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6 Proven Health Benefits Of Magnesium—A Critical Mineral You’re Probably Not Getting Enough Of

Fortune Well February 23, 2024


6 Proven Health Benefits Of Magnesium—A Critical Mineral You’re Probably Not Getting Enough Of

You may already know that magnesium is one of the top supplements for healthy aging, but its benefits go beyond supporting you in your golden years. “It’s essential for all stages of life,” says Andrea Wong, Ph.D., senior vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN).

“Magnesium is one of the main minerals in your body,” says Michelle Schoffro Cook, Ph.D, holistic nutritionist and author of Super-Powered Immunity. “It’s necessary for strong bones and teeth, and helps muscles to relax—not just when we’re tense, which it does help, but for proper muscle movement as well. It’s nature’s relaxant and natural anti-inflammatory and is important for cardiovascular health.”

Since magnesium is a mineral not made in the body, you have to get it from dietary sources, Schoffro Cook says. And if your diet falls short, you’re at higher risk for certain health problems.

“A magnesium deficiency is linked to a wide range of disorders, including cardiovascular disease, menstrual problems, and psychiatric disorders,” Schoffro Cook says. 

Research has confirmed the many benefits of this important mineral. Here are a few to note.

Supports cardiovascular health

Ensuring you have the proper amounts of magnesium in your diet helps keep your heart healthy, by reducing the risk of high blood pressure.

How? High blood pressure can make your arteries less flexible, which reduces the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart, potentially leading to heart disease. Magnesium helps relax blood vessels.

Several studies confirm that a deficiency in magnesium increases your risk of cardiovascular disease. In 2022, the Food and Drug Administration agreed that “the totality of scientific evidence supports a qualified health claim on the relationship between magnesium and a reduced risk of high blood pressure in conventional foods and dietary supplements.” 

Strengthens bones

Fun fact: 60% of your body’s magnesium is in your bones and helps bone formation. 

“Bone mineral density is the measure of the amount of minerals within the bones and is usually an indicator of bone strength,” Schoffro Cook says.

Studies have shown that men and women with higher magnesium diets have higher bone mineral density. A 2021 review of studies on magnesium and bone health found that participants who took magnesium supplements had improved bone mineral density and lower fracture risk.

Helps reduce depression and anxiety

Several studies have found that magnesium may help regulate mood.

A 2017 study showed that participants who received 248 mg of magnesium chloride per day for six weeks had significant improvement in measures of depression and anxiety symptoms. In addition, participants experienced these positive effects quickly, in only two weeks.

Researchers suspect that magnesium decreases cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body.

Improves sleep

Wong says she mixes 300 mg of magnesium powder into a glass of water before bed, to help her relax.

Studies confirm magnesium’s positive effect on sleep quality.

High cortisol levels can cause sleep problems, and magnesium’s cortisol-lowering effect helps counteract that. Magnesium also naturally increases melatonin, the hormone your body produces in response to darkness, helping us feel more relaxed and rested, which helps with sleep quality.

Activates vitamin D 

Vitamin D has many benefits, including increasing bone strength and immunity and improving heart and brain health.

But did you know that vitamin D needs magnesium to work?

This study shows that magnesium helps activate vitamin D by aiding enzymes in metabolizing vitamin D.

Helps relieve migraine headaches

Magnesium acts as a preventative and pain reliever for migraine headaches.

Research has shown that magnesium deficiency can be a cause of migraines. A study showed that magnesium sulfate significantly reduced the pain of migraine headaches compared to a combination of prescription medications dexamethasone and metoclopramide. Magnesium also helps to regulate the chemicals that transmit pain.  

Magnesium can also alleviate the auras that sometimes accompany migraines. It does this by preventing the wave of brain signaling, called cortical spreading depression, which produces visual and sensory changes in the common forms of migraine auras.

You probably have a magnesium deficiency

The vast majority of people in modern society are at risk for a magnesium deficiency, says Schoffro Cook. “Food grown in mineral-depleted soil, which is most of our current food supply, tends to have low levels of minerals like magnesium. Combined with our high need for the mineral, we have become vulnerable to magnesium deficiency.” 

The solution to the problem: Take a magnesium supplement and make a greater effort to eat a magnesium-rich diet.

Foods high in magnesium

Some of the foods rich in magnesium, according to Schoffro Cook include:

  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Seeds, including chia, flax, and pumpkin seeds
  • Seafood, including fatty fish like halibut, mackerel, salmon, and tuna as well as oysters and scallops
  • Grass-fed meat
  • Organic dairy products
  • Oatmeal
  • Brown rice
  • Organic corn
Your daily magnesium needs 

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for magnesium is 400-420 mg for men, 310-320 mg for women, 350-360 mg for pregnant women, and 310-320 for breastfeeding women.

But that may not be enough. “The RDA for magnesium was established in 1997,” says Wong. “Since then, there has been much more research suggesting that magnesium levels need to be higher.”

So how do you know if you need more magnesium? 

“Blood tests only measure the amount of magnesium in the blood, which is a small percentage of the total magnesium in the body, so it’s not an ideal way to determine magnesium levels in the body,” says Schoffro Cook. “Because the amount of magnesium in foods has declined by approximately 80 to 90% over the past century, the number of people deficient in the mineral tends to be high. If a person is suffering from hypertension, diabetes, or a neurological disorder, they may have a magnesium deficiency.”

Magnesium supplements

Since you may not be able to get all of your magnesium from food, you may want to consider taking a supplement. 

After multivitamins, vitamin D, vitamin C, and calcium, magnesium is the next highest-purchased supplement, according to the CRN’s 2023 annual survey.

While there are many forms of magnesium supplements to choose from, Schoffro Cook generally suggests magnesium glycinate, aspartate, ascorbate, or malate. “These forms tend to have greater bioavailability and seem to be better absorbed by the brain and muscles,” she says.

She suggests picking a research-backed brand that has third-party laboratory testing to verify you’re truly getting what’s listed on the label and selecting non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) varieties.

Side effects

“Because magnesium is part of our bodies, it tends to be quite safe, but it’s still a good idea to consult with your doctor if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have kidney disease, or another serious health condition,” says Schoffro Cook.

High doses can cause toxicity, she says, and since magnesium has a laxative effect, it can sometimes cause increased bowel movements or diarrhea.

Finally, she says, some drugs interact with magnesium, including some statins and antibiotics. “It’s best to check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if any of the drugs you’re taking interact with this essential mineral,” Cook says.

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