What Is Magnesium Good For? 37 Health Benefits, Deficiency, Side Effects

magnesium rich foods

One of the most important nutrients in your diet is magnesium.  

In fact, you may look up quite a few health disorders and see the suggestion, ​"Try taking more magnesium​" right on top of the list of recommended treatments.

This is because magnesium plays an essential role in numerous processes throughout your body. 

That means that if you are at all deficient in it, that can have an adverse effect on your health.

Just what does magnesium do for you?  

In this article, I am going to share a huge list of research-backed benefits with you.

But first, let’s talk more about magnesium basics - what magnesium is, how much of it you require each day for optimum health, and the dangers of magnesium deficiency.

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What is Magnesium?

magnesium symbol

Magnesium is one of the chemical elements found on the periodic table of elements.  

It has the atomic number 12, and the symbol ​"Mg.​"

The substance is a solid, and is gray in color with a shiny appearance.

Magnesium is all over the place. 

It is the eighth most abundant element found in the Earth’s crust (1).

Because magnesium salts are more easily soluble in water than calcium salts, they are more available to living things to use.

For this reason, both plant and animal life have evolved to make use of them.

Indeed, according to the source above, magnesium is the fourth most common cation found in vertebrates.

So it is perhaps not surprising that magnesium plays a role in more than 600 different enzymatic reactions throughout the human body (2).

These include energy metabolism and protein synthesis among others.

Magnesium is also involved in blood glucose management, nerve function, muscle function, the regulation of blood pressure, and other processes. 

It even is used in the synthesis of new DNA and RNA (3).

So that gives you an idea for just how important magnesium is, and how it became such a vital part of human metabolism.

Now let’s talk about how much magnesium you need each day in order to stay healthy.

KEY POINT: Magnesium is one of the most common elements found on earth, and as such, plays many crucial roles in the human body.  

​How Much Magnesium Do You Require Every Day?

Here are the daily recommended intakes for magnesium as specified by the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (3):

​Age

​Male

​Female

​Pregnancy

​Lactation

​0-6 months

​30 mg*

​30 mg*

​7–12 months

​75 mg*

​75 mg*

​1–3 years

​80 mg

​80 mg

​4–8 years

​130 mg

​130 mg

​9–13 years

​240 mg

​240 mg

​14–18 years

​410 mg

​360 mg

​400 mg

​360 mg

​19–30 years

​400 mg

​310 mg

​350 mg

​310 mg

​31–50 years

​420 mg

​320 mg

​360 mg

​320 mg

​51+ years

​420 mg

​320 mg

* Adequate Intake​

Those who are pregnant need more magnesium.  The amounts are unchanged however for those who are breastfeeding.

How Much Magnesium is Too Much?

Upper Intake Levels (ULs) have also been established for magnesium supplements. 

​Age

​Male

​Female

​Pregnant

​Lactating

​​0-12 months

​None established

​None established

​1–3 years

​65 mg

​65 mg

​4–8 years

​110 mg

​110 mg

​9–18 years

​350 mg

​350 mg

​350 mg

​350 mg

​19+ years

​350 mg

​350 mg

​350 mg

​350 mg

​Reading these numbers, you probably noticed something odd, and that is that they are actually lower than the daily recommended amounts previously shared.

The reason for that is that these upper limits only apply to supplemental magnesium

They do not apply to the magnesium you absorb through foods.

Why is there a distinction?

So long as you are healthy and your kidneys are functioning properly, there is no danger from eating excessive amounts of magnesium in foods. 

The reason for this is that your kidneys are able to flush out the extra magnesium.  It simply passes through your body in your urine (4).

Magnesium in supplemental form is different however.

If you get too much of it, it can lead to diarrhea, cramping, and nausea (5).

These effects are most common with magnesium carbonate, gluconate, chloride, and oxide (6).

Diarrhea from magnesium supplement use is actually pretty common.  In fact, I have some personal experience with it.

With the right product and the right dosage for you though, you should be able to avoid it.

I eventually figured out that if I cut my magnesium tablets in half, I was getting the right amount not to cause this side effect.

Magnesium Side Effects

If you take a very high amount of magnesium (in excess of 5,000 mg/day), you put yourself at risk for more serious side effects - namely those of magnesium toxicity (7).

These can include nausea, vomiting, hypotension, flushing, depression, urinary retention, breathing problems, muscle weakness, and more. 

Cardiac rest is also a possibility (8).

But so long as you are staying away from these super high doses, magnesium is generally a safe supplement.

KEY POINTRecommended daily amounts for magnesium have been established, as have upper levels for magnesium supplements.

Getting excess magnesium through the foods you eat is not typically dangerous, but getting too much magnesium through supplementation can result in toxicity.  

Thankfully, these effects have only been observed at very high intake levels.  

So long as you are taking a healthy dose, you can experience the benefits of magnesium without any ill effects.

​Dietary Sources of Magnesium

almonds on white background

If you do want to get more magnesium, food-based sources are a great starting point. 

Here are some foods and beverages which are high in magnesium (3):

  • Dry roasted almonds (1 ounce): ​80 mg 20% DV
  • Boiled spinach (1/2 cup): 78 mg 20% DV
  • Dry roasted cashews (1 ounce): 74 mg 19% DV
  • Oil roasted peanuts (1/4 cup): 63 mg 16% DV
  • Soymilk (1 cup): 61 mg 15% DV
  • Cooked black beans (1/2 cup): 60 mg 15% DV
  • Cooked edamame (1/2 cup):  50 mg 13% DV
  • Whole wheat bread (2 slices): 46 mg 12% DV
  • Avocado (1 cup, cubed): 44 mg 11% DV
  • Potato (3.5 ounces, baked with skins intact): 43 mg 11% DV
  • Brown rice (cooked, ½ cup): 42 mg 11% DV
  • Plain low-fat yogurt (8 ounces): 42mg 11% DV
  • Fortified breakfast cereals: up to 10% DV
  • Oatmeal (1 packet, instant): 36 mg 9% DV
  • Canned kidney beans (1/2 cup): 35 mg 9% DV

What is great about this selection is that it is vegan-friendly.  There are a lot of options here which should fit any diet.  

