12 Benefits of Magnesium

Heather Dessinger

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Magnesium flakes on table with list of benefits such as muscle relaxation, stress support, and gut health

There’s a good reason magnesium is often called “The Magic Mineral” – it plays a crucial role in over 300 enzymatic reactions within the body, impacting everything from energy metabolism and stress management to hormone balance, detoxification, sleep, and the creation of proteins. (1) Years ago, I discovered it was the key to easing my restless legs at night, which did indeed feel pretty magical after years of suffering.

Unfortunately, according to the World Health Organization, only about 25% of Americans are getting enough magnesium, but that’s only one factor contributing to what CNN calls the “invisible deficiency.” (2)

We’ll dive into that in this article along with how to choose the best magnesium supplement, but first let’s take a closer look at just a little of what this mineral does.

As always,  I want to mention that none of these statements have been evaluated by the FDA, this article is not medical advice, and it is not meant to diagnose or treat any condition. Please talk with your healthcare provider about any dietary supplements you are considering.

12 Health Benefits of Magnesium

Because it’s involved in hundreds of biochemical reactions within your body, magnesium impacts everything from energy creation to sleep. Here are some of its top benefits.

1. Hormone Balance

Magnesium supports overall hormone balance by helping to balance cortisol, supporting the thyroid, and aiding in the production of progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone. (3)

2. Bone Health

We’ve long been told that calcium “builds strong bones,” but that’s not the whole story. When we consume a lot of calcium without magnesium, the calcium collects in soft tissues rather than going to our bones where it is needed.

Magnesium is needed because it stimulates the hormone calcitonin, which is what directs calcium into the bones. It’s no surprise, then, that magnesium supplementation has been shown to support bone density in both children and certain elderly populations. (4)(5)

Of course, we can’t talk about bone health without also mentioning vitamin D. Having adequate levels – via both sunlight exposure and dietary intake – helps facilitate the absorption of calcium, while magnesium helps direct the calcium where it’s most needed (the bones) instead of mostly the soft tissues. (6)(7)

3. Energy Support

Magnesium is crucial to the function of mitochondria, which are the power plants of the cell. Our mitochondria fuel every aspect of health, from brain function and muscle strength to cell repair and enzyme creation. Poor mitochondrial function reduces energy levels, so we want to keep the little guys happy. (8)

4. Stress Support

Sometimes called “The Original Chill Pill,” magnesium helps to balance cortisol (stress hormone) levels in the body. (9)

It helps calm the mind by supporting the production of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). (10)

GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter, which means it calms down the nervous system when it gets into a state of excessive “neural excitement.” Many people report that it helps with daytime focus and an overall sense of well-being.

Here are some other science-backed ways to ease stress naturally.

5. Restful Sleep

As mentioned above, magnesium supports the production of GABA, which contributes to both well-being/focus in the day and sleep at night. One of GABA’s roles is to help the body transition from an alert/wakeful state to a peaceful, relaxed state that eventually leads to deep, restful sleep.

6. Muscle Relaxation

Calcium helps our muscles contract, while magnesium helps them relax. That’s why magnesium salt baths (using either magnesium sulfate or magnesium chloride) are often recommended for easing achy muscles and growing pains.

You can find my favorite recipe for making homemade bath salts here.

7. Beautiful Skin & Healthy Joints

Magnesium stimulates the synthesis of collagen and elastin, which provide structure for our skin and allow it to “snap back” into place like a rubber band. (11) Collagen also supports healthy joints, muscle and other connective tissue.

8. Digestive Health

Magnesium can be helpful for constipation because it speeds up bowel transit time.

9. Cardiovascular Health

Magnesium relaxes smooth muscle – including the smooth muscle of your arteries – which supports blood flow and a regular heart rate. (12)

In Got Magnesium? Those With Heart Disease Should, WebMD writes that heart patients “who took magnesium had better blood vessel function and their hearts showed less stress during treadmill exercise compared to the placebo group. Nearly three-quarters of the patients were magnesium-deficient at the beginning of the study, but their levels rose to nearly normal by the end.”

