Magnesium is one of the most critical minerals needed by the body to function on a daily basis. Over 300 enzymes participating in crucial metabolic functions require magnesium as a cofactor to fulfill their role. In fact, magnesium is so important that it is involved in key aspects of health including energy production in cells in the form of ATP, DNA and protein synthesis, transport of ions between and within cells, cellular signaling, supporting the structure of bones, cell membranes and chromosomes, and so much more.
It also serves to help other critical nutrients to function optimally in the body, as magnesium deficiency reduces the ability of vitamin D and calcium to work properly. Because of its truly essential nature, the body is geared to conserve magnesium. Bodily stores of this mineral average 25 grams, an astounding amount for any nutrient. Magnesium is the second most abundant intracellular mineral after potassium. Nearly half of the body’s magnesium is found in soft tissue such as muscle with the remaining amount found in the skeleton, indicating its profound function on bone and muscle health. However, more than half of the US population fails to consume the recommended daily intake of magnesium. Moreover, several chronic health conditions further increase the requirement of this mineral, necessitating increased dietary and supplemental intake to maintain the body’s metabolic needs.
Magnesium Deficiency and Mood Swings
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. 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.
Magnesium the Muscle Relaxant
Over the years, magnesium’s role in muscle contraction has often been overlooked, with magnesium being relegated to a minor role compared to calcium and other minerals. However, the truth is that magnesium plays an integral role in muscle contraction and relaxation, and affects muscle performance, strength, and endurance. As a calcium antagonist, magnesium counterbalances the effects of calcium and facilitates muscles to relax properly. An excess of calcium leads to overstimulation of muscle contraction. When magnesium levels are low, the effect of calcium on muscles is unbalanced. Adequate and normal magnesium levels serve to decrease intracellular calcium levels and effectively relax muscle tissue. This occurs both in skeletal muscle as well as in smooth muscle, where adequate magnesium levels facilitate the relaxation of arteries, allowing arteries to open and enhancing blood flow.
Muscle spasms or leg cramps are often a sign of magnesium deficiency. Therefore, if you are experiencing these issues, supplementing with magnesium can help to reverse this. Magnesium contributes to flexibility and can therefore help prevent injuries that are caused by overtight muscles. In addition, magnesium is required for the production of ATP in muscle cells, which is the form of energy needed for proper muscle function. Taking magnesium on a regular basis can help keep muscles relaxed, strong and healthy.
Calming Effects of Magnesium
Whether it is the muscles or the mind, magnesium serves the body by exerting calming effects. Aging is a significant factor for magnesium deficiency symptoms while stress and other mental health issues as well as poor sleep indicate an increased need for magnesium by the body. Among the key roles of magnesium is essential for nerve transmission and regulating the excitability of the central nervous system. It also supports the action of gamma amino butyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA is the body’s main inhibitory (or relaxing) neurotransmitter and plays a crucial role in supporting sleep and calming anxiety. By supporting GABA, magnesium also plays an important part in calming excitable nerves, supporting healthy sleep, mood, and relaxation.
Research has found beneficial effects of using magnesium for sleep and anxiety. Clinical studies have found that supplementing with magnesium can support several measures of healthy sleep. In one such trial, 46 elderly individuals with sleep difficulties were asked to take magnesium or a placebo daily for 8 weeks. In the magnesium group, significant improvements were seen in sleep time and sleep efficiency, while magnesium also led to increased levels of melatonin, a key hormone involved in regulation of the sleep cycle and circadian rhythm. Many of these benefits start with a magnesium dosage of 200-250 mg, while some studies use higher doses.
In addition, a review paper looked at clinical studies that used magnesium for anxiety and stress. Several of the studies showed evidence that magnesium supplementation reduced anxiety and signs and symptoms of stress. Magnesium is known to attenuate the psychological response to stress by working on the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis to reduce the production of ACTH and cortisol, two hormones that are key to the body’s stress response. In doing so, adequate magnesium levels support a healthy stress response.
Magnesium is a multi-purpose mineral that is necessary for hundreds of biochemical reactions throughout the body. Ensuring adequate levels through diet and supplementation can go a long way towards supporting mood, improving sleep, relaxing muscles and calming the mind.
Magnesium supplements come in many forms, including magnesium citrate, magnesium glycinate, and magnesium oxide. While all of these are types of magnesium, they each have their pros and cons as some are absorbed better than others. Another recommended form of magnesium is magnesium malate. While this is a good source of magnesium, the malic acid (from malate) is also Krebs cycle intermediate and participates in energy production. By supplementing with magnesium malate, therefore, you get the required amount of magnesium as well as malic acid in one supplement.
- Boyle, N. B., Lawton, C., & Dye, L. (2017). The Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress-A Systematic Review. Nutrients, 9(5), 429.
- Tarleton, E. K., Kennedy, A. G., Rose, G. L., Crocker, A., & Littenberg, B. (2019). The Association between Serum Magnesium Levels and Depression in an Adult Primary Care Population. Nutrients, 11(7), 1475.
- Carvil, P., Cronin, J. (2010). Magnesium and Implications on Muscle Function. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 32(1), 48-54.
- D'Angelo, E. K., Singer, H. A., & Rembold, C. M. (1992). Magnesium relaxes arterial smooth muscle by decreasing intracellular Ca2+ without changing intracellular Mg2+. The Journal of clinical investigation, 89(6), 1988–1994.
- Abbasi, B., Kimiagar, M., Sadeghniiat, K., Shirazi, M. M., Hedayati, M., & Rashidkhani, B. (2012). The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. Journal of research in medical sciences : the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, 17(12), 1161–1169.