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Magnesium is a vital nutrient to each of our bodies. Yet it’s one of the most overlooked minerals – approximately 85% of Americans are magnesium deficient. At my practice, I’ve found that magnesium deficiency can lead to a variety of health problems. On the other hand, supplementing with magnesium can create optimal health and may contribute to disease prevention.
  • Why do our bodies need magnesium? 
  • What are its health benefits?
  • What foods are highest in magnesium?
  • What’s contributing to the major magnesium deficiency in America?
  • Do I need to take a magnesium supplement? If so, which supplements can I benefit from?
Let’s explore the answers to these questions.

Why Do You Need Magnesium?

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in your body – right behind calcium, potassium, and sodium. It’s also the most abundant divalent cation inside of your cells. Your body uses magnesium in over 300 different metabolic reactions and thousands of enzymatic reactions. To get a glimpse into magnesium’s importance in your biochemistry, magnesium helps with: While magnesium helps with thousands of biochemical reactions to help your body function properly, let’s look at your body’s systems and see how magnesium helps them.

Why Is Magnesium Important For Your Health?

Just like magnesium is involved in thousands of reactions that happen in your cells, it’s also needed in each of your organs. Here are four common body systems that use magnesium to keep you healthy.
  1. Skeletal System: Magnesium helps with the growth and maintenance of your bones.
Just like a car key and ignition switch are needed to drive your car, different nutrients in your body work together to make sure your body can move and perform its functions. Magnesium and vitamin D are just like the key and ignition switch. Magnesium helps to activate vitamin D, and some enzymes in your body require magnesium to use vitamin D to help with bone growth. Magnesium and vitamin D also work together so your liver and kidneys can undergo chemical reactions for proper function and detoxification. Your body needs both proper amounts of magnesium and vitamin D to help your skeletal system. So even if you’re taking a vitamin D supplement but you’re deficient in magnesium, your body can’t function optimally and vice versa. If you’re deficient in magnesium or vitamin D, this could lead to: So your body needs magnesium to help your skeletal system function properly.
  1. Muscular System: Magnesium helps to relax your muscles.
Have you ever had a hard workout that left your muscles sore for days? Magnesium can help by loosening tight muscles. If you’re magnesium deficient, your muscles won’t be able to properly relax which can lead to cramping. Be sure to visit your doctor to test your magnesium levels to be sure you’re not magnesium deficient.
  1. Cardiovascular System: Magnesium may lower your blood pressure and improve your overall heart health.
Many studies have looked into magnesium and its effect on our cardiovascular system. Here are the results from some studies:
  1. Nervous System: Magnesium can help brain function, prevent insomnia, and reduce anxiety.
Magnesium can enhance your nervous system and brain function because it can cross the blood-brain barrier (more on the BBB later in this blog). Dietary magnesium can improve your insomnia symptoms. Also, magnesium may help improve your sleep times and quality so you have enough energy to get through your day – you won’t need to rely on naps. Magnesium can also enhance your mental health by managing your depression symptoms and alleviating your anxiety. Lastly, magnesium may enhance your learning abilities, short-term and long-term memory, and working memory. Magnesium helps your body systems to function properly and optimally. So how can you ensure you’re getting an adequate amount of magnesium? Let’s explore how you can feed your body with magnesium-rich foods.

Which Foods Are Highest in Magnesium?

Your body needs magnesium to function, and eating whole foods can help to support these needs. Here’s a list of foods that contain a high magnesium content:
  • Roasted pumpkin seeds
  • Dry roasted almonds
  • Dry roasted cashews
  • Roasted peanuts
  • Black beans
  • Edamame
  • Avocados
  • Spinach
  • Chia seeds
However, most people need about 300-400 mg of magnesium every day for optimal function. This is equivalent to eating 6 ounces of almonds per day or 1,000 calories from almonds. While I’m a fan of almonds, it’s not feasible or advisable for most to consume this many almonds in 24 hours! Plus, only about 30-40% of the magnesium you consume from foods is absorbed by your body. And some individuals have health conditions or lifestyles that may require 1,000-2,000 mg magnesium for optimal health. Keep in mind, you may need more than the recommended daily intake of magnesium if you’re:
  • An athlete or avid exerciser: If you’re exercising, you’re sweating out minerals. You’ll need to replenish the magnesium you’ve lost.
  • Under high amounts of stress: Some studies even suggest the concept of a magnesium-stress vicious cycle. This cycle proposes that stress increases magnesium loss leading to a magnesium deficiency. This magnesium deficiency could lower your body’s ability to respond to stress.
Therefore, it’s best to increase your magnesium intake if you’re experiencing high levels of stress.
  • Experiencing blood sugar issues: Low levels of magnesium can contribute to insulin resistance which may lead to type 2 diabetes. And if you’re experiencing insulin resistance, you may lose a large amount of magnesium in your urine. This can lead to magnesium deficiency.
On the positive side, a study also found that type 2 diabetes patients experienced positive cardiovascular benefits from increasing magnesium levels through supplementation. This is important because cardiovascular disorders are a leading cause of death in type 2 diabetic patients. Are there other conditions that are contributing to the large percentage of Americans that are magnesium deficient? What supplements can you take to boost your magnesium levels for optimal health? Keep reading to learn more.

What’s Contributing to a Large Percentage of Magnesium Deficiency?

