The importance of magnesium for your health: 9 benefits, sources, and supplements

Magnesium is a vital mineral that plays an essential role in various bodily functions. From bone health to heart function, this nutrient is necessary for maintaining optimal health. Despite its importance and relative abundance in food, many people still don’t get enough magnesium in their diet. In this article, we’ll discuss the benefits of magnesium, its food sources, and the potential benefits of magnesium supplements. Nuush always takes a food-first approach.

Approx read time: 6 mins
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What is magnesium and what does it do?

Magnesium is a mineral that plays a critical part in many of the body’s processes. It’s classed as a macro mineral, that means the body needs it in large amounts, along with calcium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, chloride and sulphur.

It’s the second most abundant mineral in the body’s cells, serving hundreds of functions, and is found in every one of them (trillions). About five teaspoons of it are found in the body (25g) and it comes from the food we consume or supplements we take; the body doesn’t make its own.

Without magnesium, lots of critical bodily *stuff* wouldn’t work. For instance, muscles would be in permanent contraction (hence cramp is a sign of deficiency) and many enzymes wouldn’t be able to function, because it acts as a catalyst or ‘co-factor’, helping them carry out their work.

What foods is magnesium found in?

Magnesium is found in lots of foods but particularly so in green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, shellfish, salmon, beans and other pulses, tofu and avocado. The problem is that people generally don’t consume enough of these foods (unless they’re on a Nuush plan of course!), leading to low or insufficient levels. 

Other food and lifestyle factors can also feed into a magnesium deficiency:

  • Regularly drinking soft drinks that contain phosphates, especially cola. The phosphates bind magnesium in the gut and prevent it getting into the bloodstream.
  • A diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates can increase excretion of magnesium.
  • Gastrointestinal disorders such as Crohn’s disease, coeliac disease, and irritable bowel syndrome may affect magnesium absorption.
  • Too much alcohol. Alcohol can increase excretion of magnesium. Too much alcohol is often less than people think.
  • Excessive strenuous exercise can drive magnesium loss and depletion via losses through sweat and use of magnesium stores for muscle contraction.
  • Taking calcium supplements without magnesium.
  • Stress can increase magnesium use, hence leading to insufficiency.
  • Medications such as diuretics and proton pump inhibitors such as Omeprazole (used to treat acid reflux) can severely interfere with magnesium absorption. Additionally, some heart medications, HRT or birth control pills, diuretics and asthma medication can reduce magnesium levels.
  • Diabetes may raise the risk of magnesium deficiency due to increased urinary excretion.
  • Ageing: Older people may be at increased risk of magnesium deficiency due to decreased absorption (by as much as 30%).
  • The soil food is grown in can be magnesium-depleted because of intensive crop production and the use of agrochemicals, which bind magnesium.

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Want to know more about the vital things it does for you?

  1. It helps maintain your bone density, working with calcium and vitamin D to ensure strong bones and to help prevent osteoporosis.
  2. It’s vital to help your muscles contract and relax, including the muscles of your heart. 
  3. It helps regulate your heart rhythm. It also plays a part in relaxation of blood vessels, which can reduce your blood pressure. 
  4. It may also help lower your risk of heart disease and other inflammatory diseases, by reducing inflammation.
  5. It helps transmission of nerve impulses, hence it can help to reduce anxiety.
  6. Magnesium is involved in the regulation of insulin, a hormone that helps control your blood sugar levels.
  7. It is involved heavily in energy production.
  8. It’s involved in the production and function of your immune cells.
  9. It helps to regulate production of the neurotransmitter GABA, which helps you to relax and sleep well.

This is just some of the magic it performs for you. It’s important to ensure that you’re getting enough through your diet or supplements to support these life-supporting processes.

What about supplements, should you take them?

Many of the symptoms of deficiency cross over with other conditions, so if you have any symptoms you should always check with your doctor or healthcare provider. Symptoms can include muscle weakness, headaches and migraine, pins and needles, cramp, fatigue and weakness, shaking, appetite loss, low mood and anxiety.

Nuush always takes a food-first approach. Sometimes it is beneficial for people to supplement with magnesium on the advice of a qualified healthcare provider. Supplements come in various forms, each with unique characteristics and benefits. 

Magnesium-rich salad. (Photo by Dana Tentis.)

Here are some of the most common forms of magnesium supplements:

  1. Magnesium citrate: This form of magnesium supplement is highly absorbable and has excellent bioavailability. It’s commonly used to alleviate constipation, promote relaxation, reduce incidence of kidney stones, provide muscle and nerve support and to reduce blood vessel stiffness. Magnesium citrate is a good all-rounder. It can sometimes cause diarrhoea if taken in excess, so it’s important to get the dose right.
  2. Magnesium glycinate: It’s a well-tolerated general magnesium supplement. It can help to alleviate excess stomach acid issues such as reflux and indigestion. It’s also good for sleep and for helping to diminish anxiety and stress.
  3. Magnesium oxide: This form of magnesium supplement has low bioavailability but is inexpensive and commonly used for short term relief from constipation, acid reflux, indigestion and heartburn. It can also be very effective at relieving migraine.
  4. Magnesium malate: is a form of magnesium that’s bound to malic acid, which naturally occurs in may fruits and is involved in energy production. Research is ongoing but some health benefits include alleviation of muscle pain and soreness, heart health support, improved sleep and bone support.
  5. Magnesium chloride: This form of supplement is well-absorbed and may help support relaxation and healthy sleep. It’s commonly used in topical preparations, such as magnesium oil or spray or in bath salts.
  6. Magnesium sulfate: This form, also known as Epsom salts, is used primarily in bath salts and foot soaks for relaxation and muscle soreness. Also used intravenously in hospitals for conditions such as pre-eclampsia. Not used orally. 
  7. Magnesium orotate: This form is bound to orotic acid, which is involved in energy metabolism. It may help to improve muscular endurance and cardiovascular health.
  8. Magnesium taurate: a newer and promising supplement that offers many of the benefits of other forms of magnesium, including improved heart health, anxiety and stress reduction, better sleep quality, better exercise performance, and improved overall health.
  9. Magnesium threonate: This is a newer form of magnesium supplement with a unique ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. It may help support cognitive function, sleep, cardiovascular health and healthy brain ageing. It is gaining popularity due to its unique benefits and uses. 

The more commonly used and well-tolerated good-all-round magnesium supplements are magnesium citrate, magnesium malate and magnesium glycinate.

It’s important to note that the optimal form of magnesium supplement varies depending on your individual needs and health status. Consult with your healthcare provider before taking any supplements, this is especially important if you take medications. Supplementation is contraindicated for those on blood pressure medication (because magnesium can further reduce blood pressure, therefore discuss with your GP) or those with kidney failure. Also when taken with some types of antibiotic, where magnesium may hinder their actions. When choosing a supplement look for those that have the fewest fillers and additives and are from well-reputed manufacturers.

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Thank you for reading this article. Please note that while we share a lot of awesome information and research you should be aware our articles are strictly for informational purposes and do not constitute medical advice intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent any disease.

Cover photo by Lisa Fotios.