Magnesium is one of the most important minerals to the human body. This mineral is essential for over 300 chemical reactions in the body. If you aren’t getting enough of this vital mineral from your diet, deficiency can occur.
A magnesium deficiency is linked to health conditions including tinnitus, anxiety, osteoporosis, and even tooth decay. Being deficient can cause serious cardiovascular problems too. Magnesium works in concert with calcium in muscle contraction—including the heart muscle—as well as blood clotting and blood pressure regulation.
A diet rich in leafy greens, nuts and seeds, and vegetables can help ensure you get the recommended daily value of magnesium. While consuming a healthy diet is always best, for some individuals, a high-quality magnesium supplement may be necessary.
Sadly, researchers estimate that half of all Americans, and between 70% and 80% of those over 70 years of age, don’t get enough magnesium each day, or an underlying health condition like alcoholism, malnutrition, or even pregnancy, can cause poor absorption of this essential mineral.
What Is Magnesium?
Magnesium is an essential mineral and electrolyte that is vital to over 300 functions in the body. Our bodies cannot produce it—magnesium must be consumed either through a healthy diet, or via supplementation.
Magnesium is essential for:
- Protein synthesis
- Muscle and nerve function
- Muscle contraction
- Heart rhythm
- Blood clotting
- Blood glucose control
- Blood pressure regulation
- Energy production
- Bone health
- Proper immune system functioning
- Synthesis of DNA and RNA
Types of Magnesium
- Magnesium chelate: The kind found in magnesium-rich foods, magnesium chelate is absorbed well by the body because it binds with amino acids to make it more available.
- Magnesium citrate: A combination of magnesium and citric acid, magnesium citrate is often used for digestive purposes. A word of caution, in high doses this type of magnesium can have a laxative effect.
- Magnesium glycinate: This type of magnesium is a highly absorbable form that is often used for diagnosed or suspected magnesium deficiency. It is less likely to cause laxative effects than other types of magnesium supplements.
- Magnesium threonate: This form of magnesium can be difficult to find as it is not widely available yet. However, as it demonstrates high bioavailability and easily penetrates cells, it may start to appear on more shelves soon.
- Magnesium chloride oil: Generally for topical application, magnesium chloride oil is recommended to help relieve muscle pains and discomfort associated with fibromyalgia. It can also be used by individuals with a digestive disorder that prevents normal absorption of magnesium.
- Magnesium orotate: This magnesium supplement adds orotic acid to the formula. This may be beneficial to those with cardiovascular disease. However, research is limited to support this claim.
- Magnesium oxide: This type of magnesium is less absorbable than other forms of magnesium supplements.
Signs and Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency
Magnesium deficiency occurs when fewer than 1.8 milligrams of magnesium per deciliter of blood is found. Most cases of magnesium deficiency go undiagnosed as blood tests may be inconclusive.
Causes of Magnesium Deficiency
While malnutrition is recognized as the most common cause of a deficiency, the following underlying health conditions can also cause you to be deficient in magnesium.
- Crohn's disease
- Gastric bypass surgery
- Chronic diarrhea
- Organ failure
Dangers of Magnesium Deficiency
A severe deficiency in this essential mineral may require magnesium injections administered by your healthcare team as well as ongoing monitoring of magnesium levels. If an underlying condition is determined to be the root cause, treating the disease may improve your body’s ability to absorb magnesium properly.
Diagnosis requires a blood test, but as mentioned above, as 90% of the magnesium in the body is stored in muscles and bones, a blood test may not provide a definitive diagnosis. You may still have a magnesium deficiency even if blood tests indicate your magnesium levels fall within acceptable ranges.
If a severe magnesium deficiency is left untreated or unmanaged, the following severe cardiovascular complications can occur:
- High blood pressure
- Heart failure
- Increased platelet reactivity
- Myocardial infarction
- Sudden cardiac death
10 Foods High in Magnesium
A balanced diet is the best way to get the magnesium your body needs to thrive. If you are experiencing mild magnesium deficiency symptoms, try adding magnesium-rich foods to your diet. The following 10 foods are wonderful sources of magnesium.
1. Almonds: 1 Ounce = 20% DV
These tasty nuts are high in fiber, protein, manganese, vitamin E, and healthy fats. According to the Mayo Clinic, almonds are a heart-healthy food that may help lower bad cholesterol levels and even help reduce your risk of blood clots.
2. Spinach: 1/2 Cup Cooked = 20% DV
This popular leafy green should be cooked when you are trying to increase your magnesium levels. According to the Vegetarian Times, raw spinach contains oxalic acid, which is known to block the absorption of certain nutrients, including calcium and magnesium. The good news is that cooking spinach makes these essential minerals available to the body.
