Magnesium is the eighth most common element in the Earth’s crust. It’s the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body. This biologically active mineral is essential for life. And all cells require magnesium. It acts as a critical activator for approximately 600 metabolic reactions in the body. And the health benefits of magnesium range from normal cellular functions, energy metabolism, protein synthesis, antioxidant level maintenance, and more.
Among its many functions, magnesium is an essential player in:
- Bone metabolism
- Nerve transmission
- Heart function
- Neuromuscular conduction
- Muscular transmission
- Vasomotor tone
- Blood pressure
- And blood glucose metabolism. 1
That’s a lot of scientific mumbo jumbo, but what should be clear is magnesium is intimately involved in how you look, feel, and move. It’s necessary for feeling energetic, achieving peak mental and physical performance, and looking young and vibrant.
Let’s take a deeper look into some of the top health benefits of magnesium and where you can find this mission-critical mineral.
11 Health Benefits of Magnesium
1. Bone Health
As about 60% of the body’s magnesium can be found in the bones (and teeth), it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that bone health sits at the forefront of the health benefits.
When it comes to skeletal health, calcium gets most of the love, but magnesium is also integral to bone health. It’s necessary so the body can properly use other bone-forming nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D. And it directly influences the activity of osteoblasts and osteoclasts, which play a critical role in healthy bone density.
Researchers believe one of the health benefits of magnesium is the prevention of osteoporosis. For instance, magnesium deficiency is thought to contribute to osteoporosis directly by acting on bone formation and on bone cells and indirectly by impacting the release and activity of parathyroid hormone (which stimulates bone formation) and by promoting low-grade inflammation. 1,2
Sure enough, a positive association between dietary magnesium intake and bone mineral density has been reported in the literature. 3 A study published in the journal Nutrients provided compelling evidence of this. It showed higher dietary magnesium intake was associated with greater bone mineral density (in men and women). The researchers concluded, “Our study suggests that dietary magnesium may play a role in musculoskeletal health and has relevance for population prevention strategies for sarcopenia [loss of muscle], osteoporosis, and fractures.” 4
2. Regulating Heart Health & Blood Pressure
Optimal magnesium levels are essential for normal cardiac function since the mineral plays a key role in stabilizing heart rhythm. Magnesium also plays a role in preventing abnormal cardiovascular clotting.
At the crossroads of heart health and the health benefits of magnesium is maintaining healthy blood pressure, which has been reported in multiple studies. For example, in a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies published in the Nutrition Journal, which involved 20,119 cases, researchers found an inverse association between dietary magnesium intake and high blood pressure. They found a modest 100 mg/day increase in magnesium intake was associated with a 5% reduction in the risk of high blood pressure. 5
Studies have also shown magnesium may help reduce the risk of heart attacks and cerebrovascular strokes. For instance, in a meta-analysis published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS ONE) journal, which included 532,979 participants from 19 studies, researchers found the highest risk reduction occurred when magnesium intake was increased from 150 mg to 400 mg. 6
3. Normalizing Digestive Health
According to American Family Physician, the use of magnesium for constipation and indigestion are “accepted as standard care.” 1 In fact, folks often turn to magnesium-based formulations to help with occasional symptoms. For example, magnesium citrate is the primary active ingredient in Milk of Magnesia and other over-the-counter laxatives. And magnesium carbonate is also a common ingredient in readily-available antacids.
One randomized, double-blind, crossover study showed that on-demand treatment with a magnesium-based antacid worked faster and was overall more effective at relieving indigestion than a popular heartburn medication or placebo.7
Meanwhile, in a cross-sectional study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which involved 3,835 females, Japanese researchers examined the relationship between magnesium intake and constipation. Interestingly, they found dietary fiber intake was not associated with constipation. However, low magnesium intake was associated with an increasing prevalence of constipation. In fact, women with the lowest magnesium intake had a 30% greater likelihood of struggling with constipation. 8 Besides its muscle-relaxing properties, magnesium may help promote fluid retention in the digestive tract and indirectly alter motility, and thereby act as a “light laxative.”
4. Blood Sugar Management
In addition to being well-correlated with cardiovascular health, stroke, and blood pressure, magnesium intake is also closely associated with blood sugar management. As a matter of fact, type 2 diabetes (and metabolic syndrome) is perhaps the most studied chronic degenerative disease with respect to magnesium.
Among its many functions, magnesium acts as a critical cofactor for hundreds of enzymes involved in blood glucose and insulin metabolism. In other words, it’s an essential player in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.
