Magnesium for Health: Are You Getting Enough?

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magnesium for health

Magnesium has widespread implications for our health. It can relieve some types of pain, improve blood pressure, and improve heart health. Hundreds of chemical reactions in the body rely on magnesium. Magnesium is needed for the release and use of energy from proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Along with calcium, magnesium assists in muscle function. While calcium assists in muscle contraction, magnesium assists in muscle relaxation. Magnesium also affects the metabolism of nutrients such as calcium, potassium, and vitamin D.

Magnesium requirements for health

Many medical references state only a small number of people in the US fall short of meeting magnesium requirements. However, when my college nutrition students would check their diets with nutrition analysis software, they almost never consumed the required 300-400 mg. of magnesium. Therefore, that begs the question of what “nutritional” camp are you in? Do you try to eat a healthy diet by eating a variety of foods on a regular basis? Or, do you avoid whole grains, fruits, lentils, and green leafy vegetables? Or, perhaps you are trying to eat a healthy diet, but have decided to cut your carbs along the way. As you cut your carbs, you’ll automatically decrease your magnesium because most carbs are rich in magnesium. As magnesium rich diets offer health benefits, it’s time to take stock of how much you are eating.

Magnesium health benefits are diverse

magnesium health benefits

Fibromyalgia

Patients with fibromayalgia frequently have low magnesium levels. Consequently, there is a lot of interest in whether magnesium can help manage fibromyalgia symptoms. Aside from taking magnesium supplements to increase magnesium in the body, there are some emerging alternative magnesium treatments. According to the National Fibromyalgia Association, there may be some benefit to magnesium sprayed directly on tender points of patients. A recent study at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester MN looked at the pain control of fibromyalgia patients using this new magnesium skin spray. The study showed promise in that the participants experienced less pain after several weeks of using the spray version of magnesium.

And, there are always Epsom salt baths to try. Epsom salts are actually salts made up of both magnesium and sulfate. Apparently, even though Epsom salts are often recommended for sore muscles, there’s not much in the way of scientific research to back up the recommendation! A hot bath always seems to help soothe pained muscles, so using Epsom salts could be your own experiment! You get to be the judge on this one.

Menstrual pain

The verdict is not totally in on whether magnesium is helpful for menstrual pain. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, magnesium may be of value in treating painful menstrual cramps. However, there is not really enough research to say conclusively. Still, other health care providers regularly recommend magnesium for cramping, speculating that pain is eased as the magnesium relaxes the uterine muscles.

Magnesium for pregnancy health

Leg cramps in pregnancy are common. There is some thought that either dietary calcium or magnesium may be too low in those women who experience pregnancy leg cramps. Before taking supplements, focus on magnesium rich foods such as nuts, seeds, bran, and leafy vegetables (more details below). Also, make sure you are meeting your calcium requirements, since the calcium and magnesium work together for healthy muscle functioning.

Another second serious pregnancy problem is high blood pressure. In fact, high blood pressure in pregnancy can be life threatening. Magnesium administration in pregnancy seems to relax the blood vessels. That relaxation of the blood vessels helps restore normal blood pressure.

Heart disease and high blood pressure

Adequate magnesium is important for healthy heart contractions. It also plays a role in lowering blood pressure by once again, dilating the arteries. Research indicates that adults with adequate magnesium, calcium, and potassium consistently have better blood pressure control.

Magnesium for hearing health

When given to either prevent or treat hearing damage, magnesium seems to be effective in both animals and humans. In one large scale recent study conducted in China, higher whole blood levels of magnesium were associated with lower overall hearing thresholds as well as risk of hearing loss. While researchers may be unclear on the exact mechanism of how magnesium protects hearing, scientists know it’s important to auditory health.

Migraines

magnesium health benefits

In an often cited 1996 study, 81 people with reoccurring migraines were given either 600 mg of magnesium daily or placebo. By the last 3 weeks of the study, the treated group’s migraines had been reduced by 41.6%. The placebo group only had a 15.8% reduction in migraines.

