Magnesium is an essential mineral and one of the main electrolytes in the human body along with calcium, potassium, sodium, and chloride.

Some 60% of the body’s magnesium resides in the bones.

The other 40%, in conjunction with the basic energy molecule ATP (adenosine triphosphate), is essential for all body manufacturing processes, the burning of glycogen as fuel, the transmission of genetic code to form new proteins and the activity of over 300 enzymes [30]

To accomplish these multiple tasks, the body does everything possible to keep blood magnesium levels stable between specific narrow limits.

Whenever the diet is short of magnesium the blood steals it from the bones to make up the deficit.

Once your bones start losing magnesium, they are also losing calcium and starting breaking up at a rapid pace.

Your kidneys also reabsorb magnesium meticulously and channel it back into the blood, to prevent it from being discarded in the urine.

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Magnesium Deficiency: A Modern Pandemic

Magnesium deficiency is the most common mineral deficiency in our world, being prevalent even in developed countries.

Over 50% of the U.S population is magnesium deficient [24].

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for magnesium ranges from 400 to 420 mg per day for men and 310 to 320 mg for women [33].

Magnesium deficiency is linked to increased systemic inflammation, and elevated inflammatory markers, such as C-reactive protein (CRP), a risk factor for cardiovascular and other chronic diseases [31]

Due to it being one of the body’s primary electrolytes, a deficiency in magnesium can create disturbances in nearly every organ system of the body, with the situation getting progressively worse with aging. 

After bones, the highest concentrations of magnesium in the body are in the heart and brain, which is why a magnesium deficiency can some times even be fatal.

Hypomagnesemia or severe magnesium deficiency can potentially cause fatal complications including ventricular arrhythmia, coronary artery spasm and sudden death [32].

The main symptoms of magnesium deficiency include:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Muscle cramps
  • Impaired glucose tolerance
  • Insulin resistance
  • Osteoporosis
  • Soft tissue calcification
  • Constipation
  • Hypokalemia (low potassium)
  • Hypoparathyroidism
  • Tingling and numbness
  • Insomnia
  • Poor coordination
  • Tremors
  • Overexcitation
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Seizures
  • Migraine headaches

Magnesium deficiencies are common in developed countries, due to soil depletion and the overconsumption of processed food, especially refined grains, which are poor sources of the mineral.

Unprocessed, whole grains contain good amounts of magnesium, but the removal of the germ and outer layers in making white flour excludes almost all of it.

This is done so that the flour has a long shelf life and is easy to cook with since, by this processing, it becomes no longer biologically active. 

Magnesium is only one of the many nutrients removed from food by modern processing, but it sure exemplifies the deteriorated state of the world’s mineral nutrition in the 20th and 21st century.

Apart from a low dietary intake, other causes of the widespread deficit in magnesium include a high-stress lifestyle, poor intestinal absorption, alcoholism, prescription medications, chronic diarrhea, increased urinary loss due to excessive consumption of coffee, tea, energy drinks, and other caffeine-rich, diuretic beverages.

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Magnesium Sources


The best way to naturally fix a magnesium deficiency is through diet.

Some of the best magnesium-rich foods are brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, cooked spinach, swiss chard, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate (>70% cacao), yogurt, black beans, avocados, figs, and bananas. 

Food Sources of Magnesium 

(mg) per
Pumpkin seeds, roasted, 1 ounce156
Chia seeds, 1 ounce111
Almonds, dry roasted, 1 ounce80
Spinach, boiled, ½ cup78
Cashews, dry roasted, 1 ounce74
Peanuts, oil roasted, ¼ cup63
Cereal, shredded wheat, 2 large biscuits61
Soymilk, plain or vanilla, 1 cup61
Black beans, cooked, ½ cup60
Edamame, shelled, cooked, ½ cup50
Peanut butter, smooth, 2 tablespoons49
Potato, baked with skin, 3.5 ounces43
Rice, brown, cooked, ½ cup42
Yogurt, plain, low fat, 8 ounces42
Breakfast cereals, fortified with 10% of the DV for magnesium, 1 serving42
Oatmeal, instant, 1 packet36
Kidney beans, canned, ½ cup35
Banana, 1 medium32
Salmon, Atlantic, farmed, cooked, 3 ounces26
Milk, 1 cup24–27
Halibut, cooked, 3 ounces24
Raisins, ½ cup23
Bread, whole wheat, 1 slice23
Avocado, cubed, ½ cup22
Chicken breast, roasted, 3 ounces22
Beef, ground, 90% lean, pan-broiled, 3 ounces20
Broccoli, chopped and cooked, ½ cup12
Rice, white, cooked, ½ cup10
Apple, 1 medium9
Carrot, raw, 1 medium7
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) FoodData Central


Magnesium supplementation can also be of help and sometimes is deemed necessary, especially when the person is under intense and prolonged physical and/or mental stress. 