10. Detoxification

Magnesium is needed to make glutathione, which is considered the “master antioxidant” of the body. Glutathione plays a huge role in detoxification and immune function, among other things. (13)

11. Hydration

Magnesium, sodium, potassium, calcium and bicarbonate are all electrolytes – aka ion-rich minerals and salts that promote “rapid fluid absorption and maintenance of body fluid.” (14) In other words, they help balance the amount of water in your body while also:

  • Balancing your body’s acid/base (pH) level
  • Moving nutrients into your cells
  • Moving waste out of your cells
  • Supporting the function of your nerves, muscles, heart, and brain (15)

Most of the time we get enough electrolytes to maintain hydration through food, but in times of intense physical exercise or heat (causing sweating and loss of minerals) or illness (making it difficult to keep food down), electrolyte drinks can often be helpful for supporting rehydration. (16)

12. Supports Blood Sugar Balance

People who tend to consume low levels of magnesium typically have poorer blood sugar regulation than people who consume higher amounts. (17) (18)

Good blood sugar regulation plays an important role in keeping our brain healthy as well as supporting stable energy levels, a balanced mood, and overall heart health. (19)

Bonus Benefit: Counteracts Body Odor

Although no formal studies have been done on how magnesium impacts odor, many people swear by using magnesium oil or milk of magnesia as a roll-on deodorant.

In addition to helping with body odor, magnesium reduces toxic load by reducing the need for store-bought options that are full of parabens and other problematic ingredients.

So, why are so many of us magnesium deficient?

Here are the most common reasons for low magnesium levels:

  • Foods are lower in magnesium content than they used to be due to soil depletion (20)
  • Certain foods and drinks, such as caffeine, alcohol and sugar, deplete our magnesium stores.
  • Stress increases our magnesium burn rate, or the rate at which we burn through magnesium.
  • If we have a damaged gut, our bodies cannot adequately absorb the magnesium we do get through food.
  • Some medications also deplete our bodies of magnesium. Here’s a partial list.
  • The body needs certain nutrients – called cofactors – to absorb magnesium properly. Three important ones are vitamin B6, vitamin B1, and vitamin D.

Fortunately, there are ways to improve magnesium levels (when needed) despite these challenges, and we’ll discuss them later in this article.

Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms

Because it impacts so many processes within our bodies, there are a wide range of symptoms associated with deficiency. (21) Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Headache (including migraine headaches)
  • Difficulty sleeping (22)
  • Muscle spasms and cramps
  • Calcium kidney stones
  • Fatigue
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Blood pressure and heart irregularities
  • Bedwetting in children (Magnesium deficiency can cause a stiff bladder, making complete excretion during the day and control of the bladder at night difficult)
  • Nervous system issues in children (Jittery, hyperactive)
  • Eye twitching
  • PMS
  • Food cravings, especially for magnesium-rich foods like chocolate

Can I do a blood test to see if I am low on magnesium?

Only about 1% of total body magnesium is present in the blood, which makes it difficult to get an accurate measurement of total magnesium content from blood tests alone. (23) For that reason, practitioners often consider stress load, gut function, and symptoms associated with deficiency when recommending magnesium supplementation.

How do I improve my magnesium levels?

The best way to get magnesium is through food, because whole foods come with cofactors that help with nutrient absorption. However, due to soil depletion and other factors such as stress and gut function, it’s extremely difficult to get all we need from food.

In addition to consuming foods rich in magnesium, the body needs certain nutrients – called cofactors – to absorb magnesium properly. They are:

  • Vitamin B6, found in tuna, spinach, cabbage, bok choy, bell peppers, turnip greens, garlic, cauliflowers, turkey, beef, chicken, salmon, banana, broccoli, brussels sprouts, collard greens, beet greens, kale, carrots, swiss chard, asparagus, and mustard greens (24)
  • Vitamin B1, found in asparagus, sunflower seeds, green peas, flaxseeds, brussels sprouts, beet greens, spinach, cabbage, eggplant, mushrooms, sesame seeds, peanuts, and tuna
  • Vitamin D (from the sun)

Supplements are sometimes needed to reach optimal levels. Magnesium is also well-absorbed through the skin, which is why this recipe for homemade bath salts can be helpful.

What foods are high in magnesium?

