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Does magnesium have health benefits? My experience after 3 weeks

Article at a Glance
  • Magnesium is an essential mineral that all our bodies need, but many of us don’t get enough of it from food sources alone.
  • After a 3-week experiment with magnesium, we felt the following study-backed differences: better recovery from exercise, better mood, relief of PMS symptoms, a feeling of calm, and fewer gut issues.
  • The side effects of taking magnesium are few and far between, unless you’re taking way too much. Proper dosage is key to any supplement routine!
  • People who should consider taking a magnesium supplement include those in groups who are at risk for magnesium deficiency, such as people with type 2 diabetes or gastrointestinal disease, but also anyone who may feel they aren’t getting enough magnesium from their food sources.
Magnesium Health Benefits Supplement Gene Food

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my caffeine problem. I love coffee but sometimes I feel like I reach for another cup too often. My energy levels feel like I need it. How do I remedy this?

John smartly suggested some magnesium supplements because they help regulate energy. Many of our bodies also don’t properly absorb magnesium from our food, so trying a supplement often is a helpful place to start to see if we can begin to feel better.

For this post, I’ll get into how my body has responded to magnesium after taking it for 3 weeks, plus a little bit more about magnesium and its benefits. Note that this post does not constitute medical advice; you should speak with a doctor before taking any supplements, particularly if you have any underlying medical conditions.

What is magnesium?

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 how our nerves and muscles function, our blood glucose and blood pressure, and protein synthesis. It helps our bones develop and gives us energy, and is important to the transport of calcium and potassium ions throughout our body so we can have regular muscle and nerve control and a normal heart rhythm. As a bonus, it even repairs our DNA. (R)

Our kidneys excrete about 120 mg of magnesium into our urine daily; we pee out less when we have less magnesium in our bodies. When our magnesium is low, our calcium levels can rise to unhealthy levels.

What does this mean, and just how important is magnesium? Take it from these guys at the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies:

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.

Yikes.

How much magnesium should we be getting daily?

As adults, our bodies contain about 25 grams of magnesium, 60% of which are in our bones, and nearly all the rest in our soft tissue. (R) Less than 1% of magnesium is found in our blood, which makes it difficult to test for a magnesium deficiency; however, dietary surveys have shown that most people don’t get enough through their food alone. (R)

Dietary Reference Intakes developed by the FNB based on age and sex suggest the following recommended intakes.

Recommended Dietary Allowances for magnesium

AgeMaleFemalePregnancyLactation
Birth to 6 months30 mg30 mg
7-12 months75 mg75 mg
1-3 years80 mg80 mg
4-8 years130 mg130 mg
9-13 years240 mg240 mg
14-18 years410 mg360 mg400 mg360 mg
19-30 years400 mg310 mg350 mg310 mg
31-50 years420 mg320 mg360 mg320 mg
51+ years420 mg320 mg

Source: Food and Nutrition Board

Just 30-40% of the magnesium we consume from food sources is absorbed by our body. Affecting this is magnesium’s bioavailability. Ironically, when we eat well — getting high levels of dietary fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — we retain less magnesium. (R)

Magnesium is mostly found in nuts, leafy vegetables, soy milk, whole grains, and fortified breakfast cereals. Here are a few more sources.

Popular food sources of magnesium

FoodMilligrams (mg) per servingPercent DV
Almonds (dry roasted), 1 ounce8020
Spinach (boiled), 1/2 cup7820
Cashews (dry roasted), 1 ounce7419
Peanuts (oil roasted), 1/4 cup6316
Soy milk (plain or vanilla), 1 cup6115
Black beans (cooked), 1/2 cup6015
Edamame (shelled, cooked), 1/2 cup5013
Peanut butter (smooth), 2 tablespoons4912
Bread (whole wheat), 2 slices4612
Avocado (cubed), 1 cup4411
Potato (baked, with skin), 3.5 ounces4311
Rice (brown, cooked), 1/2 cup4211
Yogurt (plain, low fat), 8 ounches4211
Breakfast cereals, fortified with 10% of the DV for magnesium4010
Oatmeal (instant), 1 packet369
Kidney beans (canned), 1/2 cup359
Banana, 1 medium328
Salmon (cooked), 3 ounces246
Milk, 1 cup24-276-7
Halibut (cooked), 3 ounches246

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Because we may not get enough magnesium through our food, supplements can be helpful for some
hat felt most applicable to me.

#1: It can help us exercise — and recover — better

I’ve been pretty obsessed with spin classes lately, and I just bought a bike for leisurely rides outside. After the gym, I feel pretty invigorated, but a bit sluggish a day later. My legs hurt depending on the day, even though I don’t feel like I’ve done my workout any differently.

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. (R)

Although I am not a competitive athlete, far from it, since taking magnesium I’ve had less general aches and pains post-workout. Lactic acid buildup is a huge issue during spin classes, in particular, and we only stretch for a couple of minutes afterward. Magnesium has been shown to help dispose of the number one culprit of post workout soreness: lactic acid. (R)

Exercise redistributes the magnesium in our bodies so we can more effectively use it during this period of oxidative stress; we also tend to sweat and pee out more magnesium when we’re physically active, which may increase our magnesium requirements by 10-20%. (R)

#2: Mood booster

While I don’t suffer from depression on a regular basis, magnesium can help keep it at bay. My mood always felt pretty uplifted the past three weeks, except on the couple of days I wasn’t taking my supplement because I forgot (hello, weekend).