In a dose-response meta-analysis of studies published in the journal BMC Medicine, which involved 40 studies totaling more than 1 million participants in its analysis, researchers found increasing dietary magnesium intake is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes (as well as reduced risk of stroke, heart failure, and death from all causes). 9 As a matter of fact, increasing magnesium intake by 100 mg/day was associated with a 19% reduction in the risk of diabetes.
In a separate systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials, researchers from India evaluated the effects of magnesium supplementation on type 2 diabetes associated cardiovascular risk factors in both diabetic and non-diabetic folks. They found magnesium supplementation resulted in a significant improvement (i.e., lowering) in fasting blood glucose, with a more beneficial impact in diabetic folks with lower levels of magnesium. 10 As a bonus, the researchers found magnesium supplementation had favorable effects on HDL and LDL cholesterol, levels of triglycerides, and systolic blood pressure.
In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial published in the journal Diabetes & Metabolism, researchers from the Medical Research Unit in Clinical Epidemiology of the Mexican Social Security Institute set out to determine whether magnesium supplementation could improve insulin sensitivity in non-diabetic folks. 11 Participants were randomly assigned to supplement with 300 mg/day of magnesium or placebo for 3 months. At the end of the study, the researchers found that magnesium supplementation significantly improved insulin sensitivity.
Further evidence of the health benefits of magnesium on glycemic control can be found in a randomized controlled trial published in the journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism. In this study, researchers looked at the effect of magnesium supplementation on insulin sensitivity and other characteristics of metabolic syndrome in overweight, insulin-resistant, non-diabetic people. 12 Participants were randomly assigned to receive either magnesium supplementation or placebo for 6 months.
At the end of the study, the researchers found supplementation with magnesium led to significant improvements in fasting blood sugar and markers of insulin sensitivity when compared to the placebo group. Given the results, the researchers emphasized the importance of considering the use of magnesium supplementation to prevent type 2 diabetes in individuals who are at risk (e.g., overweight folks with insulin resistance).
5. Stress Management
Among its many functions, magnesium is essential to a healthy stress response and for the regulation of the stress hormone cortisol. Without getting too thick into the weeds, magnesium controls the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenocortical (HPA) axis. All you need to know is that the HPA axis is considered to be the body’s main stress response system (the “air traffic control,” if you will). 13
What scientific research tells us is magnesium deficiency leads to a dysregulation of the HPA axis. While it’s a bit tricky, what’s important to understand is that it increases the body’s stress “set-point,” leading to an upregulated stress system. On the flipside, magnesium supplementation has been shown to down-regulate the activity of the HPA-axis and lower levels of stress hormones (like cortisol and its predecessor, ACTH). 14
Magnesium also helps support a healthy stress response, regulate the stress hormone cortisol, and calm the nervous system. Research has shown supplementation with magnesium can reduce cortisol levels when study participants faced a stressful challenge (such as public speaking). 15
Additionally, research has shown an inverse relationship between magnesium levels and anxiety-like behaviors. In other words, low magnesium intakes seem to be intricately tied to feelings of anxiety and associated behaviors. 13
And in a recent systematic review, published in the journal Nutrients, researchers confirmed that magnesium supplementation has a beneficial effect on subjective measures of anxiety and stress, particularly in vulnerable folks. 14 Let’s face it, these days, who isn’t feeling stressed, worried, uncertain, or a bit nervous about something.
6. Mood and Feelings of Well-Being
One of the top health benefits of magnesium is that it promotes relaxation in the body through its role on neurotransmitters. These are the communication currency of the brain that influence, among many things, mood, state of mind, and feelings of well-being.
For example, magnesium inhibits the release of glutamate, the body’s primary excitatory neurotransmitter. 16 On the other side of the coin, magnesium increases the availability of the body’s primary inhibitory/relaxing neurochemical GABA, which counterbalances the excitatory action of glutamate. An imbalance between GABA and glutamate is intricately linked to an increase in feelings of tenseness, anxiousness, and stress. 14
What’s more, magnesium activates the body’s serotonergic system, which is responsible for producing the “feel-good” neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin helps regulate stress through a range of actions.
And although it’s not a neurotransmitter, magnesium increases expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Termed “MiracleGro for the brain” by Harvard Neuropsychiatrist John J. Ratey, BDNF plays a big role in intelligence, mood, productivity, memory, and cognitive health and function.