These foods include other nutritional benefits as well.

KEY POINT: One great way to increase the amount of magnesium you are getting is simply to increase your intake of magnesium-rich foods.  

Any of the options in this list can help you get the nutrition you need.

​Could You Have Magnesium Deficiency?

man holding question mark

Magnesium is one of those nutrients which a lot of people tend to get less of than they need to function at their best.  

That is true even in First World countries where access to nutritious foods is reasonably high.

The National Institute of Health reports (3) that, ​"Dietary surveys of people in the United States consistently show that intakes of magnesium are lower than recommended amounts.,​" and that ​"a majority of Americans of all ages ingest less magnesium from food than their respective EARs [Estimated Average Requirements].​​"

Magnesium deficiency can have serious health consequences (9) including:

  • ​Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lost appetite
  • Weakness
  • Tingling​
  • ​Numbness
  • Cramps
  • Seizures
  • Arrhythmias
  • Coronary spasms
  • Personality changes. 

It is also possible for low magnesium levels to lead to low potassium or calcium levels in severe cases.

Certain groups of people are at a heightened risk for magnesium deficiency. 

These include:

  • Patients with gastrointestinal diseases such as Chron’s or celiac disease
  • People who suffer from type 2 diabetes
  • Alcoholics
  • Elderly individuals

Remember, if you are mildly deficient in magnesium rather than suffering from a severe shortage, the symptoms and signs you display may be more subtle than those described previously.

But your body will not be functioning optimally, and that will have adverse consequences for your health.

KEY POINTMagnesium deficiency is incredibly common, to the point where the majority of people in the US are estimated to get less magnesium than they should.  

So if you think you may be magnesium deficient, there is a good chance you are right.  

It is important to take steps to remedy your deficiency so that you can feel and function at your best.

Is There a Way to Test for Magnesium Deficiency?

doctor holding sample pot

Testing for magnesium deficiency isn’t easy (3) because magnesium in the body tends to be located in bone tissue or in individual cells rather than in the bloodstream.

This means that blood tests which check for magnesium are not always accurate.

Nonetheless, blood tests are often used to try and determine whether a person is getting sufficient magnesium.

Saliva tests and urine tests may be used as well.

Like blood tests for magnesium, saliva and urine tests are often less than accurate in their results.

This means that your health professional may very well simply advise you to take magnesium supplements if he or she suspects you are in need of them - regardless of your test results.

Because magnesium is generally well-tolerated and the deficiency is common, erring on the side of taking them makes a lot of sense.

Ultimately what you decide on is of course up to you, but you may very well want to follow through and take magnesium even if your tests come back fine.

KEY POINT: There are several types of tests for magnesium deficiency, but none of them provide entirely accurate results due to the fact that magnesium is stored largely in bone tissue rather than in the bloodstream.


​36 ​Health Benefits of ​Magnesium​

​Now that you know more about magnesium in general as well as how widespread magnesium deficiency is, let’s check out all of the ways in which this essential nutrient supports your health.

The following are 36 evidence-based health benefits of magnesium​:

1. Support healthy bones.

Radiologist Examining an X-Ray of Bones

As mentioned previously, your magnesium intake has an effect on the level of calcium in your body. 

Without sufficient magnesium, your body is unable to properly absorb calcium, which is why severe magnesium deficiency may lead to low calcium levels.

You probably already know that calcium is necessary if you want strong, healthy bones (10).

That means that magnesium deficiency can lead to weak, brittle bones, which may increase your risk of osteoporosis or fractures.

Researchers have found that a diet which includes more magnesium (11) can result in ​"a significant increase in mineral bone density.​"

That means that getting more magnesium can make a big difference in your bone health. 

This is especially important as you age.

As you will recall, elderly persons are at a heightened risk for magnesium deficiency.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why bone problems are more common in the elderly as well.

So as you get older, take extra care to make sure you are getting adequate magnesium in your diet.

KEY POINT: If you want to retain your bone health, you need not just calcium, but magnesium.  

Getting adequate magnesium helps you absorb calcium efficiently, leading to stronger bones.

​​​​2. Treat asthma.

Magnesium has been used successfully as a supplementary treatment for asthma (12).

Not only has it been demonstrated to help reduce symptoms, but it has also been found to be very safe.

Supplementing with magnesium if you have asthma can help keep breathing regular while reducing wheezing. 

It can also relax your bronchial muscles, making it easier and more comfortable to breathe.

KEY POINT: As an adjunct treatment, magnesium works well to help control asthma symptoms.

​3. Improve exercise performance.

Young Woman Working Out on Weightlifting Machine

Because magnesium plays a role in oxygen uptake, electrolyte balance, and energy production, it can be a useful supplement for athletes.

If you are deficient in magnesium, that can result in a decline in performance while you are working out. 

It can also increase oxidative stress (13).

It doesn’t help that your need for magnesium goes up when you are exercising. 

Your intake requirements can increase by as much as 10-20% (see the link above).

Further, magnesium is used in the transport of blood sugar to muscle tissue. 

It also helps get rid of lactic acid, preventing painful buildup (78).

That means that getting more magnesium in your diet can result in an improvement in exercise performance if you are deficient.

This effect has not always been seen in individuals who are already getting plenty of magnesium (more on that shortly).

Athletes in the elderly population as well as those with chronic diseases have shown improvements in their exercise performance when they supplemented with magnesium (79, 80, 81).

Volleyball players taking 250 mg of magnesium daily were able to improve both their arm movements as well as their jumps (82).