Because magnesium is critical to our 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. (R) Adults with depression have been associated with low intake of magnesium (R). 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. (R)

Definitely something to be said for a potential natural alternative to medications that can come with a wide range of unpleasant side effects.

#3: It can help relieve PMS symptoms

I don’t have the nickname “Tiger” at work for no reason. I’m a hardworking and fairly passionate person who can get irritated easily, and when it’s that time of the month, it’s worse.

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 my age (24-39) found that after taking magnesium supplements for 2 months and two menstrual cycles, the women recorded fewer mood changes (R), while another two-cycle study showed reduced weight gain, fluid retention, and breast tenderness among participants who took 200 mg of magnesium daily. (R)

While my experience with magnesium is just based on the past three weeks, I did notice a reduction in my usual PMS symptoms — and am dreading next month even less.

#4: It’ll help calm your nerves

After a long day of work, sometimes I have trouble falling asleep. I get small bursts of energy throughout the day normally — nothing very consistent until taking magnesium — and experience “crashes,” as well.

Magnesium can help reduce anxiety, calm you down, and in general help you get to sleep. I often don’t feel refreshed when waking up, which typically means you’ve got something going wrong while you sleep (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). Our nutrient intake can affect our sleep, which is something I hadn’t taken into consideration until this experiment. Sleep efficiency, sleep time, and melatonin have all been shown to increase as we take in more magnesium. (R)

While I can be all over the place in terms of sleep and energy, it’s been a lot easier to tell my body when it’s time to go to bed and when to wake up — naturally.

#5: It’ll also calm your gut

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 of it.

In a study of nearly 4,000 Japanese women who were assumingly healthy (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. (R)

As we’ve written about previously, our guts have a big effect on our 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. (R)

While I told John I would never write about my poop for Gene Food, I will say my 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?

Not really, unless you’re totally overdoing it.

Magnesium is a primary ingredient in some laxatives, and also used in some medicines that relieve heartburn and indigestion symptoms. So it’s natural that, well, if you are getting a lot of magnesium from your food and taking supplements, well past the recommended daily amount, you may feel those sort of effects.

Our kidneys do take care of us when it comes to eliminating magnesium on a regular schedule, though, 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 — loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness — though people with certain health conditions or chronic alcoholism may, extending to muscle cramps, seizures, coronary spasms, and even personality changes.

So for me, magnesium supplements were an extra “feel-good” added into my daily routine that helped me feel better while exercising, improved my sleep, and relieved PMS symptoms.

People at risk of a magnesium deficiency who may want to consider supplements after speaking with a doctor include (R):

  • 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. (R)

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.

See also: Cholesterol, heart health, and your genetics: What you need to know

My magnesium take-away

After my research for this post, it’s clear that many people just aren’t getting enough magnesium through their food, and our bodies’ ability to absorb magnesium puts us at a disadvantage when we only consume magnesium via food sources. No matter how many bowls of spinach or handfuls of almonds you eat per day, it may not be enough.

When using magnesium supplements, men are getting on average 449 mg of magnesium per day while women get 387 mg, both of which are well past the suggested daily intake. (R) For the past three weeks, I took 235 mg of magnesium chelate, the highest form of magnesium supplement available that is essentially just like getting magnesium from a food source, in terms of absorption rate. I need 320 mg daily for my age, so with food, I’m right where I should be now.

In addition to remembering to make a few healthy choices for meals, it’s been a no-brainer to add magnesium supplements to my daily routine.

What have been your experiences with magnesium? We’d love to hear in the comments!

Amber Krosel

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3 Comments

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  1. Mike Taylor says:

    so what magnesium supplement is best? there are so many magnesium salts out there – i apologize in advance, if the issue has been addressed in another article

  2. Nate says:

    Thanks for the info. For about 3-4 months I was taking about 700mg of magnesium in the form of Natural Vitality’s Calm magnesium supplement. Mainly I was trying to improve sleep and stress level, which I would say it did. In addition to that, I was eating what probably would be considered a pretty high magnesium diet (black beans, spinach, almond, and avocados were my staple foods). After about 3 months I started to notice pretty extreme leg muscle weakness, and what I can only describe as a feeling that you would get before a leg cramped. I stopped the magnesium supplement and the symptoms went away. I then reintroduced the supplement about a month later at the same dose and the symptoms came back. Since then I have reintroduced the supplement at about 1/4 of what I was taking before and so far I have had no symptoms. I have not seen this side effect documented and while I can’t be certain the magnesium was the cause, it seems likely.

    • Amber Krosel says:

      Hi, Nate! Thanks very much for reading, and commenting! I know that the recommendation from health professionals in general is to supplement with 350 mg of magnesium per day. Men do need more, but maybe you were taking just too much, particularly with your diet? The 1/4 supplementation sounds like a great idea. I know some people do better with the magnesium topical oil, which is absorbed through the skin. I’m by no means a doctor or health professional, just enjoy experimenting with this supplement, for sure. TMI but, I ran out of magnesium supplements and my monthly cycle was horrendous when I wasn’t on it, for the second month. I got right back on and already feel better. I think everyone is different!

      Thanks again for sharing! John wrote a pretty great blog post about magnesium recently, too, so if you find yourself during the holidays reaching for a hangover cure, he implemented magnesium into part of his routine when socializing!

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