Top 5 Health Benefits of Magnesium: From Metabolism to Muscles to Mood
As the fourth most abundant mineral in the body, magnesium is a crucial yet under-consumed nutrient. The functions of magnesium range from muscle contraction to mood regulation to metabolic control. In this article, learn more about the health benefits of magnesium and the different forms of supplemental magnesium you can take.
Magnesium: The Basics
Magnesium is an essential mineral used as a cofactor in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, including DNA and protein synthesis, energy production, immune cell support, and cellular signaling.
Although magnesium is found widely in plant-based foods, it’s estimated that up to 80% of Americans have low or deficient levels of this mineral.
In the past, plant foods contained higher magnesium levels due to the mineral’s presence in the soil. However, current agricultural practices have depleted soil magnesium, which reduces the amount found naturally in fruits and vegetables. Also, magnesium bioavailability tends to be low, with as little as 25% of the mineral getting absorbed in the gut.
The highest food sources of magnesium are nuts, seeds, beans, dark leafy greens, dark chocolate, and avocado. Adult males and females should consume 420 and 320 mg of magnesium per day, respectively — this could come from food or supplements.
Supplemental Types of Magnesium
Magnesium can be taken in capsule or powder form, applied as a topical cream, or added to the bathtub in the form of magnesium salts. There are many supplemental magnesium forms, as the mineral is used for different health reasons when bound to various molecules. The different types of magnesium can be taken concurrently, depending on individual needs.
- Magnesium threonate: This form has been studied for its ability to support brain health and cognition.
- Magnesium oxide: Also known as milk of magnesia, this type is used as a laxative.
- Magnesium citrate: Bound with citric acid, this form is easily absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and commonly used to promote regularity as it draws water into the intestines.
- Magnesium chloride: This form is commonly used in bath salt form in people with magnesium deficiency, as it is highly soluble in water and gets absorbed through the skin.
- Magnesium malate: This is also a highly bioavailable form, but without the laxative-inducing effects of magnesium oxide and citrate.
Top 5 Health Benefits of Magnesium
1. Heart Health
Magnesium is involved in controlling blood pressure, lipids, and glucose, all of which play a role in cardiometabolic health. Magnesium supports heart health through regulating endothelial function and nitric oxide production, reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, and controlling smooth muscle contraction in the heart.
Low levels of both dietary intake of magnesium and circulating levels of the nutrient have been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular or metabolic disorders.
In a large meta-analysis published in Nutrients in November 2016, the results from 25 studies were pooled. Data from over 630,000 individuals found that for every additional 100 mg per day of dietary magnesium consumed, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes was reduced by up to 13%.
Similarly, a study published in the Nutrition Journal in September 2017 found that greater blood magnesium levels were linked to a reduced risk of developing hypertension and coronary heart disease.
2. Brain Health
In the brain, magnesium is necessary for intracellular signaling and the growth, differentiation, and survival of neuronal cells and networks. These functions have made magnesium a therapeutic target for preserving synaptic plasticity, cognition, and memory. Magnesium also upregulates the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that promotes the survival and growth of neurons.
In a study published in Molecular Brain in September 2014, mice with Alzheimer’s disease who received magnesium threonate experienced a reversal in cognitive deficits and improvements in synaptic abilities.
As synaptic dysfunction is a leading cause of cognitive impairment, focusing on preserving these signaling pathways via adequate magnesium intake may benefit patients at risk of developing dementia.
Maintaining healthy levels of magnesium may also be beneficial for reducing the risk or severity of Parkinson’s disease (PD). Research has shown that magnesium inhibits the neurotoxic accumulation of the protein alpha-synuclein, which is associated with PD development.
3. Supports Mood
Low magnesium levels have been found in adults with depression, likely due to its previously mentioned role in neuronal signaling, BDNF production, and neurotransmitter function.
In a study published in Nutrients in July 2019, older adults who had lower blood magnesium levels were significantly more likely to score higher on measures of depression, even when magnesium levels were technically within the normal range. This indicates that even without a full-blown deficiency, magnesium levels on the lower end of normal may be implicated in mood disorders.
Some intervention studies have shown promise with using magnesium to manage mood. Published in PLoS One in June 2017, a 6-week crossover trial found that those who took magneisum chloride experienced a significant reduction in depression scores by 6 points and a reduction in the anxiety scores by 4.5 points, compared to when the participants were taking a placebo.
This 6-point improvement is a clinically relevant number, providing improvements comparable to antidepressant medications. This indicates that maintaining healthy magnesium levels may be a potential therapeutic option for promoting stable mood, with few adverse effects.
4. Supports Sleep
Magnesium is involved in the circadian rhythm, our body’s internal clocks that regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Magnesium’s ability to relax muscle contractions may help people who have trouble sleeping due to restless leg syndrome. Magnesium may also improve sleep by reducing feelings of anxiety and stress, potentially allowing for quicker sleep latency.
In an October 2018 study published in Nutrients, greater dietary magnesium intake was linked to a reduction in the prevalence of daytime sleepiness in women, but not men.
Another study looked at the effects of supplemental magnesium in elderly people with sleep issues. They found that those who took 500 mg of magnesium per day for eight weeks experienced significant improvements in sleep time and efficiency, with reductions in early-morning awakenings and serum cortisol levels, indicating lower amounts of stress.
5. Supports Muscle Recovery
Exercise affects magnesium metabolism; research has looked at the effects of supplemental magnesium on improving post-activity recovery. The mechanism behind this is likely due to magnesium’s involvement in energy metabolism, muscle contractions, and protein synthesis.
A systematic review published in Nutrients in March 2019 concluded that 300-500 mg of magnesium per day is associated with improved muscle recovery markers and reductions in exercise-induced stress, injury, and inflammation. However, research has not supported the use of magnesium in the short-term to enhance athletic performance.
In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in September 2014, older women with a mean age of 70 years had significant improvements in the Short Physical Performance Battery score, chair stand times, and walking speeds after supplementing for 12 weeks with 300 mg of magnesium per day. As frailty is a common concern in the elderly, magnesium supplements may be a simple way to improve older adults’ physical performance.
- Magnesium is an essential mineral used for hundreds of biochemical actions in the body.
- The health benefits of magnesium include improved cardiovascular, metabolic, and brain health.
- Magnesium may benefit mood and sleep disorders and improve muscle strength and recovery.
- Supplemental magnesium can be taken in many forms, with magnesium threonate and magnesium malate being the most bioavailable without causing gastrointestinal symptoms.
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