The beneficial effects of magnesium supplementation have also been seen on athletes participating in a triathlon.

While supplementing for 4 weeks with magnesium, triathlon athletes in one study (83) were able to swim, cycle, and run faster. 

They experienced other benefits as well, namely lower levels of stress hormones and insulin.

As mentioned before, there have been studies which have found no benefit to supplementing for athletes with normal levels of magnesium. 

Some studies also have not found benefits for low levels (84, 85).

Still, most of the research seems very promising for magnesium providing a natural, healthy support for athletic performance. 

Considering how common magnesium deficiency is, it is reasonable to expect that many individuals could experience improvements if they do take a supplement.

KEY POINT: If you are deficient in magnesium and want to improve exercise performance, taking magnesium can make a significant difference.

4. Protect your immune system if you are an athlete.

man exercising on machine

This article (14) describes the complex relationship between exercise, magnesium, and the immune system.

Essentially, regular, moderate workouts have been noted to improve the function of the immune system.

But researchers have noticed that the immune system can actually take a brief hit during particularly intense periods of training.

Magnesium is known to play a role in immune function.

Researchers suspect that ​"the possibility exists that magnesium deficiency could contribute to the immunological changes observed after strenuous exercise​" (see the link above).

In short, it is possible that taking more magnesium could help to keep the immune system strong following intense bouts of exercise.

More research is needed in this area.

KEY POINT: There is a possibility that taking more magnesium could help to keep the immune system strong during and after intense workout sessions.  

More research is required.

5. Treat nerve pain with magnesium.

Quite a few studies have been conducted on the intravenous use of magnesium sulfate in order to treat nerve pain (15, 16, 17).

Many - but not all - of these studies have focused specifically on treating post-operative pain.

It has been found that magnesium acts on a brain chemical called N-methyl-D-aspartate, or NMDA, which is involved in the transmission of nerve pain.

This action is what gives magnesium its pain-fighting effect.

KEY POINT: Magnesium has been administered successfully as a painkiller in a number of different medical situations, many of them post-operative.  

​6. Relax tense muscles.

An asian guy applying muscle relief lotion on his arm

Another effective use for magnesium is in relaxing smooth muscle tissue (18).

When your muscles are tense following an injury or a hard workout, that can result in pain. 

Sometimes that pain stays localized, while other times it gets referred to other areas of your body, causing symptoms such as tension headaches.

This kind of pain can also occur when you have joints which are out of alignment. 

This is because certain muscles are forced to work extra hard to support your weight or perform tasks.

So if you use magnesium to relax your tense muscles, this can result in a reduction in muscle soreness as well as referred pain.

KEY POINT: If you are suffering from sore, tense muscles, you can use magnesium to relax them, reducing the pain you are experiencing.

7. Enjoy a relaxing soak.

Speaking of relaxing tense muscles, another popular use of magnesium is in the bathtub.

When you pour Epsom salts into warm water, they dissolve, conferring a wide range of benefits.

Indeed, they are used to treat a vast array of conditions. 

To learn more, scroll down to the later section in this article titled, ​"What are Epsom Salts?​"

KEY POINT: If you want to take a relaxing, restorative bath, try dissolving magnesium in the form of Epsom salts in your bathwater.

​8. Reduce your risk of stroke.

Female doctor holding CAT scan

In the section on the risks of magnesium deficiency, you may recall that I mentioned that a lack of magnesium can result in coronary problems.

So it should not surprise you that magnesium has benefits for heart health.

In one study (20), it was found that there was a link between diets which were high in magnesium, potassium and cereal fiber and a reduced risk of stroke.

This relationship was particularly pronounced among men with hypertension.

While correlation does not equal causality, it seems entirely reasonable to postulate that getting adequate magnesium in your diet might indeed help reduce your risk of stroke.

Another study (85) may shed some light on how magnesium could be causally responsible for this effect.

In that study, it was found that there was an inverse relationship between magnesium intake and calcification of the arteries.

Since taking more magnesium may result in less calcification, that could explain how magnesium protects the cardiovascular system, reducing chances of heart disease and stroke. 

KEY POINT: If you want to decrease your risk of getting a stroke, there is some evidence which suggests magnesium may help.

​9. Improve endothelial function.

Another coronary benefit of magnesium concerns endothelial function (21).

In the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study linked above, stable patients with coronary artery disease were assessed to see if magnesium therapy could lead to improvements in their condition.

It was found that supplementing orally with magnesium ​"is associated with significant improvement in brachial artery endothelial function and exercise tolerance.​"

KEY POINTPatients with coronary artery disease can experience improvements in endothelial function when they take magnesium supplements by mouth.

10. Counteract metabolic syndrome.

Woman measuring waist of overweight  man with tape measure, middle section

Metabolic syndrome was only defined relatively recently, appearing in textbooks originally in 1998.

Since then, there has been a lot of buzz about it, and for good reason.  It affects more than 40 million Americans.

While it is not actually a disease, if is a condition which can increase your risk of serious disease.

If you have metabolic syndrome, it means that your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and/or abdominal fat stores are unhealthy and imbalanced.

While having just one of these symptoms does not mean you have metabolic syndrome, having a combination of them may cause a doctor to give you that diagnosis.

If you do have metabolic syndrome, it can significantly increase your risk for heart disease, blood vessel disease, cardiac arrest, stroke, and diabetes.

Preventing, controlling, and reversing metabolic syndrome is essential if you want to prevent these serious complications.

Researchers have found (22) that young adults who have higher levels of magnesium intake tend to have a lower risk for metabolic syndrome.

This study (23) discovered a "strong relationship​" between low levels of serum magnesium and metabolic syndrome.

An inverse association has been found between magnesium supplementation and metabolic syndrome (86).

