Nine benefits of magnesium

food sources of magnesium
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Magnesium is a vital mineral that our body uses in more than 300 of its chemical processes, including muscle and nervous system function and extracting energy from food. In fact, there are so many more benefits of magnesium, from better sleep to improved mood.

Magnesium deficiency can increase your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis, which makes it important to ensure your intake is high enough to support your body. Magnesium overdose is possible, so ensure that if you choose to take the best magnesium supplement you are following the guidelines, and if you have an underlying condition, we advise you speak to your doctor first. Eating more magnesium rich foods is another way to top up your levels safely. 

So what are the main benefits of magnesium? Read on to find out. 

1. It may aid sleep

According to Roxana Ehsani, registered dietitian nutritionist and national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, magnesium regulates neurotransmitters that are related to sleep, and in studies, people who have issues falling asleep who were supplemented with magnesium found it easier to fall asleep.

There is also a link between magnesium and restless leg syndrome, with evidence suggesting that magnesium supplementation can help alleviate this (mainly) night-time issue. Ehsani says: “Although there needs to be future studies conducted, people who suffer from restless leg syndrome may be relieved from supplementing with magnesium as it is responsible for helping regulate muscle and nerve function.”

Roxana Ehsani registered dietitian nutritionist
Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN

Roxana Ehsani is a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics and a former spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise from Virginia Tech and a Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Pittsburgh. Below, she gives her advice on what to look for in a multivitamin for women.

2. Improves mood

Magnesium has been linked with improved mood, as it helps to regulate hormones such as serotonin and melatonin, the ‘feel good hormone’ and the ‘sleepy hormone’. 

It is also involved in our stress response: a 2020 study in the Nutrients journal found that chronic stress and anxiety depletes the body’s stores of magnesium, which leaves us less equipped to deal with stress. Consuming sufficient amounts of magnesium can help you better handle stress. 

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3. Can help ease period pain

Dr Deborah Lee, a medical doctor and a writer for Dr Fox Online Pharmacy, explains that magnesium can help to reduce period pain. “There are two reasons magnesium may reduce period pain,” she says. “Firstly, magnesium is a calcium antagonist and has been shown to reduce uterine muscular contractions. Secondly, it inhibits the production of the prostaglandin PGF2- alpha. Women with the greatest degree of pain relief when taking magnesium were found to have the lowest amount of PGF2 alpha in their menstrual fluid.”

A Cochrane review on the subject found that magnesium supplementation reduced overall period pain and women taking a magnesium supplement relied less heavily on pain relief over their period, when compared with those taking a placebo. 

4. Supports bone health

Ehsani says magnesium can help keep our skeletons healthy. “Magnesium is a major component of the bone and the majority of the body’s magnesium is stored in the bone,” she says. “Consuming a diet rich in magnesium is important and studies have found that it leads to greater bone mineral density.” 

A 2021 review in Nutrients journal links magnesium deficiency to bone fragility in older people, as well as other age-related conditions. Another review in Biometals confirmed a cause-and-effect relationship between magnesium intake and the maintenance of normal bone density. 

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5. It’s good for cardiovascular health

Sufficient magnesium intake has been linked to a reduction in blood pressure and lowered risk of developing cardiovascular disease, as seen in an article in the Journal of Clinical Hypertension. The article states that an intake of 500mg to 1000mg of magnesium (which is higher than the recommended 300mg-500mg RDA), combined with potassium and reduced sodium intake might lead to a reduction in blood pressure. 

“Magnesium supports endothelial function,” explains Lee. “The endothelium are the cells lining blood vessel walls. Directly and indirectly, it initiates both vasodilation and vasoconstriction, lowers blood pressure, reduces the risk of cardiac arrhythmias, improves insulin resistance, prevents platelet aggregation, and has an anti-thrombotic effect,” she says.

She adds: “It can also improve exercise tolerance in those with stable coronary artery disease. It has been calculated that adding magnesium to drinking water would reduce mortality by 30-35%. Low magnesium levels are associated with accelerated atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries.”

6. May reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes

A randomized controlled trial in Diabetes and Metabolism indicates that magnesium supplementation can help to improve the glycemic status in prediabetic patients. In the study, 113 participants between the ages of 30 and 65 with hypomagnesaemia and prediabetes were given the equivalent of 382 mg of magnesium or a placebo. 

Lee says there is growing evidence that magnesium supplementation may reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. “Several studies have demonstrated an inverse relationship between the dietary intake of magnesium and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes,” she says. “Type 2 diabetes has been noted as more common in those with low serum magnesium levels. Although the exact reasons for this are not known, magnesium is a vital co-factor for many of the biochemical reactions involved in carbohydrate metabolism.”

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7. May help with headaches

Lee says that magnesium deficiency can play an integral role in frequency and severity of migraines and headaches. “The reasons for this are not well understood, but magnesium deficiency can cause platelet aggregation, which has been observed during migraine attacks,” she says. “It also disrupts the electrical activity of the brain cortex, causing abnormal cortical spreading: this is a depolarised wave of altered brain activity.” 

The concentration of magnesium is also essential for serotonin receptor function. Low levels of magnesium lead to a reduction in nitric oxide synthesis and affect N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors (glutamate receptors), which then cause behavioral changes, such as impaired concentration and memory. 

We’ve investigated the science behind taking magnesium for headaches, for a deep-dive into this area. 

8. May help to treat asthma

Asthma is a complex condition and has been linked to magnesium due to the anti-inflammatory effect magnesium can have on the lungs. 

“It causes bronchial dilatation and vasodilatation and is sometimes given intravenously, to treat severe or life-threatening asthma,” says Lee. “In a 2014 Cochrane data review, that included 14 randomized controlled trials and 2313 patients seen in the ER with acute asthma, intravenous magnesium was found to reduce the risk of hospital admission and was associated with improved lung function tests.”

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9. May help with seizures

Due to the intimate relationship between magnesium and nerve function, there is potential for the use of magnesium in treating or reducing the incidence of seizures. “Very low magnesium levels have been shown to cause typical ’Grand mal’ seizures

in children and adults,” says Lee. “During pregnancy, magnesium is often the first-choice drug in women with pre-eclampsia to prevent eclamptic seizures. It may be that magnesium is effective for seizures because it inhibits NMDA glutamate receptors, and hence prevents cortical spreading.” 

This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to offer medical advice.

Lou Mudge
Health Writer

Lou Mudge is a health writer based in Bath, United Kingdom for Future PLC. She holds an undergraduate degree in creative writing from Bath Spa University, and her work has appeared in Live Science, Tom's Guide, Fit & Well, Coach, T3, and Tech Radar, among others. She regularly writes about health and fitness-related topics such as air quality, gut health, diet and nutrition and the impacts these things have on our lives. 

She has worked for the University of Bath on a chemistry research project and produced a short book in collaboration with the department of education at Bath Spa University.