Magnesium has been trending lately as a popular supplement, and with good reason: it participates as a cofactor in more than 300 enzymatic reactions in your body! This may come as a surprise to people who assume that FDA-approved medications always hold a clinical edge over nutrients. Medications tend to steal the show, but I can’t name a single drug that functions in 300 metabolic processes in your body. Not one!
Even the National Institutes of Health says magnesium is necessary to help maintain normal muscle and nerve function, keep your heart rhythm steady, support a healthy immune and bronchial system and keep your bones strong so your hip doesn’t give out.*
And don’t be fooled into thinking magnesium is boring. The role of magnesium in the body is quite amazing and physiologically meaningful.
Here’s how it can help:
- Maintaining bronchial elasticity
- Modulating intracellular electrical activity
- Relaxing smooth and skeletal muscle
- Improving the function of the endothelium, the layer of cells that line your blood vessels
- Enhancing insulin sensitivity
- Being a co-factor with multiple enzymes to produce energy
Despite magnesium’s importance to human health, many Americans don’t consume the recommended amount of 420 milligrams (mg) daily, according to FDA guidelines. According to a 2005-2006 survey by the U.S. government, 75 percent of U.S. adults have a magnesium-deficient diet. Human deficiencies occur more often because our soil is deficient in magnesium, so the lettuce that grows in the soil isn’t soaking up as much mag as it used to back in the day! So when you eat a salad, know that sadly, it’s probably not as nutritious as when your grandma had one 50 years ago.
What Does the Science Say About Magnesium?
Magnesium is essential for the health of the heart, blood vessels, brain, bones, skeletal muscles, lungs, and pancreas.
A low level of magnesium is associated with an increased level of C-reactive protein (CRP) – a really bad actor in the body because CRP is a marker for type of inflammation that isn’t readily obvious from the outside.
The body of research on magnesium is immense. And it’s growing. Just two months ago researchers from Indiana University in Bloomington, the Center for Magnesium Education and Research in Hawaii, and Tel Aviv University in Israel reported that data from 11 gold-standard clinical trials they had reviewed indicated that magnesium supplementation has a significant positive impact on cardiovascular health, insulin resistance, prediabetes, and other non-communicable chronic conditions.
A low magnesium level has been associated with several adverse lung conditions. One recent study found low levels of magnesium and vitamin D are associated with an increased incidence of severe breathing difficulties.
In another study, 300 mg of daily magnesium compared to a placebo resulted in a significant improvement in respiratory muscle function in individuals with lung disorders.
Brain and Mood
A low magnesium level can damage your brain and mood. In my book, Headache Free, I provided research to show how magnesium can reduce headache frequency, while improving mood and restorative sleep. No surprise there… magnesium is needed to create dopamine, serotonin and other happy brain chemicals. But a very common mistake is taking the wrong form. You will need the kind of magnesium that actually gets into your brain, like the “threonate” form, as opposed to the laxative form of magnesium like “citrate” which slides through your colon.
Anyway, a meta-analysis that analyzed 10 studies found magnesium supplementation significantly reduced the incidence and intensity of non-chronic headaches.
So for sure, a low magnesium level can exert wide-ranging negative effects on your brain and mood. A meta-analysis found the risk of mood disorders decreased as magnesium intake increased, with the largest reduction in risk at 320 mg of magnesium per day.
A 15-year study of young adults found a 31-percent increase in metabolic syndrome in the subject group who had the lowest average daily magnesium intake.
Low magnesium levels have also been observed in numerous cardiovascular disorders.
In one study, a group of women on a diuretic medication, which can cause magnesium loss in the urine, were randomly assigned to a double-blind trial of taking 600 mg magnesium daily or a placebo for six months. The women in the magnesium group experienced significantly improved endothelial function – meaning the magnesium made the lining of their blood vessels work more efficiently.
And low magnesium levels were associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular problems in a group of 2,181 middle-aged Finnish men who were followed for 25 years.*
Magnesium has broad application in women’s health – from pregnancy complications to PMS and dysmenorrhea. Magnesium levels tends to decline during pregnancy, which can contribute to conditions such as leg cramps.
In one double-blind, randomized, clinical trial, 300 mg of supplemental magnesium given daily to 41 pregnant women for four weeks significantly decreased the intensity and frequency of leg cramps compared to the 39 pregnant women given a placebo. Magnesium can also be beneficial for non-pregnancy-associated muscle cramps.
Magnesium has long been used alone, or in combination with vitamin B6, to resist symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
I bet if you asked 10 random people on the street which mineral is most important for bone health, nine of them would say calcium. But I would be really impressed with the tenth one who answered “magnesium!” Although calcium is typically identified as the most important mineral for increasing bone density, magnesium is its important partner. Magnesium helps keep calcium in your bones and out of your soft tissues, such as your kidneys and blood vessels.
In one meta-analysis, magnesium intake was positively associated with increased bone density in the hip.
In a study completed just three months ago at the University of East Anglia (in England), data from 3,765 adults, average age 60, found the highest average intake of magnesium was associated with a 53% lower risk of bone fracture for women and a 62% lower risk of bone fracture for men, compared to those with the lowest average intake of magnesium.*
The doctor in charge of the above study said the results were “exciting.” I totally agree – those are hugely exciting numbers if you’re getting older and want to maintain your bone health.
Magnesium is also positively associated with increased muscle mass and strength, as found in a study of women of all ages. In a double-blind study of 25 professional male volleyball players, 350 mg of magnesium daily for four weeks significantly reduced lactic acid production compared to the placebo group.
Is a magnesium supplement right for you?
Remember above when I told you three out of four American adults are magnesium deficient? That’s because it’s really hard to get enough magnesium from your daily diet. Foods rich in magnesium include dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and avocados. And they might not be the foods you eat every day.
Based on everything I’ve shared with you, it’s no surprise that sales of magnesium supplements in the United States increased more than 15% from 2015 to 2016. So I encourage you to do your own research, and find out if adding magnesium to your supplement regimen might be a smart choice for you!
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.