So, a cool fun fact (nerd alert!) is that magnesium is the center atom of chlorophyll, therefore anything green has magnesium, and the darker the green the more magnesium. However, not all magnesium-rich foods are green. Here are some you might want to consider incorporating:

  • Chlorella and spirulina – This is a good supplement that includes both.
  • Dark leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, swiss chard, beet greens, turnip greens
  • Sprouted pumpkin seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sprouted sunflower seeds
  • Soaked cashews
  • Soaked almonds
  • Oily fish such as salmon
  • Avocado
  • Dark chocolate
  • Bananas
  • Molasses
  • Black beans and other legumes such as lentils and peas

Which magnesium supplements are best?

Walk into the supplement aisle of any health store, and you’ll often find a variety of “magic mineral” supplements: magnesium citrate, glycinate, chloride, oxide and more. In this article, Dr. Lori Rose and I cover which ones are the most bioavailable and how they support different body systems.

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Woman sprinkling magnesium into bath for health benefits

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

About the authors: This article was co-authored by Heather Dessinger and Dr. Lori Valentine Rose (PhD). Dr. Rose, PhD is a college biology, nutrition, herbal, and wellness instructor, Certified Nutrition Professional (CNP), Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild, and is Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition. She created, developed, and instructs the Hill College Holistic Wellness Pathway, the most thorough, affordable, degreed wellness program in the country.

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Heather is a holistic health educator, herbalist, DIYer, Lyme and mold warrior. Since founding Mommypotamus.com in 2009, Heather has been taking complicated health research and making it easy to understand. She shares tested natural recipes and herbal remedies with millions of naturally minded mamas around the world. 

Leave a Comment

29 thoughts on “12 Benefits of Magnesium”

  1. Does Epsom salt taken internally work to increase magnesium levels? If so how much? Or spreading it on veggitable garden plants?

  2. This is so interesting to me. I’ve known I tend to have magnesium deficiencies for some time. Back in college, I would crave chocolate milk daily, and when stress levels increased in law school, I started having a daily snack of a chocolate bar with peanut butter and milk because chocolate milk alone was no longer enough. If I went a few days without one of those things, my muscles would twitch, and I would feel jittery and on edge all day long. I figured out that it was mostly magnesium that my body needed when I nearly fainted one day later and the only thing that they could find wrong at the ER were low magnesium levels. They handed me a sheet of paper containing magnesium rich foods, and it included chocolate, peanut butter, and milk all three. It was really interesting to read this post and see all of the different things that magnesium affects and the symptoms that lack of magnesium can cause because it helps me understand why I sometimes feel the way I do if I don’t eat enough magnesium rich foods. Thank you for the great information.

  3. “Speeds up your bowel tract”–no kidding. It speeds mine up so fast I stopped supplementing with magnesium because I was always in the bathroom! Any suggestions for people like me, when even a single spray of mag-water or the tiniest bit of natural calm will keep us in the bathroom? I thought I was doing something helpful for my body, but I just can’t function that way.

  4. Ummm I read this for recommendation on best supplement like the title says and then it says I have to wait til next post??

  5. Yes, I love Magnesium! As an acupuncturist and herbalist, I prescribe magnesium and Epsom salt baths to almost all patients. It’s also important to help repair DNA damage.

  6. Comfrey tea; Is this any more toxic than your “GUT nourishing Bacon”… Seriously?
    Do you have any knowledge of nutrition and the systematically derived toxins in meat & dairy food?

    I am extremely disappointed to see that you allow Google ads- Oscar Myer Bacon among them…and other like minded corporate products to advertise on your “Healthy” site, let alone promote a healthy diet based on some of the most unhealthy culprits of diabetes and heart disease…and environmentally toxic animal based foods!

    I would take you more seriously as a health site if you would sincerely exemplify the most basic concern for extreme animal suffering from the animal based food products you suggest and endorse if you would take the time to truly learn about and then remove these toxins from your recipes.
    You may consider Not ignoring the tragic reality of factory farmed animals.
    Then your message of natural health might become truly sincere and holistic by including a strong emphasis on plant based foods – dropping the horrifically cruel meat and dairy from your repertoire.

