What is magnesium? 

Of all the minerals on the periodic table, magnesium (Mg) is arguably the most prominently needed and utilized in the human body. Magnesium is involved in many bodily functions, such as supporting muscle and nerve function and energy production for starters.

It is a cofactor in hundreds of enzyme systems that regulate a wide range of biochemical body processes – such as protein synthesis, blood glucose control, blood pressure regulation, and heart rhythm. Mg is essential for energy production, oxidative phosphorylation, and glycolysis. (1). It is critical in bone health and bone density, and, is required for the synthesis of DNA, RNA, and the detoxifying antioxidant glutathione. Magnesium also plays a key role in the active transport of other minerals like calcium and potassium (2). Mg is required for healthy cognition and mood, muscle contraction, and integrity of soft tissues. It is critical for steroid hormone production and helps you sleep at night. If I had to pick one reigning mineral, magnesium is it. 

Are you getting enough magnesium?

According to the National Institute of Health, for healthy people, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of magnesium intake for women over the age of 14 is between 300-360mg daily and for men is between 400-420 milligrams of magnesium per day (3). Sources of magnesium include dietary (magnesium from food) and elemental magnesium supplements. Many factors affect magnesium levels, impacting either absorption or loss. Excessive losses of magnesium may be due to diseases or health conditions that can lead to deficiency. Some medications interact with magnesium and cause either blocking of absorption or, excessive excretion. The senior demographic is particularly at risk of magnesium depletion and deficiency due to dietary insufficiency and the likelihood of this group taking medication is higher.

Do healthy people need magnesium supplements?

Due to magnesium’s role in energy metabolism, it makes sense that it has the potential to help boost energy and exercise performance, and taking extra magnesium may be beneficial for active healthy people. In a clinical review (2015), researchers observed that most athletes do not consume adequate amounts of dietary magnesium. There are some studies suggesting magnesium supplementation may enhance athletic performance in healthy individuals of all ages, yet more research is necessary to determine the parameters. (4). For regular healthy people, stress is a key factor in life! Having a look at the role magnesium plays as an adaptogen for stress, studies are demonstrating that magnesium plays an inhibitory role in stress mediation, so it seems to physically and mentally help the body respond better to stress. (5). 

What are the top 10 dietary sources of magnesium?

According to the National Institute of Health

Magnesium-rich foods include:

  1. Pumpkin seed – kernels: Serving Size 1 oz, 168 mg
  2. Almonds, dry roasted: Serving Size 1 oz, 80 mg
  3. Spinach, boiled: Serving Size ½ cup, 78 mg
  4. Cashews, dry roasted: Serving Size 1 oz, 74 mg
  5. Pumpkin seeds in shell: Serving Size 1 oz, 74 mg
  6. Peanuts, oil roasted: Serving Size ¼ cup, 63 mg
  7. Cereal, shredded wheat: Serving Size 2 large biscuits, 61 mg
  8. Soymilk, plain or vanilla: Serving Size 1 cup, 61 mg
  9. Black beans, cooked: Serving Size ½ cup, 60 mg
  10. Dark chocolate -60-69% cacoa: Serving Size 1 oz, 50 mg

Other foods to consider eating on a daily basis to boost daily magnesium levels include whole grains – brown rice, bananas, and some fatty fish contain significant amounts of magnesium. 

Some medications interact with magnesium

If you are taking medication, your magnesium stores may be depleted, you may benefit from taking a dietary supplement to ensure adequate levels are maintained.

These medications are known to interact with absorption, or, increase the elimination of magnesium:

  • Certain antibiotics (such as gentamicin and tobramycin)
  • thiazide diuretics (such as hydrochlorothiazide)
  • loop diuretics (such as furosemide and bumetanide)
  • amphotericin B
  • corticosteroids (prednisone or Deltasone)
  • Some antacids 

Which health conditions need more magnesium?

When inflammation is present, you need a significantly higher intake of magnesium than usual! Some diseases inhibit the proper absorption of magnesium in the small intestine or stimulate over-excretion of the mineral. Diseases known to impact magnesium stores and excretion are: 

  • Type 2 diabetes – insulin resistance and poor blood sugar regulation
  • Crohn’s disease – a condition that impacts absorption in the gut
  • Chronic vomiting or diarrhea
  • Kidney disease
  • Alcoholism

Are you at risk for magnesium deficiency? 