As described below, it is essential to balance intake of magnesium with calcium. Unfortunately, most people consume a ratio that heavily favors calcium, which may also contribute to depression. In Magnesium in the Central Nervous System, leading magnesium researchers powerfully declared, “We believe that, when taken together, there is more than sufficient evidence to implicate dietary magnesium as contributing to the cause of major depression, and we suggest that physicians prescribe magnesium for its prevention and treatment.” 17
7. Improved Sleep Quality
Among the many health benefits of magnesium is supporting relaxation and sleep quality. For instance, in a study published in the journal Magnesium Research, researchers found that supplementation with 320 mg/day of magnesium for 7 weeks significantly improved sleep quality in men and women with low magnesium status and poor sleep quality (revealed by the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index) at the beginning of the study. 18
Supplementation with magnesium has also been shown to lead to reductions in sleeping cortisol levels and significant increases in slow-wave sleep, which contributed to normalized age-related changes in sleep patterns in older study participants. 19 In other words, supplementation with magnesium helps support good-quality rest.
8. Muscle Health and Performance
Housing 27% of the body’s magnesium, skeletal muscle is second only to bone, which further emphasizes the importance of magnesium to the musculoskeletal system. Magnesium has direct roles, including the maintenance of protein synthesis and turnover, which are essential players in building and maintaining skeletal muscle mass.
Magnesium may also affect muscle performance through energy metabolism (production of ATP), transmembrane transport, and muscle contraction and relaxation. In a recent study published in the journal Nutrients, researchers found higher intakes of magnesium were positively associated with greater grip strength and muscle mass in both men and women between the ages of 39 and 72.4
Also of importance, strenuous exercise increases urinary and sweat losses of magnesium, increasing magnesium requirements by 10 to 20% or more. 20 In other words, the need for magnesium increases as your physical activity levels climb.
Along those lines, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found healthy women supplementing with 300 mg/day of magnesium for 12 weeks with a mild fitness program improved physical performance compared to a control group. 21
And in a review paper titled “Can magnesium enhance exercise performance?” a team led by researchers at Indiana University found exercise performance is often compromised with magnesium deficiency. What’s more, their review revealed magnesium supplementation improved a variety of performance parameters in both aerobic and anaerobic exercise, such as grip strength, lower-body power, jumping performance, knee torque, and lower body stamina. 22 Additionally, magnesium deficiency seems closely related to muscle spasms and cramps and even fibromyalgia.3,23
9. Ease PMS Symptoms
There is some evidence magnesium may be able to help manage symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). For example, in a study published in the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, researchers found a combination of magnesium and B6 significantly improved PMS symptoms, including cravings and feelings of well-being, compared to a placebo group. 24
A separate study found daily supplementation with 200 mg/day magnesium reduced a battery of symptoms associated with PMS, including weight gain, swelling of the extremities, breast tenderness, and bloating. 25
10. Improved Healthy Inflammatory Response
As mentioned above, magnesium deficiency promotes low-grade inflammation. Insufficient magnesium consumption also promotes oxidative stress, in part, because of impaired antioxidant defenses.2
Believe it or not, overconsumption of calcium relative to inadequate magnesium is thought to be a primary driver of unhealthy levels of inflammation. As most people know far too well, inflammation contributes to a laundry list of concerns related to health and well-being. 26,27
You see, one of the most important (yet overlooked) pieces of the puzzle is balancing intake of magnesium with calcium. Two mission-critical functions of magnesium at the cellular level include the maintenance of ionic gradients/pumps and calcium-channel function.
No need to dust off your human biology book. What’s important here is magnesium and calcium antagonize each other several ways in the body. For example, in simple terms, calcium excites nerves while magnesium calms them. Calcium makes muscles contract while magnesium helps them relax. Simply put, a healthy magnesium status is essential to balance the body’s systems and for keeping them humming along properly.
Unfortunately, studies conducted over the last several decades have revealed that most people consume far more calcium than magnesium. The dietary calcium:magnesium ratio has been escalating to > 3:1. While many have argued that the ideal ratio is 2:1, more recent discoveries suggest a calcium-magnesium balance of 1:1 (or even 1:2) is optimal.
Considering that most people consume a calcium-rich, magnesium-poor diet, this is very concerning, especially when it comes to stress and relaxation. This imbalance leads to excessive levels of calcium in the cells, which leads to inflammatory stress.
Without getting too thick in the weeds, increasing cellular levels of calcium serve as the signal that results in the priming of cells to give the inflammatory response. Along these lines, pro-inflammatory cytokines along with other markers of low-grade inflammation have been associated with magnesium deficiency. Leading magnesium researchers have concluded that “findings to date provide convincing evidence that magnesium deficiency is a significant contributor to chronic low-grade inflammation that is a risk factor for a variety of pathological conditions…and magnesium should be considered an element of significant nutritional concern for health and well-being.” 27
11. Headache Management
It has been reported that magnesium may be an effective complementary treatment for migraine headaches. As any migraine sufferer knows, these attacks can last anywhere from hours to days, and they are typically completely debilitating.