Additionally (87), it has been found that supplementing orally with magnesium can reduce blood pressure and improve the overall metabolic profile of individuals who are a healthy weight or who are defined as obese. 

Specifically, magnesium chloride was tested against a control group. 

The subjects who received the magnesium chloride had improved insulin resistance, blood pressure, triglycerides, and fasting glucose levels over those who did not.

So there are multiple studies right now pointing toward magnesium as a possible preventative agent for metabolic syndrome.

That also means by extension that getting more magnesium may help you to prevent diabetes, stroke, heart attack, and other coronary problems.

KEY POINT: Metabolic syndrome is a common disorder which puts patients at risk for serious coronary complications.  

Research indicates that boosting magnesium intake could help prevent metabolic syndrome.

11. Reduce your risk for diabetes.

Woman checking diabetes test, close-up, studio shot

I have just mentioned how you might feasibly be able to prevent diabetes with magnesium by first preventing metabolic syndrome.

Now I want to talk a bit more about diabetes and magnesium.

This is an area which has received extensive research, so the results are quite conclusive.

Consider this (24) study, a meta-analysis of 9,702 men an 15,365 women. 

The researchers found that those who had a higher intake of magnesium and cereal fiber were at a lower risk for diabetes.

Another huge study (25) looked at 42,872 men and 85,060 women. 

At the start of the study, none of the subjects had any history of diabetes, cancer or cardiovascular disease.

Every 2-4 years, the subjects filled out a questionnaire regarding their magnesium intake.

The men were followed up with for 12 years, and the women for 18.

The researchers then checked for cases of type 2 diabetes. 

After tallying up the cases, they made adjustments for physical activity, age, BMI, family history, alcohol, smoking, and other factors which might skew the data.

They found a ​"significant​" relationship between lower magnesium intake and higher diabetes risk. 

In this (88) study, it was found that high doses of magnesium helped diabetics improve their blood glucose and hemoglobin A1c levels.

So if you want to prevent diabetes, magnesium is a very important nutrient.  Make sure you are getting enough of it.

KEY POINT: Multiple large studies have shown that getting more magnesium helps reduce the chances of developing diabetes.  

12. Fight migraines.

woman having headache migrane for which magnesium can help

There is research which suggests that magnesium deficiency and migraines may share a link (89).

People who experience migraines seem to be more likely on average to be deficient in magnesium than those who do not.

Some researchers believe that this means that magnesium deficiency could be one cause of migraines.

Studies (26, 27, 90, 91) have been conducted to see whether magnesium is useful as a treatment for migraines.

On the whole, these studies have indicated that magnesium does help to reduce the intensity and duration of migraines.

One exciting study (92) found that taking a gram of magnesium relieved migraine headaches more swiftly and effectively than medication.

It should be noted that a high dosage of magnesium has been used in many of these research studies in migraines.

Indeed, in some cases, patients have reported (28) significant side effects, namely in the form of diarrhea.

So if you are going to try using magnesium to treat migraines, you may need a higher dosage to get results​ - but you should probably start with a lower one to see if it works for you.

That way you are less likely to experience unwanted side effects.

You can also try eating more foods which are rich in magnesium instead if you prefer. 

Researchers have found that this too can help reduce the symptoms of migraines (93).

KEY POINTMagnesium has been shown in studies to be effective as a treatment for migraines.

​13. Relieve some symptoms of PMS.

A study (29) was conducted on the effects of oral magnesium on women with premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

The researchers found that supplementing with magnesium ​"could represent an effective treatment of premenstrual symptoms related to mood changes.​"

KEY POINT: If you experience mood changes associated with PMS, you may find that taking more magnesium helps to regulate your symptoms.

​14. Reduce your blood pressure.

Doctor checking patients blood pressure, close-up

As mentioned before, getting sufficient magnesium is important if you want to work on preventing metabolic syndrome.

As it turns out, taking magnesium can also directly affect your blood pressure (94, 95, 96).

In studies, it has been shown that magnesium supplements can reduce blood pressure by as much as 12 mmHg (30, 31).

In another study (97), it was found that taking 450 mg of magnesium daily resulted in a decline of both diastolic and systolic blood pressure.

This affect has also been seen in patients who are taking anti-hypertensive medications (32).

Furthermore, it appears that taking magnesium can boost the effectiveness of medications to reduce blood pressure (33).

It should be noted however (98) that the improvements in blood pressure with magnesium supplementation have so far only been observed in those who have elevated blood pressure to begin with.

Those who have normal blood pressure levels to begin with do not appear to have reduced blood pressure when using magnesium.

KEY POINT: If you are trying to lower high blood pressure, taking magnesium supplements may help in more way than one.

​​​​15. Reduce your risk of heart disease.

In order for your heart’s electrical activity to function normally, you need magnesium in your diet (99).

Magnesium also widens your blood vessels, reduces inflammation, improves the metabolism of fat, and prevents blood platelet aggregation (see the linked source above).

Those who do not get enough magnesium can experience more heart arrhythmias.  There is a greater chance of cardiac arrest as well.

So it is not a surprise that magnesium is an excellent supplement for protecting your overall cardiovascular health (34).

Medical personnel showing a paper heart

According to the study above, when you do not get enough magnesium in your diet, that can result in an increase in arrhythmias.

The researchers also found that higher amounts of circulating and dietary magnesium were associated with a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The previously linked research (99) also showed that magnesium can reduce the chances of heart disease.

Indeed, a higher amount of circulating magnesium could result in a 30% drop in the risk of cardiovascular disease. 

It can also drop the risk of ischemic heart disease by as much as 22%.

This means that it is possible that supplementing with magnesium can help to prevent heart disease, as can eating a diet which is higher in magnesium.

The study linked above found that the risk of mortality associated with cardiovascular issues can drop 28% with a diet which includes more whole grains, veggies, nuts, and other magnesium-rich foods. 

