Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 12/04/2020
Magnesium is a mineral that’s essential for optimal health and wellbeing. In fact, it’s one of the most abundant and important minerals in your body — a factor that means it’s often referred to as a macromineral.
Like many other macrominerals, magnesium plays a key role in a diverse range of processes within your body. It’s a cofactor in more than 300 enzyme systems and an essential mineral in processes such as energy production.
Despite its importance, many people are deficient in magnesium. In fact, research shows that between 10 percent and 30 percent of the population has a magnesium deficiency.
Luckily, if you’re deficient in magnesium, a range of options are available to help you maintain healthy magnesium levels.
Below, we’ve listed 12 key health benefits of magnesium. For each benefit, we’ve dug into the science to explain more about how magnesium works and why it’s such a vital mineral for your health and wellbeing.
We’ve also explained what you can do if you think you’re deficient in magnesium, from testing options to supplements and magnesium-rich foods.
Research shows that magnesium may play a key role in your physical performance, including your ability to exercise.
One study from 2006 found that people with coronary artery disease (CAD) were able to tolerate exercise better and had better heart function after taking a magnesium supplement.
A different study from 2014 concluded that daily use of a magnesium supplement can improve exercise performance in healthy elderly women.
A different study, this time involving competitive triathletes, found that the athletes who used a magnesium orotate supplement had larger increases in serum glucose concentration, oxygen partial pressure and insulin levels than the athletes given a placebo.
Finally, an older study from 1992 found that men who used a magnesium supplement gained more strength than their peers over the course of a seven-week program.
All of these are closely correlated with physical performance, suggesting that magnesium may be of value both to ordinary people and athletes.
Some research suggests that magnesium’s effects on exercise may be due to improvements in glucose availability and a reduction in substances that cause muscle fatigue.
For example, an animal study concluded that magnesium may increase exercise performance by increasing the availability of glucose — a simple carbohydrate that’s a key energy source for the body during exercise.
The same study also found that magnesium improved clearance of lactate — a substance that can build up in the muscles during exercise and cause fatigue.
On the other hand, other studies have found more modest effects from magnesium in terms of exercise performance. One study found that magnesium had no effects on performance, while another found no evidence of enhanced performance or recovery in long-distance runners.
In short, magnesium appears to improve exercise performance, with several studies showing a measurable improvement in strength and numerous other factors related to exercise. However, the current research isn’t totally conclusive, with a few studies also finding little to no benefit.
Research shows that increasing your consumption of magnesium may boost your testosterone levels if you’re currently magnesium deficient.
In a study from 2011, researchers found that men who used a magnesium supplement showed an increase in testosterone over four weeks. The increase was largest in men who exercised while using the magnesium supplement.
A separate study published in the International Journal of Andrology found a similar conclusion, noting that magnesium levels are “strongly and independently” associated with hormones such as testosterone and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) in older men.
Our complete guide to increasing testosterone goes into more detail on magnesium and other supplements linked to testosterone production.
Research shows that magnesium supplementation can help to reduce blood pressure in people with hypertension (high blood pressure).
In one study, 60 people with untreated or treated hypertension were either given a magnesium supplement or a placebo over an eight-week period. The people who used magnesium had a consistently lower average blood pressure reading than those in the control group.
An analysis of 22 studies also found that use of a magnesium supplement is associated with a small but clinically significant reduction in blood pressure.
On the other hand, one study found that although magnesium can reduce blood pressure levels in people who are overweight, but not diabetic.
The researchers concluded that even though magnesium supplementation didn’t appear to reduce blood pressure or enhance insulin sensitivity in non-diabetic overweight people who didn’t have a magnesium deficiency, it may lower blood pressure in healthy adults with otherwise higher blood pressure.
Put simply, if you have hypertension, taking a magnesium supplement may help to reduce your blood pressure, albeit by a small amount. However, this is something you’ll want to discuss with your healthcare provider first, especially if you already use medication for hypertension.
Low levels of magnesium are linked to migraines, making magnesium supplements a common treatment option for preventing migraines.
Experts believe that magnesium may prevent something called cortical spreading depression, which is linked to the “aura” (sensory disturbances) that people prone to migraines often have before a migraine attack.
If you’re prone to migraines, using a magnesium supplement may be a good way to lower your risk of migraine attacks. Magnesium has a Level B rating from the American Headache Society, meaning it should be considered as a preventative therapy.
Of course, this is something that you’ll want to discuss with your healthcare provider, especially if you already use medication to treat and/or prevent migraines.
Research shows that magnesium may make falling asleep easier, making it a potential natural treatment for certain types of insomnia.
Low levels of magnesium are scientifically linked to insomnia, as well as a range of other health conditions. If you’re deficient in magnesium, you might find it harder to fall and stay asleep for a normal amount of time.
Numerous studies have found that using a magnesium supplement may improve sleep, both in terms of total sleep time and sleep quality.
For example, one study of elderly people found that supplementation with magnesium produced improvements in sleep efficiency, sleep time and sleep onset latency (the total amount of time to fall asleep), as well as insomnia severity index (ISI) scores.
