Why do you need magnesium?

  • Tue, 07/13/2021 - 10:18
  • Why do you need magnesium?
  • by IMI health

From salt, to the earth’s crust and your bones, magnesium is everywhere. Despite this, the first Hong Kong Total Diet Study has shown that two thirds of our population are deficient in this mineral.1

Though it’s one of the most abundant elements on our earth, we humans (in our infinite wisdom) have sought to remove it from all processed foods, like white rice, flour, bread and noodles.

You might think that perhaps this means we can go without magnesium, but you’d be wrong. Low levels of this essential mineral can cause symptoms like headaches, muscle cramps, mood swings, anxiety, depression and insomnia.[2][3]

Though it’s responsible for many essential processes in your body, including 600 reactions, magnesium’s main roles are converting food into energy, the production of proteins, the production and repair of DNA and RNA, and regulation of muscle movements and your nervous system.[4][5][6]

One of the main reasons people notice a magnesium deficiency is due to its powerful effect on our nervous system, where obvious symptoms arise once depleted.

Magnesium: the mother of your nervous system

In our modern world, where our nervous systems are frazzled, over-stimulated by screen time, magnesium is our saviour.

Think of your nervous system as your body’s headquarters. Located in your brain, your nervous system sends and receives messages from your body, and from there, works out how to respond, guiding your thoughts, actions, words, memories and movements. Functioning under this umbrella, our nervous system affects many aspects of our health, including our feelings, sleep, stress response and digestion.

When our nervous system is starved of magnesium, we experience an array of symptoms, from restlessness, to depression. In fact, the relationship between low magnesium levels and depression, anxiety, and insomnia, has been well-documented.[7][8][9]

That’s why you can consider magnesium the mother of your nervous system. Magnesium is here to nourish your emotional wellbeing, calm deficiency-related muscle twitching, and nurture you back into better health.

Nourishes mental health

As well as nourishing your nervous system, magnesium helps activate your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), the system that helps us stay relaxed and calm- this is also the system which is activated during meditation.

When our PNS takes over, our body enters into a regenerative state in which we can heal. Studies have shown that magnesium supplementation can increase PNS and vagus nerve activity, and vagus stimulation has been used as a therapy for those with treatment-resistant depression.[10][11] 

Another way in which magnesium can reduce depression is due to its anti-inflammatory powers. One study showed that adults supplementing with 248mg of magnesium daily for 6 weeks experienced a significant reduction in their symptoms of depression.[12]

Magnesium has also been proven to be a useful tool for treating anxiety. It helps treat anxiety by improving brain function and regulating neurotransmitters that are responsible for stress relief and mood, like GABA.[13] 

Magnesium can also be beneficial for PMS, lifting your mood while relieving bloating. During your period, it also works to relieve cramps, by promoting muscle relaxation. [14] [15]

It’s important to note that though magnesium can support you in combatting anxiety and depression by targeting nutritional factors, many people with such conditions will also find it useful talking to a therapist in order to work through any problems they may be facing. If you’d like to talk, IMI offers counselling and other mental health support.   

Improves sleep

Magnesium’s ability to activate our PNS would be better described as a superpower, rather than an ability. Not only does it help nourish our mental health, it also helps you slip into a restful sleep.

Magnesium also helps produce and regulate the hormone melatonin, which signals to your body that it’s time to drift off. Here, GABA also offers a helping hand, calming your mind before bedtime. Studies have shown that magnesium can promote a deeper, more restful sleep.[16] 

Magnesium’s impact on sleep and mental health works twofold: better sleep tends to relieve anxiety and depression, and likewise, less anxiety and depression means you can sleep more peacefully.

Boosts exercise

Magnesium is also particularly important when it comes to exercising. Its role in energy production helps boost performance while exercising, and studies have shown that supplementation can improve your competitive potential for better training times. It also helps decrease levels of stress hormones in order for athletes to attain a calm focus.[17] 

Studies have shown that strenuous exercise can increase your magnesium requirements by 10-20%, so it’s particularly important that athletes boost their magnesium levels. Athletes who have to control their weight are also particularly vulnerable to deficiencies, such as martial artists, dancers and gymnasts.[18]

Though magnesium is essential for better athletic performance, it’s also crucial after you get off the field. All muscles in your body rely on magnesium and calcium in order to contract and relax. Supplementing with magnesium helps aid recovery post-workout, as it encourages healthy muscle relaxation, and reduces your likelihood of getting cramps.

Offers relief from cramps and headaches

Side effects of low magnesium levels include muscle cramps and twitches. These could range from a small twitch in the eye, to muscle cramps in the leg. Occasional twitching could simply be the result of stress or too much caffeine, but repeated twitching should be explored with your healthcare practitioner.

