Magnesium has become increasingly popular in the wellness world — and for good reason.
The mineral is involved in hundreds (yes, hundreds) of enzymatic reactions in the body, making it a key player in carrying out critical functions like blood sugar control and muscle and nerve function, among others, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
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Despite how important magnesium is, it's considered one of the shortfall nutrients, meaning that many U.S. adults don't get enough of it, per the USDA 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In other words, most of us would do well to up our magnesium levels with healthy whole foods.
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Below, we explain the health benefits of magnesium, where we can find the mineral in food and what happens if we get too much — or too little — of it.
What Is Magnesium?
Magnesium is one of the most commonly occurring minerals in our bodies, and it plays many critical roles.
"Magnesium is a mineral that is part of the bone-building team, along with calcium and vitamin D," says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN and author of Smoothies & Juices: Prevention Healing Kitchen.
"It's also essential for keeping the heart healthy, as it's needed for muscle contraction and relaxation."
Though the mineral is involved in the chemical pathways that produce energy in the body, it's also known to bring calm.
"Magnesium is necessary for activating ATP (or adenosine triphosphate), which is the main source of energy in the body," Largeman-Roth says. "It's also involved in the sleep-wake cycle."
Though the standard American diet tends to be short on magnesium, the mineral actually isn't hard to come by; it's pretty easy to put magnesium-rich foods on your plate (after all, avocado is one of them).
According to Largeman-Roth, you are more likely to have a magnesium deficiency if you:
- Eat a diet lacking in whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds
- Have alcohol use disorder
- Are over age 50
- Have a kidney disorder
- Take certain medications, like proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)
- Have diabetes
- Any gastrointestinal conditions
Also nice: Most foods that contain magnesium are great sources of other important nutrients, like gut-friendly fiber and plant-based protein.
Functions of Magnesium
- Regulates muscle and nerve function
- Aids in bone formation
- Regulates blood sugar levels
- Helps make protein and DNA
- Allows muscles to relax and contract
- Regulates blood pressure
- Involved in energy production
How Much Magnesium Per Day You Need
Here's how much magnesium you should get daily, per the NIH.
0 to 6 months
7 to 12 months
1 to 3 years
4 to 8 years
9 to 13 years
14 to 18 years
19 to 30 years
31 to 50 years
You can get this mineral from a variety of plant foods. Top food sources of magnesium, per the NIH, include:
- Almonds: 80 mg, 19% Daily Value (DV) in 1 ounce
- Spinach: 78 mg, 19% DV in ½ cup (boiled)
- Cashews: 74 mg, 18% DV in 1 ounce
- Soy milk: 61 mg, 15% DV in 1 cup
- Black beans: 60 mg, 14% DV in ½ cup (cooked)
- Edamame: 50 mg, 12% DV in ½ cup (cooked)
- Peanut butter: 49 mg, 12% DV in 2 tablespoons
- Baked potato with skin: 43 mg, 10% DV
Other foods with magnesium include brown rice, oatmeal, bananas, certain fish and avocado.
If you're looking to put more magnesium on your plate, try these creamy almond butter-stuffed dates or an avocado and edamame tartine for a hit of heart-healthy fat and plant protein.
For something more substantial, try these breakfast nachos that are made with magnesium-rich black beans.
The Benefits of Magnesium
1. It Helps Keep Bones Strong
About 50 to 60 percent of the magnesium in the body is stored in the bones. Much like calcium, magnesium helps maintain bone mineral density, bolstering the bones' structure and strength, per the NIH.
It's not all that surprising, then, that magnesium deficiency has been linked to a greater risk of osteoporosis, according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
2. It Helps Promote Healthy Blood Pressure
Magnesium may possess anti-hypertensive, or blood pressure-lowering, effects thanks to its ability to relax blood vessels, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
What's more, research suggests magnesium supplementation may be a beneficial intervention for those with high blood pressure.
Some clinical trials have shown a negative correlation between serum magnesium levels and diastolic BP, per an August 2016 meta-analysis in the journal Hypertension. The researchers conclude that magnesium supplementation can help lower blood pressure.
3. It's Linked to Maintaining Blood Sugar Control
Magnesium plays a role in reactions in the body that regulate insulin secretion and sensitivity and, in turn, affect blood sugar balance.
Plus, higher levels of dietary magnesium have been associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and 25 to 38 percent of individuals with type 2 diabetes have been shown to have hypomagnesemia, or low magnesium levels in the blood, per a September 2013 PLOS One study.
As such, it's thought that adequate magnesium levels may help prevent or control type 2 diabetes by decreasing blood sugar levels, but more research is needed to confirm this.
4. It Aids Digestion and Helps Transport Energy
Magnesium is responsible for the production and transport of energy by working as a co-factor with other enzymes to aid digestion and the absorption of proteins, carbohydrates and fats, per the NIH.
Magnesium also works with other enzymes in your body to synthesize protein. It helps your body create and transport energy by working with the enzyme ATP, which is the base energy storage molecule in your body, per a 2013 article in the Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition.
5. It Helps the Muscles Contract and Relax
A major function of magnesium is its role in muscle relaxation and contraction. Your body uses magnesium to regulate muscle and nerve control, according to the NIH.
If you do not get enough dietary magnesium, you could experience muscle weakness, continued muscle contraction or twitching and fatigue.
