likely due to digestive support and the elimination of water and waste, since magnesium citrate can have a laxative effect. Magnesium citrate does not directly cause fat loss, so use magnesium to support healthy digestion, but don’t use it to lose weight.
Magnesium and Blood Pressure
Magnesium has been studied closely for its role in regulating blood pressure.5 Magnesium's abilities to relax vascular muscles and help regulate other nutrients that affect blood pressure, like sodium, potassium, and calcium, are major contributors to the potential benefits of magnesium for blood pressure.9 But check with your doctor first before taking magnesium for blood pressure to make sure it’s right for you.
Restless Legs and Magnesium
Restless legs are often related to muscle spasms and cramps, both of which can be a symptom of low levels of magnesium, and lower potassium levels related to magnesium deficiencies. Magnesium’s affects on blood vessel relaxation can also help soothe leg muscles. If your legs are often restless or cramping, you could be low in magnesium.6
How much magnesium do you need?
Most adults need between 300 mg - 400 mg of magnesium daily. Here are the specific daily recommendations for magnesium intake from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) based on age.
- Under 6 months: 30 mg
- 7-12 months: 75 mg
- 1-3 years: 80 mg
- 9-13 years: 240 mg
- 14-18 years: 410 mg male/360 mg female
- 19-30 years: 400 mg male/310 mg female
- 19-30 years pregnant female: 350 mg
- 19-30 years nursing female: 310 mg
- 31+ years: 420 mg male/320 mg female
- 31+ years pregnant female: 360 mg
- 31+ years nursing female: 320 mg
While the above numbers are a general guideline, some people need more or less due to other factors that may affect their ability to absorb or store magnesium. If you take high doses of vitamin D supplements or are deficient in vitamin K, you may need more magnesium. Also, high levels of stress, alcohol intake and some diseases can affect the way magnesium is absorbed and used by your body.2 Magnesium may interact with certain medications, so please check with your doctor if you're not sure how much magnesium you should take based on your individual health concerns.
How to Get Magnesium
Like most nutrients, you can get magnesium from the food you eat or from magnesium supplements. Foods rich in magnesium include leafy greens, almonds, spinach, avocados, nuts, seeds, legumes and some whole grains. Many foods that are high in fiber are also good sources of magnesium, and some cereals are fortified with magnesium. Here are some foods that are good sources of magnesium:
Top Food Sources of Magnesium (Magnesium-Rich Foods)
- Spinach (157 mg per 1 cup)
- Swiss chard (150 mg per 1 cup)
- Almonds (105 mg per 1/4 cup)
- Cashews (89 mg per 1/4 cup)
- Peanuts (63 mg in 1/4 cup)
- Potatoes (85 mg in 1 large potato)
- Black beans (60 mg in 1/2 cup)
- Avocado (58 mg in 1 medium avocado)
- Edamame (50 mg in 1/2 cup)
Read our earlier article 10 Magnesium-Rich Foods to Add to Your Diet for more magnesium-rich food suggestions.
Even if you regularly eat foods that contain magnesium, you may want to consider taking a magnesium supplement anyway. Soil nutrition and magnesium absorption both play roles in how much magnesium we get from our food. Also, when we are stressed or anxious, our cells waste magnesium and then we need more.
There are many types of magnesium supplements and the body absorbs each type differently.
Types of Magnesium Supplements
- Magnesium Malate - supports ATP production and cellular energy
- Magnesium L-Threonate - promotes mental sharpness and cognitive health
- Magnesium Aspartate - promotes cellular energy
- Magnesium Taurate - heart health support, promotes calmness
- Magnesium Orotate - heart health support
- Magnesium Lysinate - may support gastric health
- Magnesium Glycinate - optimum availability
- Magnesium Sulfate - also known as Epsom salts, provides sulfur, soothes tired muscles
- Magnesium Chloride - can be supplemented with pills/capsules or liquid, nourishes and soothes skin in oil form
- Magnesium Citrate - budget friendly, can be supplemented with capsules/tablets, ionic liquid or drink mix
- Magnesium Oxide - common and inexpensive form of magnesium, strong laxative effect
What is Chelated Magnesium?
Chelated magnesium supplements contain magnesium that has been chemically bound to amino acids in a specific process known as chelation, which makes it easier for your body to absorb minerals. Chelation is actually a natural process that occurs during digestion to help facilitate transport of minerals across the intestinal wall so they can be used by your body. By utilizing the same concept and binding magnesium to a readily absorbed amino acid, chelated magnesium offers superior absorption over many other forms of magnesium.
Another great way to try magnesium is by applying magnesium oil topically. Magnesium oil is easily absorbed by the skin to nourish and moisturize and it can be applied directly to areas of the body that you want to focus on, such as specific muscle groups. While there’s no shortage of high-quality magnesium oils available to choose from, here are a few of my favorites.
Swanson Ultra Magnesium Oil
This fast-absorbing, unscented magnesium oil spray is a great way to moisturize your skin after a bath or shower. Crafted with magnesium mined from deep below the site of the ancient Zechstein Sea in the Netherlands, this supersaturated magnesium oil features only the essentials—magnesium chloride, water and nothing else.
Life–Flo Magnesium Lotion
With its super concentration of magnesium mined from the site of the Ancient Zechstein Sea, Life-Flo Magnesium Lotion promotes skin hydration and is a great way to moisturize after a bath or shower. Infused with shea butter and coconut oil, this luxurious lotion is an excellent way to nurture and soothe your skin.
Which Magnesium Supplement is Best?
Read the article What is the Best Magnesium Supplement Form for You? for a more in-depth review that will help you decide what kind of magnesium you should take.
Magnesium plays a role in so many vital functions, but deficiencies are difficult to recognize. Symptoms of a magnesium deficiency are often overlooked or mistaken for just being tired, so make sure you get enough of this healthy nutrient in your diet and enjoy the benefits of magnesium every day.
Looking for more on the essential minerals and vitamins for wellness, read Amazing Alphabet Vitamins: The Six Vitamins You Need to Know.
About Lindsey Toth, MS, RD
Registered Dietitian, Swanson Health Products
Lindsey is a nationally-recognized registered dietitian and nutritionist with a soft spot for ice cream. She empowers people to take charge of their health by finding the balance between the pleasure and nourishment in food. Her philosophy is that you should take care of your body because it’s the only permanent home you have. It’s what inspired her to pursue a career in nutrition and, ultimately, led her to Swanson Health.
1 Magnesium Fact Sheet for Health Professionals: National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/ (Accessed 11/30/2017)
2 Magnesium Fact Sheet for Consumers: National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-healthProfessional/ (Accessed 12/29-/017)
3 Magnesium deficiency induces anxiety and HPA axis dysregulation: Modulation by therapeutic drug treatment. US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3198864/ (Accessed 01/02/2018)
4 Benzodiazepine/GABA(A) receptors are involved in magnesium-induced anxiolytic-like behavior in mice. PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18799816 (Accessed 01/02/2018)
5 Mechanisms of blood pressure regulation by magnesium in man. PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2515398 (Accessed 01/02/2018)
6 Key minerals to help control blood pressure. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/key-minerals-to-help-control-blood-pressure (Accessed 01/03/2018)
7 Magnesium: WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-998-magnesium.aspx?activeingredientid=998 (Accessed 11/30/2017)
8 Magnesium: a versatile drug for anesthesiologists. US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3726845/ (Accessed 01/03/2018)
9 Magnesium and hypertension. PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15692166 (Accessed 01/02/2018)