One of the causes of repetitive twitching, or cramps after exercise is magnesium deficiency. Supplementation is particularly important after exercise (when your need for magnesium increases) so that you can support the healthy contraction and relaxation of your muscles (one of magnesium’s key roles).

Low levels of magnesium can also cause headaches, and in some instances, migraines. Supplementation has been shown to reduce instances of migraines, and in one study, researchers found that magnesium sulphate was more effective and faster-acting than the standard medication for migraines.[19] [20]

Magnesium has also been found to be useful for treating tension and cluster headaches.[21] It is thought that magnesium’s ability to fend off migraines is linked to its capacity to reduce pain sensitivity via regulation of your nervous system.[22]

Better cardiovascular health

Just like any other muscle in your body, your heart relies on calcium and magnesium for healthy contraction and relaxation. Magnesium helps you maintain a steady heartbeat, and studies have shown that magnesium can help control heart arrhythmias, particularly when a deficiency is present.[23]

Magnesium has also been proven to help lower blood pressure, especially when used alongside other anti-hypertensive medications.[24]

This mineral may also be beneficial for type 2 diabetics, due to its ability to help regulate blood sugars. Researchers have found that after 30 days of magnesium supplementation, those with poorly controlled diabetes were able to regain control and bring their blood sugars back into balance.[25]

High magnesium intake is also associated with a lower likelihood of developing risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure and stroke.[26]

Additional benefits

Specific forms, namely magnesium chloride and magnesium citrate, are known to relieve constipation as they have a natural laxative effect. If you’re not looking for this result, then stick to forms like magnesium malate or glycinate.

Around 60% of the magnesium found in our bodies resides in our bones. This is because magnesium is also a key mineral for healthy, strong bones. This makes magnesium deficiency particularly dangerous, as it can lead your body to dip into the reserve of magnesium found in your bones, resulting in weaker bones as you age, and in some instances, osteoporosis.[27] Magnesium is a key nutrient for bone mineralisation, aiding the absorption of nutrients like calcium for healthy bone development.

Dietary sources of magnesium

Peanut butter lovers, rejoice! In the Total Hong Kong Diet Study, the richest source of magnesium was found in peanuts, followed by peanut butter.

Other magnesium-rich foods include:

  • Leafy vegetables, with spinach being the top-ranking.
  • Nuts, specifically cashews, almonds and brazil nuts.
  • Dark chocolate (as if we needed another reason).
  • Avocados.
  • Legumes, like black beans, lentils and chickpeas.
  • Wholewheat carbohydrates, like brown rice, bread and pasta.
  • Milk alternatives, like cashew, brown rice and almond are another simple way to boost your magnesium intake. We like adding it to a smoothie in the morning.

Though you could boost your magnesium intake by making some simple changes- boosting your leafy green intake, sprinkling some grains and nuts on your salad, or making the switch to brown rice, magnesium deficiency can be difficult to alleviate through diet alone.

Dietary sources of magnesium can take a long time to raise your magnesium levels sufficiently, and who wants to deal with those symptoms for longer than necessary? Mood swings? No thank you.

But where do you start when it comes to supplementing? What type of magnesium is best suited for your needs?

Finding the right magnesium supplement for you.

Magnesium supplements come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and picking the right one is important- especially if you’re not looking for the laxative effect some forms of magnesium can produce!

Here’s our take on which supplements should be an at-home staple, and which ones are best left on the shelf.

Magnesium supplements to avoid

Magnesium oxide
Though commonly used to relieve digestive issues like heartburn, indigestion and constipation, magnesium oxide is poorly absorbed by your gut. Magnesium chloride offers similar benefits, with a much better absorption rate.

Magnesium sulphate
Also known as Epsom salt, magnesium sulphate is a great addition to your bath post-workout, helping relieve sore, achy muscles and stress. However we would recommend you avoid supplementing with this form as it can be easy to overdose when ingested.

Magnesium citrate
A common form of magnesium, with good absorption rates, but it’s important to be aware that this form also has a natural laxative effect.

Magnesium supplements for your shelves

Magnesium chloride
A well-absorbed form of magnesium, useful for boosting deficiencies quickly and relieving heartburn and constipation.

Magnesium lactate
A gentler form of magnesium that’s easy on your digestive system. This form is well-absorbed and helpful for relieving stress and anxiety.

Magnesium malate
This gentle form of magnesium is also easy on your digestive system. It’s readily absorbed by your body, and doesn’t cause as much of a laxative effect as other forms. Ideal for replenishing and maintaining your magnesium levels.

Magnesium taurate
If you’re looking to boost cardiovascular health, magnesium taurate will steal your heart. Celebrated for its ability to promote healthy blood pressure and blood sugar levels, this is the form to look out for when boosting heart health.

