Magnesium: The Essential Mineral, Its Role in the Body, and What to Know About Magnesium Supplements

Magnesium food sources
Learn about the mineral magnesium, its role in the body, how to spot magnesium deficiency, and the most bioavailable forms of magnesium to supplement with.

Magnesium is one of the most abundant essential minerals in the body. It’s involved in over 300 biochemical reactions, including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, regulation of blood glucose levels, blood pressure control, hormone and immune health for example. Despite being integral to our health and wellbeing, it’s often overlooked, with many people not getting enough. Let’s delve into the role of magnesium in the body, the symptoms of magnesium deficiency, the different forms of magnesium supplementation and which is best to take, and how to get enough magnesium in your diet.

The Role of Magnesium in the Body

Magnesium is involved in many biochemical processes throughout the body. Here are four body systems that use magnesium to function effectively. 

Energy Production and the Muscular System

One of the primary roles of magnesium is energy production. It is a crucial component of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the main source of energy for cells. Magnesium helps convert food into usable energy so muscles can function. Without sufficient magnesium, our cells would struggle to produce the energy they need, leading to feelings of fatigue and weakness. 

Magnesium also helps relax the muscles. When your magnesium deficient, muscles aren’t able to properly relax – leading to cramping and tightness. This is especially true when using the muscles vigorously, such as after a hard workout. 

Nervous System Regulation

Magnesium also plays a key role in the regulation of the nervous system and supports brain function. It helps maintain the health of neurons and can influence the release and activity of neurotransmitters, which send signals in the brain and nervous system. Magnesium also has a calming effect on the nervous system, helping to manage stress and anxiety. It is often used as a natural remedy for conditions like insomnia and restless leg syndrome.

Cardiovascular System

Magnesium impacts the cardiovascular system, offering blood pressure benefits and improving overall heart health. Studies have found that magnesium can lower blood pressure and may also be an effective treatment for metabolic syndrome.  Magnesium also plays a crucial role in maintaining a normal heart rhythm. 

Bone Health

Magnesium is also vital for the growth and maintenance of your bones. It contributes to the structural development of bones and is involved in the transport of calcium, a critical mineral for bone density. Studies have shown that adequate magnesium intake can prevent osteoporosis and improve bone health. 

Magnesium also acts as an essential cofactor for vitamin D synthesis, helping enzymes use vitamin D effectively to support bone growth. Without enough magnesium, vitamin D can’t do its job for bone structure and integrity, which can lead to skeletal disorders, metabolic syndrome, and even cardiovascular disease. Taking both a magnesium and vitamin D supplement helps prevent this.  

If you want to learn even more about what research studies have to say about magnesium, check out this blog post with even more information on how magnesium can impact the body and certain conditions. 

Magnesium Deficiency

Levels of magnesium continue to decline in our diets, especially for those eating the standard American diet. This is due to processed foods and the increased use of pesticides.  However, the soil content of minerals has also been decreasing over time as well.  Preventing magnesium deficiency starts with recognizing the symptoms so you can take proactive steps towards maintaining optimal health. 

So, what does magnesium deficiency look like?

Fatigue and Muscle Weakness

One of the first and most common symptoms of magnesium deficiency is fatigue and muscle weakness, also known as myasthenia. Magnesium plays an essential role in the process of energy production in our bodies. Without sufficient magnesium, the body must work harder to execute normal functions. Similarly, muscle weakness is a direct consequence of magnesium deficiency as magnesium contributes to muscle contraction and relaxation.

Nervous System Disorders

Magnesium deficiency can also manifest itself through numerous nervous system disorders. These can range from numbness and tingling in your extremities to seizures. Magnesium plays a critical role in nerve transmission and neuromuscular conduction so when magnesium levels are low, nerve signals can become overexcited, resulting in unwanted nervous system symptoms.

Mood Changes

Another less known yet significant symptom of magnesium deficiency is changes in mood and mental function. Studies have found that low levels of magnesium can lead to increased risk of depression, mood swings, and anxiety. The reason behind this lies in magnesium’s role in brain function and mood regulation. Adequate levels of magnesium are essential for maintaining good mental health.

Other symptoms of magnesium deficiency can include:

  • Nausea 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abnormal heart rhythms 
  • High blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Blood sugar dysregulation

While symptoms of magnesium deficiency should not be taken lightly, it’s also important to remember that these symptoms can also be associated with other health conditions. If you’re concerned about symptoms you’re experiencing, consult a functional medicine provider for accurate diagnosis. Keeping a balanced diet rich in magnesium and taking supplements as necessary can help maintain adequate magnesium levels and contribute to overall health and well-being.

Testing For Magnesium Levels

Your functional medicine provider may want to test your magnesium levels before starting treatment and supplementation. This is done via a blood test – both a serum magnesium level and an RBC magnesium level can be done. The serum magnesium test measures the concentration of magnesium in the liquid portion of the blood, whereas an RBC magnesium level looks specifically at the concentration of magnesium in the red blood cells. 

A low magnesium value is called hypomagnesemia, which is more common. Less common is hypermagnesemia, or a high magnesium level, often found in people with kidney failure.

High Magnesium Foods

Despite its critical role in maintaining health, a significant number of people do not meet their daily magnesium needs through their diet. Food groups high in magnesium include green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, and whole grains.