Another study found that the use of a supplement containing magnesium, melatonin and vitamin B had a positive effect on sleep patterns in people with insomnia. However, as this study used a supplement with multiple ingredients, it’s hard to attribute the results to magnesium alone.
Finally, a study of Chinese adults found that magnesium intake may have long-term benefits for people who experience daytime sleepiness in women — a common symptom of insomnia.
In short, if you find it difficult to fall asleep or often wake up during the night, using a magnesium supplement or eating foods rich in magnesium may help to make sleeping easier.
Research has found that low magnesium levels are often linked to higher levels of inflammatory markers — a set of biological markers that often signal the presence of an inflammatory disease process.
For example, one study found that people who consume less than the recommended adequate intake of magnesium were 1.48 times to 1.75 times more likely to show elevated levels of C-reactive protein (CRP).
C-reactive protein is a protein produced by your liver in response to inflammation. High levels of CRP are often associated with disorders and serious infections.
A different study also reached a similar conclusion, noting that magnesium intake appears to be inversely associated with systemic inflammation in women .
Low gradeInflammation is closely related to aging, as well as several common aging-related diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis and others.
In simple terms, consuming a healthy amount of magnesium appears to help keep major signals of inflammation under control — something that may help to promote good health and lower your risk of numerous aging-related health issues.
Depression and anxiety can take a serious toll on your wellbeing, affecting almost every aspect of your life.
Studies show that magnesium deficiency is associated with mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety disorders.
For example, a study of more than 8,800 American adults found a significant association between low magnesium intake and depression in younger adults.
Other research has shown that supplementing with magnesium may help to make depression and anxiety symptoms less severe.
For example, a scientific review published in 2017 looked at 18 studies on magnesium use in people vulnerable to anxiety. The researchers found that while the evidence is poor in quality, it suggests that magnesium may have benefits for people with a vulnerability to anxiety.
A different study from 2017 looked at the effects of magnesium supplementation on depression in 126 adults. It concluded that regular use of a magnesium supplement is effective, quick to work and well tolerated as a treatment for mild-to-moderate depression.
A small study of elderly adults even found that an oral magnesium supplement was as effective at treating depression as the tricyclic antidepressant imipramine in elderly diabetic patients.
Now, it’s important to put this research in context. Magnesium is not approved by the FDA as a treatment for depression, nor should it be viewed as a replacement for prescription medications such as antidepressants. While it appears to help, it’s by no means a proven treatment.
If you’re concerned that you may have depression or anxiety, you should talk to your healthcare provider or schedule a consultation with a licensed psychiatry provider online. They’ll be able to provide more information about the safest, most effective treatment options for you.
As a macromineral, magnesium plays a major part in numerous biological processes, including those that are essential for keeping you alive and healthy.
For example, magnesium is important for the activity of hundreds of enzymes involved in lipid, protein and nucleic acid synthesis. These are essential biological processes that create DNA, RNA and human tissue.
Magnesium is also essential for adenosine triphosphate, or ATP — a vital organic compound that provides energy to cells. Put simply, a healthy level of magnesium consumption is essential for fueling your cells and keeping you alive.
People with diabetes are often deficient in magnesium. For example, magnesium deficiency is a common issue for people with type 2 diabetes, particularly those who’ve had diabetes for a long period of time and those with poorly controlled blood glucose profiles.
Some research even suggests that magnesium deficiency may contribute to an increased risk of developing diabetes. For example, one study concluded that low serum magnesium levels were a strong predictor of type 2 diabetes in white, middle-aged adults.
A separate study, published in Diabetes Care, reached a similar conclusion, noting that optimal magnesium intake was associated with a lower risk of developing diabetes. However, researchers also indicated that more formal clinical trials must be completed before anything can be concluded definitively.
Other research has suggested that magnesium supplementation may help people with diabetes to manage the disease.
Although scientific research on this topic is limited, several studies have found that magnesium may increase insulin resistance and metabolic control in diabetic people.
For example, a study from 2003 noted that people with type 2 diabetes who used a magnesium supplement showed improvements in metabolic control. Another study noted that intracellular magnesium may play a key role in modulating insulin-mediated glucose uptake.
In short, magnesium may be useful both for reducing diabetes risk and for managing aspects of diabetes.
Like with other potential benefits of magnesium, it’s important to qualify this statement. If you’re diabetic, magnesium is by no means a cure or treatment for diabetes. It’s not a replacement for your existing medication or insulin therapy.
If you’re being treated for diabetes, it’s important that you talk to your healthcare provider before using magnesium or any other health supplements.
Magnesium is one of several minerals that play key roles in maintaining optimal cardiovascular health.
Research shows that people who have a higher magnesium intake — either by the food they eat or through supplementation — are associated with lower instances of cardiovascular risk factors, cardiovascular disease and strokes.
Other research has found that magnesium deficiency is a risk factor for stroke, thrombosis and other potential cardiovascular health issues.
One study from 2014 found that magnesium consumption is inversely associated with coronary artery calcification, the process through which calcium builds up in the walls of the arteries and contributes to heart disease.