Magnesium threonate
Renowned for its ability to nourish your brain, magnesium threonate helps improve memory as you age, while reducing depression. Gentle on your digestive system for easy absorption and less of a laxative effect. 

Magnesium glycinate
A well-absorbed form of magnesium that’s also unlikely to cause a laxative effect. Magnesium glycinate (sometimes known as magnesium bisglycinate) is made by binding magnesium to glycine, an amino acid which acts as a calming neurotransmitter. This combination crowns magnesium glycinate the most therapeutic for your nervous system. If you’re looking to boost your mental health, or drift off to sleep easier, Magnesium glycinate should be your choice.

In summary…

Magnesium is a crucial mineral, one which due to food processing can be much harder to obtain than we may at first think. Our bodies and brains need sufficient levels of magnesium to function at their best.

This mineral is the mother of our nervous system, working in the background to keep our mental health stable. It can boost our competitive performance naturally, giving us a calm focus, and afterwards, it helps us relax and heal, sending us off for a sweet sleep.

Best for tests

Magnesium is a well-tolerated mineral, and supplementation does not generally cause any adverse effects. However, if you are already taking certain medications, or have specific health conditions, it’s best to consult with a practitioner before starting use.

Additionally, it’s good to confirm any deficiencies before supplementing them. We at IMI are committed to your health journey, that’s why we offer services so that you can test your nutrient levels and clearly define any deficiencies.


[1] Centre for Food Safety, Hong Kong Total Diet Study Report No. 9: Minerals, 2014 
[2] J J DiNicolantonio, J H O’Keefe, W Wilson, Subclinical magnesium deficiency: a principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis, 2018 
[3] D Boomsma, The magic of magnesium, 2008
[4] J H F de Baaji, J G J Hoenderop, R J M Bindels, Magnesium in man: implications for health and disease, 2015
[5] National Institutes of Health, Magnesium, 2021
[6] M D Cuciureanu, R Vink, Magnesium and stress, 2011
[7] E K Tarleton, B Littenberg, Magnesium intake and depression in adults, 2015
[8] G A Eby, K L Eby, Rapid recovery from major depression using magnesium treatment, 2006
[9] D Boomsma
[10] E Wienecke, C Nolden, Long-term HRV analysis shows stress reduction by magnesium intake, 2016
[11] G A Eby, K L Eby
[12] E K Tarleton, B Littenberg, C D MacLean, A G Kennedy, C Daley, Role of magnesium supplementation in the treatment of depression: A randomized clinical trial, 2017
[13] N B Boyle, C Lawton, L Dye, The Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress—A Systematic Review, 2017
[14] F Facchinetti, P Borella, G Sances, L Fioroni, R E Nappi, A R Genazzani, Oral magnesium successfully relieves premenstrual mood changes, 1991
[15] A F Walker, M C De Souza, M F Vickers, S Abeyasekera, M L Collins, L A Trinca, Magnesium supplementation alleviates premenstrual symptoms of fluid retention, 1998
[16] B Abbasi, M Kimiagar, K Sadeghniiat, M M Shirazi, M Hedayati, B Rashidkhani, The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial, 2012
[17] S W Golf, S Bender, J Grüttner, On the significance of magnesium in extreme physical stress, 1998
[18] F H Nielsen, H C Lukaski, Update on the relationship between magnesium and exercise, 2006
[19] E Köseoglu, A Talaslioglu, A Saffet Gönül, M Kula, The effects of magnesium prophylaxis in migraine without aura, 2008
[20] A Shahrami, F Assarzadegan, H R Hatamabadi, M Asgarzadeh, B Sarehbhandi, S Asgarzadeh, Comparison of therapeutic effects of magnesium sulfate vs. dexamethasone/metoclopramide on alleviating acute migraine headache, 2014
[21] L A Yablon, A Mauskop, Magnesium in headache, 2011
[22] Hyo-Seok Na, Jung-Hee Ryu, Sang-Hwan Do, The role of magnesium in pain, 2011
[23] L T Iseri, Role of magnesium in cardiac tachyarrhythmias, 1990
[24] A Rosanoff, Magnesium and hypertension, 2005
[25] M de Lordes Lima, T Cruz, J C Pousada, L E Rodrigues, K Barbosa, V Canguçu, The effect of magnesium supplementation in increasing doses on the control of type 2 diabetes, 1998
[26] N Rosique-Esteban, M Guasch-Ferré, P Hernández-Alonso, J Salas-Salvadó, Dietary Magnesium and Cardiovascular Disease: A Review with Emphasis in Epidemiological Studies, 2018
[27] S Castiglioni, A Cazzaniga, W Albisetti, J A M Maier, Magnesium and Osteoporosis: Current State of Knowledge and Future Research Directions, 2013