Green Leafy Vegetables

Green leafy vegetables, including spinach and Swiss chard, are powerhouses of magnesium. They contain a range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are essential for overall health. Additionally, they are low in calories yet high in dietary fiber.

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds serve as another significant source of magnesium. Almonds, cashews, and peanuts are some of the nuts that pack a high amount of this essential mineral. As for seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and chia seeds are rich in magnesium. Besides being an excellent source of magnesium, nuts and seeds are laden with healthy fats, fiber, and protein. This composition makes them a nutritious snack option that can easily be integrated into your diet. A handful of these nutrient-dense snacks can go a long way in meeting your daily magnesium needs.

Whole Grains

Whole grains also contain some magnesium. These foods are also home to a host of other nutrients, including dietary fiber, several B vitamins, iron, and selenium. Making the simple switch from refined grains like breads, pastas, baked goods etc…, to whole grains is an easy way to improve your health while also increasing your magnesium intake.

Other sources of magnesium include:

  • Black beans
  • Edamame
  • Avocados

Different Forms of Magnesium: What to Know About Magnesium Supplements

Magnesium Oxide

Magnesium oxide is one of the most commonly used forms of magnesium supplements due to its high levels of elemental magnesium. This means it contains a greater amount of actual magnesium for your body to absorb. However, it’s worth noting that magnesium oxide is non-chelated, so it’s not easily absorbed by the body. Despite its high level of elemental magnesium, its bioavailability is quite low so the body can’t use it effectively. Magnesium oxide is not the best form of oral supplementation to take because of this. 

Magnesium Citrate

Magnesium citrate is a popular form of magnesium supplement, primarily known for its role in maintaining digestive health. It is a combination of magnesium with citric acid, which has laxative properties beneficial for constipation. Its bioavailability is higher than magnesium oxide, meaning it’s more easily absorbed into the body. This makes it a good choice for those looking to boost their magnesium levels or to aid in having more regular bowel movements.

Magnesium Malate

Magnesium malate plays a crucial role in energy production and muscular function. Malate is a key component in the Krebs cycle, a process that turns food into energy. When combined with magnesium, it becomes a powerhouse nutrient that aids in the production of ATP, the body’s main source of energy. This means that taking magnesium malate can help increase your energy levels and reduce feelings of fatigue.

Another significant benefit of magnesium malate is its role in muscle function. Magnesium is essential for maintaining normal muscle and nerve function. It contributes to muscle contraction and relaxation, which helps prevent muscle cramps and spasms. Magnesium malate, because of its high bioavailability, is often used by athletes to enhance their performance and by individuals who suffer from chronic muscle pain or fibromyalgia.

Magnesium L-Threonate

Magnesium L-Threonate is a unique form of magnesium that holds promise for enhancing cognitive function and improving brain health because it crosses the blood brain barrier. Studies have found that L-Threonate raises magnesium levels in the brain and neurons. While its primary use is to improve cognitive function and brain health, it is particularly beneficial for those experiencing age-related memory loss or cognitive decline. However, it is not limited to this use. Because it has calming effects, it is often used to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as improve sleep quality.

Magnesium Glycinate

Magnesium glycinate is also highly bioavailable, with an added bonus of being gentle on the stomach. It’s a combination of magnesium and the amino acid glycine. This form of magnesium is less likely to cause laxative effects and is more suitable for those who need to correct a long-term magnesium deficiency. It’s also often recommended as a good form to take for general magnesium supplementation and for those with sleep concerns, as glycine is a calming amino acid that can support good sleep. 

Topical Magnesium

Magnesium can also be absorbed effectively through the skin, so lotions, gels, deodorants, and Epsom salt baths can be used. This is often recommended if you can’t tolerate oral magnesium supplementation. The company “Living the Good Life Naturally” makes high quality magnesium products with high levels of magnesium that absorb well.  Designs for Health also has a great topical gel called MagneGel that works well also that can be found on Fullscript. It is worth noting that many topical magnesium products cause a temporary tingling or mild itching sensation when first applied.

Magnesium: The Functional Medicine Approach to This Essential Mineral

Magnesium is a vital mineral that contributes to numerous bodily functions, from energy production and nervous system regulation to maintaining bone health. There are a variety of forms of magnesium, some more bioavailable than others. When deciding what magnesium supplement to use, consider what you’re using the supplement for and consult with your functional medicine provider as needed. In combination with a balanced diet rich in magnesium, this can help prevent magnesium deficiency for overall health and wellbeing.

If you need extra support or are struggling with frustrating symptoms without an obvious cause, functional medicine may be right for you. At Arizona Wellness Medicine, our team of dedicated functional medicine providers, and nutritionist health coaches are here to help you feel healthier, whether that’s through diet change, getting to the root of your symptoms, or making an individualized treatment plan. Learn how functional medicine can help here.


  1. Bioavailability of US commercial magnesium preparations
  2. Magnesium
  3. Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood rheology in NOS inhibition-induced hypertension model
  4. Role of Magnesium in Vitamin D Activation and Function
  5. A Magtein®, Magnesium L-Threonate, -Based Formula Improves Brain Cognitive Functions in Healthy Chinese Adults
  6. Magnesium in Prevention and Therapy



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