Magnesium: A Common Deficiency Leads to Wide-Ranging Problems

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Magnesium is an essential mineral that many people don’t realize they need. Known as “The Master Cation”, it helps with hundreds of bodily functions, from relaxing muscles to regulating sleep. In our fast-paced lives, processed foods are common, and over half of us aren’t getting enough magnesium. This can cause muscle cramps, fatigue, and a general feeling of low energy.

Magnesium supplements have become a handy way to make sure we’re getting enough of this important mineral. They help our bodies function at their best, especially when our diets fall short. In this article, we’ll look at the various types of magnesium supplements, their benefits, possible interactions, and how they can boost our overall health.

What Is Magnesium?

You might remember Magnesium as one of the metal elements on the periodic table (atomic number 12). Magnesium is highly reactive and our bodies need it to keep our muscles, nerves, and bones working well. It also helps make our DNA, the blueprint for our cells. We get magnesium from foods like nuts, seeds, and green vegetables.

…because of chronic diseases, medications, decreases in food crop magnesium contents, and the availability of refined and processed foods, the vast majority of people in modern societies are at risk for magnesium deficiency. 

Subclinical magnesium deficiency: a principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis

What are the Benefits of Magnesium?

Magnesium is a critical mineral in the human body that is involved in about 80% of known metabolic reactions in cells. It is currently estimated that about 60% of adults do not achieve the acceptable dietary intake (ADI) and 45% of Americans are magnesium deficient. [PMC6163803]

  • Muscle Relaxation: Magnesium plays a crucial role in muscle relaxation by regulating calcium channels and assisting in muscle fiber contraction and relaxation. It helps muscles unwind, reducing tension and discomfort. This relaxation effect can aid in alleviating cramps and spasms, enhancing overall muscle function and flexibility. For athletes and physically active individuals, maintaining optimal magnesium levels can contribute to muscle recovery and prevent stiffness, soreness, and fatigue.
  • Nervous System Support: Magnesium’s involvement in nervous system function is multifaceted. It supports proper communication between nerves and the brain by acting as a natural calcium channel blocker, aiding in the transmission of nerve impulses. By maintaining a healthy balance of calcium and magnesium in nerve cells, the body can avoid symptoms related to nerve excitability, like tingling and numbness.
  • Brain Health: Magnesium also contributes to overall brain health, possibly improving cognitive functions. [PMC9786204] Magnesium is critical for cellular energy production, which is thought to be one of the major problems in cognitive decline. Most forms of magnesium do not easily cross the blood-brain barrier, but Magnesium L-Threonate does cross into the brain easily.
    • ADHD: Magnesium deficiency is found more frequently in children with ADHD, and studies have indicated a correlation between magnesium levels and improvement in symptoms. [PMID: 9368235]
    • Dementia: An open-label trial explored the effects of Magnesium L-Threonate in 15 patients with mild to moderate dementia. Findings showed an improvement in metabolism in the cerebrum of the brain. Subjects also had improved cognitive functioning after 12 weeks of treatment. Reference: [PMC6242385]
    • Improved Executive function: Another blinded trial was conducted with a trademarked form of Magnesium L-threonate. The trial showed improvement in working memory and executive function. Notably, not all people responded to the Magnesium L Threonate supplements. Researchers found that they could test the increase in red blood cell magnesium after 12 weeks of supplementation and predict who would respond to the supplement. [PMC4927823]
    • Mood Enhancement: Magnesium is involved in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with happiness and relaxation. Adequate levels of magnesium may help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression, contributing to overall mood enhancement.
    • Stress & Anxiety:Magnesium (Mg) status is associated with subjective anxiety. Researchers who reviewed the literature found that evidence is suggestive of a beneficial effect of Mg on subjective anxiety. [PMC7352515] Researchers have proposed the “vicious circle concept”, showing that stress causes higher requirements for magnesium, which causes deficiency, which causes higher stress levels. [PMC7761127]
    • Sleep Enhancement: Magnesium supports sleep by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps the body and mind relax. It also aids in the production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating sleep cycles. [PMC3703169]
  • Heart Health & Blood Pressure: Magnesium’s influence on heart health is paramount. It helps regulate the heartbeat by controlling the electrical activity in the heart muscles and maintaining proper rhythm. Additionally, magnesium aids in blood pressure regulation by relaxing smooth muscles in blood vessels, promoting healthy blood flow. These functions work together to reduce the risk of heart diseases like hypertension and arrhythmias. Long-term magnesium intake has even been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease in some studies. [PMC5573024] Magnesium taurate is specifically recognised as vascular-protective. [PMID: 8692051]
  • Blood Sugar Management: Managing blood sugar levels is essential for overall health, and magnesium plays a vital role in this process. It helps the body use insulin effectively, which aids in the conversion of glucose into energy. Magnesium’s role in insulin sensitivity and metabolism helps manage blood sugar levels, potentially reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. Adequate magnesium intake is often associated with a healthier metabolic profile, impacting not just blood sugar but overall energy balance and weight management. “The effects of magnesium taurate in diabetes deserve particular attention, since both magnesium and taurine may improve insulin sensitivity, and also may lessen risk for the micro- and macrovascular complications of diabetes.” [PMID: 8692051]
  • Immune System Strengthening: Magnesium’s support for a healthy immune system is an essential aspect of its overall health benefits. It is involved in various immune system processes, including the activation of immune cells and the production of antibodies. Magnesium helps the body’s defenses by enhancing the immune response against infections and illnesses. It acts as a co-factor in many enzymatic reactions in immune cells, thus playing a vital role in the body’s ability to fight off invading pathogens. Moreover, magnesium is involved in inflammatory responses, helping to modulate them, which may support recovery from illness and injury.
  • PCOS: Magnesium is well known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Magnesium combined with vitamin E or zinc-calcium-vitamin D significantly improves glucose and lipid metabolism in women with PCOS. Magnesium intake alone did not lead to a significant improvement, but magnesium combined with other supplements (vitamin E, zinc, zinc-calcium-vitamin D) significantly improved markers of inflammation, insulin sensitivity, blood fat levels. [PMC9389579]

