Magnesium is an essential mineral, one that plays a role in our brains, our energy metabolism, our hearts, and many other parts of our bodies. We can’t create magnesium ourselves, so we need to find it in our diets instead. The same is true for other nutrients, including potassium and zinc.
Yet, while most of us know that magnesium matters, it’s still surprisingly easy to be deficient in the mineral. That’s why, in this post, we’re answering some key questions about magnesium, starting with – why is magnesium good for you?
We’re also looking at how much magnesium you need, whether increasing your intake could improve your health, and whether magnesium supplements are worth trying.
Is Magnesium Good For Your Health?
- What Magnesium Does In Our Bodies
- How Much Magnesium Do You Need?
- Symptoms Of A Magnesium Deficiency
- What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough?
- The Best Foods For Magnesium
- Can You Have Too Much Magnesium?
- Are Magnesium Supplements A Good Idea?
- Final Thoughts
What Magnesium Does In Our Bodies
Like other vitamins and minerals, magnesium has various roles in our body, some of which we’re still learning about. One key area is in the regulation of our muscles and nerves. This effect is why magnesium may help to decrease anxiety and insufficient magnesium could impact our ability to sleep.
Magnesium is also relevant for our blood pressure levels and our heart rhythm. Beyond this, it plays roles in our bones, muscles, and brains.
Finally, magnesium acts as a cofactor in more than 300 reactions throughout our bodies. This means that these reactions don’t proceed unless we have enough magnesium.
How Much Magnesium Do You Need?
The official recommended daily allowances (RDA) for magnesium is as follows:
- Adult men: 400 – 420 mg per day
- Adult women: 310 – 320 mg per day
- Pregnant women: 350 – 360 mg per day
- Lactating women: 310 –320 mg per day
These recommended levels are based on the amount of magnesium that you need to function well. However, some theories suggest that going above these RDAs may offer additional benefits.
Interestingly, there is no tolerable upper intake for magnesium from food, as our bodies can remove any excess through urine. It’s only magnesium supplements that have an upper limit.
Symptoms Of A Magnesium Deficiency
Getting enough magnesium isn’t terribly difficult, yet many Americans are under-consuming magnesium.
The modern American diet appears to be part of this problem. People who rely heavily on processed foods and don’t consume enough vegetables and legumes can easily end up deficient in key nutrients, including magnesium.
Symptoms of deficiency include muscle cramps, fatigue, poor appetite, nausea, and an abnormal heart rate.
You might be able to work out whether you’re deficient by thinking about your diet. Are you eating plenty of whole foods, particularly vegetables and legumes?
Your doctor can also find out your magnesium level through a blood test. This is the best approach, as it tells you exactly where you stand for magnesium.
What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough?
In the short-term, magnesium deficiency leads to the side effects that we discussed before. If your magnesium levels remain low for an extended time, then you might start to see other issues.
Indeed, low magnesium levels have been linked to many health problems, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis. This pattern is partly because low magnesium levels may lead to increase inflammation and high inflammation increases the risk of various diseases.
The Best Foods For Magnesium
Magnesium can be found in many foods. Legumes are a good source, including beans, lentils, and legume-based products like tempeh and tofu. You can also turn to nuts and seeds, particularly almonds, pumpkin seeds, and Brazil nuts.
Grains and pseudograins often provide some magnesium too, like barley, quinoa, and even wheat.
That’s just scratching the surface, as there are many other magnesium rich foods as well. If you’re stuck for ideas, try focusing on fiber rich foods, as most of these contain a decent amount of magnesium.
Can You Have Too Much Magnesium?
Most nutrients have a minimum amount that you need for your health, along with a maximum. Consuming too much of a nutrient can sometimes be just as bad as not getting enough of it.
For magnesium, too much of the mineral comes with a host of side effects, including fatigue, muscle weakness, low blood pressure, and nausea.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to get too much magnesium through your diet alone, as your body can remove the excess magnesium. Most issues come from using supplements.
