Considering all of the important roles that magnesium plays in the body — and the fact that a magnesium deficiency is one of the leading nutrient deficiencies in adults with an estimated 80 percent being deficient in this vital mineral — it’s a good idea to consider taking magnesium supplements regularly and eating magnesium-rich foods.
The amount of research regarding the benefits of magnesium and the need to take magnesium supplements to counteract a deficiency is staggering.
For many people, a magnesium deficiency — also known as hypomagnesemia, with “hypo” meaning under, “magnes” referring to magnesium and “-emia” meaning in the blood — causes noticeable negative symptoms, including muscle aches or spasms, poor digestion, anxiety, and trouble sleeping. Yet, magnesium deficiency is often overlooked and rarely tested. Therefore, magnesium may be one of the most underutilized but most necessary supplements there is.
Magnesium — which comes from the obsolete root word magnes, which was used to mean magnet or magnetic power — may not be the most present mineral in our bodies in terms of its quantity, but it’s certainly one of the most crucial to overall health. It’s actually involved in over 300 biochemical functions in the body, such as regulating heartbeat rhythms and helping neurotransmitter functions, which is why hypomagnesemia is something you want to nip in the bud.
The Need for Magnesium Supplements
A magnesium deficiency can cause significant symptoms. Some of the most prominent include: (1)
- hypertension and cardiovascular disease
- kidney and liver damage
- peroxynitrite damage that can lead to migraine headaches, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma or Alzheimer’s disease
- nutrient deficiencies, including vitamin K, vitamin B1, calcium and potassium
- restless leg syndrome
- worsened PMS symptoms
- behavioral disorders and mood swings
- insomnia and trouble sleeping
- recurrent bacterial or fungal infections due to low levels of nitric oxide or a depressed immune system
- tooth cavities
- muscle weakness and cramps
- eclampsia and preeclampsia
Why is magnesium deficiency so common? A few factors are at play: soil depletion that lowers the amount of magnesium present in crops; digestive disorders that lead to malabsorption of magnesium and other minerals in the gut; high rates of prescription medication and antibiotic use that damages the digestive tract to the point that magnesium cannot be absorbed and properly utilized from foods.
The body loses stores of magnesium every day from normal functions, such as muscle movement, heartbeat and hormone production. Although we only need small amounts of magnesium relative to other nutrients, we must regularly replenish our stores either from foods or magnesium supplements in order to prevent deficiency symptoms.
The kidneys primarily control levels of magnesium within the body and excrete magnesium into the urine each day, which is one reason why urinary excretion is reduced when magnesium and other electrolyte statuses are low. Magnesium is actually the least abundant serum electrolyte in the body, but it’s still extremely important for your metabolism, enzyme function, energy production and for balancing nitric oxide in the body.
Types of Magnesium Supplements
Magnesium is naturally present in some foods, synthetically added to other food products and available as a dietary supplement. Additionally, it’s found in some over-the-counter medicines, such as antacids and laxatives.
Magnesium supplements are available in a variety of forms. The absorption rate and bioavailability of magnesium supplements differs depending on the kind — usually types that dissolve in liquid are better absorbed in the gut than less soluble forms.
It’s believed that magnesium in citrate, chelate and chloride forms are absorbed better than magnesium supplements in oxide and magnesium sulfate form. Here’s a bit about the different types of magnesium supplements that you’ll likely come across:
- Magnesium Chelate — highly absorbable by the body and the kind found in foods naturally. This type is bound to multiple amino acids (proteins) and used to restore magnesium levels.
- Magnesium Citrate — magnesium combined with citric acid. This may have a laxative effect in some cases when taken in high doses but is otherwise safe to use for improving digestion and preventing constipation.
- Magnesium Chloride Oil — an oil form of magnesium that can be applied to skin. It’s also given to people who have digestive disorders that prevent normal absorption of magnesium from their food. Athletes sometimes use magnesium oil to increase energy and endurance, to dull muscle pain, and to heal wounds or skin irritation.
- Magnesium Glycinate — highly absorbable, this is recommended for anyone with a known magnesium deficiency and less likely to cause laxative effects than some other magnesium supplements.
- Magnesium Threonate — has a high level of absorbability/bioavailability since it can penetrate the mitochondrial membrane. This type is not as readily available, but as more research is conducted, it may become more widely used.
- Magnesium Orotate — these supplements have orotic acid, and magnesium orotate is beneficial to the heart.
How do you know if you should use magnesium supplements? According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), assessing magnesium levels is difficult because most magnesium is inside cells or in the bones and not within the blood. This can make blood test results misleading when it comes to determining a magnesium deficiency. (2)
The most common method for assessing magnesium status is by measuring serum magnesium concentrations in the blood or by measuring concentrations in saliva and urine, but no single method is considered totally comprehensive and accurate. Because magnesium supplements have such few risks for side effects and toxicity, many health care professionals now recommend that adults take supplements regularly to prevent deficiency.
Recommended Daily Allowance of Magnesium
These are the current RDAs for magnesium depending on your age and gender — intakes vary on different individual factors — according to the NIH:
- Infants–6 months: 30 milligrams
- 7–12 months: 75 milligrams
- 1–3 years: 80 milligrams
- 4–8 years: 130 milligrams
- 9–13 years: 240 milligrams
- 14–18 years: 410 milligrams for men; 360 milligrams for women
- 19–30 years: 400 milligrams for men; 310 milligrams for women
- Adults 31 years and older: 420 milligrams for men; 320 milligrams for women
- Pregnant women: 350–360 milligrams
- Women who are breastfeeding: 310–320 milligrams
Magnesium is connected to other nutrients within the body, including calcium, vitamin K and vitamin D. Experts believe that one of the reasons magnesium supplements are so beneficial is because they help counterbalance high levels of calcium that can accumulate in the body when people take calcium supplements regularly. Similarly, taking vitamin D in high levels, or being deficient in vitamin K2, can lower magnesium stores in the body and contribute to a deficiency.
This is why it’s important to be careful when using any supplement, including magnesium supplements. Consuming any supplement in doses that are too high can create an imbalance in other nutrients and toxicity. Hence, I usually recommend getting magnesium or other nutrients from food sources, as foods naturally contain other important balancing nutrients.
In the case of deficiency, a person may need to take a supplement for a certain period of time. However, if possible, try to use food-based supplements in these cases, or be aware of how nutrients — such as calcium and magnesium — work together and how certain dosages and intakes can interact with one another.