Although the cause of migraines is unknown and there seems to be a genetic component, magnesium supplementation (which is both safe and relatively inexpensive) is considered a promising therapeutic strategy. Studies have found patients with cluster headaches and classic or common migraine, especially menstrual migraine, have low levels of magnesium.
A prospective, multi-center, double-blind randomized study conducted in Germany showed a single daily dosage of 600 mg of magnesium significantly reduced the frequency of migraine compared with placebo. Notably, the researchers found a lower twice daily dosage was not as effective. 1
In one randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, Iranian researchers evaluated the effects of magnesium on migraine symptoms among a group of 133 patients with a history of migraine headaches. 28 After 12 weeks of supplementation with 500 mg/day of magnesium, researchers found test subjects showed a significant reduction in all migraine indicators (e.g., number and severity of migraine attacks).
So, Where Can I Find Magnesium?
The health benefits of magnesium are pretty darn exciting and robust, aren’t they? But here’s the deal—there’s a really strong chance you’re missing out. Even more, there’s a good probability you’re at risk for one of the many scary signs of magnesium deficiency.
You see, 75% of folks miss the mark when it comes to hitting the recommended daily intake of magnesium, which is 320 to 360 mg per day for women and 420 mg per day men. Part of the problem is nutrient-deplete soil, which has led to 20 to 30% lower magnesium content in fruits and vegetables. But a bigger problem is most people’s reliance on the typical Western diet and its refined grains and processed foods. After all, 80 to 90% of magnesium is lost during food processing.
There are other factors driving the highly disconcerting lack of magnesium, such as stress, alcohol, caffeine, digestive-related issues, low-carb diets, getting older, certain medications, and more. But the point is that most people with a heartbeat are falling far short on this mission-critical nutrient.
The good news is there really is an abundance of foods where you can find plenty of magnesium. Generally speaking, the best sources of magnesium are unrefined (whole) grains, dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, legumes, and tubers. Here’s a glimpse of selected foods sources and their respective magnesium content (USDA Food Composition Database):
- Pumpkin seeds, roasted, ¼ cup (160 mg)
- Swiss chard, cooked, 1 cup (150 mg)
- Brazil nuts, ¼ cup (125 mg)
- Amaranth, uncooked, ¼ cup (120 mg)
- Sesame seeds, kernels, ¼ cup (110 mg)
- Beet greens, cooked, 1 cup (100 mg)
- Almonds, dry roasted, 1 oz (95 mg)
- Teff, uncooked, ¼ cup (90 mg)
- Quinoa, uncooked, ¼ cup (85 mg)
- Sorghum, uncooked, ¼ cup (80 mg)
- Cashews, dry roasted, 1 oz (75 mg)
- Spinach, frozen or cooked, ½ cup (75 mg)
- Great northern beans, canned, ½ cup (65 mg)
- Mixed nuts, dry roasted, 1 oz (65 mg)
- Lima beans, cooked, ½ cup (65 mg)
- Bulgur, uncooked, ¼ cup (55 mg)
- Potato, dry roasted, 1 medium (50 mg)
- Peanuts, dry roasted, 1 oz (50 mg)
- Peanut butter, smooth, 2 Tbsp (50 mg)
- Pinto beans, ½ cup (45 mg)
- Yogurt, plain, 1 cup (45 mg)
- Rice, brown, cooked, ½ cup (40 mg)
- Collard greens, cooked, 1 cup (40 mg)
- Lentils, ½ cup (35 mg)
- Kidney beans, ½ cup (35 mg)
- Banana, raw, 1 medium (30 mg)
- Kale, cooked, 1 cup (30 mg)
- Avocado, cubed, ½ cup (20 mg)
In addition to consuming more magnesium-rich foods, scientists also caution that care should be taken to reduce the loss of magnesium from the body by: 3
- Moderating calcium intake
- Limiting the consumption of coffee and soda
- Reducing salt and sugar intake
- Avoiding alcohol consumption
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, studies report that upwards of 75% of folks don’t get enough magnesium in their diets. And when you consider there are other factors that further deplete magnesium or increase magnesium needs (such as exercise and excess calcium intake), it’s likely that an even larger chunk suffers from a suboptimal magnesium status.
Although the list of food sources above is exhaustive, the numbers don’t lie. For the majority of people, it’s a tremendous challenge to get enough magnesium through whole foods. Along those lines, a high-quality magnesium powder is a linchpin to supporting health and wellness.