Nutrient Spotlight: Magnesium

Magnesium is essential to our health and has over 300 roles in ensuring our body is functioning at its best.  From sleep disturbances, to gut health to mood to regulating heartbeat rhythms, this mineral is not one we want to miss.  With approximately 80% of the adult population being deficient, its important to recognize why this occurs and also how we can prevent it.

Why do we need Magnesium?

As mentioned above, magnesium is responsible for ensuring hundreds of metabolic processes to occur in our body.  Below are a few of the main functions of magnesium:

  • Responsible for all electrical activity, heart rhythm and brain activity
  • Is a cofactor for more than 300 different enzymes
  • Essential for the production of cellular energy (also known as ATP-Adenosine triphosphate)
  • Reduces Constipation
  • Relieves headaches and migraines
  • Supports mood and possibly depression
  • Helps to support muscle and menstrual cramps
  • Prevents the development of atherosclerosis (or the hardening of the arteries)
  • Regulates blood pressure
  • Neutralizes stomach acid as seen in GERD
  • Supports healthy bones and prevention of osteoporosis and osteopenia

Magnesium is an essential nutrient as well as an electrolyte.  It is required for proper growth and maintenance of bones as well as proper function of nerves and muscles.  The slightest deficiency can affect how our body metabolizes and ultimately functions.  Magnesium is excreted everyday through the kidneys in our urine, which is one of the reason urine output could be lower when Magnesium levels are decreased.  Generally speaking, our bodies do not require much magnesium to prevent deficiency, however, since it is used in so many bodily functions daily, we lose stores of magnesium daily, which means we need to frequently replenish through food and/or supplements to prevent deficiency.

Sources of Magnesium

We are firm believers in eating well and getting as much nutrition through food as possible.  Magnesium is found in all kinds of delicious easy to eat foods, however, it is not always enough due to those prone to deficiencies including the elderly, athletes, medication interactions that cause levels to decrease and those under high levels of stress.  However, magnesium food choices to include are:

  • Avocado
  • Dark Leafy Greens (kale, Spinach, collards, broccoli)
  • Almonds
  • Beans and legumes (black beans, mung beans, chickpeas, soybeans)
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Yogurt/Kefir
  • Figs
  • Bananas
  • Potatoes
  • Dark Chocolate (at least 70% cacao)

Enjoy a few of these recipes for ways to increase Magnesium in your diet:

Beans and Greens

Decadent Dark Chocolate Avocado Mousse

Nice cream

Veggie Chili with Pumpkin

Magnesium Supplements

As mentioned, food sources are not always enough.  In many cases, taking a magnesium supplement is warranted.  In most individuals, magnesium supplements pose no risk and generally are well tolerated by most without causing side effects or toxicity, it is often recommended by health practitioners to take on a regular basis to prevent deficiency.

However, the quality of the supplement as well as the form of magnesium is very important to maximize benefits.  The absorption rate and bioavailability of these supplements vary greatly depending on the kind.  We typically recommend magnesium acid complexes (citrate, fumurate, asparatate, gluconate, glutamate, ascorbate, lactate and malate) or chelates (glycinate, lysinate, taurate) which have less competition to be absorbed unlike magnesium salts (oxide, carbonate and sulfate) that must compete for absorption which make them less bioavailable.  Chelated forms are highly available and absorbable by the body since they are bound to multiple amino acids (building blocks of protein), which help to restore magnesium levels.

Here is a list of different forms of Magnesium recommended and benefits:

Magnesium taurate or glycinate:  Typically, more calming.  Helpful for sleep and migraines/headaches.  Taurine is required for serotonin and glycine also helpful for detox.

Magnesium Aspartate or glutamate:  Helpful in chronic fatigue individuals.  This form is more excitatory so will increase energy.  Not to be used for those that need help with sleep or those with ADHD or anxiety)

Magnesium Malate:  Helps to support muscle tissue in cases such as those with fibromyalgia

Magnesium Citrate:  Helps to promote acidic balance as well as stimulation of the gut to help relieve constipation.

Its also helpful to recognize you can find magnesium supplements combined with various forms.  Some of our favorite reputable, pharmaceutical grade, third party tested supplement companies are Integrative therapeutics, Pure Encapsulations, Douglas Labs and DaVinci.  You can find these brands here.

How much should I take?

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA), according to the National Institutes of Health, for adults recommends about 300-400mg daily.  This is one of the few recommendations that coincides with functional recommendations.  Most of the RDA’s are highly outdated, however, the average adult could benefit from taking anywhere from 100-600mg per day.  However, this will depend on the form you are taking and your needs. In some cases, taking up to 1200mg is recommended.

Some magnesium supplements may cause digestive issues and possible overstimulation of the gut and cause loose stools and urgency.  This is the exact reason we always recommend to go low and slow.  Start with 200-400mg and increase as tolerate.  As always, speak with your healthcare professional before adding any supplements and ensure there are no interactions with medications.

Magnesium deficiency

Deficiency is quite prevalent.  Most individuals will notice a negative effect related to deficiency.  Sometimes we don’t even realize how bad we feel until we feel better.  Signs of acute deficiency to include:

  • Headaches, migraines, dizziness, poor concentration, confusion, anxiety
  • Neck, shoulder or back pain
  • Cardiac arrhythmias including Atrial fibrillation (afib), heart murmurs
  • GI cramping, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Tingling in the fingers and hands
  • Thigh and calf cramps

While these are acute symptoms, chronic deficiencies are found in:

  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Hyperlipidemia
  • Chronic Fatigue
  • IBS
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches/Migraines
  • Anxiety and chronic stress
  • Athletes
  • Pregnancy
  • Alcoholism
  • Certain medications (Proton Pump Inhibitors, Diuretics, Antibiotics, Birth Control)

Magnesium is common due to medication interactions and the prevention of absorption.  We are also seeing a large rise in gut related diseases which leads to malabsorption of magnesium along with other minerals that help to absorb magnesium.  In addition, the soil we use to grow crops and use for farming is severely depleted.  Therefore, the amount of magnesium we once got through food has decreased.  Finally, over supplementation of Calcium can decrease magnesium stores.  Be sure to include magnesium with any calcium supplementation to prevent deficiency.

A Note on Testing

Understanding a true magnesium deficiency can be somewhat difficult to diagnose since serum and testing is not always the most reliable to measure a true long-term deficiency.  Serum levels are generally off only in critical circumstances.  Another way to test is through RBC (Red Blood Cells), which is a much better indicator of an early deficiency.   Neither one, however, is truly a great marker since most of the Magnesium is stored in our bones and muscle.  With that being said, since taking magnesium does not usually pose risk to individuals, if you suffer from any of the above symptoms, are pregnant or take any medications that interfere with absorption, you could benefit from supplementation.

Bottom Line

Magnesium is extremely important to our health and is responsible for hundreds of  bodily processes.  Every day we decrease our stores so including foods that are high in magnesium is recommended.  In addition, taking supplements is generally safe and can be very beneficial to the general population.  Be mindful of the quality and form of your supplements and make sure that you go low and slow.


As always, we are here to help you meet your wellness goals.  To schedule an appointment or for more information on our services please click here.

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