Are Magnesium Supplements Right For You

Magnesium plays an important role in the body, whether consumed through whole foods or magnesium supplements

Magnesium plays an integral role in the human body. I first questioned if I was getting enough magnesium in my diet when I was 18. My migraines increased in frequency, and I read that magnesium COULD be the cause! I did take magnesium supplements but I consciously increased the amount of magnesium-rich foods I ate. Now, I take magnesium supplements daily! But, does science agree that they are helpful?

What Exactly Does Magnesium Do?

Magnesium, which you probably know from the periodic table of elements, is a light silver metal that ignites easily and burns brightly. Luckily, in the human body, it doesn’t do that.

It is present in over 300 enzyme systems in our bodies, such as protein synthesis, energy production, and blood pressure regulation. It plays a role in heart rate, muscle contraction, and nerve impulse conduction! Basically, if your body is doing something, magnesium has a role to play.

Most of our bodies’ magnesium is stored in our bones and soft tissues. Less than 1% is present in our blood, which makes it difficult to measure. By the time our magnesium levels in our blood drop, we are often dangerously deficient in this essential mineral.

Therefore, many doctors will not prescribe magnesium supplements. As always, the preferred source for this mineral is in our diet!

Do You Need Magnesium Supplements To Reach Your Recommended Daily Intake?

Adult males should consume around 420 mg of magnesium each day. Adult females should consume around 310 mg. Magnesium supplements can provide anywhere from 100 mg – 200 mg of this important mineral. However, you may not be able to absorb as much magnesium from a supplement as you would from whole foods.

So, which foods are high in magnesium?

  • Almonds: 80 mg/serving
  • Spinach: 73 mg/serving
  • Black beans: 60 mg/serving
  • Cashews: 74 mg/serving
  • Hemp hearts: 210 mg/serving
  • Dark chocolate: 50 mg/serving

In short, leafy greens, nuts and seeds, and whole grains are all rich in magnesium! Why is this exciting? Because these foods are the cornerstone to a healthy diet! They are also rich in potassium AND fiber.

How To Know If You Have Too Much Or Too Little

As with many nutrients, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

For example, hypomagnesemia (magnesium deficiency/insufficiency) can look like:

  • Headaches or migraines
  • Muscle cramps
  • Restless leg syndrome and/or muscle spasms
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue

A lack of magnesium can explain many problems!

On the other hand, it is also important to look at potential lifestyle causes of low magnesium. For example, alcohol reduces the amount of magnesium absorbed while increasing the amount lost in urine! We can also lose magnesium because of diarrhea, hormone levels, certain drugs, proton pump inhibitors, and breastfeeding.

Overall, you can be confident that it is a good thing to add more magnesium to your diet.

When You Have Too Much: Are Magnesium Supplements To Blame?

It is difficult to have TOO MUCH magnesium, but not impossible.

Magnesium poisoning has NEVER been linked back to food sources. Magnesium supplements, however, can cause problems if taken unnecessarily.

How much magnesium is too much? The following symptoms may indicate high magnesium levels. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned, and remember, you CANNOT overdose on magnesium from food alone.

  • Diarrhea
  • High blood pressure or dangerously low blood pressure
  • Lethargy, excess tiredness, and exhaustion
  • Confusion
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Weakness
  • Breathlessness

Magnesium overdose can be exacerbated by kidney disease or impaired kidney function. Why? Because our kidneys are responsible for removing toxins and nutrients from our blood!

If they can’t do their job, then our nutrient levels can struggle to maintain stable levels.

Is Magnesium Really A “Cure-All”?

You don’t have to look far to learn that magnesium is suggested for just about any ailment. You can treat chronic pain, migraines, anxiety, depression, and much more with magnesium supplements! Or so they say…

But, what do scientists say? Can magnesium supplements help your health? Or, is it simply another matter of “eat healthy, magnesium-rich foods, and you will feel healthier”?

Let’s take a look!

Magnesium Supplements for Migraines

Magnesium supplements may help decrease the number and severity of migraines.
Photo by Usman Yousaf

Can I manage my migraines with a magnesium supplement? According to popular science (and my neuroscientist), yes!

More and more scientists believe that migraines are caused by inflammation. Magnesium plays an anti-inflammatory role in the body. Therefore, magnesium supplements may help decrease the inflammation that leads to migraines.

Sun-Edelstein and Mauskop note that migraines may lead to magnesium loss due to stress. People with migraines have less magnesium in their saliva than those who do not have migraines. In women with menstrual migraines, magnesium reduced the pain of headaches and how long a headache lasted! In another experiment, magnesium reduced attack frequency!

These findings were replicated by Maier and colleagues.

Once again, people with migraines are recorded as having lower levels of magnesium. Participants had fewer, and less severe migraines when using a magnesium supplement.

Magnesium For Disease Prevention

There is strong evidence that magnesium supplements can help reduce the number of headaches. But, can magnesium really make that much of a difference in our overall health?

60% of adults in the US do not consume enough magnesium. The US also has high rates of chronic disease. Some people see these rates as related, and they very well might be! However, magnesium deficiency itself has not been reported.

As I mentioned, we cannot accurately report low magnesium levels. Why? Because a blood test cannot measure the amount of magnesium in our soft tissues and bones, where the bulk of this mineral is. By the time our blood registers low magnesium levels, we are probably dangerously deficient!

However, when we consume between 50%-90% of our daily magnesium, we may become chronically inflamed. Doctors have linked inflammation to countless diseases, like diabetes and heart disease. Osteoporosis, cancer, and high blood pressure have also been linked to inflammation.

Unfortunately, scientists have not been able to conclude that magnesium alleviates the symptoms of chronic pain. While the relationship to inflammation is promising, more research is needed in this area.

Alzheimer’s & Magnesium

Stella Lucia Volpe explored the relationship between Alzheimer’s and magnesium levels.

She found that magnesium had a significant impact on cognitive functioning. Therefore, the nutrients we eat impact our brain.

Moreover, when we eat a diet high in magnesium, calcium, and potassium, our risk for dementia plummets. A healthy diet is key to staying healthy! Imagine that?

Magnificent Magnesium: Verdict?

Researchers are hard at work exploring how magnesium impacts our health. Moreover, this nutrient clearly plays an important role throughout our body.

The question I want to answer is “should you take a magnesium supplement”?

Based on the research studies I outlined above, my opinion is no. You do not need magnesium supplements unless your doctor recommends them.

Why? Surely, I have spent enough time outlining the importance of this nutrient. Shouldn’t we do everything in our power to make sure we have enough?

While magnesium is EXTREMELY important to our short-term and long-term health, let’s consider the facts.

  1. Magnesium is plentiful in healthy foods. Healthy foods also are rich in potassium, fiber, vitamin C, and other important nutrients. Furthermore, the nutrients in food are absorbed more effectively by our bodies. Invest in your whole health instead of a pill.
  2. You can overdose on magnesium when using supplements. True, this is rare, but not impossible. Unless your doctor is concerned, you likely are close to your daily recommended intake. In some cases, supplements are helpful! In others, unnecessary. You should speak to your doctor and review your diet before adding any supplement. (Otherwise, you may spend more money than you have to).
  3. Some magnesium compounds are more readily absorbed than others. I did not explore this in the above article, but it’s true! For example, people with migraines benefit more from magnesium oxide or magnesium pidolate than magnesium chloride. Depending on your ailment, you may need a different magnesium compound!

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Magnesium IS important. We SHOULD be aware of our intake. However, we do not need a pill to be healthy. For most people, magnesium (and other nutrients) should be sought in our food first. I believe that most of our health comes from the real world as opposed to a bottle.

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