Magnesium is one of the most important trace minerals in the human diet and plays a vital role in our bodies. It’s an essential co-factor for over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, supporting important tasks in facilitating our body’s day-to-day metabolic functions.
About 60% of our magnesium is stored in our bones; and about 40% in soft tissue such as muscles and organs; about 1% is found in the interstitial fluid between the cells and in blood serum. The magnesium content in our bones decrease with age and is not completely bioavailable during magnesium deprivation.
Why is Magnesium so important to our health?
You may wonder “does magnesium matter to me?” and the answer is yes! Adequate levels of magnesium support key functions such as energy production, nerve and muscle function, cardiovascular function, regulating carbohydrate and fat metabolism, as well as manufacturing DNA and protein. Magnesium supports a healthy immune system, helps maintain blood glucose levels, and is important for preserving healthy bones by aiding in calcium and vitamin D assimilation.
Magnesium deficiencies are often overlooked, however can affect your brain, heart, muscles, stomach, kidneys, digestion, bones, and more. It can affect you both physically and mentally, from sore muscles to sleep problem, and even sugar cravings.
Through its nerve and muscle relaxing effect, magnesium may be helpful in easing cardiovascular issues by dilating blood vessels and may also be helpful in reducing epileptic seizures caused by nerve excitability. Magnesium can also help prevent kidney stones, such as the most common type – calcium oxalate stones, by increasing calcium solubility.
Are you Magnesium deficient?
Do you get enough magnesium from your diet? Chances are the answer is no. Only about 50% of the U.S. adult population meets the RDA of 420mg (men) / 360mg (women). Almost one-third of the population gets less than 65% of this recommended amount. We see the same level of deficiency within Canada; according to Health Canada nearly half the population is deficient in magnesium. Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is the average daily level of intake sufficient enough to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97%-98%) healthy people, however these numbers are determined only to prevent deficiency. Various studies have shown that an additional 300mg is necessary to significantly increase the serum magnesium concentrations that are needed to provide optimal health and longevity.
On average, only about 40% to 50% of the magnesium you consume is actually absorbed – this number varies depending on stomach acid levels, body needs, dietary habits, and the type of magnesium. Stress and other factors such as consuming alcohol, caffeine and sugar depletes the body of magnesium much quicker. So, you can see why it’s important to consume your RDA of this mineral every day to avoid deficiency.
Why are so many people deficient in this vital macro-mineral?
- Mineral depletion in the soils of which our food is grown, due to overproduction, monoculture agriculture, and erosion.
- Increased consumption of foods which lose nearly 85% of their magnesium content due to processing, refining, and cooking.
- The use of diuretic drugs, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and birth control pills, all cause magnesium loss from the body.
- Hyperthyroidism, chronic stress, and intense physical activity may increase the demand for magnesium as your body metabolizes faster and/or creates more hormones like cortisol.
- Gastrointestinal issues such as IBS, leaky gut, or colitis may disrupt your ability to absorb dietary magnesium.
- Type 2 diabetes may increase the amount of magnesium excreted through the kidneys.
- The removal of magnesium from municipal drinking water.
What are the signs/symptoms of deficiency?
Magnesium deficiency has been associated with the following disorders and/or complaints:
- Arterial Spasms
- Colon Cancer
- Hypertension / heart attack / tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)
- Kidney stones
- Metabolic Syndrome
- Mood Disorders / irritability / anxiety / depression
- Muscle cramps / tremors / numbness / tingling / twitching / weakness
- Psychological changes (apathy, confusion, poor memory, hallucinations)
- Restless legs
- Type 2 diabetes
Replenish your Magnesium levels
Do you get enough magnesium from your diet? As a holistic nutritionist, I believe the best way to get our nutrients is from the foods that we eat, so I always aim to fuel our bodies with natural whole foods. To improve your magnesium levels through diet, this means cutting out processed foods and sugar as much possible (they provide little to no nutrients and can do more harm than good); as well as reducing the amount of coffee, alcohol and/or soft drinks that you consume (they interfere with magnesium absorption).
