Each one of our 20 trillion cells needs magnesium, which is also used in over 600 biochemical reactions in the body as a co-factor or ‘helper molecule.’ Magnesium benefits include energy production, regulating our nervous systems, and building and repairing DNA. Magnesium helps with contraction and relaxing muscles, but also with forming proteins (1).
However, up to 80% of us are deficient in magnesium (2), and measuring a deficiency with a standard blood test is very difficult because only 1%-2% of body magnesium is in our blood (67% is in our bones and 31% in our cells). What causes this problem is the lack of magnesium in our diets. Magnesium levels in our food have been considerably reduced, comparing to the levels we had over the vast majority of human evolution.
For example, magnesium has been taken out of drinking water and removed from our salt.
Also, in recent years, the significant drive in yield improvement made our fruit and vegetables grow faster, meaning they have less time to absorb vitamins and minerals from the soil. Therefore, fruits and vegetables have much lower magnesium levels than just 30-40 years ago (3).
Furthermore, our modern lifestyles have played a part. We’ve moved away from quality foods to processed ones devoid of any nutrition, and the stress of the modern world depletes magnesium from our bodies. That’s why the symptoms of magnesium deficiency are becoming so common, and why many of us are turning to specialist magnesium supplements to ensure we’re getting enough.
Signs of magnesium deficiency include (4):
- High blood pressure and heart disease
- Other nutrient deficiencies including vitamin K, vitamin B1, calcium and potassium
- Mental health issues and mood swings
- Trouble sleeping / Insomnia
- Restless leg syndrome
- Worsened PMS symptoms
- Recurrent bacterial or fungal infections
- Tooth decay
- Muscle Weakness and Cramps
Here are the top 10 benefits of reintroducing proper levels of magnesium into your body, either through improving your diet or by taking high-quality magnesium supplements.
1. Magnesium is Vital For Heart Health and Low Blood Pressure
Magnesium is essential for our hearts. The highest level of magnesium in the whole body is in the heart. The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study on almost 14,000 middle-aged people without heart disease found that those who had the lowest levels of magnesium had the highest chance of developing heart disease (5).
Another study found that oral magnesium supplements significantly improved artery and endothelial function and exercise tolerance in patients with heart disease (6). There are also several studies showing magnesium can lower blood pressure in patients suffering from high blood pressure (7,8,9)
2. Magnesium Helps you Fall Asleep
Magnesium is a natural relaxant – it balances neurotransmitters to prevent the brain from getting overstimulated. It’s used in conventional medicine to help with life-threatening heart problems such as irregular heart rhythms, but also during open-heart surgeries. Magnesium is also used in cases of preterm labor, where it plays a significant role in helping moms and newborns. As a muscle relaxer, it helps by relaxing the contracting uterus. Nowadays, when muscle tension keeps us awake at night, we use magnesium to help us fall asleep.
3. Magnesium Can Calm Your Nerves
Magnesium helps us to feel calm. It binds to GABA receptors in the brain (10). GABA is the natural ‘Valium’ and acts in the same way as Valium and other tranquilizers do. It can also help to reduce stress and anxiety levels.
Magnesium deficiency can also increase the production of cortisol, which can particularly activate the para-ventricular hypothalamic nucleus (PVN), a part of the brain involved in controlling the responses to stress and anxiety (11).
4. Magnesium Increases Energy and Boosts Sports Performance
ATP, the primary source of energy in all our cells, must be bound to a magnesium ion to be biologically active. ATP is also involved in oxygen uptake and electrolyte balance. So when you’re exercising, your needs for magnesium can go up 20%. So even a marginal deficiency impairs our performance and increases the potentially negative side effect of exercise – inflammation. During exercise, more magnesium is lost in sweat and filtered out of the body in our urine.
That’s why it’s essential for anybody who’s physically active (and the should be all of us), to get adequate dose of magnesium (12).
Magnesium also helps move glucose into your muscles during exercise and prevents lactic acid building up (13). It’s proven that magnesium increases performance in competing athletes, the elderly, and those with heart disease (14,15,16,17,18).
Among competing, athletes, magnesium supplementation has demonstrated increased endurance performance and increases in power output (17,18).
5. Magnesium Helps with Migraines
Magnesium relaxes the arteries and blood vessels in the brain and improves body circulation. It also acts on GABA receptors in the brain and central nervous system, which reduces pain and cortisol levels. Magnesium also reduces the build-up of red blood cell platelets, another factor strongly associated with the development of migraines.
Several studies have directly shown the effectiveness of supplementing with magnesium orally in both preventing migraines and reducing their severity in both children and adults (19-21).
