What You May Not Know About Magnesium

what you may not know about magnesium
Magnesium is arguably the most important mineral for our bodies! That's why it's so alarming that an estimated 85% of Americans have a magnesium deficiency.

Magnesium is arguably the most important mineral for our bodies!  It is estimated that approximately 85% of Americans have a magnesium deficiency.  Most of the magnesium in the body is intracellular, meaning located inside our cells.   This is an important factor to know, as it is commonly only tested as serum, meaning levels in the blood.  It is entirely possible to have normal serum magnesium levels, and have low levels inside the cells.  Of note, it takes several weeks to replace magnesium with oral supplements, as intracellular stores are vast.

Magnesium is a co-factor for several enzymes that are required for over 300 metabolic reactions, and involved in over 3000 binding sites in the body.   It also acts as an antioxidant and mitigates the effects of oxidative stress via the glutathione redox system.  That is medical speak for it helps your body manage the stresses that come it’s way.  Magnesium is also a primary regulator of glycolysis and the Kreb’s cycle. Meaning it plays a huge role in blood sugar and energy regulation.  It is also a second messenger for growth factors in protein synthesis, thus it is part of how you make hormones, and is part of proper immune function as well.   Magnesium also helps maintain cell membrane stability, which means it is crucial for proper cardiovascular function, muscle function, and nerve conduction.    Think of magnesium as a relaxant of muscle, both skeletal and smooth.  This is why it helps with muscle aches and tightness, as well as helps dilate blood vessels, which helps lower blood pressure and helps with headaches, as well as treats constipation.

Magnesium Helps:

  • Maintain healthy blood pressure and heart rhythm
  • Maintain healthy blood sugar
  • With symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Sleep
  • Detoxification
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Constipation
  • Headaches
  • Asthma
  • Improve memory
  • Increase energy
  • Aids in calcium absorption
  • Decreases the effects of stress on the body
  • With immune system function
  • With possible cancer prevention

Things that can lower magnesium:

  • Poor nutrition, especially high in processed foods and sugar
  • Gut issues such as inflammatory bowel disease, and/or intestinal permeability
  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetes/insulin resistance
  • Excess alcohol
  • Stress
  • Inflammation
  • Medications (especially proton pump inhibitors/acid blockers)
  • Age (levels decrease linearly with age)

Of course if you are in need of magnesium, it is a great idea to focus on magnesium rich foods, as the more natural the source, the better!  However, there is a lot of evidence recently pointing to decreased mineral content in the soil, which means less magnesium in your food.  Thus, I am seeing even very clean eaters with magnesium deficiencies recently.  Also, there are certain conditions in which people will have higher magnesium requirements, making it difficult to get it all with food.

Anti-inflammatory foods with high magnesium content:

Food, Standard Amount Magnesium (mg)
Spinach, fresh, 1 cup 157
Chard, 1 cup 154
Pumpkin and squash seed kernels, roasted, 1 oz                         151
Brazil nuts, 1 oz 107
Dark Chocolate, 1 square 95
Halibut, cooked, 3 oz 91
Spinach, canned, 1/2 cup 81
Almonds, 1 oz 78
Cashews, dry roasted, 1 oz 74
Pine nuts, dried, 1 oz 71
Pollock, walleye, cooked, 3 oz 62
Avocado, 1 medium 58
Tuna, yellow fin, cooked, 3 oz 54
Artichokes (hearts), cooked, 1/2 cup 50
Figs, 1/2 cup 50
Beet greens, cooked, 1/2 cup 49
Okra, cooked from frozen, 1/2 cup 47
Haddock, cooked, 3 oz 42


There are many forms of magnesium supplements out there, how do you know which one is right for you?

As previously mentioned, magnesium has been proven to help many conditions, and if you are suffering with any of the conditions listed in the “Magnesium Helps” section, magnesium supplementation may be for you.  Ideally, I like to test my patient’s magnesium levels inside the red blood cells before I get started with replacement, so I have an idea of their magnesium stores, and can adjust dosing accurately.  Also, there may be other reasons for the patient’s symptoms that may be similar to magnesium deficiency that I will want to assess.  There are also conditions in which people with normal magnesium levels may use more magnesium, thus creating a functional deficiency.

When choosing a magnesium supplement, the first priority is to make sure you are getting your supplements from a good quality, third party tested company, so you can be assured what is in the bottle is actually in there.  Next, you will want to make sure you are taking the correct form of magnesium for you, based on your symptoms, health conditions, and/or documented deficiency.  Working with a qualified practitioner is the best to help you with this.

The least absorbable form of magnesium is magnesium oxide, which is commonly found in most brands you find on the shelves at drug stores and grocery stores.  I recommend not wasting your money on this form, and go with more absorbable forms of magnesium that your body can better use and assimilate into the cells.  Below is a general guide to help you decide which form may be best for you.  As always, if you are having significant symptoms of any kind, consider working with a functional medicine physician to help you find and treat all of your root causes.

Guide to Magnesium Replacement:

– General: Magnesium glycinate is great general form of magnesium that absorbs well.

– Constipation: Magnesium citrate, as it will actually cause diarrhea as a side effect if too much is taken.

– Muscle Complaints: Magnesium malate is the best form, as it has even been studied to help fibromyalgia patients.

– Brain: Magnesium L-threonate is the best for brain symptoms, including insomnia, anxiety, memory and cognition issues.

Also, magnesium has co-factors that help it work better in the body, such as B vitamins for example, thus making sure your levels of those are adequate will help you get the most out of your magnesium supplementation. The dose needed will vary from person to person, and of course depend on the size of the person, and their individual requirements.  As a general rule, you know you have taken too magnesium if you get loose stools, then back down to the last dose that did not.   There are also extended release forms of magnesium that can help with this as well.

What the Research is Saying About Magnesium

If you really want to dive into the research, here are several recent articles on how magnesium impacts certain conditions.  This is by no means comprehensive, however is intended to show that magnesium has been proved to help with a range of issues from athlete performance to more serious problems like diabetes and high blood pressure.

  1. Studies on magnesium and diabetes show that supplementation helps decrease anemia and inflammatory markers, and helps with neuropathy symptoms.   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27459339, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15319143
  2. Replacement of magnesium in patients with metabolic syndrome improved insulin sensitivity, glucose, triglyceride and HDL-cholesterol levels, as well as its effects on high blood pressure. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27834189
  3. Magnesium lays a protective role if Alzheimer’s, as it improves recognition and memory.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27253451
  4. Low magnesium levels are associated with decreased placental size and function in pregnancy.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26992680
  5. In athletes, magnesium supplementation improves red blood cell levels, and improves heart rate variability. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27933574
  6. Magnesium lowers blood pressure via the nitric oxide synthase pathway.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26890104
  7. Several nutrients have been found to improve ADHD symptoms in children, including magnesium. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27417479
  8. Magnesium helps with symptoms of depression. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27910808
  9. Enhancing learning and memory by increasing brain levels of magnesium. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20152124
  10. Magnesium helps kids with allergic asthma. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18516713
  11. RBC Magnesium levels were lower in post-menopausal women with osteoporosis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18695768
  12. Magnesium may help alleviate anxiety. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27869100

To learn more about functional medicine and how to start incorporating healthy lifestyle factors into your life, click HERE to get Dr. Em’s 3-Week Jump Start Plan.



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