It’s a mineral you need to run over 300 chemical reactions in the human body. As important as magnesium is, research also shows between 40 and 50% of the population doesn’t get enough dietary magnesium, but why?
The ultra-processed foods that most people eat explain why so many people are deficient. When food manufacturers process carbohydrates, they remove the bulk of the magnesium, along with other healthful components, like fiber. For example, the processing of whole wheat to make refined flour removes 84% of the magnesium.
Are you deficient in magnesium and how would you know? Blood tests aren’t a reliable indicator of how much magnesium is in your tissues. To determine that, you need a magnesium red blood cell test, a test that most healthcare practitioners don’t routinely order.
Standard magnesium blood tests only tell you whether you’re critically low in magnesium. When blood levels of magnesium drop, your body replenishes it by stealing it from tissues. So, your tissues may be deficient while your blood level of magnesium is normal.
What are the reasons your body may benefit from more dietary magnesium?
Magnesium plays a key role in regulating neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals that affect mood. It has a calming effect on the nervous system and may be beneficial for relieving anxiety and depression. Studies show magnesium-deficient animals develop depressive symptoms, anxiety, and restlessness. Studies show it may be useful in treating some neurological and mental disorders, because of the role it plays in nervous system health.
There’s also some evidence that magnesium helps with sleep. One way it does this is by calming the central nervous system. However, it also affects levels of the melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin is also a powerful antioxidant, so keeping a healthy magnesium level matters for health.
One way to boost melatonin at night is to sleep in a pitch-black room. Even small amounts of light can scale back the amount of melatonin your pineal gland, a tiny gland in your brain, produces and that can affect your sleep. The other is to make sure you’re getting enough magnesium through diet or supplementation.
Inflammation is a contributor to a number of health problems, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. In fact, researchers say inflammation plays a role in almost every disease that affects humans. Inflammation is an overreaction of the immune system that leads to tissue damage. In most cases, chronic inflammation causes few symptoms until it leads to health problems.
Studies in animals show that low magnesium triggers an inflammatory response and increases oxidative damage, a process that harms tissues. The same also is true for humans. Research shows magnesium lowers levels of an inflammatory marker called C-reactive protein (CRP) in humans. As one study points out, magnesium plays a role in regulating the body’s inflammatory response.
May Lower the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Studies show that people who have low magnesium levels are at higher risk of type 2 diabetes. One study that followed 4,000 individuals for 20 years found that men and women with the highest levels of magnesium in their tissues were 47% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
Why does magnesium reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes? It seems to improve insulin sensitivity and that helps with blood sugar control. If you’re already getting sufficient magnesium through diet though, you likely won’t get added benefit by taking a magnesium supplement. The benefits are most pronounced in people who are deficient or borderline deficient.
Lowers Blood Pressure
If you have high blood pressure, make sure you’re getting enough dietary magnesium. Studies show that people who supplement with 400 to 450 milligrams of magnesium each day enjoy a drop in blood pressure. These changes may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, the benefits apply only to people with hypertension. If you have a normal blood pressure, taking a magnesium supplement won’t lower it anymore.
Should You Take a Magnesium Supplement?
It’s best to get nutrients, including magnesium, through diet when possible. Talk to your physician before taking a magnesium supplement. Experts recommend men get 400 to 420 milligrams of magnesium daily. The recommendation for women is 310 to 320 milligrams each day. Some of the best sources of magnesium include:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Swiss chard
- Green, leafy vegetables
- Cooked beans
- Tempeh and tofu
Ultra-processed foods are usually low in magnesium unless the manufacturer adds synthetic magnesium to the final product.
The Bottom Line
Now you know the role magnesium plays in health and why you need enough of it. If you eat a whole-food based diet, you’ll consume more magnesium. Diabetics tend to have lower tissue levels of magnesium, so talk to your health care provider about whether to take a supplement if you have prediabetes or diabetes.
- Nielsen FH. Magnesium deficiency and increased inflammation: current perspectives. J Inflamm Res. 2018;11:25-34. Published 2018 Jan 18. doi:10.2147/JIR.S136742.
- Kim DJ, Xun P, Liu K, Loria C, Yokota K, Jacobs DR Jr, He K. Magnesium intake in relation to systemic inflammation, insulin resistance, and the incidence of diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2010 Dec;33(12):2604-10. doi: 10.2337/dc10-0994. Epub 2010 Aug 31. PMID: 20807870; PMCID: PMC2992198.
- Hatzistavri LS, Sarafidis PA, Georgianos PI, Tziolas IM, Aroditis CP, Zebekakis PE, Pikilidou MI, Lasaridis AN. Oral magnesium supplementation reduces ambulatory blood pressure in patients with mild hypertension. Am J Hypertens. 2009 Oct;22(10):1070-5. doi: 10.1038/ajh.2009.126. Epub 2009 Jul 16. PMID: 19617879.
- Botturi A, Ciappolino V, Delvecchio G, Boscutti A, Viscardi B, Brambilla P. The Role and the Effect of Magnesium in Mental Disorders: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2020;12(6):1661. Published 2020 Jun 3. doi:10.3390/nu12061661.
- Eby GA, Eby KL. Rapid recovery from major depression using magnesium treatment. Med Hypotheses. 2006;67(2):362-70. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2006.01.047. Epub 2006 Mar 20. PMID: 16542786.
- Boyle NB, Lawton C, Dye L. The Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress-A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2017;9(5):429. Published 2017 Apr 26. doi:10.3390/nu9050429.
- “11 Important Health Benefits of Magnesium | Nutrition Advance.” 23 Jul. 2020, nutritionadvance.com/health-benefits-of-magnesium/.
- “Pros and cons of taking a magnesium supplement – Mayo Clinic.” 17 Dec. 2019, mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/magnesium-supplements/faq-20466270.
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