3. Cashews: 1 Ounce = 19% DV
Enjoying a handful of cashews adds a healthy dose of minerals, including copper, calcium, and manganese, which together have been shown to protect against osteoporosis. The cashew’s nutrient profile also packs a punch of protein, healthy fiber, and vitamins B, C, and folate.
4. Peanuts: 1/4 Cup = 16% DV
Arguably the most consumed legume in the United States, peanuts boast plenty of protein, essential bone-building minerals, and vitamins. And, in a study conducted by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health, eating peanut butter is linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes in women.
5. Black Beans: 1/2 Cup = 15% DV
In addition to being magnesium rich, black beans contain one of the best amino acids for the brain—tryptophan. Black beans are a high-fiber food linked to a reduction in colon cancer risk. They’ve also been shown to help with appetite control and weight loss.
6. Avocado: 1 Cup = 11% DV
Packed with healthy fats and a wide range of vitamins and minerals, avocados are a must for anyone looking to improve health. If you struggle with magnesium levels, an avocado a day may help protect you from some of the possible complications from the deficiency, including mood disorders, cholesterol levels, and diabetes.
7. White Potato: 3.5 Ounces Baked = 11% DV
The humble white potato often gets a bad rap in health and wellness circles. But it’s a good source of both potassium and magnesium, outperforming sweet potatoes in a head-to-head battle. The Cleveland Clinic does note that sweet potatoes are higher in vitamins A and C, but that white potatoes are less expensive and a versatile food.
8. Brown Rice: 1/2 Cup = 11% DV
Brown rice is loaded with fiber-full nutrients but low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Magnesium isn’t the only star nutrient. Brown rice is also abundant in protein, niacin, vitamin B6, thiamin, and manganese. Swapping brown rice for white rice may reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes by 16% according to researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
9. Yogurt: 8 Ounces = 11% DV
Dairy products, particularly fermented dairy products, are a good source of essential minerals such as magnesium and calcium. As noted above, magnesium deficiency can cause anxiety and other mood disorders, which may be helped by including yogurt in your diet. A ground-breaking study by William & Mary researchers showed that eating yogurt and other fermented foods can decrease social anxiety.
10. Fortified Cereals: Per Serving = 10%-15% DV
If you have a young picky eater in the family who doesn’t enjoy magnesium-rich foods, a bowl of fortified cereal each morning can provide up to 15% of the DV. Of course, it is essential to choose a cereal that is low in added sugar, preservatives, and artificial colors.
8 Conditions Magnesium Supplements May Help
- Anxiety: Magnesium has been shown to help relax the muscles and the mind, and it is central to the release of serotonin. According to an article in Psychology Today, magnesium has been used for generations to help relieve stress, depression, and anxiety. Anxiety can be a symptom of magnesium deficiency, and increasing magnesium-rich foods in your diet, or taking 200 milligrams to 400 milligrams daily, may help relieve anxiety.
- Cardiovascular disease: As a deficiency is linked to heart disease, it is important to be sure to get your DV of magnesium every day. According to a study from Harvard Medical School, higher magnesium intake either through diet or supplements is associated with protection against multiple cardiovascular disease risk factors.
- Fibromyalgia: Magnesium may help relieve generalized pain, tenderness, and muscle pain associated with fibromyalgia. According to the results of hair analysis tests, fibromyalgia patients have significantly lower levels of magnesium, calcium, iron, copper, and manganese in their systems. In addition to oral supplements, you can topically apply magnesium chloride oil to painful areas.
- High blood pressure: According to Harvard Medical School, magnesium is one of three essential minerals for blood pressure management. The other two, calcium and potassium, can be found in many of the magnesium-rich foods above. And calcium and magnesium have an interdependence when it comes to absorption—they need each other for best results.
- Insomnia: Taking 500 milligrams of magnesium before bed may relieve your insomnia according to researchers. In a double-blind, randomized clinical trial, magnesium supplementation significantly increases sleep time, sleep efficiency, and how quickly you fall asleep.
- Migraine headaches: Preliminary research shows that oral magnesium supplements may help prevent and treat migraine headaches. Researchers indicate in an article published in the journal, Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, that both intravenous and oral supplements should be considered in migraine treatment protocols.
- Osteoporosis: As many as 84% of postmenopausal women have a magnesium deficiency, and, as 50% or more of our magnesium is stored in the bones, it is imperative that women get enough to prevent bone loss and osteoporosis. In a study published in the journal Biology Trace Element Research,short-term oral magnesium supplementation for 30 days increases bone density and may suppress bone turnover.