It’s important to choose healthy foods that are rich in magnesium; here are the TOP 10 Best Foods Highest in Magnesium according to myfooddata.com
- Seeds (squash and pumpkin)
- Lima Beans
- Brown Rice
- Dark Chocolate
- Non-fat Yogurt
Should you Supplement?
Do we get enough Magnesium from our diet? Even with a healthy diet, magnesium can be hard to get because of the considerably low absorption rate, vastly deficient soils, depleted amounts in our food supply, and various other factors that affect our magnesium levels. Our diet alone just might not be enough to avoid deficiency, so this is when we look at supplementation to increase magnesium levels. Supplements will help raise magnesium levels much quicker compared to food alone, this is especially important if the deficiency is causing health concerns.
When it comes to supplementing magnesium, something to note is that in order for magnesium to function optimally in our bodies it must be balanced with other minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium chloride, therefore going to your supplement store and loading up on magnesium (or any other minerals) isn’t necessarily a good idea unless you have a mineral analysis completed to suit your specific requirements. Since so many processed foods are fortified with these other minerals, such as vitamin D in dairy products, phosphorus in soft drinks and calcium in orange juice, it causes an imbalance from the false elevations of these nutrients and hinders magnesium in the fight for absorption, as it is not often seen added to foods.
The suggested intake of calcium to magnesium is 2:1, both requiring an acidic stomach environment for best absorption, therefore best to take between meals or before bed with some vitamin C as ascorbic acid. Also affecting absorption is higher blood cholesterol, meals high in protein or fat, diets high in phosphorus, calcium, vitamin D, or alcohol – so best to keep this in mind when taking magnesium supplements.
Not all Supplements are Created Equal
Before you go surfing the store shelves, it’s a good idea to know what you’re looking for. There are several different forms of magnesium. What makes them different is what molecules they are attached to (or being carried by). This combination is referred to as a chelate and determines absorption, bioavailability, where the magnesium goes, and what function it plays out in our body. This is what makes different forms of magnesium beneficial in different ways. Chelating minerals allow the mineral to be more ‘food like’ and more absorbable with fewer uncomfortable digestive side effects.
Here are some of the most common forms of magnesium found on the store shelves and what they help with:
- Magnesium Aspartate: Good bioavailability; strong laxative effect. This form is not commonly found but has been used for chronic fatigue syndrome and to relieve headaches and muscle cramps. Use caution with this form as it’s a known excitotoxin.
- Magnesium Carbonate: Also known as magesite, is a water insoluble Magnesium source that can easily be converted to other Magnesium compounds. It works with your stomach acid to make magnesium chloride, which is an excellent antacid and in high doses, has a laxative effect. Is often used to treat symptoms of excess stomach acid causing stomach upset, heartburn, and acid indigestion.
- Magnesium Citrate: Good bioavailability; rapidly absorbed in the digestive tract; slight laxative effect. This form of magnesium is paired with citric acid is one of the most common forms. Its medicinally used as a laxative and for kidney stones and is a good option for carrying magnesium into the body.
- Magnesium Oxide: Non-chelated; poor bioavailability and absorption; strong laxative effect causing loose stools. It is considered the least optimal form to use as a supplement.
- Magnesium Glycinate: Good bioavailability; no laxative effect as glycine is absorbed via the intestinal wall. This form of magnesium is paired with the non-essential amino acid glycine. Both glycine and magnesium have a calming effect, therefore this combination is helpful with muscle recovery and pain management and is best taken before bed.
- Magnesium L-Threonate: Good bioavailability and absorption; no laxative effect. Newer form with research indicating it may improve memory, cognitive function and brain fog. It may also penetrate the mitochondrial membrane resulting in increased energy and is therefore best taken in the morning.
- Magnesium Malate: Good bioavailability and absorption; slight laxative effect. This type is attached to malic acid, which is used in energy/ATP production. Some preliminary evidence indicates it may reduce muscle pain and tenderness in fibromyalgia patients. Best taken in the morning due to its potential energizing properties.
- Magnesium Picolinate (or Pidolate): Very inexpensive form, however there has not been any significant research trials supporting any additional health benefits.
- Magnesium Sulfate: Used intravenously or topically; not ingested orally. Found in Epsom bath salts and is used to aid in recovery from sore muscles, sprains, bruises and psoriasis. Soak in a warm Epsom salt bath for at least 15 minutes for it to get to your muscles.
