Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays an integral part in health as a cofactor for hundreds of metabolic enzymes in the body. However, not as many individuals are aware of the importance of magnesium compared to minerals like calcium and thus fail to consider whether they are getting an adequate amount of this critical nutrient.
So, what is magnesium good for? Magnesium benefits include cellular energy production, DNA and protein synthesis, transport of other minerals across cells, cellular signaling, and ensuring healthy structure of tissues such as muscles and bones. Magnesium also is essential for the proper functioning of vitamin D and calcium, without which these nutrients can’t play their integral roles in promoting health.
For healthy adults, the recommended dietary allowance of magnesium is between 400-420 mg per day from dietary and nutritional sources. Sadly, data shows that the majority of individuals are not getting close to this amount on a regular basis. US national nutrition survey data (NHANES) frequently shows that magnesium intake in adults falls well short of the RDA as well as the estimated average requirements (EAR). The average magnesium intake for adults in the US has been estimated to be around 330 mg per day, which indicates that more than 50% of adults fall well short of the RDA for magnesium.
Since magnesium is such a crucial nutrient that is core to significant metabolic functions, falling short of adequate magnesium intake puts individuals at risk for several diseases and health issues. Low magnesium symptoms include asthma, leg cramps and muscle issues, blood pressure and irregular heartbeat, as well as mental health and brain health challenges.
Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms
Asthma occurs as a result of dysfunctional smooth muscle lining the lungs which is constricted as a result of environmental and dietary triggers. This constriction of smooth muscle leads to difficulty breathing, wheezing, and other common symptoms associated with asthma. One of the primary roles of magnesium is to counterbalance the effect of calcium on muscle tissue. While intracellular calcium is associated with muscle contraction, magnesium intervenes in calcium transport and when its concentration in cells increases, leads to muscle relaxation, including bronchial and lung smooth muscle, allowing the airways to remain open and clear for unhindered breathing.
Many doctors recommend magnesium for asthma. A deficiency of magnesium is linked to increased contraction of smooth muscle cells and leads to the inability of smooth muscle to relax. Numerous population-based studies in asthmatic adults have found lower blood levels of magnesium compared to levels in a generally healthy adult population. There is also evidence that intravenous administration of magnesium can improve pulmonary function tests in acute exacerbations of asthma. Some studies have also found significant benefits of orally administered magnesium on airway functionality. One study found that supplementing asthmatic adults with mild to moderate asthma with 340 mg of magnesium daily (in addition to their dietary intake of magnesium) led to less reactive airways, improved Asthma Quality of Life Questionnaire scores, and improved measures of asthma control versus placebo over a period of 6.5 months of supplementation. Since magnesium deficiency symptoms include asthma, supplementing with magnesium is a good adjunctive option in addition to standard asthma therapy.
Just like with smooth muscle of the lungs, magnesium plays a key role in skeletal muscle function and relaxation. Many people tout the benefits of magnesium for leg cramps. Specific to leg cramps, studies show that individuals suffering from cramping often have low magnesium levels. Magnesium supports muscle function by enhancing glucose uptake, limiting the accumulation of lactate, and thus improving exercise performance.
Studies have been performed using magnesium supplements as a treatment for leg cramps and the results of these trials have been inconsistent. Since cramping can be attributed to many factors as well as metabolic conditions of the liver, kidneys, thyroid and other organs, it is likely that magnesium supplementation alone is not a panacea for all leg cramping. However, since magnesium deficiency is prominent in those with cramping issues, supplementing with magnesium could be an important component of a supplement routine that addresses other factors of leg cramping.
Furthermore, magnesium promotes additional benefits for muscle function. Studies have found that magnesium helps muscle recovery in athletes of various sports. In a study including professional cyclists that took part in a 21-day cycling stage race, magnesium supplementation was found to exert a protective effect by limiting muscle damage compared to increased muscle damage in the group that did not supplement with magnesium.
Blood Pressure and Irregular Heartbeat
Magnesium is a key factor in cardiovascular health in that it supports the function of the endothelium, which is the tissue that lines the blood vessels. In its role as a smooth muscle relaxant, magnesium allows the blood vessels to relax, regulating the effect of pressure on the vessel lining. In this way, magnesium can support normal blood pressure levels and levels of magnesium and blood pressure are strongly correlated
A recent paper analyzed the effect of magnesium supplementation, asking the question, “Does magnesium lower blood pressure?”. The researchers reviewed 34 human studies where magnesium was administered at an average daily dose of 368 mg per day for an average of 3 months. Overall, a significant reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure was noted in the groups taking the magnesium supplements.
The heart is also a muscle and is the most metabolically active muscle in the body. Magnesium can play a key role in regulating its normal function. When sufficient magnesium is available, the heart beets normally. With magnesium deficiency, the heart’s muscular functions are impacted, and this can lead to abnormal heartbeat. So, ensuring the heart has an adequate supply of magnesium leads to it functioning at optimal levels.
As it counteracts, the effect of calcium in muscle cells, magnesium maintains proper balance, allowing the heart to establish and maintain a normal heart rhythm. Several studies indicate that magnesium can play a vital role in limiting heart palpitations and maintaining a regular heartbeat.
Mental Health - Brain Health
One of the underappreciated magnesium benefits is its influence on cognitive function and mental health. Its contribution to mood health is illustrated by a review paper looking at 18 different clinical trials centering around anxiety. Included among the study populations across these studies were individuals suffering from general anxiety, postpartum anxiety and other forms of mild anxiety. The review found magnesium intake had a significant effect in reducing these forms of anxiety. The authors of the review attributed this benefit to magnesium’s impact on neurotransmitter function in the brain, facilitating nerve cell signaling and improving the efficiency of brain function.
Several studies suggest that magnesium deficiency is an important factor in individuals experiencing symptoms of depression and using magnesium for mental health can be beneficial. Given the important role magnesium plays in neurological health, it makes sense that this mineral is crucial for supporting a healthy mood. A recent study looked at the medical records of 3,604 adults with an average age of 62 to assess the relationship between serum levels of magnesium and depression. In those adults that had depression symptoms, the researchers found that low blood levels of magnesium were a significant predictor of depression, indicating the benefits of magnesium for mood.
Magnesium, among other functions in the brain, supports the production of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and in other studies has been found to lower inflammation in the body, as indicated by its ability to decrease levels of C-reactive protein, a marker for systemic inflammation. Given its important role in these areas of brain function, adequate magnesium is essential to provide support against the development of mood disorders. Thus, using magnesium for brain health is highly indicated.
Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include asthma, leg cramps and muscle issues, high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat, as well as mental health and brain health challenges. While magnesium is a critical nutrient for all of these functions, it is important that you supplement with the right form of magnesium to ensure you are getting a form that is bioavailable and is well-utilized by the body. Magnesium malate is a good choice as it contains a high percentage of elemental magnesium and the malic acid portion of he molecule also supports energy production as it is a cofactor in the Krebs cycle for the production of ATP. It is also important to not neglect the other nutrient partners that have a synergistic effect with magnesium. For this reason, purchasing a supplement that also contains vitamin D3 and vitamin K2 is essential. Magnesium activates D3 so that it can be utilized by the body and magnesium and vitamin K2 work together to support cardiovascular health by protecting the endothelium that lines blood vessels. Supplementing with all three nutrients at the same time ensures your body can take advantage of the synergistic benefits of the combination and allows you to maintain an adequate supply of three nutrients that are often deficient in our diets.
- Linus Pauling Institute. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/magnesium
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