There’s a good reason magnesium is often called “The Magic Mineral” – it plays a crucial role in over 300 enzymatic reactions within the body, impacting everything from energy metabolism and stress management to hormone balance, detoxification, sleep, and the creation of proteins. (source) Years ago, I discovered it was the key to resolving my restless leg syndrome, which did indeed feel pretty magical after years of suffering.
Unfortunately, according to the World Health Organization, only about 25% of Americans are consuming adequate levels of magnesium, but that’s only one factor contributing to what CNN calls the “invisible deficiency.” (source) More on why later plus how to choose the best magnesium supplement, but first let’s take a closer look at just a little of what this mineral does:
10 Benefits of Magnesium
2. Bone Health – We’ve long been told that calcium “builds strong bones,” but that’s not the whole story. When we consume a lot of calcium without magnesium, the calcium collects in soft tissues rather than going to our bones where it is needed. Magnesium is needed because it stimulates the hormone calcitonin, which is what directs calcium into the bones. It’s no surprise, then, that magnesium supplementation has been shown to improve bone density in both children and certain elderly populations. (source 1, source 2)
3. Energy Support – Magnesium is crucial to the function of mitochondria, which are the power plants of the cell. Our mitochondria fuel every aspect of health, from brain function and muscle strength to cell repair and enzyme creation. Poor mitochondrial function reduces energy levels, so we want to keep the little guys happy. (source)
4. Emotional Relaxation and Restful Sleep – Magnesium helps to relax achy muscles and calm the mind by supporting the production of the neurotransmitter GABA.
6. Muscle Relaxation – Calcium helps our muscles contract, while magnesium helps them relax. That’s why epsom salt baths (magnesium sulfate) are often recommended for easing achy muscles and growing pains.
7. Beautiful Skin & Healthy Joints – Magnesium stimulates the synthesis of collagen and elastin, which provide structure for our skin and allow it to “snap back” into place like a rubber band. (source) Collagen also supports healthy joints, muscle and other connective tissue.
8. Digestive Health – Magnesium can be helpful for constipation because it speeds up bowel transit time.
9. Cardiovascular Health – Helps regulate heart beat and relaxes smooth muscle – including the smooth muscle of your arteries – which improves blood flow. In Got Magnesium? Those With Heart Disease Should, WebMD writes that heart patients “who took magnesium had better blood vessel function and their hearts showed less stress during treadmill exercise compared to the placebo group. Nearly three-quarters of the patients were magnesium-deficient at the beginning of the study, but their levels rose to nearly normal by the end.”
10. Detoxification – Magnesium is needed to make glutathione, which is considered the “master antioxidant” of the body. Glutathione plays a huge role in detoxification and immune function, among other things.
Considering its far-reaching influence on so many aspects of our health, you can imagine how numerous and common deficiency symptoms of magnesium are.
So, why are so many of us magnesium deficient?
Here are the most common reasons:
- Foods are lower in magnesium content than they used to be due to soil depletion (source)
- Certain foods and drinks, such as caffeine, alcohol and sugar, deplete our magnesium stores.
- Stress increases our magnesium burn rate, or the rate at which we burn through magnesium.
- If we have a damaged gut, our bodies cannot adequately absorb the magnesium we do get through food.
- Some medications also deplete our bodies of magnesium. Here’s a partial list.
Fortunately, there are ways to improve magnesium levels (when needed) despite these challenges.
Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms
- Headaches and migraines
- Difficulty sleeping/Insomnia (source)
- Muscle spasms and cramps
- Calcium kidney stones
- Blood pressure and heart irregularities
- Bedwetting in children (magnesium deficiency can cause a stiff bladder, making complete excretion during the day and control of the bladder at night difficult)
- Nervous system issues in children (jittery, hyperactive)
- Eye twitching
- Food cravings, especially for magnesium-rich foods like chocolate
Additional source: International Integrative Educational Institute, Advanced Professional Herbal & Nutritional Skills Program
Can I do a blood test to see if I am low on magnesium?
One frustrating issue with magnesium is that because it is stored deep in mitochondrial cells, heart cells, and other cells, we really can’t measure it usefully in the blood. (source) Because testing isn’t accurate, practitioners often consider stress load, gut function, and symptoms associated with deficiency when recommending magnesium supplementation.
My “aha moment” regarding my own magnesium deficiency came in my early twenties when I decided to wean myself off of tranquilizers for severe restless leg syndrome. I knew I wanted to find a natural solution, and my research led me to try magnesium supplements. It completely resolved my RLS, and I’ve been medication-free for over ten years now. There are a few other factors that may contribute to RLS symptoms as well – for more information check out Restless Leg Syndrome Home Remedies.
How do I improve my magnesium levels?
The best way to get magnesium is through food, because whole foods come with cofactors that help with nutrient absorption. However, due to soil depletion and other factors such as stress and gut function, it’s extremely difficult to get all we need from food.
In addition to consuming foods rich in magnesium, supplements are often needed to reach optimal levels. Magnesium is also well-absorbed through the skin, which is why this recipe for homemade bath salts can be helpful.
What foods are high in magnesium?
So, a cool fun fact (nerd alert!) is that magnesium is the center atom of chlorophyll, therefore anything green has magnesium, and the darker the green the more magnesium. However, not all magnesium-rich foods are green. Here’s are some you might want to consider incorporating:
- Chlorella and spirulina – This is a good supplement that includes both.
- Dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, swiss chard, beet greens, turnip greens
- Sprouted pumpkin seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Sprouted sunflower seeds
- Soaked cashews
- Soaked almonds
- Oily fish such as salmon
- Dark chocolate
Next up in this series. . .
Which Magnesium Supplements Are Best? – In this post, we cover which ones are the most bioavailable and how they support different body systems.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
About the authors: This article was coauthored by Heather Dessinger and Dr. Lori Valentine Rose (PhD). Dr. Rose, PhD is a college biology, nutrition, herbal, and wellness instructor, Certified Nutrition Professional (CNP), Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild, and is Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition. She created, developed, and instructs the Hill College Holistic Wellness Pathway, the most thorough, affordable, degreed wellness program in the country. She loves spreading love and light, and helping others feel awesome on the inside and out so they can live their dreams and make this world more awesome!