How Much Magnesium Do We Need?

As a practical matter, most men need about 420 mg/day of magnesium while most women need about 320 mg per day. For greater detail, the table below shows the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for magnesium, depending on age, sex, and life stage:

AgeMales (mg/day)Females (mg/day)Pregnancy (mg/day)Lactation (mg/day)
0–6 months3030N/AN/A
7–12 months7575N/AN/A
1–3 years8080N/AN/A
4–8 years130130N/AN/A
9–13 years240240N/AN/A
14–18 years410360400360
19–30 years400310350310
31–50 years420320360320
51+ years420320N/AN/A
These values represent the amount of magnesium that is expected to meet the needs of most people in each age group. Individual needs may vary, and it’s essential to recognize that these values are general guidelines. It may be beneficial to consult with a Registered dietitian to understand personal nutritional needs better.

Food Sources of Magnesium

Magnesium is at the center of the chlorophyll molecule. When you know this, it’s easy to remember where you can get the most magnesium: dark green leafy vegetables. If you aren’t eating any of these, you will have to work much harder to meet your magnesium needs. Here’s a table of common food sources of magnesium and the amount of magnesium they contain:

Food SourceAmount of Magnesium (mg) per servingEstimated Bioavailability (%)Estimated Available Magnesium (mg)
Spinach, cooked157 mg (1/2 cup)5-10%7.85 – 15.7 mg
Swiss chard, cooked150 mg (1/2 cup)5-10%7.5 – 15 mg
Almonds80 mg (1 ounce)20-30%16 – 24 mg
Cashews74 mg (1 ounce)20-30%14.8 – 22.2 mg
Peanuts63 mg (1/4 cup)20-30%12.6 – 18.9 mg
Black beans60 mg (1/2 cup)10-15%6 – 9 mg
Quinoa, cooked58 mg (1/2 cup)10-15%5.8 – 8.7 mg
Edamame, cooked50 mg (1/2 cup)10-15%5 – 7.5 mg
Whole wheat bread46 mg (2 slices)10-20%4.6 – 9.2 mg
Avocado44 mg (1 medium)10-15%4.4 – 6.6 mg
Brown rice, cooked42 mg (1/2 cup)10-15%4.2 – 6.3 mg
Dark chocolate41 mg (1 ounce)15-20%6.15 – 8.2 mg
Banana32 mg (1 medium)10-15%3.2 – 4.8 mg
Yogurt30 mg (6 ounces)20-30%6 – 9 mg
These percentages are approximations and can vary.

