Magnesium: The Essential Mineral You Might Be Missing

3 mins read

Magnesium is an essential mineral for human health. It plays an vital role in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It’s crucial for nerve function, muscle contraction, heartbeat regulation, and bone health. Despite its importance, many people do not consume enough magnesium. National dietary surveys have revealed that a significant portion of the population, particularly older adults and individuals with certain health conditions, ingest less magnesium than recommended. This inadequate intake doesn’t often lead to noticeable symptoms, as the body regulates magnesium levels by limiting urinary excretion and boosting gut absorption. But over the long-term, low intake or increased losses in the urine due to health conditions can lead to magnesium deficiency, characterized by symptoms like fatigue, muscle cramps, and abnormal heart rhythms​​​​.

Functions of Magnesium in the Body

Magnesium is a workhorse, involved many bodily functions. It’s a cofactor for enzymes involved in processes like protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation. Magnesium is also necessary for energy production, structural development of bones, and DNA synthesis. It’s integral to cardiovascular health, potentially lowering the risk of hypertension, and plays a role in diabetes management by assisting enzymes that regulate blood sugar and insulin activity​​​​.

How Much Magnesium Do We Need?

The recommended daily amount of magnesium varies depending on age and sex. For adults, the Daily Value (DV) is set at 420 mg for men and 320 mg for women. However, dietary surveys indicate that many people, including adults and adolescents, consume less than these recommended amounts. This shortfall in magnesium intake can have various health implications over time​​.

Food Sources

Magnesium can be found in foods from a variety of different food groups, making it easy to incorporate into a balanced diet. Rich sources include legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and green leafy vegetables. It’s also present in fish, poultry, beef, and some dairy products like milk and yogurt. Regular consumption of these magnesium-rich foods can help meet the daily requirements for this essential mineral​​.

Dietary Supplements and How Much to Take

When dietary intake is insufficient, a supplement can help fill the gap. When you look on the back of a few magnesium supplements you will notice they have various names written after the word “magnesium”. Magnesium citrate, magnesium bisglycinate, etc. This naming lists the name of the molecule to which magnesium has been chelated. Chelation in supplements refers to the process of binding minerals, like magnesium, to another substance (like an amino acid) to enhance the body’s ability to absorb and utilize them. For example, magnesium citrate is combined with citric acid and is well-absorbed, commonly used for its laxative effects. Magnesium bisglycinate, attached to the amino acid glycine, is gentle on the stomach and also well-absorbed, making it a popular choice. Magnesium L-Threonate is notable for its ability to penetrate the blood-brain barrier, and is believed to offer cognitive benefits. The selection of a specific form of magnesium supplement often depends on individual health needs and how well each form is tolerated.
It’s important to note that high doses of magnesium can have a laxative effect so it is important to start with a lower dose and slowly increase as needed or to divide supplementation over several meals. The amount of magnesium in supplements should be checked on the product label, and it’s important to consult a healthcare provider for the appropriate dosage, especially if you have an existing health condition​​​​.

Identifying Magnesium Deficiency

Magnesium deficiency can manifest as fatigue, weakness, poor appetite, nausea, numbness or tingling, muscle cramps, seizures, and abnormal heart rhythms. Risk factors include conditions like alcohol dependence, older age, gastrointestinal diseases, and type 2 diabetes. Since most magnesium is stored in tissues and bones, a normal blood level may not accurately reflect total magnesium levels in the body. Therefore, it’s crucial to discuss potential magnesium deficiency with a doctor, who may recommend specific tests to assess magnesium status​​​​.

Personal Experience

Four or five years ago, I was struggling with frequent muscle cramping during exercise sessions. In particular, I had just started practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and was struggling to make it through a sixty minute class without cramping. Eventually one of my classmates suggested I check my diet to see if I was consuming enough magnesium.After doing some research, I realized I wasn’t getting enough magnesium in my diet and decided to try supplementing with magnesium bisglycinate. I chose a reputable brand and began taking the recommended dosage on the label. To my relief, within a week, I noticed a significant reduction in the frequency and intensity of my muscle cramps during training. I have been supplementing with magnesium ever since.

Where to Get More Information

For more information, contact your local registered dietitian (RD) and they can provide you with a more in-depth explanation on the many benefits of vitamin D and how to increase your vitamin D intake. As always, consult healthcare professionals for personalized advice, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are taking medication that might affect magnesium levels.


  1. Ajmera R. 12 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Magnesium. Healthline. December 6, 2023. Accessed January 16, 2024.
  2. Magnesium Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health. June 2, 2022. Accessed January 16, 2024.
  3. Magnesium. Harvard University School of Public Health. March 2023. Accessed January 16, 2024.

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