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5 Health Benefits of Magnesium (Plus the Best Food Sources)

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Magnesium is an essential mineral that our body’s need to be healthy (see our chart below). It’s a cofactor in 300-plus enzyme systems, including regulating blood sugar levels and blood pressure, and even plays a role in protein synthesis. Magnesium assists in bone development, is a source of energy, and is a key component in the process of calcium and potassium ions throughout our body. This process ensures the body has regular muscle and nerve control and a normal heart rhythm. That’s pretty important! As a bonus, magnesium even plays a role in DNA repair. 1 The kidneys excrete about 120 mg of magnesium into urine daily; but the body excretes less when it has a less plentiful supply of magnesium. . There is an interplay between magnesium and calcium in our bodies. Researchers at the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies explain the balance between these two minerals thusly: 2
Since calcium plays an important role in skeletal and smooth muscle contraction, a state of magnesium depletion may result in muscle cramps, hypertension, and coronary and cerebral vasospasms. Magnesium depletion is found in a number of diseases of cardiovascular and neuromuscular function, in malabsorption syndromes, in diabetes mellitus, in renal wasting syndromes, and in alcoholism.

How much magnesium should we be getting daily?

An adult body  contains about 25 grams of magnesium at any given time, 60% of which is in the bones, and nearly all the rest in soft tissue. 3 Less than 1% of magnesium is found in the  blood, which makes it difficult to test for a magnesium deficiency; however, dietary surveys have shown that most people don’t get enough of this essential mineral through their food alone. 4 Dietary Reference Intakes developed by the FNB based on age and sex suggest the following recommended intakes.

Recommended Dietary Allowances for Magnesium

Age Male Female Pregnancy Lactation
Birth to 6 months 30 mg 30 mg
7-12 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 320 mg
51+ years 420 mg 320 mg
  Source: Food and Nutrition Board Just 30-40% of the magnesium  consumed from food sources is absorbed by the body. 5 Magnesium is mostly found in nuts, leafy vegetables, soy milk, whole grains, and fortified breakfast cereals. Here are a few more good dietary sources.

Popular food sources of magnesium

Food Milligrams (mg) per serving Percent DV
Almonds (dry roasted), 1 ounce 80 20
Spinach (boiled), 1/2 cup 78 20
Cashews (dry roasted), 1 ounce 74 19
Peanuts (oil roasted), 1/4 cup 63 16
Soy milk (plain or vanilla), 1 cup 61 15
Black beans (cooked), 1/2 cup 60 15
Edamame (shelled, cooked), 1/2 cup 50 13
Peanut butter (smooth), 2 tablespoons 49 12
Bread (whole wheat), 2 slices 46 12
Avocado (cubed), 1 cup 44 11
Potato (baked, with skin), 3.5 ounces 43 11
Rice (brown, cooked), 1/2 cup 42 11
Yogurt (plain, low fat), 8 ounces 42 11
Breakfast cereals, fortified with 10% of the DV for magnesium 40 10
Oatmeal (instant), 1 packet 36 9
Kidney beans (canned), 1/2 cup 35 9
Banana, 1 medium 32 8
Salmon (cooked), 3 ounces 24 6
Milk, 1 cup 24-27 6-7
Halibut (cooked), 3 ounces 24 6
  Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture Because it is difficult to receive adequate amounts of magnesium through food, supplementation  can be a helpful way to meet the nutrients recommendations. 

Benefits of magnesium supplements

#1: Exercise and recovery

As a dietitian, it is commonly heard from patients who are work out enthusiasts that they feel great post workout, but they cannot understand why they feel sluggish the day after. Well, it may have to do with their magnesium levels.  One study of 23 competitive triathletes who were given magnesium supplements over four weeks found their swim, bike, and run times had improved versus those given just a placebo, and they also had a reduced stress response. 6 Our founder John experimented with magnesium supplements for a few weeks and noticed some improvements in mood and athletic performance. Though far from a competitive athlete, he did notice that he had less general aches and pains post-workout when supplementing with magnesium versus when he was not. Why might this be happening?  In a study in rats (so take with a grain of salt) Magnesium has been shown to help dispose of the number one culprit of post workout soreness: lactic acid. 7 Exercise redistributes the magnesium in the  body in order for it to be more  effectively used  during this period of oxidative stress. The body tends to excrete more magnesium through sweat and urine during physically active states, which may increase magnesium requirements by 10-20%

#2: Mood booster

While John doesn’t suffer from depression, magnesium seemed to give him a mood boost. He noted that his mood felt pretty uplifted during his three week experience using magnesium, with the exception of days he forgot to take it.  Was this just a placebo? Maybe, there are studies which indicate magnesium can be a mood booster. Because magnesium is critical to brain health, researchers think it may have a big effect on those with depression — in fact, they’ve known this for 100 years or longer. 9 Adults with depression have been found to be low on the intake of magnesium. 10 One study of two dozen older adults with depression and a magnesium deficiency found that magnesium supplements worked just as well for treatment as an antidepressant. 11 Definitely something to be said for a potential natural alternative to medications that can come with a wide range of unpleasant side effects.

