Magnesium: An Essential Nutrient: Small, But So Important

Want better blood sugar control? To sleep more soundly and relax more deeply? Maybe you struggle with anxiety during the day and want a calmer overall mood.

Getting the right amounts of magnesium can improve these and many other issues.

This mineral works as a cofactor in more than 300 enzyme systems in your body. These enzyme systems help every organ in your body operate. Just a few of the roles that magnesium plays in the body are:

The list goes on. Without sufficient magnesium, your enzymes may not be able to do these and other vital functions efficiently. Those malfunctions can create problems that impact overall health and potentially increase your risk for disease and aging.

Magnesium Deficiency: How Does It Happen?

About half of Americans are deficient in magnesium, meaning they don’t get enough from food and supplements. For some people, that percentage of deficiencies is even higher.

Elderly people often have the lowest levels of magnesium. In fact, aging and magnesium deficiencies go hand in hand. Together, they impair immunity and increase your risk of many chronic diseases.

Determining deficiencies can also be difficult because most magnesium resides inside your cells or bones. In fact, only about one percent is in your blood.

Lab tests, then, might not reveal accurate amounts within your bodyBlood levels, for instance, are tightly regulated and might not reveal accurate amounts of magnesium in your body.

Unless your levels are extremely low, symptoms of magnesium deficiencies are usually subtle.  Early signs include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and weakness. You may not connect those symptoms with deficiencies.

More advanced magnesium deficiencies can manifest as:

Low levels of magnesium can create other nutrient imbalances including vitamin D and calcium. Deficiencies play a role in high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, migraines, and other diseases.

Besides the elderly, certain groups of people are more susceptible to deficiencies, including people with gut issues, people with type 2 diabetes, and those who abuse alcohol.

Best Sources of Magnesium

The recommended daily allowances (RDAs) for magnesium vary by age and gender. Between ages 14 – 18 and when you reach 31, your levels slightly increase. Pregnant women also require more magnesium.

Overall, women require less than men: The RDAs for men ages 19 – 30 is 400 mg. Women require 310 mg dailyMany people don’t meet these requirements, especially as they get older.

Food provides some magnesium. Green leafy vegetables are excellent sources. So are nuts and seeds. Avocado and wild-caught fish — especially salmon — provide good amounts of magnesium. Among the top sources include spinach and almonds. A good rule of thumb is that fiber-rich foods also provide magnesium.

Even if you’re eating good amounts of magnesium-rich foods — and many of us aren’t — you still might not be getting enough magnesium. You might also want to use this mineral to improve your sleep, blood sugar levels, or enzymes that require magnesium to function correctly.

Some experts believe that while magnesium is plentiful in foods, it is a “shortfall nutrient” that we don’t always absorb well. In fact, we only absorb 30 – 40 percent of magnesium from food.

While you definitely want to eat plenty of magnesium-rich foods — you’ll find plenty in our Core and Advanced Nutriton Plans — you might also consider taking a Magnesium supplement to help you meet your needs.

7 Evidence-Based Benefits of Magnesium Supplements

Research shows that magnesium supplements can benefit a wide range of conditions, including:

  1. Better sleep. Some people — including up to 50 percent of the elderly — struggle with the sleep disorder insomnia. Researchers in one study gave elderly people either 500 mg of magnesium or a placebo for eight weeks. They found magnesium could improve sleep efficiency, sleep time, time falling asleep, and waking up too early in the morning.
  2. Weight management. People who are overweight or obese have higher blood sugar levels, which can increase levels of the hormone insulin. Over time, high blood sugar and insulin levels can stall weight loss and create problems like type 2 diabetes. Taking higher amounts of magnesium can help balance blood sugar and insulin levels.
  3. Depression and other mood disorders. Low levels of magnesium can contribute to depression. In fact, a study of one population found that people with the lowest levels of magnesium had a 22 percent greater risk for depression. Supplementing can have dramatic results. In one study involving elderly folks with diabetes, 450 mg of magnesium daily for 12 weeks could alleviate depression as effectively as the antidepressant drug imipramine
  4. Energy levels. Magnesium helps convert food into energy for your body. Along with consistent sleep, regular exercise, stress management, and a healthy diet, supplementing with magnesium can create steady, sustained energy.
  5. Inflammation. Chronic inflammation plays a role in nearly every disease. Magnesium deficiencies can contribute to inflammation and inflammatory-related obesity. Left unchecked, inflammation plays a role in diabetes, certain cancers, heart disease, and more.
  6. Exercise. Optimal muscle function, oxygen uptake, energy production, and electrolyte balance all depend on magnesium. Deficiencies can impact physical performance. They can also impair your body’s ability to manage free radicals that can result from strenuous exercise
  7. Preventing disease and overall health. Magnesium can support overall health. Researchers connect low amounts of magnesium with migraine headaches; Alzheimer’s disease; strokes; high blood pressure; heart disease; diabetes; and more. To maintain vibrant health and keep chronic disease at bay, make sure you get the right amount of this workhorse mineral.

How to Buy the Right Magnesium Supplement: Quality Vs. Poor

Choosing the right supplement becomes critical to absorb this important mineral. Because magnesium is very bulky, most multivitamins will only provide a fraction — if any — of this mineral.

That means you will need to take magnesium as a separate supplement. You can find magnesium in tablets, capsules, liquids, and powders. Determine which form is most convenient for you.

Some forms of magnesium absorb better than others. Many supplements contain magnesium attached to a salt, which increases absorption. The aspartate, citrate, lactate, and chloride forms absorb better than magnesium oxide and magnesium sulfate.

Certain things can interfere with magnesium absorption, including very high doses of the mineral zinc. Some medications including antibiotics can also interfere with magnesium absorption.

Some experts recommend a tolerance test to determine your correct dose of magnesium. To do that, you can start on the low end of supplementing around bedtime — say, 100 – 200 mg — and gradually increase until you have loose stools. Always confer with your healthcare practitioner before you do a tolerance test.

Overdoing magnesium supplements can create problems including diarrhea, nausea, and cramping. Over time, too much of this mineral can create high blood pressure, depression, muscle weakness, and irregular heartbeat. Too much of a good thing is not a good thing!

Magnesium might be the most important nutrient you’re not getting enough of. While not a magic bullet for overall health, this mineral helps support a healthy diet and the right lifestyle factors for vibrant health and well-being.

If you struggle with anxiety, have trouble falling or staying asleep, get cramps or stiffness after you exercise, or have diabetes or other chronic conditions, supplementing might be your missing link for better health.

Discuss including these and/or any other supplements with your healthcare practitioner. Never modify any medications or other medical advice without your healthcare practitioner’s consent.