Despite its importance, studies show that almost 50% of people in the United States don’t get enough of this essential mineral (7), which means that relying on dietary sources is not enough. Older adults have been shown to have a lower dietary intake of magnesium than younger age groups, and gut absorption decreases, and renal excretion increases with age. (8). Taking magnesium supplements can provide you with 100% or more of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI). Even for the average healthy person, it may not always be viable to get sufficient daily requirements through food sources, supplemental magnesium may be needed to ensure adequate magnesium levels for health and vitality.

What are the signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency? 

Temporary low magnesium levels may not cause any symptoms. However, chronically low levels can impact bone mineral density, heart health, and blood sugar levels. Low magnesium levels have been linked to migraine headaches, and, may become a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease, insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes mellitus,  hypertension, cardiovascular disease (e.g., stroke),  and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). (9)(10). Low levels of magnesium have been linked to mood disorders such as anxiousness – according to a systematic review (2017), low magnesium levels may have links to higher levels of stress and anxiety. (11). (12).

How can you know if your levels are low?

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body. The healthy adult body contains approximately 24g of magnesium, with 50% to 60% present in bones with the rest being contained in soft tissues. With serum magnesium representing less than 1% of the total body stores, magnesium blood tests don’t show the whole picture. (13). The CDC (Center for Disease Control) has vague and poorly updated serum magnesium determination, so assessing a person’s dietary intake of magnesium is the usual method for determining magnesium status.  While you may be asymptomatic, your body may be signaling that your dietary intake of magnesium is lower than your requirements, indicating supplementation may be needed. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, your health care provider can determine if magnesium deficiency is the cause, and, what types of magnesium supplements are available. 

The 10 signs your magnesium may be low

  1. loss of appetite
  2. nausea and vomiting
  3. fatigue and weakness
  4. shaking
  5. pins and needles
  6. muscle cramps and spasms
  7. low mood and anxiety
  8. hyperexcitability
  9. sleepiness
  10. migraine headaches 


The health benefits of taking magnesium – what does the science say? 

There is evidence to support the use of magnesium for the treatment of premenstrual mood changes in women ages 24-39. A clinical study tested 32 women given  360mg of magnesium three times per day over a 2-month cycle, women reported better mood and fewer mood changes. (15)

Magnesium has been studied extensively for its preventative role and treatment potential for people with cardiovascular disease. Prompt diagnosis and timely supplementation of magnesium may be beneficial. More prospective, randomized controlled trials are needed to be able to further determine the value of magnesium as a therapy to prevent or help treat some types of heart disease. (16)

Magnesium supplementation of 500mg daily has been shown to have a positive impact on sleep quality. In one controlled trial in elderly people with insomnia, supplementation of magnesium appeared to improve subjective measures of insomnia such as ISI (Insomnia Severity Index) score, sleep efficiency, sleep time and sleep onset latency, and early morning awakening. (17).

Animal studies indicate that magnesium deficiency may be responsible for inducing anxiety and HPA axis dysregulation. Studies support anxiety-related emerging evidence in humans that reduced Mg levels may be associated with different facets of anxiety behavior. (18) (19).

Numerous studies have investigated the interaction of magnesium with mediators of the human stress response and demonstrated that magnesium plays an inhibitory role in the regulation and neurotransmission of a normal stress response. (20).

What forms are the best? 

To ensure adequate levels of magnesium, people can take them as a supplement. There are many forms of magnesium, commonly combined with salt, citric acid, vitamin C, or other compounds. Examples might be magnesium citrate, magnesium sulfate, magnesium lactate, and magnesium ascorbate. Magnesium citrate is considered to be one of the more readily absorbed by the body and tends to be gentler on the stomach than other forms.(21). In the case of chelated magnesium, the mineral is bonded to another molecule, typically an amino acid.  Many supplements offer a chelated form of magnesium such as glycinate form. While citrate is touted as being the most abundantly available salt, magnesium bisglycinate chelate’s absorption rate is 2.2 times better than magnesium lactate or magnesium citrate (22). Glycinate forms also tend to be gentler on the stomach than other forms.*

Are magnesium supplements right for you?

Considering the abundant and critical role magnesium plays throughout the body, it may not always be easy to get as much as you need purely through dietary sources. To be on your game and enjoy optimum energy, health, and vitality, taking a daily supplement, with a combination of magnesium salts and chelate, offers ease and peace of mind for ensuring you are topped up daily with this essential mineral. 

 *These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Any statements or products mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.


Amanda Lovett-Jones is an Australian Naturopath, registered Herbalist, and culinary medicine specialist. She is a freelance copywriter and compliance specialist within the dietary supplement industry. She practices in the United States as a Registered Herbalist and owns a virtual natural therapies wellness clinic that targets and treats inflammation. She lives with her family in Seattle.


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