Are Magnesium Supplements A Good Idea?
Benefits Of Magnesium Supplements
Easy To Use
Supplements are the easiest way to increase your intake of a given nutrient. You don’t need to think about meal planning or cooking, simply pop a pill and be done with it.
Plus, supplements come with labels, so you know exactly how much magnesium you’re getting. This makes it easy to hit your targets. Supplements are also helpful when you can’t follow a balanced diet for any reason, such as if access to fresh food is difficult or if you’re suffering from a mental health condition.
Linked To Benefits
Some studies have also linked magnesium supplements to health benefits, like reduced constipation and improved blood sugar levels.
Some people take magnesium supplements to improve their sleep, with doses of around 270 mg to 350 mg. This can be an important effect, as many Americans struggle to fall asleep.
Magnesium supplements are often used to treat muscle cramps as well, particularly those that occur during the night. This approach can be effective, partly because muscle cramps are a symptom of magnesium deficiency anyway. However, it’s still worth finding out whether you are magnesium deficient before you turn to supplements.
May Help If Dietary Magnesium Isn’t Absorbed Well
Most of us absorb magnesium from food without any problems at all. However, some health conditions and medications can interfere with this process or decrease your magnesium levels in other ways.
If this is happening for you, supplements may be needed to keep your magnesium levels where they need to be.
Risks Of The Supplements
Despite all their benefits, supplements come with some serious problems too, including the following.
They May Be Contaminated
There’s a serious issue of regulation in the supplement industry.
Despite the fact that we take supplements to improve our health, they’re not regulated in the same way that medicines are. This leaves manufacturers with a lot of wriggle room and means that products vary dramatically in quality.
While there are some high-quality supplements on the market, there are also plenty of inferior ones, where companies have cut corners and tried to maximize profits. Sometimes this leads to contaminated products or ones that don’t match the claims on their label.
Because the product quality isn’t obvious from the label, it’s best to do some digging around yourself. Look for products that have been evaluated by a third party, as these tend to be more reliable than those that are not.
It’s Easy To Consume Too Much Magnesium
As we mentioned before, too much magnesium can be dangerous. It’s pretty hard to over-consume magnesium from your diet alone (in fact, your body tends to eliminate excess magnesium in your urine). Once you add supplements into the mix, overdoing it becomes considerably easier.
If you do plan to use magnesium supplements, talk to your doctor first. Work out how much extra magnesium you’re likely to need. Don’t forget that you’ll be getting some from your diet already.
Real Food Is Better
It almost goes without saying – real food will always be healthier than a supplement. Not only is food more natural and less processed than a supplement, but it also contains many more nutrients and plant-based compounds.
Do You Need A Supplement?
Magnesium supplements have an interesting balance of benefits and risks. Realistically though, they’re most helpful if you actually need more magnesium.
If you’re already getting enough magnesium through your diet, then you’re unlikely to any of the benefits that we discussed before. You’re also dealing with the risks of too much magnesium and supplement contamination.
Unless you know that you need more magnesium, the supplements simply come with too much risk and not enough reward.
Plus, severe magnesium deficiencies are rare. As such, most of us should be able to get our levels where they need to be by increasing our intake of magnesium rich foods.
Magnesium is critical and, unfortunately, many of us aren’t getting enough of the mineral through our diets alone. But, for most of us, this isn’t a reason to start relying on magnesium supplements. Your diet is always a much more powerful choice, as food gives you many essential nutrients at the same time, along with antioxidants and other plant-based compounds.
There are also many magnesium rich foods you can choose from, including almonds, dark leafy greens, tofu, artichokes, dark chocolate, and beans. Increase your intake of some of these, and you’ll quickly see your magnesium levels return to where they need to be.
If you are going to use a supplement, it’s important to talk to your doctor first and work out the ideal dose. Pay close attention to how your body responds as well. If you start to get serious side effects, then a supplement probably isn’t the best idea.