KEY POINT: You may be able to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and reduce arrhythmias by taking magnesium supplements or adding more magnesium to your diet.

16. Magnesium can improve insulin resistance.

Previously I talked about how magnesium can help to prevent diabetes.

At least one of the mechanisms through which this occurs concerns insulin resistance.

Diabetes is characterized by a condition where the body is resistant to insulin. 

This causes blood sugar to increase.

A lot of people who suffer from metabolic syndrome (a condition which increases the likelihood of diabetes) are magnesium-deficient (100).

Insulin resistance cycle

Magnesium deficiency tends to just get worse with time if you suffer from problems with insulin resistance. 

Magnesium is lost through urine when there are high levels of insulin in your body (101).

Magnesium helps to counteract insulin resistance (35, 102, 103, 104).

This can not only help to prevent or treat diabetes, but it can also lead to a reduction in blood sugar spikes overall.

You do not necessarily need to have high blood sugar to take advantage of this benefit of magnesium.

Even if your blood sugar levels are normal, you can reduce insulin resistance through magnesium supplementation (105).

That makes magnesium great for preventing problems with insulin resistance, not just treating them.

KEY POINT: Reduce insulin resistance by taking more magnesium.

​17. Improve neurological function.

girl with glowing brain by consuming magnesium

Magnesium supplementation has been found to be useful in combating a number of neurological disorders (36).

Another interesting study (37) looked at the neurological effects of magnesium supplementation on rats. 

It was found that the magnesium had a couple of benefits.

First of all, it prevented an overgeneralization of fear.

Secondly, it assisted with pattern separation.

Pattern separation is relevant to those who suffer from cognitive impairment as well as some psychiatric conditions.

This study suggests that magnesium may be helpful in improving it. 

If individuals with these conditions are able to improve their pattern separation, their overall conditions may improve as well.

More research is needed on human subjects in order to confirm this potential benefit.

KEY POINT: There are studies which suggest that magnesium has various neurological benefits, particularly in the area of pattern separation.

18. Possibly treat Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

Chronic fatigue syndrome, often known simply by its abbreviation, ​"CFS,​" is disorder characterized by ongoing exhaustion.

Doctors do not have a strong understanding of CFS. 

Indeed, a CFS diagnosis is most likely to be given when no underlying medical cause can immediately be determined for chronic fatigue.

It is possible that magnesium deficiency plays a role in CFS.

While research on magnesium and CFS has had mixed results, some studies have noted that magnesium levels in patients with CFS tend to be lower than those without the disorder (38).

So perhaps it should not be surprising that the symptoms of CFS and the symptoms of magnesium deficiency are similar in many respects.

This indicates that supplementing with magnesium might help to treat CFS, at least in cases where magnesium deficiency is a problem.

More research is needed in this area to confirm whether this is indeed the case.

KEY POINT: There are some studies which show a possible link between CFS and low levels of magnesium.  

This may mean that supplementing with magnesium could help combat CFS.

​19. Possibly help fight anxiety.

man with hands on head due to anxiety that can be relieved using magnesium

There are a number of studies which show that magnesium may be an effective treatment against various anxiety disorders.

This action appears to be linked at least in part to the ability of magnesium to block NMDA receptors (39).

It has also been found that magnesium deficiency results in HPA axis dysregulation (see the link above). 

If you are not familiar with the HPA axis, it is a hormonal response system to stress (40).

When the HPA axis gets dysregulated, this impairs your ability to properly respond to stress.

This in turn can induce anxiety.

While results of studies on magnesium as a treatment for anxiety have been mixed (41), various studies have found (42, 43) that low levels of magnesium are linked to anxiety disorders.

This does seem to indicate that getting more magnesium could help to counteract anxiety, at least in patients who are deficient in it.

KEY POINT: There is evidence to suggest that low levels of magnesium and anxiety may be linked together.  

That means that supplementing with magnesium could possibly help to reduce anxiety.

20. Possibly fight depression.

​Just as anxiety and low levels of magnesium appear to be connected, it is also possible that magnesium deficiency and depression are connected.

This study (42) compared mice that were eating a regular, healthy diet with mice that were deprived of magnesium. 

Not only were the magnesium-deprived mice more anxious than the control group mice, but they also were depressed.

Studies have also been conducted on magnesium and depression in humans.

In this study (44), it was found that there was a ​"significant association​" between very low levels of magnesium and depression.  

This effect was particularly pronounced among younger adults.

Strangely enough, the effects of magnesium may be age dependent in part.

The same study linked above (44) found that low magnesium intake actually had a "potential protective effect​" on older adults when it came to depression.

Needless to say, further study will be needed to verify these results and discover what mechanism might be at work.

Why does magnesium appear to play a role when it comes to depression?

Right now, scientists still are not sure what mechanism might be involved (45), but it seems likely that magnesium acts on a few different systems which are connected to depression. 

So you may want to think about trying magnesium for depression, especially if you are a younger adult. 

But if you are an older adult, you might want to proceed with caution. 

Of course, magnesium has many other benefits as you age, especially for your bones, so upping your intake may still be a smart course of action for your overall health.

KEY POINT: There is some evidence that magnesium has an anti-depressant effect, especially for younger adults.

​21. Possibly treat ADHD.

Boy Shouting

So far, there are still no randomized, placebo-based trials which show that taking magnesium can help control ADHD symptoms.

There is however some evidence from controlled cohort studies that magnesium may be helpful for treating ADHD (46).

You can read in detail about these studies in the linked journal article above.

Right now, there is not enough evidence to make any solid claims backing magnesium as an ADHD treatment, but it may be worth a try, especially if there is a known deficiency.

KEY POINT: There is limited research which points toward magnesium as a possible treatment for ADHD.

22. Treat skin allergies.

You already are aware that magnesium is involved in regulating your immune system.

