What Is Magnesium & Why Do You Need It?

You may have heard the buzz around magnesium. Whether related to claims that it might improve sleep or the debate on its concentration in the soil, magnesium has moved more into the spotlight in recent years. But what actually is magnesium, and what can it do for you? Here we break down the facts surrounding magnesium, clear up any misconceptions and share ways to add this important nutrient to your eating pattern in a flavorful and healthy way.

Pictured Recipe: Spinach, Peanut Butter & Banana Smoothie

What Is Magnesium?

Magnesium is a mineral found throughout the body, and it's also naturally found in many foods. Magnesium works with over 300 different enzymes in the body to carry out crucial functions such as protein production, muscle function, nerve function, blood pressure regulation and blood glucose control. Magnesium is an electrolyte, along with sodium, potassium, phosphorus, chloride and calcium. Electrolytes help move nutrients into your cells to enable functions like nerve impulses, muscle contractions and heartbeats, as well as helping regulate fluid balance.

Why Do You Need Magnesium?

Functions like heartbeats, muscle contractions and nerve signals are pretty important reasons to have enough magnesium in your body. But even still, nearly 50% of Americans are not getting enough. Most magnesium is stored inside your cells or in bone, so it can be difficult to accurately assess magnesium status (the serum levels in the blood don't always accurately portray the total amount of magnesium in the body). Additionally, if dietary intake of magnesium is low, the kidneys will limit how much of the nutrient is excreted to try to preserve appropriate magnesium levels in the body. But over time, deficiency is possible. Early signs include appetite loss, nausea, fatigue, weakness, numbness and cramps. Severe cases of magnesium deficiency can lead to seizures and hypocalcemia or hypokalemia (low levels of calcium and potassium) because electrolyte balance is disrupted.

Related: Can Magnesium Help You Poop?

Spinach, Peanut Butter & Banana Smoothie
Spinach, Peanut Butter & Banana Smoothie

Ali Redmond

What Are the Health Benefits of Magnesium?

There are so many bodily functions that rely on magnesium. Beyond everyday muscle contractions and heartbeats, here are some other ways you may benefit from eating enough magnesium.

May Reduce Inflammation

Getting enough magnesium might help you lower the levels of chronic inflammation in your body, which can help with everything from longevity to healthy weight management and chronic disease risk. One 2017 review published in Current Pharmaceutical Design found that among the 11 analyzed studies, regular magnesium supplementation led to lower bodily markers of inflammation. Further research published in 2018 and 2019 echoes these findings.

May Help Prevent Bone Fractures

Since magnesium is a crucial component of bone structure, getting enough is important for overall bone health. Magnesium can help your body absorb and utilize calcium and, subsequently, vitamin D, all of which help maintain strong bones as we grow and age. In fact, one 2018 study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that those who met the magnesium intake recommendations (either through food or supplementation) had a 27% lower risk of fractures compared to those with lower magnesium intakes.

May Lower Heart Disease and Diabetes Risk

Magnesium plays a role in how our hearts beat, so getting an adequate amount may help you avoid high blood pressure and lower your heart disease risk. A 2018 review of research in Nutrients found that higher magnesium intakes were associated with lower incidence of heart disease, stroke and hypertension (aka high blood pressure). Other research suggests that magnesium might also help improve overall cholesterol levels, which also can help lower heart disease risk.

Magnesium also supports healthy blood pressure levels and might enhance insulin sensitivity. A 2020 review published in Diabetes/Metabolism Research and Reviews found that magnesium intake was inversely related to type 2 diabetes risk—meaning the higher the intake, the lower the risk. Researchers also found that adequate magnesium intake supported better blood glucose control in individuals with diabetes.

May Support Better Mental Health

Magnesium helps make nerve impulses possible, so it might be intuitive that it supports brain health, but the benefits don't stop there. A 2017 review in Nutrients found that magnesium might help balance neurotransmitters that are associated with feelings of anxiety. The study found that those who took magnesium supplements reported lower anxiety levels than those who didn't. Additionally, research has found that supplementing magnesium may help reduce symptoms of depression. However, mental health is a multifaceted and complicated topic, and more research is needed to further clarify these findings.

May Improve Sleep Quality

Improving sleep is one of magnesium's most touted benefits in the wellness world, and the research might actually back up the claims. Magnesium helps regulate several neurotransmitters related to sleep. One 2021 review in BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies found that magnesium supplementation helped adults with insomnia fall asleep faster by an average of 17 minutes. Another 2022 study in Sleep echoed these findings and added that magnesium supplementation helped participants experience better sleep quality and longer sleep duration.

Food Sources of Magnesium

It is recommended that young adults over the age of 19 get 310 or 400 milligrams (for female and male, respectively) of magnesium daily. For people over 30, the recommended dietary allowance increases to 320 milligrams for women and 420 milligrams for men. Here are some of the most potent food sources of magnesium to help you meet your needs:

  • Pumpkin seeds: 1 ounce (37% Daily Value)

  • Chia seeds: 1 ounce (26% DV)

  • Almonds: 1 ounce (19% DV)

  • Spinach: ½ cup cooked (19% DV)

  • Cashews: 1 ounce (18% DV)

  • Peanuts: 1 ounce (15% DV)

  • Soymilk: 1 cup (15% DV)

  • Black beans: ½ cup (14% DV)

  • Edamame: ½ cup (12% DV)

  • Potato: 3½ ounces (10% DV)

  • Brown rice: ½ cup cooked (10% DV)

  • Plain yogurt: 8 ounces (10% DV)

The Bottom Line

There are many reasons to make sure you're getting enough magnesium in your day. From sleep quality to fracture risk, various benefits are associated with the popular nutrient. Luckily for you, several accessible food sources of magnesium can help you reap the benefits. Recipes like our Cocoa-Chia Pudding with Raspberries, Super-Seed Snack Bars and Bean & Veggie Taco Bowl can help you enjoy the mineral any time of day.

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