What is Magnesium and how does it work?

Magnesium is one of the most abundant minerals in the body. It is involved in over 600 functions in our bodies and is therefore essential to our health. Still, almost 70 percent of Americans do not get enough magnesium in their diets. 

Magnesium is one of the key minerals we require for our health. Insufficient magnesium is linked to a variety of health problems. Things like general weakness, depression, and high blood pressure are at least partially due to not getting enough magnesium. 

Still, magnesium is easily available in a variety of dietary sources. It is quite easy to get enough magnesium in your diet if you are eating the right foods. Like any other nutrient, making sure we get sufficient magnesium is a matter of simply paying attention

There are also many magnesium supplements available. For those who, for whatever reason, cannot get enough magnesium, you can supplement with something as simple as a multivitamin. 

What is magnesium? What foods contain magnesium? What are the health benefits of magnesium? What are the consequences of not getting enough magnesium? This guide will give you all the information you need on magnesium, its importance, and how to make sure you get enough. 

What is Magnesium?

Magnesium is a simple element. It is one of the most abundant elements on Earth. It occurs naturally bound with other elements to form things like magnesium salts, and this is how it makes its way into food sources and the human body. 

Magnesium works with things like phosphate compounds to form chemicals like ATP, the most basic energy source in the body, and DNA. Magnesium also binds with more complex chemicals to form enzymes. We take magnesium compounds in certain medications like milk of magnesia as an antacid and laxative. Magnesium compounds are also used in more complex medical interventions such as those used to treat eclampsia. 

Types of magnesium

Natural forms of magnesium work in our bodies in important ways. Some of the more common forms of magnesium include:

Magnesium citrate

Magnesium citrate is magnesium that is bound with citric acid. It occurs naturally in citrus fruits and is often used as a flavor preservative. Magnesium citrate can also be taken as a magnesium supplement. 

Magnesium oxide

This is simply magnesium that is bound with oxygen. It is a white powdery substance and is often sold in the form of a capsule. Magnesium oxide is used as a laxative and is sold as milk of magnesia. It can also be used to treat heartburn. 

Magnesium chloride

Magnesium chloride is a common magnesium salt that is bound with chlorine. Chlorine itself is extremely unstable and binds easily with elements like magnesium and sodium. This is why they are common forms of salt. 

Magnesium chloride can also be used as an antacid to treat heartburn. It can also be used as a magnesium supplement. Magnesium chloride is also found in some topical ointments for treating sore muscles. 

Magnesium lactate

Magnesium lactate is magnesium bound with lactic acid. Lactic acid is produced by our muscles and blood cells. 

Magnesium lactate can be produced by our muscles and blood cells. It is frequently used as a food additive to fortify them with magnesium. Magnesium lactate can be used to help with digestion.

Magnesium malate

This is magnesium bound with malic acid. It occurs naturally in many foods, fruits, and wine. Magnesium malate has a bitter taste and can be used to enhance flavors in some foods. Magnesium malate absorbs easily in the digestive tract and makes for a great source of magnesium. 

Magnesium taurate

Magnesium taurate contains the important amino acid taurine. Taurine plays an important role in regulating blood sugar. Magnesium taurate may also help regulate blood pressure. 

How does magnesium work?

Magnesium is a crucial chemical component in over 300 enzyme systems in the body. It plays a part in chemical reactions in the body that involve protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose levels, and blood pressure regulation. 

Magnesium is important for the production of energy throughout the human body. The elemental form of energy we use is a chemical called adenosine triphosphate (ATP Magnesium is crucial for the production and regulation of ATP.

Magnesium is also a key component of bone development. And magnesium is central to the synthesis of DNA and RNA, the elemental building blocks of life. 

Magnesium benefits

As we can see, magnesium is essential to our health. It is part of the balance of maintaining our entire physical system. Some of the key benefits of magnesium also include:

Healthy brain function

Magnesium is one of the key factors in relaying signals between your brain and the rest of your body. 

There are some important receptors in nerve cells: N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors. Magnesium functions as a facilitator between these cells, making it possible for them to communicate. In this way, magnesium assists in brain development, memory, and learning capacity. 

In healthy people, magnesium sits inside NMDA receptors and makes it possible for signals to cross without straining the receptors. When magnesium levels get too low, these NMDA receptors can get blocked from overstimulation. This can lead to long-term brain damage. 

Maintains a healthy heartbeat

Magnesium works with calcium to maintain the heartbeat. Calcium enters the system and heart muscles causing the muscles to contract. Magnesium causes the opposite reaction and allows the heart muscle to relax. The balance of calcium and magnesium makes it possible for our heart muscle to contract and relax into a regular heartbeat. 

When magnesium levels get too low, the heart muscle contracts until it is overstimulated and overworked. The most common symptom of this problem is a rapid or irregular heartbeat. This can lead to life-threatening problems. 

What is more, there is a sodium/ potassium reaction that maintains regular electrical impulses to the heart. Magnesium regulates this reaction and further maintains a regular heartbeat. 

Regulates regular muscle functions

Just as magnesium helps control the heart, it performs similar functions in our muscles. Magnesium is a calcium blocker. Calcium binds with specific proteins in the muscles that change their shape. This causes muscles to contract.