- Type 2 diabetes: While diabetes can cause magnesium deficiency, there is also evidence that taking magnesium or increasing the amount of magnesium-rich foods in your diet can lower your risk for type 2 diabetes. In a meta-analysis published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, researchers indicate that increasing your intake of magnesium by 100 milligrams a day can reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes by 15%.
Magnesium Supplement Risks
Magnesium is generally well-tolerated by most individuals. However, for some, too much magnesium can cause:
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Irregular heartbeat
- Slowed breathing
- Low blood pressure
- Urine retention
- Cardiac arrest
- Loss of central nervous system control
Known Drug Interactions with Magnesium Supplements
Eating foods rich in magnesium generally won’t cause adverse effects. However, there are a number of medications that interact poorly with magnesium supplements, including the following drugs and drug classifications.
Bisphosphonates, including alendronate (Fosamax), etidronate (Didronel), risedronate (Actonel), tiludronate (Skelid), and others prescribed for osteoporosis, should be taken two hours before or two hours after taking a magnesium supplement.
Aminoglycoside antibiotics, including amikacin, gentamicin, kanamycin, streptomycin, tobramycin, and their name-brands, may not be properly absorbed if you take magnesium supplements within two hours before one of these antibiotics, or within six hours.
Quinolone antibiotics’ effectiveness can be decreased by magnesium supplements. This classification of antibiotics include the following name brands, and their generic counterparts: Cipro, Penetrex, Chibroxin, Noroxin, Zagam, Trovan, and Raxar.
Tetracycline antibiotics may not be adequately absorbed if you take magnesium supplements. If you are prescribed tetracycline antibiotics, ask your physician if it is necessary to stop taking your magnesium supplement temporarily.
Gabapentin (Neurontin) prescribed to prevent and control seizures and for nerve pain, needs to be taken at least two hours before or four to six hours after any magnesium supplement to ensure proper absorption of this anti-seizure drug.
Sulfonylureas, a commonly prescribed class of diabetes medications, can be affected by magnesium supplements increasing the risk for low blood sugar. These medications include carbutamide, acetohexamide, chlorpropamide, tolbutamide, gliclazide, glibornuride, glyclopyramide, and glimepiride.
Calcium channel blockers prescribed for high blood pressure when taken with magnesium can block calcium from entering the cells, resulting in dangerous blood pressure drops. This drug classification includes Amlodipine (Norvasc), Dilitiazem, (Cardizem, Tiazac), Felodipine, Isradipine, Nicardipine, Nifedipine (Adalat CC, Afeditab CR, Procardia), Nisoldipine (Sular), and Verapamil (Calan, Verelan).
Antiplatelet/anticoagulant drugs, when taken with magnesium, can slow blood clotting, increasing your risk of bleeding and bruising. Talk to your doctor before taking magnesium supplements when you’ve been prescribed aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix), dalteparin (Fragmin), enoxaparin (Lovenox), heparin, indomethacin (Indocin), ticlopidine (Ticlid), and warfarin (Coumadin).
Muscle relaxants and magnesium together can increase side effects, as they both relax muscles. Speak to your doctor about your options for taking magnesium supplements and any one of these medications: carisoprodol (Soma), pipecuronium (Arduan), orphenadrine (Banflex, Disipal), cyclobenzaprine, gallamine (Flaxedil), atracurium (Tracrium), pancuronium (Pavulon), succinylcholine (Anectine), and others.
Diuretics including amiloride (Midamor), spironolactone (Aldactone), and triamterene (Dyrenium) and magnesium together can cause too much magnesium to be stored in the body. Before taking a supplement, consult with your doctor to ensure there isn’t the possibility for a dangerous reaction.
Proton pump inhibitors are used to reduce acid in the stomach. Prolonged use can cause magnesium deficiency according to the FDA. In fact, the FDA warns that if you are on a PPI, your magnesium levels should be monitored regularly.
Dabrafenib and Gefitinib are prescribed for certain types of cancer, but magnesium may cause these potentially life-saving drugs not to be absorbed or metabolized correctly.
There are a variety of other drugs that may not interact well with magnesium supplements. Please use caution when taking a new medication, and be sure to tell both your doctor and your pharmacist of all vitamins, minerals, and nutritional supplements you take regularly.
If you are taking a prescription medication that is adversely affected by a magnesium supplement, you can consume more magnesium foods to boost your levels. However, be sure to check with your doctor, as some foods should be avoided within a specific time frame of taking certain medications.