Type 2 Diabetes

According to the publication Diabetes in Control, magnesium is a key factor in controlling blood sugar levels. The risk of patients developing diabetes may increase with inadequate magnesium. And, they note that patients who already have magnesium rich diets seem to have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Magnesium for cognitive health

In one US 20 year term study, researchers found that 6473 elderly women who consumed about 250 to 300 mg of magnesium per day from foods and supplements had a 37% lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment in comparison to those that ingested less than 200 mg. It was noted by researchers that lower and higher end dosages of magnesium were not beneficial for cognition. In other words, exceeding the 300 mg was not of benefit with regard to cognition. As the requirement for magnesium is 300-400 mg, bear in mind that up to 400 mg is still appropriate for overall wellness.

Magnesium and vitamin D

Magnesium seems to help regulate vitamin D levels in the body. If the body needs more vitamin D, adequate amounts of magnesium will increase absorption. If the body has too much vitamin D, the magnesium will decrease the levels.

Some good food sources of magnesium

  • 1/4 cup flaxseed has 156 mg
  • 1 cup spinach as 156 mg
  • 1 cup swiss chard has 150 mg
  • 1/4 cup almonds has 98 mg
  • 1 cup bran cereal has 80 mg
  • 1/2 cup lima beans has 63 mg
  • 1/2 cup black beans has 60 mg
  • 2 Tbsp. sunflower seeds have 57 mg
  • 1/2 cup cooked okra has 47 mg
  • 1 cup soy milk has 46 mg
  • 3 oz. cooked haddock fish has 43 mg
  • 1 cup yogurt has 43 mg
  • 1 average sized banana has 32 mg

Source: USDA Nutrient Data Base

Magnesium supplements when necessary

When taking magnesium supplements, keep some guidelines in mind. It’s important that the product actually contains the labeled amount of magnesium. Additionally, the supplement should be free of contaminants. And, it should break down when digested. And lastly, cost per pill may be an issue. Many supplements are expensive! While you can easily figure out the cost per pill, the rest of the list is a bit harder to sift through. As the vitamin industry is self-regulating, consider going with a well-known brand that has a good reputation. And, take note if the USP logo is on the label. This logo means the nutrients will actually be absorbed, rather than passing though your body undigested. Here are a few more points to keep in mind when buying supplements.

Additionally, keep these points in mind:

  • MAGNESIUM OXIDE is cheaper, but harder to absorb. And, it may cause diarrhea in certain individuals.
  • MAGNESIUM CITRATE AND MAGNESIUM CHLORIDE may be formulas that are better absorbed. And, there may be fewer side effects if taken in larger amounts.

Lastly, remember these supplements are meant to supplement the magnesium you are getting through food. If you are not clear on the amount of supplement you might need, then consult a qualified dietitian. A dietitian can assess how much magnesium you consume through food. Then, the dietitian can figure out the best dosage of supplemental magnesium for your health and well-being.

Take Away

Magnesium has varied and diverse roles in human health. At the biochemical level, it participates in hundreds of biological chemical reactions. It’s necessary for the release and use of energy from protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Magnesium works together with other nutrients such as calcium and potassium for muscle relaxation. As a natural pain killer, it may reduce fibromyalgia, menstrual, and migraine headache pain. It aids in blood pressure control and hearing health! Finally, it helps regulate vitamin D and blood sugar levels. Clearly, this is one nutrient that you want to be sure to get enough of in your daily diet.

Are you meeting your magnesium requirements? What foods do you eat to be sure you consume enough magnesium?

Sue Rose, MS, RD, LDN

Sue Rose helps readers sort through the maze of nutrition information available to the public. As a seasoned clinical dietitian/nutritionist with decades of experience, her blogs attempt to educate and inform the public at a time when there is so much information it is often overwhelming to understand. Stay tuned for clarity on a variety of topics!

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