6. Magnesium Helps Boosting Learning and Memory
For a brain to be able to think, process, and learn, the nerve cells or neurons of the brain and Central Nervous system need to be able to make connections between each other to pass on information. The ability to do this is known as ‘brain plasticity.’ The better the ability of our brains to form new connections, the more ’plastic’ they are, and the better we can learn.
Magnesium improves brain plasticity by improving the efficiency of neurons making new connections, which are called synapses. Magnesium is specifically located in the gaps between nerve cells on receptors known at NMDA receptors. There it regulates the flow of calcium through the cells to ensure nerve impulses are sent efficiently to secure more likelihood of successful connections. So the more magnesium in the brain, the more successful connections can be made (22).
7. Magnesium Relieves Muscle Aches and Spasms
Just as magnesium has a vital role in the connections of nerve cells in the brain so they can transmit information, it also has an essential role in the transmission of signals between the motor neurons of our spinal cord and our muscles – allowing us to move. If we don’t have enough magnesium, our muscles will go into spasm (23).
We also need magnesium to balance our calcium levels. While magnesium is often deficient in our diets, calcium is often abundant. Many people compound this by taking extra calcium supplements, which can result in muscle pains, cramps, and weakness. On top of balancing calcium levels, adding magnesium to your diet will also help with recovery from muscle pain and aches after exercise. Muscles love magnesium!
8. Magnesium Is Vital For Bone Health
Most people think of calcium when it comes to bones, but magnesium is just as important for bone health. Magnesium is vital for the absorption and calcium in the gut, and it’s also crucial for the production of the active form of vitamin D. Vitamin D is important for forming osteoblasts – a cell that makes the substance of bone.
Magnesium also maintains the balance of 2 hormones that are vital for regulating calcium levels in our bones and teeth, calcitonin, and parathyroid hormone. Studies have shown that increasing magnesium intake can increase bone mineral density (24).
9. Magnesium Benefits – Insulin Resistance and Type II Diabetes
People who consume more magnesium have a much lower chance of developing diabetes because it has a vital role in glucose metabolism (25, 26). Deficient levels of magnesium in the blood (known as hypomagnesemia) also worsen insulin resistance (27). There is also a vicious circle where diabetes itself leads to higher losses of magnesium from the body in urine, which leads to lower body magnesium levels and then impaired insulin secretion and action, which again worsens a person’s control on diabetes (28).
10. Magnesium Helps with PMS Symptoms
PMS symptoms can really take the fun out of life and include water retention, tiredness, cramps, and irritability. Magnesium can help to ease cramps and help you deal with water retention. There is also proof that magnesium actually helps women feel better by improving the mood caused by PMS (29, 30).
(1) Magnesium in man: implications for health and disease. de Baaij JH, Hoenderop JG, Bindels RJ. Physiol Rev. 2015 Jan;95(1):1-46.
(2) The Magnesium Miracle, Carolyn Dean
(3) Donald R. Davis, Declining Fruit and Vegetable Nutrient Composition: What Is the Evidence? HortScience February 2009 vol. 44 no. 1 15-19
(4) The multifaceted and widespread pathology of magnesium deficiency. Johnson S, Med Hypotheses. 2001 Feb;56(2):163-70.
(5) Is low magnesium concentration a risk
factor for coronary heart disease? The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities
(ARIC) Study. Liao F, Folsom AR, Brancati FL. Am Heart J. 1998;136:480–490.
(6) Oral Magnesium Therapy Improves Endothelial Function in Patients With Coronary Artery Disease, Michael Shechter, MD, MA; Michael Sharir, MD; Maura J. Paul Labrador, MPH; James Forrester, MD; Burton Silver, PhD; C. Noel Bairey Merz, MD, Circulation. 2000; 102:2353-2358.
(7) Oral magnesium supplementation reduces ambulatory blood pressure in patients with mild hypertension. Hatzistavri LS, Sarafidis PA, Georgianos PI, Tziolas IM, Aroditis CP, Zebekakis PE, Pikilidou MI, Lasaridis AN. Am J Hypertens. 2009 Oct;22(10):1070-5.
(8) Effects of magnesium supplementation in hypertensive patients: assessment by office, home, and ambulatory blood pressures. Kawano Y, Matsuoka H, Takishita S, Omae T. Hypertension. 1998 Aug;32(2):260-5.
(9) A pilot study on the effects of magnesium supplementation with high and low habitual dietary magnesium intake on resting and recovery from aerobic and resistance exercise and systolic blood pressure. Kass LS, Skinner P, Poeira F, J Sports Sci Med. 2013 Mar 1;12(1):144-50.
(10) Magnesium potentiation of the function of native and recombinant GABA(A) receptors. Neuroreport. Möykkynen T, Uusi-Oukari M, Heikkilä J, Lovinger DM, Lüddens H, Korpi ER.