This immune-bolstering effect has been observed in clinical settings with reference to skin allergy.

Patients who have applied magnesium salts topically or orally have shown improvements in skin allergy symptoms (47).

Further research is needed in order to get a better understanding of the mechanism which leads to these benefits. 

Research trials also are required in order to establish just how effective a treatment magnesium is.

KEY POINT: Based on clinical observations, it seems that magnesium is effective as a treatment for skin allergies.  

It can be taken orally or applied to the site of the allergy topically.

23. Magnesium has a neuroprotective effect on infants.

According to this study (48), exposure to magnesium in the form of MgSO4 prior to preterm birth has a neuroprotective effect.

This effect makes it less likely that infants will develop major motor dysfunction or cerebral palsy.

As such, it is important for pregnant women to make sure they are getting enough magnesium to support proper fetal development.

KEY POINT: Preterm babies who were exposed to magnesium before being born have been found to be at a reduced risk for cerebral palsy or motor dysfunction.

24. Magnesium has anti-inflammatory properties.

inflammation shown as red on body

Some studies have noted an inverse relationship between magnesium intake and levels of inflammation in the body.

For example, in this study (49) which looked at magnesium intake in apparently healthy women, it was found that markers of systemic inflammation decreased modestly in proportion to higher magnesium intake.  

A study on middle-aged overweight women (122) on magnesium intake and inflammation drew the same conclusions.

In another study (109), it was found that children who had the lowest levels of magnesium in their blood also had the highest levels of CRP, an inflammatory marker. 

Their insulin, triglycerides, and blood sugar were elevated as well.

Taking more magnesium to decrease inflammation may help to prevent chronic diseases associated with aging (106, 107, 108).

Taking magnesium supplements can result in a decline in CRP as well as other inflammatory markers. 

This effect has been seen in those who are overweight, elderly, or have prediabetes (110, 111, 112).

You can also get this effect by eating foods which are high in magnesium.

KEY POINT: If you want to reduce inflammation throughout your body, getting more magnesium in your diet may be helpful.

Doing so may help to prevent age-related diseases, keeping you healthy over the long-term.

25. Stave off the effects of aging.

You may be aware that inflammation is involved with many age-related diseases. 

Combating inflammation is one way in which magnesium may be able to help counteract the effects of aging.

But there are studies which show that magnesium may also stave off the negative effects of aging through other mechanisms as well.

Low levels of magnesium can speed up the deterioration of endothelial cells and fibroblasts (50).

A lack of magnesium also can lead to problems with cellular metabolism. 

This means that ingesting more magnesium could help to support cellular metabolism and slow down the degradation of cells and fibroblasts.

This in turn could help to stand against the effects of aging and slow or prevent the development of age-related diseases.

KEY POINT: Research shows that magnesium may help curb the effects of aging through multiple mechanisms.  

Getting sufficient magnesium throughout your lifetime may help you hold onto your youth for longer.

​26. Magnesium helps to support healthy muscle performance.

woman pointing to her bicep muscles

Earlier I talked about how magnesium can help improve overall athletic performance. 

Now I want to talk specifically about its role with regard to muscles.

Athletes with depleted levels of magnesium experience cell damage in their muscles (51).

So it is important to maintain optimal levels of magnesium to prevent this.

It has also been found that magnesium is necessary for muscle performance (52).

Additionally, taking magnesium supplements can increase muscle strength (53).

This effect has been found in both younger and older populations.

It is postulated that magnesium’s support of mitochondrial function may be responsible, especially in the elderly.

KEY POINT: Low levels of magnesium adversely affect muscle performance.  

Muscle performance and strength can be enhanced through magnesium supplementation.

27. Possibly prevent cancer.

As of right now, cancer rates are on the rise, and there is no sure way to make sure that you do not develop one form of cancer or another.

There is however some limited evidence which suggests that you can reduce your cancer risk with magnesium.

While there are studies which show no relationship between cancer risk and magnesium intake, there are also studies which show an inverse relationship between the two (54).

Perhaps this is because being deficient in magnesium may make chronic inflammatory stress worse, which is associated with the development of cancer (113).

The study above found that men in their middle age who had higher concentrations of serum magnesium were at a 50% reduced risk for mortality associated with cancer.

Another large cohort study (55) followed 66,806 individuals, both male and female, between the ages of 50 and 76.

Over a period of 6.8 years, the researchers followed up to see which individuals went on to develop pancreatic cancer, and whether there was any link to their magnesium intake.

An inverse association was discovered.  Individuals with lower magnesium intake were more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.

Indeed, there was a 24% higher increase in pancreatic cancer incidences observed for every 100 mg per day drop in magnesium. 

This suggests that taking magnesium may help to prevent certain forms of cancer.

KEY POINT: Early research hints that magnesium may be useful in preventing cancer.

​28. Prevent problems during pregnancy.

Pregnant woman holding a red heart shape to demonstrate that magnesium is good for pregnant women

As mentioned earlier, when a pregnant mother is low on magnesium, this can result in a higher likelihood of birth defects, including low birth weight (56).

Newborn jaundice cases decline with increased magnesium intake, as do instances of newborn hospitalization (57).

Another study (58) found that women who took magnesium supplements were ​"significantly less likely​" to need to be hospitalized during the course of their pregnancies.

Note however that this same study concluded that there is ​"not enough high-quality evidence to show that dietary magnesium supplementation during pregnancy is beneficial."

So results of that study were mixed in other regards. 

Also of interest in relation to pregnancy is the fact that magnesium is transferred from mother to fetus alongside other nutrients.

While this is vital for the development of the fetus, it can lead to magnesium deficiency in the mother.

It is believed that this may be part of what sometimes leads to post-pregnancy depression (115).

So it seems plausible that supplementing in order to prevent this deficiency could in turn help protect against post-pregnancy depression.