Benefits of Magnesium Slow Release
Magnesium is often placed in a slow-release capsule so that the mineral is absorbed slowly by your small intestine, releasing small, yet steady, amounts at a time.
Slower absorption lessens the chance of developing side effects from magnesium that may occur when it is all absorbed at once, according to a May 2018 study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.
Taking a timed-release magnesium supplement may help with:
- Energy production
- Blood pressure
- Bone development
What You Need to Know About Magnesium Deficiency
Low magnesium levels may increase one's risk of a variety of conditions, including migraines, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer's disease, among others, according to a September 2015 review in the journal Nutrients.
Here's why that's problematic: "The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that nearly 45 percent of Americans don't get enough magnesium in their diets," Largeman-Roth tells LIVESTRONG.com.
That means nearly half the population is missing out on the critical nutrient — and potentially upping their risk of chronic disease as a result (though additional factors are also likely to be at play here).
Symptoms of magnesium deficiency, according to the NIH, include:
- High blood pressure
- Decreased insulin sensitivity and glycemic control
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle cramps
- Heart rhythm abnormalities
- Additional electrolyte disruptions (low calcium, low potassium)
What Happens if You Get Too Much Magnesium?
"In healthy people, there is no risk of taking in too much magnesium from food because any excess is excreted by our kidneys through the urine," says Largeman-Roth.
"But, high doses of magnesium from supplements or medications (like laxatives) can cause diarrhea."
Magnesium's Laxative Effects
Magnesium oxide laxatives help draw water into the colon to promote excretion, per the University of Michigan.
Magnesium also stimulates the bowel muscles, which helps you poop.
For adults 19 years and older, the tolerable upper intake level (UL) for supplemental magnesium is 350 milligrams per day (so be sure your supplement doesn't contain more than this, if you're taking one).
Health risks associated with taking in more than the UL for magnesium include:
- Abdominal cramping
- Hypotension, or low blood pressure
- Muscle weakness
- Breathing difficulties
- Irregular heartbeat
- Cardiac arrest
Magnesium Drug Interactions and Risks
Magnesium supplements have been shown to interact with common medications, and there are many people who should not take magnesium supplements, per the NIH.
Talk to your doctor before taking magnesium, especially if you are on:
- Bisphosphonates: if you are undergoing osteoporosis treatment
- Antibiotics like tetracyclines and quinolones: if you've had an infection
- Loop and thiazide diuretics: if it's been prescribed to lower blood pressure. These can promote magnesium excretion, potentially resulting in hypomagnesemia.
- Proton pump inhibitors, such as Nexium: for managing symptoms of acid reflux. These may also cause hypomagnesemia.
- Sulfonylureas: if you have diabetes
- Potassium-sparing diuretics like Aldactone: if you have high blood pressure. These can drive down magnesium removal from the body and promote high magnesium levels in the blood.
In general, it's important for healthcare providers to monitor the magnesium status of individuals taking any of the above medications.
What to Look For in a Magnesium Supplement
"Any supplement should be easy to take and well-tolerated, meaning it doesn't upset your stomach," says Largeman-Roth.
And it's always important to choose supplements that are made by reputable brands. Bonus points if they're third-party tested and follow the FDA's Current Good Manufacturing Practices.
When it comes to magnesium supplements, there are various forms available on the market. Magnesium citrate, for example, is the form most often recommended for managing constipation, according to Michigan Medicine.
Magnesium oxide, on the other hand, is often touted for its ability to relieve symptoms of indigestion, like heartburn, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian before adding a magnesium supplement to your daily routine. Taking a magnesium supplement without a noted deficiency may lead to adverse symptoms associated with too much magnesium.
Below, find the best magnesium supplements according to Consumer Lab's testing.
Best Magnesium Supplements
- Swanson Chelated Magnesium ($12,68, Amazon.com)
- Nutricology Magnesium Chloride Liquid ($18.48, Amazon.com)
- Vitacost Magnesium ($6.99, Vitacost.com)
- 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: "Underconsumed Nutrients and Nutrients of Public Health Concern"
- Hypertension: "Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Blood Pressure: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trials"
- National Institutes of Health: Magnesium Fact Sheet for Health Professionals"
- Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: "
- Harvard Medical School: "Key Minerals to Help Control Blood Pressure"
- Plos One: "The Relationship Between Hypomagnesemia, Metformin Therapy and Cardiovascular Disease Complicating Type 2 Diabetes: The Fremantle Diabetes Study"
- Nutrients: "Magnesium in Prevention and Therapy"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Heart Block"
- Therapeutic Advances in Endocrinology and Metabolism: "Clinically and Pharmacologically Relevant Interactions of Antidiabetic Drugs"
- Michigan Medicine: "Magnesium Citrate"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Magnesium Oxide"
- Consumer Lab: "Magnesium Supplements Review"
- Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition: Magnesium
- Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience: Serum Magnesium and Cognitive Function Among Qatari Adults
- University of Adelaide Press: The role of magnesium therapy in learning and memory
- University of Michigan: Magnesium for Constipation
- Journal of the American College of Nutrition: Scottsdale Magnesium Study: Absorption, Cellular Uptake, and Clinical Effectiveness of a Timed-Release Magnesium Supplement in a Standard Adult Clinical Population
- Therapeutic Advances in Endocrinology and Metabolism: Clinically and pharmacologically relevant interactions of antidiabetic drugs