2001 Jul 20;12(10):2175-9.
(11) Magnesium deficiency induces anxiety and HPA axis dysregulation: Modulation by therapeutic drug treatment. S.B. Sartori, N. Whittle, A. Hetzenauer, and N. Singewald. Neuropharmacology. 2012 Jan; 62(1): 304–312.
(12) Update on the relationship between magnesium and exercise. Nielsen FH, Lukaski HC. Magnes Res. 2006 Sep;19(3):180-9.
(13) Magnesium enhances exercise performance via increasing glucose availability in the blood, muscle, and brain during exercise. Chen HY, Cheng FC, Pan HC, Hsu JC, Wang MF.PLoS One. 2014 Jan 20;9
(14) The effect of acute magnesium loading on the maximal exercise performance of stable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients. Amaral AF, Gallo L Jr, Vannucchi H, Crescêncio JC, Vianna EO, Martinez JA. Clinics (Sao Paulo). 2012;67(6):615-22.
(15) Oral magnesium therapy, exercise heart rate, exercise tolerance, and myocardial function in coronary artery disease patients. Pokan R, Hofmann P, von Duvillard SP, Smekal G, Wonisch M, Lettner K, Schmid P, Shechter M, Silver B, Bachl N. Br J Sports Med. 2006 Sep;40(9):773-8.
(16) Effect of oral magnesium supplementation on physical performance in healthy elderly women involved in a weekly exercise program: a randomized controlled trial. Veronese N, Berton L, Carraro S, Bolzetta F, De Rui M, Perissinotto E, Toffanello ED, Bano G, Pizzato S, Miotto F, Coin A, Manzato E, Sergi G. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Sep;100(3):974-81.
(17) On the significance of magnesium in extreme physical stress. Golf SW, Bender S, Grüttner J. Cardiovasc Drugs Ther. 1998 Sep;12 Suppl 2:197-202.
(18) Magnesium status and the physical performance of volleyball players: effects of magnesium supplementation. Setaro L1, Santos-Silva PR, Nakano EY, Sales CH, Nunes N, Greve JM, Colli C. J Sports Sci. 2014;32(5):438-45.
(19) Oral magnesium oxide prophylaxis of frequent migrainous headache in children: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Wang F1, Van Den Eeden SK, Ackerson LM, Salk SE, Reince RH, Elin RJ. Headache. 2003 Jun;43(6):601-10.
(20) The effects of magnesium prophylaxis in migraine without aura. Köseoglu E1, Talaslioglu A, Gönül AS, Kula M. Magnes Res. 2008 Jun;21(2):101-8.
(21) Comparison of therapeutic effects of magnesium sulfate vs. dexamethasone/metoclopramide on alleviating acute migraine headache. Shahrami A, Assarzadegan F, Hatamabadi HR, Asgarzadeh M, Sarehbandi B, Asgarzadeh S. J Emerg Med. 2015 Jan;48(1):69-76.
(22) The mechanism of magnesium block of NMDA receptors, J.Peter Ruppersberg, Eberhard v. Kitzing, Ralf Schoepfer, Seminars in Neuroscience, Volume 6, Issue 2, April 1994, Pages 87-96
(23) Muscle cramps and magnesium deficiency: case reports. D. L. Bilbey and V. M. Prabhakaran, Canadian Fam Physician. 1996 Jul; 42: 1348–1351.
(24) Institute of Medicine (IOM). Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes: Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Vitamin D and Fluorideexternal link disclaimer. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1997.
(25) Larsson SC, Wolk A. Magnesium intake and risk of type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis. J Intern Med 2007;262:208-14.
(26) Rodriguez-Moran M, Simental Mendia LE, Zambrano Galvan G, Guerrero-Romero F. The role of magnesium in type 2 diabetes: a brief based-clinical review. Magnes Res 2011;24:156-62.
(27) Simmons D, Joshi S, Shaw J. Hypomagnesaemia is associated with diabetes: not pre-diabetes, obesity or the metabolic syndrome. Diabetes Res Clin Pract 2010;87:261-6.
(28) Rude RK. Magnesium. In: Ross AC, Caballero B, Cousins RJ, Tucker KL, Ziegler TR, eds. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. 11th ed. Baltimore, Mass: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2012:159-75.
(29) Facchinetti F, Borella P, Sances G, Fioroni L, Nappi RE, Genazzani AR. Oral magnesium successfully relieves premenstrual mood changes. Obstet Gynecol. 1991 Aug;78(2):177-81.
(30) Walker AF, De Souza MC, Vickers MF, Abeyasekera S, Collins ML, Trinca LA. Magnesium supplementation alleviates premenstrual symptoms of fluid retention. J Womens Health. 1998 Nov;7(9):1157-65.