Finally, this (59) study found that magnesium supplementation was helpful for women who had gestational diabetes.

KEY POINT: There are some studies which show benefits of magnesium for pregnant women and newborn children.  

More research is needed in order to verify that these findings are significant and reliable.  

29. Possibly prevent pancreatitis.

Zoom out human pancreas illustration

Pancreatitis is a condition where the pancreas becomes inflamed.

It has been found that one of the risk factors of pancreatitis is a high concentration of calcium.

Because magnesium intake has an impact on calcium signals in the body, researchers have postulated that magnesium supplementation could be useful in treating or preventing pancreatitis.

This study (60) found that supplementing with magnesium ​"significantly reduces premature protease activation and the severity of pancreatitis, and antagonises pathological [Ca(2+)](i) signals. Nutritional magnesium deficiency increases the susceptibility of the pancreas towards pathological stimuli.​"

As a result of these findings, researchers have decided to press on with further clinical trials.

KEY POINT: Because magnesium affects calcium signals, it is able to decrease the chances that the pancreas will become pathologically inflamed.

30. Keep your kidneys functioning at their best.

Patients who suffer from low levels of magnesium have an increased chance of kidney problems as well as associated higher mortality rates (61).

This is particularly problematic for those who are taking a drug called cisplatin.

Cisplatin is used in chemotherapy, so cancer patients who are being treated with it can see their magnesium levels drop precipitously.

This puts them at a heightened risk for acute kidney injury.

Researchers have discovered that supplementing using magnesium is effective in providing protection for the kidney against these harmful effects of cisplatin (62, 63).

KEY POINT: It has been discovered that taking more magnesium can have a protective effect on the kidneys.  

31. Potentially reduce your chances of hearing loss.

Brunette with hand behind ear

There is a well documented relationship between higher levels of antioxidants and lower instances of hearing loss in animal research studies.

This study (64) set forth to see whether that relationship existed for human beings as well.

2,592 adults in the US participated in the study from 2001-2004. 

The researchers not only checked to see whether antioxidants protected hearing, but also whether magnesium had any impact.

The researchers found that both the antioxidants and the magnesium appeared to help to protect hearing. 

This effect was found for both the antioxidants and the magnesium on their own as well as in combination with each other. 

This is a study where correlation does not necessarily equal causality. 

More research will be needed to show whether or not the magnesium and/or antioxidants are the cause of the protective effect. 

Either way, the link which has been established is relevant and significant, and there are reasons to believe that increasing magnesium intake could be involved with healthy hearing.

KEY POINT: Researchers have found a correlation between higher levels of magnesium and lower chances of hearing loss.  

Magnesium may help protect hearing.

​32. Magnesium helps you stay energized.

Magnesium plays a role in the activation of ATP (65, 116), and is present in the mitochondria. 

Indeed, magnesium which is located in the mitochondria comprises a third of all magnesium found in cells. 

girl leaping into the air because magnesium helps her energy

It forms a complex with ATP.

ATP stands for ​"adenosine tri-phosphate.​"

ATP is responsible for carrying and transporting energy in your body.  For this reason it is sometimes called ​"molecular currency.​"

Much of the energy we use is produced through mitochondria (117).

The magnesium in mitochondria (116) is necessary for the synthesis of ATP, oxygen detoxification, and electronic transport chain complex subunits.

If you do not get enough magnesium in your diet, that can disrupt the activation of ATP.

Indeed, the overall efficiency of mitochondria may drop while the production of reactive oxygen species rises. 

This can result in impairment to the structure and function of proteins and DNA (117​, 118).

As a result, energy is less readily available to the cells in your body.

You may notice this while you are working out.  With less magnesium, you may tire more quickly.

But you may also notice it even with a sedentary lifestyle.  You may simply feel more fatigued all of the time.

By increasing the amount of magnesium you are taking in through your diet, you can improve ATP activation.

This helps you stay more energized and alert throughout the day.

Studies show that humans and animals deficient in magnesium have decreased antioxidant capacity and an increase in mitochondrial swelling (118, 119, 120).

So along with keeping you energized by supporting ATP function, getting enough magnesium helps your body to keep oxidative stress from getting out of control.

It also helps to ensure that mitochondrial function remains normal and healthy.

KEY POINT: If you want to keep your energy levels high and protect mitochondrial function, getting more magnesium may help by activating ATP more efficiently.

33. Relieves constipation.

Young woman sits in a toilet who has constipation that magnesium can relieve

If you suffer from chronic constipation, that may be a sign that something is lacking in your diet.

It could be that what you are lacking is in fact magnesium.

This (66) study looked at constipation in 3,835 female participants from Japan.

The researchers found that both low water intake from food as well as a lack of magnesium were associated with higher instances of constipation.

It is worth noting that the Japanese population has a low dietary fiber intake in general.

So if you have a low fiber diet, it is particularly important to make sure you are getting enough magnesium (and water).

Magnesium has also been tested as a treatment for constipation (67).

The study above found that magnesium hydroxide was more effective as a constipation remedy than bulk-laxative for a population of elderly patients.

Indeed, magnesium is so effective in this regard that you will even find it listed as an ingredient on certain laxatives.

KEY POINT: If you have been suffering from constipation and are looking for a natural remedy, taking more magnesium may be just what you need.  

Getting sufficient dietary magnesium also can help to prevent constipation over the long term.

34. Magnesium helps to regulate sodium and potassium in the body.

You already are familiar with the interrelationship between magnesium and calcium. 

But did you know that magnesium helps to regulate other important nutrients in the body as well?

Magnesium helps to regulate the transport of calcium, sodium and potassium ions across the membranes of cells.

This is a vital function when it comes to controlling the rhythms of your heart, the contractions of your muscles, and the proper function of your nerves.