    Caring for and loving human babies, puppies and kittens should not be any different than caring for and loving calves, lambs, piglets or baby chicks. Learn about the the lies and poisons of our US food system and then promote your healthy lifestyle. Without this knowledge, your teas and lemon oil cleaning products are empty and cliche.
    Your warning about the dangers of Comfrey tea is laughable and has no legs compared to the realities of the barbaric methods of extracting toxic bacon and butter.
    At the very least; watch the film “What the Health” .. for starters…Then begin to pay attention to the realities of suffering, the filth, the horrors of these legalized torture chambers fr which no laws exist to prevent farm animals from Unnecessary suffering. … for human’s selfish pleasure of consuming “bacon”.. or pig’s flesh. It’s 2018 and time to get real in order to get healthy..

    • Hi Rozae, I think there are two separate issues here:

      1. The ad, which I absolutely do not endorse. Hosting ads on my site is one way that I cover the costs of running it so that I can give my recipes and articles away for free, and I work with an ad company that has systems for blocking ads I object to, such as the one you describe. Unfortunately, sometimes one slips through and I have to see it myself in order to block it. The problem is that these days the ads shown to people are typically based on their search history, so the ads I see are not the same as others. I’m going to reach out to the ad company and see if there is a way of blocking this one, and I thank you for bringing it to my attention.

      2. It is my wholehearted belief – and that of the Wall Street Journal author Nicolette Niman – that sustainably raised livestock is good for the planet and can help fight climate change. https://www.wsj.com/articles/actually-raising-beef-is-good-for-the-planet-1419030738

  7. Thank You Very Much For The helpful hints. I was Diagnosed In 2016-2017 With Having 1Adrenal Gland Smaller Than The Other. I Dont KnowThe Medical Term For This Diagnosis. Its Pretty Serious Condition; That Will Throw You Totally Off Balance. Thanks, Again I Really Appreciated This Information.

      • Magnesium citrate can cause some “quickening” of the bowel action, that is the only type I’ve experienced with such extreme effects in that department, but there may be others.
        Heather, thank you for focusing on the effects of magnesium, I, like you, first came upon it for a cure for leg cramps. It helped with those, and also I notice my slight arythmia (sp.) of my heart. It went away, and has not returned in over 10 years. I’m very curious about the tie-up of magnesium with blood sugar levels, as my son has been having serious low blood sugar, and has many other signs of low magnesium. I’ve tried to get him to take magnesium supplements, or eat more magnesium rich foods, but so far, not much luck there. I’ll keep trying.

  8. I have a one year old with issues with hard, awful bowel moments and would like some advice as to what type of magnesium I can give to a baby to help with that. Any suggestions?

  9. I have not felt any magnesium deficiency yet but remaining aware is the best way to fight diseases. This is very informational post explained in detail and simple language.
    I love eating dark leafy greens,
    sprouted pumpkin seeds,
    soaked cashews & almonds sometimes and banana also.
    So I think I am taking magnesium 🙂

  10. Hi Heather,
    I thought I once saw a recipe for a magnesium spray using the ancient mineral bath salts. I finally ordered some and got it yesterday but can’t seem to find it on your site. I would love to try to get more magnesium in this way. Can you direct me to your recipe?

  11. Does soaking & sprouting the seeds & nuts that you suggested release the magnesium? Are you still able to get magnesium from these seeds & nuts without soaking? Is tahini a good source? Thanks

  12. I have a tough time with any magnesium supplements. I’ve started using a magnesium cream on the bottom of my feet each night. Can this give me adequate amounts of magnesium? Otherwise I eat lots of leafy greens, nuts, seeds, bananas and small amounts of chocolate daily.

  13. As a person with Multiple Sclerosis, I suffer from leg spasms and pain. This worsens at night. I started using a magnesium salt spray on my legs each night. The first few times it stung a little. After about three applications, the stinging stopped. So did the spasms. My toes relaxed. I actually slept peacefully most nights! I have tried supplements but have gastrointestinal issues with them. I purchased the spray on Amazon and use it every night.

  14. Thanks for the magnesium information.I found some food good for
    Magnesium .I m sick of drinking a lot of medicine at least I can had some food high in magnesium rather than drinking some tablets or having some suplement which trigger my stomach pain .
    I am pleased I read this .Hoping it will help lack of my magnesium.
    ThabK you

  15. 5 stars
    I take magnesium after a hard workout and some sore muscles, but only at night. The interesting side-effect, is that I sleep much better.