Factors Affecting Magnesium Absorption

  • Bioavailability Estimates: For leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard, magnesium bioavailability is low due to the presence of oxalates which bind magnesium. Nuts, seeds, and whole grains have better bioavailability but still vary due to phytic acid which can also bind magnesium.
  • Dietary Factors: The presence of dietary fat can improve the absorption of magnesium, especially from sources like avocados and nuts. Vitamin D levels and protein intake can also influence magnesium absorption.

The Many Forms of Magnesium Supplements

Here is a list of different forms of magnesium and their properties:

  • Magnesium Glycinate: Highly bioavailable with estimated absorption rates of up to 80%, and it’s gentle on the stomach. Often used to improve sleep quality and relaxation. Side effects are generally well-tolerated, although excessive amounts may lead to diarrhea.
  • Magnesium Taurate: Good absorption rate due to the presence of taurine, which aids in magnesium’s cellular uptake. Specific absorption percentages are not well defined but thought to be on par with other amino acid-chelated forms. Beneficial for cardiovascular health, with limited side effects, although overconsumption may result in digestive problems. [PMC6435948] [PMID: 28849518]
  • Magnesium L-Threonate: Designed to improve cognitive function with efficient crossing of the blood-brain barrier. [PMC9820677]. Specific absorption rates are not well-established, but it is generally well-tolerated. High doses may lead to digestive issues. Magtein PS (magnesium threonate with phosphatidyl serine, vitamin C, and Vitamin D) was tested in a blinded trial
  • Magnesium Chloride: Good bioavailability, estimated at roughly 55% absorption, and often used for detoxification and metabolic boosts. It may cause stomach upset or diarrhea if consumed in large quantities.
  • Magnesium Malate: Fairly high bioavailability, similar to magnesium chloride (roughly 55% absorption), used for energy production and had been thought to help with fibromyalgia and muscle pain, however later reviews did not support this [PMID: 31150373]. Excessive intake may lead to diarrhea, but side effects are typically minimal.
  • Magnesium Citrate: Good bioavailability, with absorption rates around 30%, often used for its laxative effect to aid digestion. Side effects may include diarrhea or an upset stomach if taken in high doses.
  • Magnesium Oxide: Low bioavailability, with estimated absorption as low as 4%. Used for treating migraines and constipation, though it may cause stomach cramps or diarrhea due to its lower absorption rate.
  • Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom Salt): Typically used externally in baths with uncertain absorption rate when used this way. As an oral supplement, which is not common, it can include side effects like diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal cramping. Its oral bioavailability is lower compared to other forms.

In this double-blind, placebo-controlled study, Magtein®PS, a magnesium L-threonate (Magtein®)- and phosphatidylserine-based formulation additionally containing vitamins C and D, was tested for its cognitive benefits in 109 healthy Chinese adults aged 18-65 years.

Subjects were randomly assigned to receive either Magtein®PS or placebo (starch) capsules, at a dose of 2 g/day. “The Clinical Memory Test”, the standard test commonly used in Chinese hospitals and academic institutes for cognitive evaluation, was administered before and 30 days after subjects received the supplement.

Subjects receiving Magtein®PS showed significant improvements over the control group in all five subcategories of “The Clinical Memory Test” as well as the overall memory quotient scores. The older participants showed more improvement than younger participants. Results indicated significant benefits of Magtein®PS in improving memory and cognition in healthy Chinese adults.