This is why magnesium’s relationship with sodium and potassium is integral to heart health (68, 69​, 121).

KEY POINT: Magnesium’s role in regulating potassium and sodium transport is vital to nerve, muscle, and heart function.

​35. Treat eclampsia.

One more benefit of magnesium for pregnant women concerns eclampsia.

Eclampsia is a dangerous condition where a pregnant woman who has high blood pressure may experience convulsions.

These convulsions may lead to a coma.  This coma may threaten the lives of both mother and child.

Magnesium sulfate is the treatment which is most commonly used for eclampsia (70).

KEY POINT: Magnesium sulfate is a common treatment for eclampsia.

​36. Get better sleep.

Woman sleeping well due to taking magnesium

One more common use for magnesium is as a treatment for insomnia.

Magnesium is able to activate your parasympathetic nervous system.

This system needs to be activated in order for you to feel relaxed and less stressed (71).

But this is only one of the ways in which magnesium acts on your body and mind to help restore restful sleep.

Magnesium also regulates melatonin (72).

Melatonin is a key hormone involved in maintaining your asleep-awake cycles.

If your body does not produce sufficient melatonin at bedtime, you are less likely to fall asleep or stay asleep with ease.

When you get insufficient magnesium, your melatonin levels tend to drop, but when you take more magnesium, they can be restored.

Finally, magnesium helps to support healthy sleep cycles through one more means as well.

Magnesium is able to bind to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors (73).

GABA is a neurotransmitter which can relax the nervous system (74). 

Many sleep medications act through GABA receptors in order to induce sleep.

Magnesium works through this same pathway, but does so naturally and safely.

Along with helping to induce sleep, magnesium can also help you enjoy deeper sleep.

A study (75) on magnesium-deficient rats showed that sleep was “disorganized” and light. 

Additional studies have shown that administering magnesium can help improve quality of sleep in patients (76, 77).

So if you take magnesium, you can fall asleep with more ease and enjoy more restorative sleep.

Just adding more magnesium to your diet overall can help you do this, but there are also magnesium products formulated specifically for sleep.

KEY POINT: Magnesium helps to regulate sleep through more than one mechanism.  

It can help you fall asleep more rapidly and sleep better through the night.


​How to Shop for Magnesium Supplements

Woman with a glass of water and magnesium supplements

Previously I shared with you a list of foods and beverages which are rich in magnesium.

Adding those foods and beverages to your diet in greater amounts is one good way to increase your magnesium intake.

Another way is to start taking magnesium supplements.

There are a number of different forms of magnesium which you will find for sale. 

Some of these include:

  • Magnesium Chelate 
  • Magnesium Citrate 
  • Magnesium Chloride Oil   
  • Magnesium Glycinate 
  • Magnesium Threonate
  • Magnesium Orotate

While you are shopping for magnesium supplements, you should make sure that you are getting the type which is the best fit for your needs.

You also should weigh the following factors in your purchase decision:

  • Bioavailability
  • Absorption rate
  • Ease of swallowing and digestion
  • Intended use
  • Brand and reputation
  • Price and dosage

Not sure where to begin in your search for the best magnesium supplements?  

See our recommendations in our magnesium supplements reviews​.

KEY POINT: There are a lot of magnesium supplement products on the market.  

Not all of them are equal in terms of quality, though, nor are they interchangeable when it comes to form or features.  

Do your research and pick a product which will suit your healthcare needs.


What Are Epsom Salts?

magnesium epsom salt

While I have focused mostly on magnesium supplements that you can ingest, I do want to mention that there is also a product you can apply topically called "Epsom salts."

Actually, ​"Epsom​" is a trade name for magnesium sulfate, but this is by far the most common product I have seen for sale.

Magnesium sulfate can be taken orally or intravenously.  But it can also be dissolved in your bath.

Generally you can purchase a whole carton of Epsom salts for just a few dollars.  The stuff goes a long ways and lasts a long time.

When Epsom salts are dissolved in your bath, the compound separates into sulfate and magnesium.

It is believed that this allows the magnesium to penetrate your skin and enter your body, inducing relaxation.

This mechanism actually has yet to be proven (19), but it has widely been observed that soaking in warm water with Epsom salts can result in looser joints and more relaxed muscles.

Here are just a few of the conditions you can treat using Epsom salts in your bath:

  • Sore muscles from exercise
  • Tender muscles you have injured
  • Sprains and strains
  • Joint pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Psoriasis and eczema
  • Insomnia
  • Ingrown toenails
  • Diarrhea-related soreness
  • Sunburn
  • Sore feet

How Can You Take an Epsom Salt Bath?

woman taking epsom salt bath

In order to take an Epsom salt bath, you need to get the water warm so that the salts will dissolve. 

The best time to put the salts in is when the water is running to fill up the tub. 

The movement of the water helps the salts to dissolve quickly and thoroughly.

How much do you need? 

Assuming your bathtub is a regular size, anywhere from 1-2 cups should be plenty. 

How long do you need to soak?  That is up to you, but a minimum of 12 minutes is good to start with.

I used to use Epsom salts on a nightly basis.  As I recall, I didn’t even need to use a whole cup in order to get some benefits.

Generally I soaked for a very long time (around an hour per session), but this was because I was in a great deal of chronic pain at the time, and spent most of my time managing it.

KEY POINT: If you want a bath which is extra relaxing and which can help relieve pain throughout your body, Epsom salts are an inexpensive and effective option.

​Conclusion: Magnesium is a Vital Nutrient Which Many People Do Not Get Enough Of

You now know all about the amazing health benefits of magnesium.  

You also have learned that magnesium deficiency is common, even in first world countries.  

So if you have not been getting enough magnesium in your diet, think about increasing the magnesium-rich foods you eat and also adding a magnesium supplement.  

That way you can support your body-wide health.

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  • Updated July 9, 2018

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