The usual supplemental dose of magnesium is 200-400 mg, but many people prefer to go higher than that.

The intestinal absorption of magnesium varies depending on how much magnesium the body needs and the form of magnesium salts ingested.

Excessive dosages will cause some gastrointestinal distress and possibly diarrhea.

For individuals with normal kidney function, there is no danger of toxicity, because the kidneys will promptly dump any excess.

Because magnesium is a molecule that can’t be by itself, it needs to be bound to another substance to be ingested in supplement form.

For that reason, magnesium supplements are available in various chemical forms, with each one carrying specific benefits and disadvantages. 

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Types of Magnesium Supplements


Magnesium Citrate

In this form, magnesium is bound to citric acid, a common organic acid found in citrus fruits that gives them their tart, sour taste.

Citric acid is also used as a food preservative and flavor enhancer in the food industry.

Research suggests that this is one of the most bio-available forms of magnesium, which means that its absorption is superior compared to other forms [17].

It is usually taken orally to replenish low magnesium levels (hypomagnesemia) and due to its natural laxative effect can also be used in higher dosages to alleviate constipation.

Its consumption is also associated with managing symptoms of anxiety and depression, due to it being a nervous system relaxant.

Magnesium Chloride

Magnesium Chloride consists of magnesium bound to the highly unstable molecule of chlorine.

It is generally easily absorbed in the human GI tract and may be used to treat low magnesium levels, GERD and constipation.

It may also be applied topically to help alleviate muscle soreness, but in this manner, it doesn’t effectively correct low magnesium levels.

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Magnesium Oxide 

Magnesium Oxide is a magnesium salt that includes magnesium and oxygen.

In its natural form is a white, powdery substance that is being commercially sold either as a capsule or straight as a powder.

It’s also the main active ingredient in milk of magnesia, the most common over-the-counter medication for the treatment of constipation.

Its absorption is suboptimal compared to other forms so it’s not a good option if you want to prevent or treat a magnesium deficiency.

Its use is recommended for short-term relief of problems such as migraines, indigestion, heartburn, and constipation. 

Magnesium L- Threonate

Magnesium L- Threonate is a salt formed when magnesium binds with threonic acid, a water-soluble metabolic byproduct that occurs as vitamin C is being broken down.

It has high bio-availability and evidence suggests that this is the best form when trying to increase magnesium levels in the brain [18].

For that reason, it is widely used for the management of certain brain disorders, such as depression and age-related cognitive decline.

However, more research is required to support its effectiveness. 

Magnesium Glycinate

Magnesium Glycinate is formed by combining elemental magnesium with the non-essential amino acid glycine (non-essential means that the body can make it by itself from other chemicals).

Glycine is used as a standalone supplement for the treatment of schizophrenia, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), stroke and some metabolic disorders.

Being one of the building blocks of glutathione, it is also used to support and protect the kidneys from the harmful side effects of certain drugs used after an organ transplant procedure, as well as shielding the liver from the ill effects of alcohol.

This form of magnesium is also easily absorbed by the human digestive system and exerts sedative effects.

Magnesium Malate

Magnesium Malate is the salt formed when magnesium binds with malic acid.

Malic acid is a naturally occurring organic compound found in fruits like apples and some wines.

Magnesium malate is absorbed very well by the body and has less of a laxative effect, while effectively replenishes low magnesium levels.

Among other forms, it is a gentler option, especially for people already suffering from occasional or chronic diarrhea.

Although there is no supporting scientific evidence, magnesium malate is prescribed by many doctors to patients suffering from fibromyalgia and myalgic encephalomyelitis (chronic fatigue syndrome) [19].

Magnesium Sulfate

Magnesium Sulfate is formed by the combination of magnesium, sulfur, and oxygen.

It’s famously known as Epsom salts.

Magnesium sulfate was until recently the most frequently used tocolytic agent for the treatment of preterm labor.

It’s a white powder with a similar consistency to that of table salt.

It’s widely used for the alleviation of constipation, but due to its unpleasant taste, most people prefer other forms of magnesium when the purpose is to alleviate upper GI tract disturbances, such as indigestion and GERD.

Best Form to Take

In general, any form of magnesium may be used to combat a magnesium deficiency, except magnesium L-Threonate, since it contains less elemental magnesium per dose.

Magnesium L-Threonate should be preferably used for cognitive augmentation [16]

All magnesium supplements should be taken daily with food, since magnesium is mainly fat-soluble.

Gastrointestinal disturbances, such as diarrhea and bloating, can occur as side-effects when magnesium oxide or chloride are supplemented, due to their lower levels of intestinal absorption. 

The best supplement choice for magnesium would be a mix of all magnesium forms, as every form plays a critical role in different functions in the body.