A Magtein®, Magnesium L-Threonate, -Based Formula Improves Brain Cognitive Functions in Healthy Chinese Adults [PMC9786204]

Using Magnesium As A Laxative

Two forms of magnesium stand out for their ability to act as gentle laxatives by attracting water into the intestines, softening stool, and promoting regular bowel movements. They work well for occasional constipation or as a natural remedy for ongoing issues. Here’s how these magnesium supplements work to promote healthy and regular bowel function.

  • Magnesium Citrate:
    • Dosage: The dosage of magnesium citrate for constipation relief can vary depending on individual needs and tolerances. A common starting dose is 240-400 milligrams (mg) per day, divided into two or three smaller doses. It’s important to begin with a lower dose and gradually increase it to avoid causing diarrhea.
    • Advantages: Magnesium citrate is estimated to be ~30% absorbable, so it is helpful in meeting your magnesium needs. It has a laxative effect due to its ability to draw water into the intestines. This water influx softens stool, increases its bulk, and stimulates bowel contractions, promoting regular bowel movements. Magnesium citrate is generally well-tolerated and can provide quick relief from constipation when used as directed.
  • Magnesium Oxide:
    • Dosage: The dosage of magnesium oxide for constipation typically ranges from 400 mg to 800 mg per day, divided into multiple doses. Like magnesium citrate, it’s important to start with a lower dose and gradually increase it to achieve the desired effect while avoiding excessive laxative effects.
    • Advantages: Magnesium oxide works similarly to magnesium citrate by attracting water into the intestines. This process softens the stool and facilitates bowel movements. While magnesium oxide is only absorbed at an estimated rate of 5%, it can still provide effective relief from constipation when used appropriately. It’s a cost-effective option and is available over-the-counter in liquid form or capsules.

Magnesium is a Natural Calcium Channel Blocker

(A and B) Magnesium (top left) is surrounded by two hydration shells, whereas calcium (top right) has just one layer.
If elements need to fit into a structure (transporter or membrane ‘pore’), calcium (below right) simply sheds its
hydration shell and its dehydrated ion will fit. Magnesium (below left), on the other hand, first has to get rid of two
layers, which is highly energy-consuming (simplified model).

Magnesium basics [PMC4455825]

Is Magnesium Safe?

Magnesium supplements have long been recognized as safe and effective when taken responsibly, according to established dosage recommendations. As a crucial mineral for over 300 biochemical reactions in the human body, magnesium contributes to a vast array of health benefits ranging from muscle function to mood regulation. Many people fall short on magnesium intake, leading to deficiency. Supplements can effectively bridge this gap. Overdose is rare because of the kidney’s ability to excrete excess amounts, but follow the recommended dosage to avoid side effects like diarrhea and abdominal cramping.

Medication Interactions with Magnesium

Magnesium can interact with several types of medications, affecting either the medication’s effectiveness or the body’s magnesium levels. Here’s a list of some common categories and specific medications that may interact with magnesium:

  • Bisphosphonates Taken for Osteoporosis: Medications like Alendronate (Fosamax) used to treat osteoporosis can have their absorption affected by magnesium.
  • Antibiotics: Some antibiotics, such as Ciprofloxacin (Cipro) and Tetracycline, can have reduced effectiveness if taken close to magnesium supplements.
  • Blood Pressure Medications: Magnesium might decrease blood pressure. Taking magnesium with medications for high blood pressure might cause the blood pressure to drop too low. Examples include Enalapril (Vasotec) and Losartan (Cozaar).
  • Calcium Channel Blockers: Magnesium is a natural calcium channel blocker. Taking magnesium with these medications might increase the effects and side effects of calcium channel blockers such as Nifedipine (Procardia) and Diltiazem (Cardizem).
  • Diuretics: Water pills like Furosemide (Lasix) and Hydrochlorothiazide can either increase or decrease magnesium levels in the body.
  • Insulin and Oral Diabetes Medications: Magnesium may affect blood sugar levels in a good way. This means a person may need to reduce dosages on medicines like insulin or glipizide to keep from having a low blood sugar.
  • Muscle Relaxants: Magnesium can act as a natural muscle relaxant, and taking it with synthetic muscle relaxants like Cyclobenzaprine may increase their effects.
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs): Medications like Omeprazole (Prilosec) can reduce stomach acid, potentially affecting magnesium absorption and leading to magnesium deficiency in some cases.
  • Anticoagulants and Antiplatelet drugs: Magnesium might slow blood clotting, so it could increase bleeding during and after surgery. Medications like Warfarin (Coumadin) might interact with magnesium.