In simple terms, consuming a healthy amount of magnesium may reduce your risk of developing heart disease or related cardiovascular health issues.
Magnesium is a key component of healthy bones — in fact, about 60 percent of the magnesium in your body is stored inside your bones.
Research shows that magnesium deficiency contributes to osteoporosis — a disease that occurs when the body loses bone mass and the bones become overly weak and brittle.
Although scientific research on magnesium and bone health is far from comprehensive, there’s some evidence that consuming a healthy amount of magnesium may be an important aspect of maintaining optimal bone health.
For example, a study from the 1990s found that magnesium supplementation helped to prevent fractures and increase bone density in menopausal women.
A more recent study from 2017 found that dietary magnesium intake was associated with bone mineral density (BMD), skeletal muscle mass and grip strength in older men and women. The researchers concluded that magnesium may be helpful for preventing sarcopenia, osteoporosis, and fractures.
Magnesium is found in numerous common foods and is available as an over-the-counter health supplement, making it easy to increase your consumption if you’re deficient.
The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommends that men aged from 19 to 30 have an average daily intake 400mg of magnesium. For men 31 and older, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for magnesium is 420mg per day.
For women aged from 19 to 30, the recommended dietary allowance for magnesium is 310mg per day. For women older than 30, the recommended dietary allowance is 320mg per day.
Getting more magnesium is simple. You can increase your magnesium consumption by eating more magnesium-rich foods, or by taking a magnesium supplement. We’ve explained both of these options below.
Many foods are rich in magnesium. Adding these foods to your diet is an easy way to increase your magnesium intake without relying on supplements. Magnesium-rich foods include:
Green leafy vegetables. Many green vegetables are rich in magnesium. These include spinach, edamame (immature soybeans) and broccoli. Leafy vegetables, such as kale, are particularly high in magnesium, with around 40 percent of the RDA per cup.
Nuts. Many nuts contain large amounts of magnesium, making them a great snack idea if you have low magnesium levels. Magnesium-rich nuts include almonds, cashews and peanuts, all of which contain 15+ percent of the magnesium RDA per serving.
Seeds and beans. Most seeds and beans, including chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, black beans and kidney beans, are rich in magnesium. Pumpkin seeds are particularly high in magnesium, with approximately 37 percent of the RDA per serving.
Milk and soy milk. Milk and soy milk both contain significant amounts of magnesium. A cup of soy milk contains 15 percent of the magnesium RDA, while a cup of milk contains about six percent.
Complex carbohydrates. Many carbohydrate-rich foods have magnesium, but complex carbs typically contain the largest amounts. Starchy foods such as oatmeal, whole wheat bread and brown rice all contain significant amounts of magnesium.
Fish. Many types of fish contain magnesium. A three-ounce serving of salmon contains about six percent of the RDA for magnesium, with similar amounts of magnesium found in halibut. Tuna is also rich in magnesium.
Red meat and poultry. Red meat and poultry are both great sources of magnesium. A three-ounce serving of either ground beef or chicken breast contains five percent of the RDA for magnesium.
In general, foods that are rich in fiber often contain magnesium. You can also find magnesium in many breakfast cereals and fortified foods.
Magnesium is widely available as a health supplement, usually in capsules or tablet form. You can find magnesium supplements at most drugstores, health food stores and from supplement vendors online.
As a supplement, magnesium is available without a prescription. Our full guide to magnesium supplements goes into more detail about how to use magnesium supplements, normal doses and what to look for when comparing supplements.
If you’re concerned that you might be deficient in magnesium, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider. Magnesium levels can be checked via a simple test called a magnesium blood test.
Although most magnesium is stored in your bones and can’t be measured with this test, a blood test can help your healthcare provider to assess your magnesium levels and determine whether or not you have a magnesium deficiency.
If you’re deficient in magnesium, your healthcare provider may suggest making changes to your diet or taking a magnesium supplement.
It’s also important to note that while magnesium supplementation is generally considered safe for most people, there are some potential side effects you may experience while taking it — especially when taking it to excess.
Notably, side effects of magnesium include things like hypotension, severe hypotension, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, facial flushing, urine retention, muscle weakness and lethargy, heartbeat irregularities, breathing difficulties and even cardiac arrest in some people.
That said, if you’re thinking about magnesium supplementation, the most important thing to do is call your healthcare provider and talk about your options.
Magnesium is an essential mineral for your health and wellbeing. It’s involved in a diverse range of key biological processes, from producing the energy-carrying molecules that power your cells to maintaining your heart, bones and organs.
As a man, low levels of magnesium have a negative effect on everything from your heart health to your production of important hormones like testosterone. As such, it’s important to consume a healthy amount of magnesium.
You can get magnesium in everything from dedicated supplements to much of the food you eat.
And while magnesium supplementation is generally considered safe for most people, it’s still worth checking with your healthcare provider to make sure it’s an appropriate option for you, as some of the side effects from magnesium (particularly excessive magnesium intake) can be quite severe.
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