Magnesium Breakthrough is a mix of 7 magnesium salts, designed to eradicate anxiety and stress, help you sleep faster and deeper, boost your immune system, support your cardiovascular system and heart, and promote bone health.

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Why Some People Prefer Transdermal Magnesium

Some people argue that magnesium absorption is better through the skin than through the intestines, so a transdermal application is often proposed as an effective way to trigger relaxation, without causing loose stools (a common side effect if someone ingests too much oral magnesium).

Oral magnesium supplements can certainly be beneficial, but in order to get the high dosages necessary to promote deep relaxation, you may need to let your skin and muscles soak it up.

If you prefer that route, you can bathe in Epsom salts (Magnesium Sulfate), or rub magnesium oil or lotion on your feet and legs before bed, which will efficiently guide your body into deep sleep, while also acting as a natural muscle relaxant.

However, be careful, as magnesium can be a bit abrasive to the skin.

If you have an open cut, don’t apply it directly on the wound, because it will sting.

The creams and lotions are lighter and gentler on the skin than the oils, but contain less magnesium.

Magnesium and Athletic Performance

Because of the greater use of magnesium in energy metabolism, muscle protein synthesis, and the increased losses of magnesium via sweat during exercise, athletes need more magnesium than any other class of people.

Studies in a wide range of sports, including endurance running, triathlon, and wrestling, show that magnesium intakes by athletes are surprisingly below the RDA [20, 21].

Marathon runners show dramatic declines in serum and urinary magnesium after races, a fair indication of chronic magnesium deficiency.

Magnesium deficiency is also greatly involved in the female athlete syndrome, and in male athlete bone loss and stress fractures [34].

There is some scientific evidence supporting that magnesium supplementation may enhance athletic performance in individuals of all ages, but more research is required to definitively state that it can act as a true ergogenic aid [15].

Assessing Magnesium Status

Since magnesium is predominantly stored inside the cells or bones, it is often difficult to accurately assess its status.

Serum levels have little correlation with total body magnesium levels or concentrations in specific tissues [23].

For that reason, tests are usually inaccurate and often unnecessary [22].

Clinical symptoms of constipation, anxiety, insomnia, and irritability are often better predictors of magnesium deficiency than laboratory testing [25].

Magnesium Benefits

With such a wide and comprehensive role in human physiology and metabolism, it’s no surprise that the benefits of magnesium are extremely widespread.

Maintaining optimal levels of magnesium is associated with increased protection from mental disturbances, such as depression and ADHD [26]

Magnesium is also extremely important for the musculoskeletal and nervous system, the brain and heart, the production of endogenous antioxidants to fight off diseases, and the proper function of over 300 enzymes that rule and regulate human metabolism.

Here are 10 important magnesium benefits : 

1. Improves Sleep 

Magnesium stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system- the rest and digest branch of the ANS (Autonomic Nervous System), which is responsible for relaxation, healing, and regeneration.

Underactivty of this system will cause severe sleep disturbances, both in quality and quantity.

Insomnia and poor sleep in general are the most common telltale signs of magnesium deficiency.

People with low levels of magnesium often experience restless sleep and wake up multiple times during the night.

Research indicates supplemental magnesium can improve sleep quality, especially in people with poor sleep, since adequate magnesium relaxes the muscles and nerves, calming the body [11, 12].

Nonetheless, magnesium promotes deep and sound sleep through other mechanisms as well.

It regulates specific sedative neurotransmitters- chemical messengers that send signals throughout the nervous system and brain, such as GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid).

GABA is a neurotransmitter responsible for quieting down nerve activity [27].

Magnesium also regulates melatonin, a hormone produced by the pineal gland, which guides sleep-wake cycles in the body [35].

It has also been found that magnesium helps with the type of insomnia linked to restless leg syndrome, a condition that causes an uncontrollable urge to move your legs [36].

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2. Cardioprotective Effects

Magnesium deficits have been linked with a long list of cardiovascular and other disorders: hypertension, heart rhythm problems, such as atrial fibrillation, cholesterol-clogged coronary arteries, painful spasms of coronary arteries, and sudden cardiac arrest [13].

Magnesium also plays an important role in preventing soft tissue calcification, keeping calcium out of tissues, like blood vessels, and getting calcium to your bones and teeth [28].

Being a muscle relaxant, magnesium protects and fuels the most important muscle of your body, your heart, which is very small in comparison with the rest of your body and has to work extremely hard.

Magnesium antagonizes calcium, which is an essential mineral for the generation of muscular and heart contractions.

When calcium is released from the sarcoplasmic reticulum and enters any muscle cell, like the muscle cells of the heart, it stimulates muscle fibers to contract.

Magnesium counters this effect, promoting muscle fiber relaxation.