Supplement Interactions with Magnesium

Magnesium interacts with several other nutritional supplements. Here are some examples:

  • Calcium: High levels of calcium can interfere with magnesium absorption. Taking magnesium and calcium together may require proper balance to ensure both are effectively absorbed.
  • Zinc: Similar to calcium, zinc can also compete with magnesium for absorption. Taking large quantities of one can hinder the absorption of the other.
  • Vitamin D: Vitamin D helps with the absorption of magnesium. A deficiency in Vitamin D may reduce magnesium absorption, while supplementing with Vitamin D may improve magnesium’s effectiveness.
  • Iron: Taking large amounts of iron supplements may reduce the amount of magnesium the body absorbs, so it is often recommended to take them at different times of the day.
  • B Vitamins: Some B vitamins, such as B6, can enhance the effectiveness of magnesium, especially in functions like electrolyte balance.
  • Herbal Supplements: Certain herbs like St. John’s Wort can affect magnesium levels and absorption.

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Magnesium Glycinate by Douglas Labs

Magnesium (glycinate) is a highly bioavailable magnesium chelate, which supports the metabolism and utilization of carbohydrates, amino acids and fats for energy. Magnesium (glycinate) helps activate enzymes for physiological functions including cardiac health.‡
As a dietary supplement, adults take 1 capsule, 1-4 times daily or as directed by your health professional

Serving Size: 1 Vegetarian Capsule

Amount Per Serving
Magnesium … 120mg (as magnesium glycinate)

[Note: Estimated absorption: 85%]

MagSRT by Jigsaw Health

MagSRT® from Jigsaw Health is America’s #1 time-release magnesium supplement.  Available in the original MagSRT® formula, or without B-Vitamins as MagSRT (B-FREE).  Boost energy, improve sleep, and relieve leg cramps with the only time release magnesium supplement that has a placebo-controlled human clinical trial with the results published in the peer-reviewed Journal of American College of Nutrition.

Amount Per 4 Tablet Serving
Vitamin B6
 … 5mg
(as Pyridoxal 5-Phosphate Monohydrate)
Folate … 200mcg
(as Quatrefolic® 5-Methyl Tetrahydrofolic Acid Glucosamine Salt)
Vitamin B12 … 6mcg
(as Methylcobalamin)
Magnesium … 500mg
(as Dimagnesium Malate)
Malic Acid … 1436mg
(as Dimagnesium Malate)

Magnesium Drink Mixes

For those who prefer to mix magnesium into a drink, the Natural Calm line of flavored magnesium supplements will be the way to go.

Natural Calm

Magnesium is one of the most important basic nutrients that power our bodies, and it is required for more than 700 biochemical reactions. But since our bodies don’t produce this mineral, we need to replenish its supply every day. Due to nutrient-deficient soil and fast-paced lifestyles, few of us (estimated at less than one in five) get sufficient magnesium in our diets. This means supplementation is needed, and Natural Calm is the best-selling, award-winning ionic magnesium that mixes easily in water to restore healthy magnesium levels quickly and effectively. 

Suggested Use:
Start with half a teaspoon (1g) daily and gradually increase to two teaspoons (4g) per day as needed.

Serving Size: 2 teaspoons (4g) or 1 packet

Amount Per 1 Packet Serving
Magnesium … 350mg
(as Magnesium Carbonate)

Natural Calm Calmful Sleep Formula

Calmful Sleep starts with Natural Calm and magnesium glycinate to soothe nerves, relax muscles. Low cellular magnesium can also lead to headaches and sleeplessness. It also contains an added blend of sleep-promoting nutrients, including l-theanine, GABA (a non-protein amino acid) and melatonin, which helps the body ease into restful sleep. Calmful Sleep is the solution to restoring a healthy magnesium level, balancing your calcium intake, and getting the sleep you need to restore natural vitality.

