A variety of magnesium-rich foods lay on a table
The health benefits of magnesium include an increase in energy, helps in regulating sleep, relieves muscle pain and spasms, and more.

What Are the Health Benefits of Magnesium?

Magnesium plays an important role in our body. Most people do not get enough magnesium and can benefit from eating more magnesium-rich foods and by taking supplements.

Here is what you need to know about this vital nutrient, including information about why you need it, deficiency, and how to include it in your diet.

7 Reasons Why You Need Magnesium

Magnesium plays a role in hundreds of enzymatic reactions in the body, which means your body needs it to stay healthy.

Magnesium aids in transmission of nerve processing, muscle activity, temperature regulation, improving insulin sensitivity, keeping bones healthy, heart function and so much more.

1. Gives You Energy

Magnesium helps create energy when it activates an organic chemical called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). If magnesium levels in your body are low, you will likely be fatigued.

And if you are tiring quicker, you need more oxygen, this according to one study from the United States Department of Agriculture. The study found when women suffering from magnesium deficiency exercised, they needed more oxygen with low impact exercise and had higher heart rates.

2. Calms Your Nerves

You need magnesium for GABA function, the process responsible for mood regulation. GABA hormones need to be regulated by magnesium to calm and relax your brain.

One report from the journal, Neuropharmacology, reported on magnesium deficiency in mice. When the mice were low on magnesium, they displayed anxious behaviors, this compared to the mice that were given magnesium supplementation. The deficiency resulted in increased production of cortisol.

Cortisol activates parts of the brain that manage stress and anxiety responses. Higher cortisol levels increase these responses.

3. Helps With Sleep

Magnesium can quiet your mind and make it easier for you to fall asleep and even treat sleep disorders.

One study reported in the Journal of Research in Medical Science found magnesium supplements were effective and posed a low risk when given for addressing insomnia. The research team from Tehran, Iran, concluded supplementation may help to improve sleep efficiency, sleep time, and getting to sleep quicker, morning awakening, and in lowering levels of cortisol.

4. Aids in Digestion

Magnesium aids in digestion by relaxing the muscles in the digestive and intestinal tracts. It also helps to neutralize stomach acid and makes it easier for stool to pass through the intestines, minimizing constipation.

One study from researchers in Finland found when older adults took magnesium supplements; they had fewer incidences of constipation, this compared to taking laxatives. Another study – this one from researchers in Japan – found women with low magnesium intake had higher rates of constipation.

If you take high doses of magnesium supplements, you may experience a laxative effect, so it is always important to take the proper dosage.

5. Relieves Muscle Aches and Spasms

When you don’t get enough magnesium, your muscles may start to spasm. This is because magnesium helps your muscles to relax and contract.

Magnesium also balances out the calcium in your body to reduce the potential for muscle pains, cramps, and weakness.

6. Improves Heart Health

Your heart needs magnesium more than any other part of your body. Magnesium works to support proper blood pressure levels and prevent hypertension.

Without proper regulation of magnesium to other minerals, such as calcium, potassium or sodium, a person could have a heart attack resulting from muscle spasms. Moreover, your heart needs magnesium for managing nerve impulse conductions, muscle contractions, and normal heart rhythms.

7. Promotes Healthy Bones

You need magnesium for proper bone formation. Magnesium also pushes osteoblasts and osteoclasts responsible for building bone density to work better and more effectively.

Magnesium also balances out vitamin D, and you need vitamin D for strong bones. Research has shown women can prevent or reverse the effects of osteoporosis by increasing their magnesium consumption and preventing deficiencies.

What Is Magnesium Deficiency?

Research in the United States shows less than 50 percent of Americans are getting the required amounts of magnesium from their diets. It is important to note that, while it is possible to have low levels of magnesium, true deficiencies are rare.

Most healthy people don’t become magnesium deficient. But they may still have low levels that are very close to the threshold for a deficiency.

People who take certain medications, have certain illnesses, consume excessive alcohol and those who are malnourished, can develop an actual magnesium deficiency. People with chronic medical conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or diabetes are at highest risk for deficiency, this according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements.

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Older adults may have lower levels of magnesium because they might be taking medications for chronic conditions, or because magnesium absorption in the gut decreases with age.

Poor diet, gastrointestinal and renal problems and vitamin D deficiency are additional risk factors for magnesium deficiency, which may also explain why this is a problem in people who consume alcohol in excess.

Even if you don’t have a deficiency, it is possible to have an electrolyte deficiency. This is because magnesium helps to regulate calcium, potassium and sodium, the electrolytes responsible for muscle contractions, heart rhythms, and nerve conduction.

Symptoms and Risks

Your doctor can request bloodwork to find out whether you have an electrolyte or magnesium deficiency or other types of deficiency.

Symptoms of a deficiency or very low levels of magnesium include:

  • Nausea
  • General fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle cramping and spasms
  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety
  • Poor memory
  • Heart problems, including irregular heart rhythm
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

If you, or a loved one, are experiencing any of the following symptoms on a consistent basis, or any of the last three symptoms above, seek immediate medical attention.

Because magnesium is involved in over 300 different chemical body processes, deficiency and low levels of magnesium can lead to many health conditions. These, according to Dr. Carolyn Dean, author of The Magnesium Miracle, include:

  • Anxiety and panic disorders
  • Depression
  • Blood clots
  • Bowel diseases
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Heart Disease
  • Nerve problems
  • Infertility
  • Osteoporosis
  • Raynaud’s syndrome – a condition where some areas of the body, especially fingers and toes, feel numb and cold during cold temperatures or due to stress. Raynaud’s symptoms result when the smaller arteries that supply blood to the skin become narrow and limit blood circulation.

How to Get Enough Magnesium

According to the NIH’s Office of Dietary Supplements, the daily intake of magnesium for ages 9 and above is 350 milligrams. Children younger than age 8 and infants have lower recommended levels.

Most people don’t need to take magnesium supplements and can get enough magnesium from their diets.   But people who have gastrointestinal disorders and other health conditions that may result in magnesium malabsorption should talk to their doctors about checking levels and supplementation.

In general, following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans or the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s My Plate recommendations can help you maintain sufficient levels of magnesium.

You should also aim to add more magnesium-rich foods to your diet. Some of the best sources of magnesium, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, are:

  • Tofu
  • Legumes
  • Whole grains and wheat brain
  • Green leafy vegetables, including kale, broccoli, and romaine lettuce
  • Nuts and Seeds, including almonds and pumpkin seeds

Other good food sources of magnesium include:

  • Whole wheat and oat flours
  • Beet greens
  • Spinach
  • Bran cereals
  • Bananas
  • Baked potatoes with skin
  • Chocolate and cocoa powder

The Takeaway

Magnesium is one of the most important nutrients the human body needs. It is responsible more than 300 biochemical processes in the body.

Most of the general population isn’t getting enough magnesium from their diets. But most can get enough by eating more magnesium-rich foods.

Magnesium supplements can help some people, especially those with certain health conditions that cause magnesium malabsorption. There are few risks associated with taking magnesium supplements, and some people may experience a laxative effect – including diarrhea – if they take in too much magnesium.