Everything You Need to Know About Magnesium

Elizabeth Marglin

by | Updated: October 11th, 2018 | Read time: 4 minutes

Despite magnesium’s enormous behind-the-scene role in our health, it gets little play in the headlines. Potassium has its cramps, sodium its blood pressure and calcium its bone health; but there is no easy association with magnesium, perhaps because it’s essential for over 300 different chemical reactions in the body. This includes protein synthesis, muscle and nerve transmission, strong bones and teeth, stabilized blood sugar and healthy energy levels.

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in our bodies and is essential for optimal health. You can get magnesium in many foods and drinks, but a 2004 study found that 68 percent of Americans consumed less than the recommended daily allowance. Read more about this “miracle mineral”–and why you may want to opt for a supplement.

Assorted Magnesium-Rich Foods and Letters Spelling out Magnesium on Wooden Table Surface | Vitacost.com/blog

What is magnesium?

Magnesium is one of seven essential macrominerals–minerals that need to be consumed in relatively large amounts to the tune of at least 100 milligrams (mg) per day. Magnesium is the third most common mineral in our bodies, after calcium and phosphorous, and ensures the proper functioning of hundreds of enzymes and hormones.

What are its functions in the body?

The benefits of magnesium are extensive. It contributes to so many vital processes in our bodies it’s impossible to list them all. The upshot of adequate levels of magnesium includes bone health and density, blood pressure regulation, increased strength and physical performance, more stable blood sugar and a lowered risk of stroke and migraines.

How much magnesium do we need? Does the amount change over time?

The average person has 25 grams of magnesium in their body (most of which is found in our bones, cartilage and muscles) at any given time. The one percent of body magnesium left is responsible for smooth execution of many cellular and enzymatic processes. Even the slightest drop in this small amount of magnesium found in cellular fluids, also referred to as your serum magnesium level, can disrupt optimal functioning.

The standard recommendations for daily amounts change as we age. The current guidelines state: An adult woman needs about 310 milligrams of magnesium a day, and 320 milligrams after age 30. Pregnant women need an extra 40 milligrams. Adult men under 31 need 400 milligrams and 420 milligrams if they’re older. Kids need anywhere from 30 to 410 milligrams, depending on their age and gender (ask your pediatrician for more specifics).

What are the best magnesium foods?

The best sources of dietary magnesium are from nuts and seeds, including almonds, cashews and peanuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, as well as spinach, soy milk, tofu, beans, edamame, whole grains, avocado, yogurt, salmon, bananas, raisins, chicken breast and lean ground beef. 

When should you consider a magnesium supplement?

If you are not hitting your RDA, which includes the majority of Americans, consider taking a supplement that will get you to that level. Over time, low levels of the mineral may set the stage for a variety of health issues, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and migraines. Older adults, and people with certain disorders, such as Type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases and alcoholism alcoholics, are more likely to lack it, either because their bodies excrete too much magnesium, or they simply don’t absorb enough.

What’s the difference between different magnesium supplements?

The difference between citrate, malate, orate and others tends to lie in the bioavailability and price. Please see https://www.vitacost.com/blog/vitamins-supplements/supplements/types-of-magnesium.html

What’s considered the best magnesium form to take?

Magnesium citrate and magnesium chloride tend to be better absorbed and tolerated than magnesium oxide. Magnesium aspartate and magnesium lactate are also among the most easily absorbed forms.

When/how should you take magnesium?

Many experts advise taking magnesium with food to reduce the occurrence of diarrhea. There have also been some studies that support taking magnesium supplements at night to help relax the muscles in the body and promote sleep.

Can you take too much magnesium?

Typically, your kidneys flush out the extra magnesium you get from foods. But if you take too much of it in supplement form (or in laxatives or antacids) it can bring on cramps, diarrhea or nausea.  At high doses, too much magnesium can be toxic. If you have a kidney disorder you should not take magnesium supplements unless your doctor advises it.

Should you combine magnesium with other nutrients when taking?

Calcium and magnesium can interfere with each other for absorption in doses higher than 250 mg. When taking larger amounts, take each mineral at a different time or split doses of combinations into smaller amounts. A good rule of thumb is if you take a multivitamin, calcium or zinc, take magnesium at a different time of day.

What’s the deal with topical magnesium?

Topical magnesium (sprays, creams, gels, oils, etc.) is promoted as effective ways to reduce muscle pain and cramps, improve flexibility and promote relaxation. However, more clinical evidence is needed to show that topical application is as effective as magnesium taken orally.

What other forms are available?

Magnesium comes in a variety of forms as well as different textures. You can take in a pill or capsule, liquid or powder, drops and gummies. The key is to find the form that you are most willing to consistently take. For example, if you have trouble swallowing pills, gummies may be a better a choice.

These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.