Magnesium competes with calcium and blocks it from binding with proteins and muscles, then relaxes. In this way, we get a full contraction and release of the muscle.

A magnesium deficiency can cause muscle cramps and muscle spasms since the calcium/magnesium reaction is incomplete. 

Can lower blood pressure

Recent studies have shown that magnesium lowers blood pressure in people who have hypertension. An analysis of over 30 studies of people with hypertension showed a significant drop in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure from taking a magnesium supplement. 

Reduces the risk of heart disease

Several recent studies have linked magnesium with a reduced risk of heart disease. In one study, researchers found that people with the lowest magnesium levels had the highest risk of heart disease. This correlation led them to link magnesium with heart health. 

It is thought that the anti-inflammatory effects of magnesium reduced the risk of heart disease. Taking a supplement that contains 100 mg or more of magnesium reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke by as much as 22 percent. 

May control blood sugar levels

People who live with type 2 diabetes also tend to have low magnesium levels. Magnesium helps to control blood sugar levels and insulin. 

Cells have receptors for insulin, and magnesium plays a part in how these receptors function. Low magnesium levels cause the receptors to malfunction and this throws off blood sugar levels, especially in people with type 2 diabetes. 

An analysis of multiple studies demonstrated that magnesium supplements significantly reduced blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.  

Can help you sleep

Magnesium can improve the quality of your sleep. It can help you fall asleep faster and get better quality sleep. A study of adults with sleep disorders found that a daily supplement of magnesium improves their ability to get to sleep and remain asleep.

It appears that magnesium plays an important role in the regulation of certain nerve receptors that control the brain activity that allows you to calm down. By increasing the levels of magnesium in your system, you can help regulate these receptors toward better sleep. 

Fights depression

Researchers have found that low levels of magnesium can be linked to depression. In one study, researchers found that in more than 8000 adults, those with the lowest levels of magnesium were the most at risk for developing depression. 

One reason for this correlation is that magnesium helps regulate brain function. Low levels of magnesium can inhibit certain brain functions leading to depression. Several studies have found that a magnesium supplement can be as effective as anti-depression medications in some patients. 

Fights migraines

Some studies have found that magnesium levels can control migraines. Adults who suffer from migraines experienced significantly fewer episodes when their magnesium levels were increased. 

One study that tracked individuals over 12 weeks found that people who took a 600 mg magnesium supplement experienced 42 percent fewer migraines before taking any magnesium. 

It appears that the way magnesium works toward proper brain function has an impact on the potential for developing migraines. 

Food sources with magnesium

It turns out that few of us get the recommended daily intake of magnesium (400-420 for men and 310-320 for women) in our diets. Yet, many foods are great sources of magnesium. These foods include (magnesium in grams):

  • Pumpkin seeds 0.25 cup, 16 grams
  • Spinach 1 cup, 180 grams
  • Swiss chard 1 cup, 1175 grams
  • Black beans 1 cup, 172 grams
  • Flaxseeds 1 ounce, 28 grams
  • Beet greens 1 cup, 144 grams
  • Almonds 1 ounce, 28 grams
  • Cashews 1 ounce, 28 grams
  • Dark chocolate 1 ounce, 28 grams
  • Avocado 1 medium 200 grams
  • Tofu 3.5 ounces. 100 grams
  • Salmon 3.5 ounces 10 grams

If for any reason you do not seem to be able to get the magnesium you need from dietary sources, magnesium supplements are easily tolerated. Supplements that contain magnesium glycinate, gluconate, and citrate are easily absorbed by the body.  

As with all supplements, it is best to talk to your doctor before taking a magnesium supplement. Magnesium supplements can interfere with some medications like those for high blood pressure, antibiotics, and diuretics. 

Magnesium side effects and precautions

Magnesium supplements are considered safe. However, it is best to check with your doctor before taking a magnesium supplement especially if you have any medical conditions. 

Magnesium supplements can interfere with diuretic and heart medications, as well as certain antibiotics. 

Few people experience side effects from magnesium supplements. However, some side effects can include diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. These effects are usually associated with large doses. 

People with kidney disease are at a higher risk for the side effects of magnesium. 

Magnesium dosage

The recommended dose of magnesium per day is 200-400 mg. This means it is possible to get all the magnesium you need from a supplement. 


Magnesium is one of the most common minerals in the world. It is one of the essential elements for life, including human life. Numerous foods contain abundant quantities of magnesium.

Still, most people do not get enough magnesium in their diets. This can lead to some serious problems. Magnesium plays a role in over 600 functions in the human body, including the proper function of the heart. 

Magnesium also has tremendous health benefits. Everything from regulating your muscles to getting a good night’s sleep can depend on proper amounts of magnesium in your system. 

Since magnesium is such an important part of life, it occurs naturally in many food sources. With a little attention to magnesium-rich foods, you can get all the magnesium you need from dietary sources.

If you are not getting enough magnesium in your diet, there are many great magnesium supplements. Magnesium supplements are generally tolerated well with few side effects. It is possible to get your full magnesium recommended intake from supplements.  


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