- Magnesium Taurate: Good bioavailability and absorption; no laxative effect. This form of magnesium is paired with the conditionally essential amino acid taurine. Both taurine and magnesium support cardiovascular function, promote blood sugar stability and insulin sensitivity, and have a relaxing effect on the central nervous system. Magnesium taurate may also be helpful in lowering blood pressure, reducing migraines, and stabilizing nerve cells.
Always check with your practitioner before adding any supplements to your regimen—even those that you think are totally safe may have unwanted side effects.
Forms of magnesium with laxative effects (such as Mg-Citrate) will help with constipation but can pull a lot of water into the intestines leading to dehydration, therefore remember to drink plenty of water.
Avoid Mg-aspartate and Mg-glutamate or use these forms with caution as they are known excitotoxins and excess amounts can cause ‘excitotoxicity’ (overstimulated nervous system) and can lead to death.
Magnesium chelated with amino acids (glycinate) or organic acids (citrate) are the most absorbable forms with less gastric upset. Something to watch out for is that most supplements use amino acids sourced from by-products from the chicken industry (left-over bones, feathers, feet, etc.) so they are not vegan. Therefore, I’ve been using this vegan powdered formula from Garden of Life which is made using organic whole food ingredients such as organic brown rice protein to provide a full spectrum of amino acids to chelate magnesium. This formula combines their Organic Brown Rice Magnesium Chelate with mg-citrate (magnesium salt), non-GMO citric acid, magnesium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate, to get a fizzy drink that provides 350mg of an absorbable magnesium without the gastric discomfort of using chemical salts alone. I mix this powder in water and drink it in the evening before bed to help me relax and get a better-quality sleep. I like that the formula also contains live probiotics—1 Billion CFU to support my gut health, digestion and immune system. I also like the fact that this one is made from whole foods (no synthetics!) and that its certified gluten and sugar free.
Can I have too much magnesium?
You`re probably wondering how much magnesium you should take and if its possible to overdo it. Each person is biologically unique; therefore, it varies from person to person. Magnesium overdose is called hypermagnesemia, and blood levels of this mineral above 2.6mg per deciliter are considered toxic.
The good news is that your body generally flushes excess magnesium out of your system relatively quickly through the GI tract as diarrhea or through the kidneys in urine (assuming these body functions are working properly). Chances are, you’ll know if you over supplemented as you’ll have to make a visit to the washroom soon after. If you do overdose on magnesium, temporary symptoms may include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or facial flushing.
Avoid these by only taking the recommended dose of this essential nutrient every day. If you suffer from kidney (renal) failure or bowel obstructions, you will not be able to clear magnesium from the body and should first consult with your healthcare practitioner prior to oral magnesium supplementation.
Lifestyle & Dietary Recommendations
- Consume a natural whole-foods diet consisting of a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables from different sources.
- Lightly steam fresh greens like spinach to remove the oxalic acid content which interferes with magnesium absorption.
- Consume local and organic foods as much as possible. Grow your own, or visit the local farmers market.
- Avoid processed and junk foods as magnesium is depleted during processing, refining and cooking.
- Reduce sodium intake as it competes with magnesium for absorption.
- Reduce consumption of coffee, alcohol and soft drinks as they decrease absorption and increase magnesium loss from the body.
- Soak beans, grains, and legumes before cooking as it will help reduce phytic acid which interferes with magnesium absorption in the gut.
- Add raw nuts and seeds to your diet. Although nuts naturally contain phytic acid, its low compared to other plant-based foods. Macadamia and pistachios have the lowest, while almonds are found to have the highest.
- Ditch the stressors as much as possible, or at least learn how to react better to them. Stress and anxiety hinder magnesium digestion and increases magnesium loss from the body. Digestive conditions such as IBS is often triggered by stress.
- Take a magnesium supplement that is suitable for your health needs to improve your magnesium levels.
Magnesium Fun Fact
Hangovers related to alcohol are partially due to magnesium depletion. Taking Magnesium with thiamine (B1) and drinking extra water can help prevent hangover symptoms.