The second most common nutrient deficiency I see in my patients is magnesium deficiency (just behind vitamin D). Magnesium deficiency is also known as hypomagnesemia. Some symptoms of magnesium deficiency include:
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle spasms/cramps
  • Constipation
  • Mood changes
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
So why are so many Americans magnesium deficient? Here are two factors.
  1. Soil depletion
Unfortunately, the fruits and vegetables that you eat contain fewer vitamins and minerals than those grown in the 1970s. Many fingers point to soil depletion as the reason. Each year, our soil is being depleted of nutrients due to farming practices like trying to improve traits in produce (size, pest resistance, and growth rate). So you’re less likely to get the same amount of magnesium each year from the same whole food.
  1. Chronic conditions
While type 2 diabetes can contribute to hypomagnesemia, other conditions can too, including gastrointestinal (GI) and renal diseases. Specific GI diseases include chronic diarrhea, Crohn’s disease, and Celiac disease. These diseases decrease or prevent the absorption of magnesium leading to magnesium deficiency. You may also be on medication if you have a chronic condition, and some medications can affect magnesium levels. What can you do about magnesium deficiency? You can supplement your magnesium-rich diet with magnesium supplements! Below are the four most common ones I recommend to my patients.

What Are Different Types of Magnesium Supplements?

While magnesium supplements can vary by chemical name, not all magnesium supplements are created equal. Here are the four common types that I recommend to my patients.
  1. Magnesium Citrate: Good for constipation
I describe magnesium to my patients as the “Master Relaxer.” One way it helps with relaxation is by relaxing your bowel for a bowel movement. Magnesium citrate is your go-to supplement for dealing with your colon and constipation. A great way to remember this is “c” in citrate for constipation. I only recommend this supplement for those who are constipated as it’s very effective for inducing bowel movements. However, if you’re magnesium deficient, you likely won’t be able to take a high enough dose of magnesium citrate to get your magnesium levels high. So you’ll need to find another form of magnesium to take in addition to magnesium citrate.
  1. Magnesium Glycinate: Good for general magnesium needs
A great way to remember magnesium glycinate is “g” in glycinate for general. Magnesium glycinate is rapidly absorbed well by your GI tract when taken orally. It covers a wide variety of your body’s magnesium needs, so that’s why it’s the general magnesium supplement to take. Also, your body’s ability to absorb forms of magnesium is very important. This is why magnesium glycinate is the general magnesium supplement I recommend. If you’re experiencing leg cramps or sweating due to your workouts and need to replace your minerals and electrolytes, I recommend taking magnesium glycinate.  Also, the glycinate form can also help with relaxation and can help with sleep as well.
  1. Magnesium Malate: Good for muscles
While magnesium glycinate works well for leg cramps, I also suggest magnesium malate for your muscles and muscle pain to improve your exercise recovery. Studies have shown that magnesium malate may also help patients with fibromyalgia, an autoimmune disease that causes pain in the musculoskeletal system. While more research still needs to be conducted for the effectiveness of magnesium malate in chronic conditions, it can be used for general magnesium replacement for those experiencing muscle aches and pains.
  1. Magnesium L-threonate: Good for your brain
Magnesium L-threonate can benefit your brain because it can cross your blood-brain barrier, a membrane that prevents toxins, pathogens, and other substances from moving from your blood to your central nervous system’s extracellular fluid. You may benefit from magnesium L-threonate if:
  • You’re experiencing anxiety or depression
  • You’re having trouble sleeping
  • You want to enhance your general brain function including your memory and cognition
The type of magnesium that you take is very important. You want your body to be able to absorb the magnesium that’s coming from your supplements and food sources. This is hard because magnesium is hydrophilic: it loves water and acts like a water magnet.  A less absorbable form of magnesium that’s found in many over-the-counter supplements is magnesium oxide. If you see magnesium oxide on your supplement bottle, just know that’s typically the least-absorbable form. And here’s another negative consequence to taking magnesium oxide that could be hurting you – Because magnesium is hydrophilic, if you take it you’ll draw in a lot of water into your GI tract. This will cause loose stools and possibly diarrhea. So before you take a magnesium supplement, be sure to do your research. Lastly, if you’re on any medications, be sure to consult your doctor before taking any magnesium supplements due to any contraindications.

Magnesium is Vital For Optimal Health

Your body needs magnesium to function properly and optimally! Yet it’s one of the most overlooked nutrient deficiencies in medicine. If you’re experiencing magnesium deficiency, enhance your diet by eating whole foods that are rich in magnesium. You can also complement your diet with a magnesium supplement that absorbs well in your body. It’s one of the most common prescription supplements that I recommend my patients use long-term.  Magnesium is also really well absorbed through the skin!  You can also increase your magnesium level by taking regular epsom salt baths, and/or using high quality lotions, creams, and foot soaks. Outside of serious medical conditions it would be rare for a serum magnesium to be low, thus I would recommend getting your red blood cell magnesium checked so your practitioner can assess the stores of magnesium in the body.
  • Are you interested in learning other ways you can live with optimal health?
  • Are you looking for healthy lifestyle habits you can incorporate without needing to see a certified functional medicine practitioner?
My 7 Weeks to Your Healthiest Self Master Class is for you! This program helps you to understand the fundamentals of the 5 key lifestyle habits and learn about your food sensitivities. If you want more information, visit the 7 Weeks to Your Healthiest Self Masterclass page. Here’s to your and your optimal health! Dr. Emily Parke
Dr. Emily Parke

Dr. Emily Parke

Dr. Emily Parke, D.O., is a certified functional medicine doctor, board-certified in anesthesiology & pediatric anesthesiology, and trained in medical acupuncture. She’s an experienced speaker in the medical and functional medicine community, and presently gives talks on a wide array of subjects.