#3: Relieve PMS symptoms

Magnesium has been shown to reduce some of the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), including irritability, cramps, bloating, and general fatigue. One study of women (24-39) found that after taking magnesium supplements for 2 months and two menstrual cycles, the women recorded fewer mood changes, 12 while another two-cycle study showed reduced weight gain, fluid retention, and breast tenderness among participants who took 200 mg of magnesium daily. 13

#4: Reduces anxiety and promotes sleep

Magnesium can help reduce anxiety, calm you down, and in general help you get to sleep. If you don’t feel refreshed after  waking up, it  typically means  something is going wrong while you sleep. Maybe you’re not getting enough of the good stuff, like REM or deep sleep, or you’re not sticking to a schedule to help your body’s circadian rhythm. Whatever it may be, nutrient intake can affect  sleep. Sleep efficiency, sleep time, and melatonin production have all been shown to increase as we take in more magnesium. 14

#5: Can relieve constipation

When you’re constipated, you’d think that fiber has everything to do with it. Not true. It could be magnesium and how much you’re getting. In a study of nearly 4,000 Japanese women (ages 18 to 20 and dietetic students), more than 1 in 4 were found to have functional constipation — constipation without a physical cause. Their dietary fiber and water intake were not associated with this condition, but low magnesium intake was. 15  A healthy microbiome can have a big effect on  overall health. In addition to constipation, magnesium deficiencies also have been shown to alter gut microbiota in mice, inducing anxiety and depressive behavior — tying a few of these top five benefits together. 16 While we generally don’t bring bathroom talk onto Gene Food, John noticed his gut has felt in tip-top shape the past 3 weeks. Probably partly diet, but maybe thanks to magnesium!

Are there any side effects of taking magnesium?

In a word, yes. Magnesium is the primary ingredient in some laxatives, and also used in some medicines that relieve heartburn and indigestion symptoms. So it’s natural that,  if you are getting a lot of magnesium from your food and taking supplements, to pass the recommended daily amount. may feel some side effects, including:
  • Stomach discomfort
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
Some of us may find that chelated magnesium and supplements that use glycinate, citrate, and malate chelates are easier on the stomach than cheaper preparations that use magnesium oxide. Our kidneys do take care of us when it comes to eliminating magnesium on a regular schedule. So as long as you are otherwise healthy and taking the recommended amount, you should be safe. The FNB’s recommendation for supplemental magnesium is up to 350 mg per day for healthy adults, male or female (pregnant or breastfeeding). If you’re on some types of medication, including antibiotics, magnesium may interact with these drugs or affect its absorption. If you have any concerns with your magnesium intake, you should speak with your doctor.

Who should consider magnesium supplements?

Generally, if you’re otherwise healthy, you won’t experience any real symptoms of a magnesium deficiency other than   loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness .People with certain health conditions or chronic alcoholism may have more serious symptoms such as,  muscle cramps, seizures, coronary spasms, and even personality changes. So for a person like John , magnesium supplements were an extra “feel-good” added into his daily routine that helped him  feel better while exercising and sleeping. People at risk of a magnesium deficiency who may want to consider supplements after speaking with a doctor include: 17
  • Those with gastrointestinal diseases, including Crohn’s disease and celiac disease;
  • Those with type 2 diabetes or who are insulin-resistant;
  • Those with alcohol dependence;
  • Those who are older, as our gut absorbs less magnesium as we age while our kidneys also excrete more. 18
But even if you don’t fall into those groups, it might be a good idea to determine your magnesium intake and see if you should be getting more. Those who habitually do not get enough magnesium may be at a greater risk for developing illnesses over time, including hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis, and migraines. And, as we report on in our custom nutrition plans, those with variants in the MUC1 genes may be at greater risk for developing magnesium deficiency.

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My magnesium take-away

By the research, it’s clear that many people just aren’t getting enough magnesium in theirdiets.  Additionally, the bodies’ inability to absorb magnesium puts it at a disadvantage when only consuming magnesium via food sources. No matter how many bowls of spinach or handfuls of almonds consumed  per day, it may not be enough, especially since modern day farming has depleted the soil of essential minerals. After three weeks of magnesium supplementation and getting his levels to where they are recommended to be. John stated that, in addition to remembering to make a few healthy choices for meals, it’s been a no-brainer to add magnesium supplements to his daily routine. Our team has tried it, so what are you waiting for? 

Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD

Kristin Kirkpatrick is a nationally recognized registered dietitian, best-selling author, TODAY Show contributor, and member of the Dr. Oz Medical Advisory Board. She served as the lead dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio for 15 years.

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