This movement of calcium and magnesium across the heart cells maintains a healthy heartbeat.

If your magnesium levels get low, calcium may overstimulate your heart muscle cells.

One common side effect of this is a rapid and/or irregular heartbeat, which can be scary and sometimes life-threatening [29].

3. Reduces High Blood Pressure 

Magnesium relaxes smooth muscle cells, like those found in your veins and arteries, so they do not constrict blood flow across the body.

In 2016, US researchers who analyzed the results of 34 clinical trials involving over 2,000 people, discovered a link between magnesium intake and reduced blood pressure [1].

Those who took magnesium were found to have both lower blood pressure and improved blood flow, which in and of itself, lowers blood pressure.

4. Increases Testosterone in Men

Evidence suggests that magnesium exerts a positive influence on anabolic hormonal status, including testosterone [2].

In magnesium-deficient males suffering from low testosterone, an increase in magnesium intake translates into an increase in testosterone production by the Leydig cells, both directly and indirectly.

Vitamin D3 is another substance that’s been found to positively regulate testosterone levels [3].

One of magnesium’s functions is the conversion of vitamin D into its biologically active form calcitriol – a master hormone regulator.

5. Combats Asthma

Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease characterized by bronchial inflammation and airway hyper-responsiveness.

As a response to this inflammation, the body produces excess mucus, which can restrict the flow of air and affect a person’s breathing.

Magnesium seems to be beneficial in the treatment of moderate to severe asthma [14].

For that reason, it is used therapeutically in hospitals, due to its anti-spasmodic and relaxing effects on the smooth, bronchial muscles.

Magnesium is a bronchodilator-i t relaxes the bronchial muscles and expands the airways, allowing more air to flow in and out of the lungs.

This can relieve symptoms of asthma, such as shortness of breath.

6. Metabolic Health

Type 2 diabetes, metabolic disorders and insulin resistance are frequently associated with both extracellular and intracellular magnesium deficits [4].

People with diabetes tend to be deficient in magnesium, especially if they have uncontrolled and high blood sugars, since their body will be clearing it out along with excess sugars in the urine (glycosuria).

Multiple studies have showcased that magnesium, among its many benefits, helps with blood sugar regulation and improves insulin sensitivity.

7. Improves Digestion and Alleviates Constipation

Magnesium, digestion and constipation are directly related because the entire digestive tract is essentially a long smooth muscle, and magnesium is a muscle relaxant.

For any digestive process to take place properly, the muscles of the digestive system need to be able to relax and contract.

Also, when your magnesium intake is optimal, there is an increase in intestinal water content, which helps with the initiation of peristalsis- the wave-like motion which moves food through the intestines. 

Additionally, magnesium is necessary for the production of hydrochloric acid (HCL), the secretion of digestive enzymes by the pancreas, and the protection, repair, and regeneration of the organs of the GI tract (esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small and large intestine).

8. Supports Bone Health

Magnesium is the most under-appreciated bone nutrient there is.

Research shows that people who get higher amounts of magnesium from their food have a higher mineral bone density [5].

That’s because no calcium can get into the bones without magnesium.

This is why people in China have much stronger bones than people in America; they get a lot more magnesium, even though they eat a lot less calcium.

Magnesium intake is what makes all the difference.

Ancestral diets that humans evolved eating included x2-8 times the amount of magnesium we consume today [6].

Scientific evidence also shows that higher levels of magnesium result in lower fracture rates, especially in the elderly. 

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9. Alleviates Fibromyalgia Symptoms

Several studies have found a detrimental correlation between decreased magnesium levels and fibromyalgia symptoms, such as tender points [7].

Fibromyalgia is a condition characterized by an overactive sympathetic nervous system, and consequently, a hyperactive stress response.

Anything that activates the opposite side of the ANS (Autonomic Nervous System), the parasympathetic branch, will promote body relaxation and reduce symptoms.

One easy way to do that is with topical magnesium lotions, or soaking in magnesium-enriched water.

Magnesium is known as the relaxation mineral for a good reason- it has significant calming effects on the brain, nerves, and muscles. 

10. Improves ADHD symptoms

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder of childhood and is associated with mineral and vitamin deficiencies, such as zinc, copper, and vitamin B6 [8].

According to scientific evidence, 72% of children suffering from ADHD show significantly lower levels of magnesium compared to children in the general population [10].

A magnesium deficiency in all children has been linked to impulsive behavior, inattention, and hyperactivity.

Studies suggest that supplementing with magnesium may reduce impulsivity, hyperactive behavior and improve cognitive function in children with ADHD [9].

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About George Kelly

George Kelly M.Sc is a Sports Nutritionist, Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (FNTP), and Metabolic Type expert. He is the CEO and lead author of Metabolic Body.




This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Metabolic Body nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.