Author’s Note: This article is based on personal research and experiences. This is not medical advice. I have linked to experts and research for more information. Please make sure to discuss any health concerns with your doctor before you start taking any magnesium supplements.
Magnesium, #12 on the periodic table, is a common mineral that affects our health.
My mom has been a believer in a wide range of supplements and naturopathy for years. I’ve challenged her every time she suggested I try a new supplement or treatment. I was convinced that if it was true my doctor would be telling me to try whatever new miracle supplement she had found.
And then my primary care doctor suggested taking magnesium supplements and alpha lipoic acid, both supplements to support nerve health. A few months later, a migraine landed me in the hospital and the first thing they gave me was IV magnesium and fluids. A few months later, a specialist who treats me for a degenerative nerve condition called CRPS was pleased that I was taking a few supplements told me to double the magnesium I was taking based on new research for the rare nerve disease I have. Color me convinced.
Magnesium in your diet
It’s best to get nutrients from the food you eat and use supplements as the name implies: as a supplement to your diet. Magnesium can be found in a variety of foods such as:
- Kale! What nutrient isn’t in this superfood? Magnesium can be found alongside calcium in dark leafy greens including spinach, chard and kale.
- Whole grains – processing grains and removing the bran significantly reduces magnesium content, so stick to whole grains like sorghum, oats and brown rice.
- Legumes – I’m talking about beans and peanuts. Roasted chickpeas, bean salads and chili are all a great way to get some legumes in your diet.
- Nuts – Nuts are healthy for a myriad of reasons, magnesium is just another to add to their list of benefits. Try some almond butter in place of peanut butter or adding some nuts to your favorite granola.
- Avocados – Another superfood favorite, avocados are great on their own and can even add a creamy texture to dressings and sauces.
Excuse me while I go make avocado toast with whole-grain bread…
Common non-food sources of magnesium
I’ve been taking Epsom salt baths for forever without even thinking about it. When I started dancing, a friend suggested recovering from class with an Epsom soak. I knew it wasn’t salt, but I didn’t know it was actually a source of magnesium. Certain forms of magnesium act as a natural laxative and Milk of Magnesia is the best-known brand.
The recommended daily allowances (RDAs) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) vary by gender, age and if you are pregnant/breastfeeding. For adult males the RDA is 270-400 mg; adult females is 280-320 mg; for pregnant females 320 mg daily; and for breastfeeding females, 340-355 mg. If you are deficient or have a condition that can be treated with magnesium, your doctor may recommend an increased dosage.
Magnesium is often ignored when doctors suggest supplements. Vitamin D, Calcium, B12, Vitamin C are regular recommendations from doctors, but adding magnesium as a supplement has been growing in popularity for a variety of reasons. It helps a litany of conditions, is readily available and has low risk for developing toxicity. It can be taken to fix a deficiency or for certain medical conditions.
Are you deficient?
The most basic reason to take a magnesium supplement is to replenish a deficiency. Early signs of magnesium deficiency include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and weakness. As magnesium deficiency worsens, numbness, tingling, muscle contractions and cramps, seizures, personality changes, abnormal heart rhythms, and coronary spasms can occur.
You’re at risk for a magnesium deficiency if:
- You have a gastrointestinal disease because of decreased capacity for nutrient absorption
- You have Type 2 diabetes
- You have an alcohol dependency
- You take certain prescription medications
Health benefits of magnesium supplements
For bone strength
I’ve been taking daily calcium since I was 18 and my doctor found out that I refused to drink milk. A few years ago, I added Vitamin D to help with absorption. But research now shows that you should be taking magnesium with your calcium. It adds to bioavailability of calcium and increases bone mineral density meaning it can help avert osteoporosis. The big asterisk on this benefit is that magnesium can reduce the efficacy of bisphosphonates including Fossamax, a drug for treating osteoporosis.
For nerve health
Magnesium is incredibly important for nerve function and health. In addition to using IV magnesium for migraines, it can also be used to treat nerve pain from cancer and fibromyalgia. Studies show it might be effective for post-surgical and post-hysterectomy pain. Taken in combination with calcium it can help reduce symptoms from Restless Leg Syndrome. There’s even research showing it’s beneficial for treating cluster headaches as well.
For heart health
Chest pain (Angina) from clogged arteries reduce chest pain attacks and blood clots. Magnesium may also reduce symptoms from mitral valve prolapse. Giving magnesium intravenously (by IV) or by mouth seems to be helpful for treating irregular heartbeat from both arrhythmias and torsades de pointes. It’s not a heart health magic bullet – magnesium seems to have no impact on heart attacks.
If you suffer from high blood pressure during pregnancy (pre-eclampsia and eclampsia), adding a magnesium supplement may help control it.
For mental health
There is some promising research here, however there is no conclusive evidence about magnesium improving symptoms from anxiety, ADHD, Bipolar Disorder and mania.
What’s not to like?
Strong bones. Healthy nerves. A regular ticker. Magnesium helps with all of these and unless you’re an exceptionally healthy eater, you’re likely not getting enough. The standard American diet (SAD for short) is full of processed grains and a lack of leafy greens. (Here’s an excellent article on different sources of magnesium). Luckily magnesium toxicity is rare and it takes quite a lot of extra magnesium at once to get there.
Mary Fran Wiley is a well known gluten-free and positive living blogger from Chicago where she writes Curiouser and Curiouser, maintains the Chronic Positivity Project, and has been featured in Allergic Living Magazine, Care2.com and Today.com.