*For occasional sleeplessness, place powder in a glass or mug, add approximately 1 oz of hot water and stir until dissolved. Fill glass with warm water and enjoy before bedtime. Individual needs may vary. Start with a teaspoon (2g) and increase to a maximum two teaspoons (4g).

Amount Per 2 Teaspoon Serving
Magnesium … 220mg (as Magnesium Glycinate and Magnesium Carbonate)
GABA … 100mg (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid)
Suntheanine® L-Theanine … 50mg
Melatonin … 5mg

Magnesium Threonate for Brain Health

This more costly form of magnesium has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier more efficiently than other forms. This is very important in people dealing with cognitive issues.

Magnesium L-Threonate

Magnesium (Mg) is known to play a major role in cellular metabolism and is critical for normal nervous system function.* Recent research has demonstrated that Mg also helps to regulate neuronal synapse density and that availability of Mg in the brain is necessary for the stability and adaptability of these neuronal connections.* Preclinical studies indicate that Magtein® may support healthy cognitive function, learning, and memory, and may promote a relaxed mood.* Magtein® is protected under a family of US patents, pending patents, and is protected worldwide. Magtein® is a trademark of Magceutics®, Inc. and is distributed exclusively by AIDP, Inc

  • Magtein® Magnesium L-Threonate
  • Delivers Magnesium to the Nervous System*
  • Promotes Healthy Cognitive Function* 

Suggested Use: Take 3 capsules daily in divided doses (take 1 capsule during the daytime, preferably in mid-afternoon and take 2 capsules one hour before sleep), or as directed by your healthcare practitioner.

Amount Per 3 Capsule Serving
Magnesium ... 144 mg(elemental) (from 2,000mg Magtein® Magnesium L Threnonate)
Magtein® … 2g (2,000mg) (Magnesium L Threnonate)

Food First!

Although this article discusses supplements in detail, don’t forget that we are absolutely committed to the “Food First” approach to nutrition. When it comes to your health, the totality of your eating habits far surpasses the impact of individual nutrients or any single supplement you consume. Even though this article doesn’t delve into the broader picture of your overall diet, it’s crucial to keep this element at the forefront of our minds. Your food needs to provide all the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals to nourish your body systems down to the cellular level.

Food choices, rather than supplements, are the most critical factors for a healthy gut microbiome. These trillions of tiny inhabitants in your gut affect your brain waves; they orchestrate your immune system. They possess the power to create molecules that can switch genes on or off and are even capable of synthesizing neurotransmitters. Opting for organic foods and steering clear of plastic packaging (including those labeled BPA-free) is a smart move to limit toxin exposure. The sum of all these parts leads to a powerful conclusion: the ultimate key to your health lies in the quality and balance of the food you consume. Supplements are secondary.

To Sum It Up

Magnesium plays a crucial role in numerous bodily functions, including muscle relaxation, nerve communication, heart health, and sleep regulation. Unfortunately, many people don’t receive enough of this essential mineral through diet alone. Supplementing with magnesium can address this deficiency, providing vital support for overall well-being. From preventing muscle cramps and fatigue to enhancing sleep and mood, the health benefits of magnesium supplements are significant for those whose diets may be lacking. Ensuring proper magnesium intake can be a powerful step toward optimal health and vitality.

This Article is Not a Substitute for Medical Advice

Dietary supplements are not designed to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The Supplement Sciences website seeks to provide comprehensive access to the most relevant supplement information along with convenient online ordering. We do not provide medical advice and cannot guarantee that every product suggested is completely without risk. Since each person is unique in their health history and medication use, it is important to discuss supplements with your personal physician. Specifically, pregnant women and individuals being treated for cancer or liver or kidney problems must consult their physician about every nutritional supplement they plan to take. People taking medications for the treatment of HIV or with a history of organ transplant must not take supplements without consulting with their physician.

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