What is Magnesium and What Does it Do?

Magnesium is an important essential macromineral, that despite contributing to only several ounces in the body, it is involved in hundreds of enzymatic reactions in the body. Many of these reactions contribute to the production of energy and cardiovascular function.

How much magnesium do I need?

The amount of magnesium you need depends on your age and sex. Average daily recommended amounts are listed below in milligrams (mg):


What foods provide magnesium?

Magnesium is found naturally in many foods of the plant kindom and is added to some fortified foods. Although listed here milk is not the best source for magnesium, in comparison 1 cup of milk will provide 27 mg of magnesium while 1 cup of cooked spinach will yield 157 mg. You can get all of your recommended amounts of magnesium by eating a variety of foods, such as:

  • Nuts, almonds, pecans, chashews and Brazil nutsthe health nut :: foods-with-magnesium
  • Seeds and legumes
  • Whole Grains, bran, germ, millet and brown rice
  • Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale
  • Fruits, avocado and apricot
  • Fortified breakfast cereals and other fortified foods
  • Milk, yogurt, and some other milk products

What kinds of magnesium dietary supplements are available?

Magnesium is available in multivitamin-mineral supplements and other dietary supplements. Forms of magnesium in dietary supplements that are more easily absorbed by the body are magnesium aspartate, magnesium citrate, magnesium lactate, and magnesium chloride.

the health nut :: pure-magnesium-citrate

Magnesium is also included in some laxatives and some products for treating heartburn and indigestion.

Am I getting enough magnesium?

The S.A.D (Standard American Diet)  provides less than the recommended amounts of magnesium. Men older than 70 and teenage girls and boys are most likely to have low intakes of magnesium. Combined with dietary supplements however, total intakes of magnesium are generally above recommended amounts.

What happens if I don’t get enough magnesium?

Magnesium deficiency is quite common and some of the early symptoms may look like:

  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle tremors or twitching
  • Anorexia

Moderate to severe deficiency symptoms can present as:

  • Decreased learning ability
  • Confusion
  • Poor memory
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Delirium
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attack
  • Increased likelihood of kidney stones
  • Personality changes

When healthy people have low intakes, our wonderful kidneys help retain magnesium by limiting the amount lost in urine. However, low magnesium intakes for a long period of time, can lead to magnesium deficiency. In addition, some medical conditions and medications interfere with the body’s ability to absorb magnesium or increase the amount of magnesium that the body excretes, which can also lead to magnesium deficiency.

The following groups of people are more likely than others to get too little magnesium:

  • People with gastrointestinal diseases (such as Crohn’s disease and celiac disease)
  • People with type 2 diabetes
  • People with long-term alcoholism
  • Older people

What are some effects of magnesium on health?

Studies are ongoing to better understand how magnesium can affect our health. Below are some examples of what this research has shown.

Type 2 diabetes

People with higher amounts of magnesium in their diets have shown to have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Magnesium helps the body break down sugars and may help reduce the risk of insulin resistance. Studies are currently ongoing to determine whether magnesium supplements might help people who already have type 2 diabetes control their disease.


Magnesium is important for healthy bones. People with higher intakes of magnesium have a higher bone mineral density, which is important in reducing the risk of bone fractures and osteoporosis. Getting more magnesium from foods or dietary supplements might help older women improve their bone mineral density. More research is needed to better understand whether magnesium supplements can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis or treat this condition.

Migraine headaches

Low levels of magnesium in the blood and other tissues have been shown in patients who suffer migraines. Several small studies found that magnesium supplements can modestly reduce the frequency of migraines. It is recommended that people should only take magnesium for this purpose under the care of a healthcare provider. More research is needed in this area.

High blood pressure and heart disease

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and stroke. Magnesium supplements can possibly decrease blood pressure minimally. Some studies show that people who have more magnesium in their diets have a lower risk of some types of heart disease and stroke. Unfortunately in many of these studies, it’s hard to know how much of the effect was due to magnesium alone.

Can magnesium be harmful?

The good news is that magnesium that is naturally present in food and beverages is not harmful and does not need to be limited. In healthy people, the kidneys can get rid of any excess in the urine. But magnesium in dietary supplements and medications should not be consumed in amounts above the upper limit, unless recommended by a healthcare provider.

The daily upper limits for magnesium from dietary supplements and/or medications are listed below. For many age groups, the upper limit appears to be lower than the recommended amount. This occurs because the recommended amounts include magnesium from all sources—food, beverages, dietary supplements, and medications. The upper limits include magnesium from only dietary supplements and medications; they do not include magnesium found naturally in food and beverages.


Does magnesium interact with medications or other dietary supplements?

Yes. Magnesium supplements can interact or interfere with some medicines. Here are several examples:

  • Bisphosphonates, used to treat osteoporosis.
  • Antibiotics
  • Diuretics
  • Prescription drugs used to ease symptoms of acid reflux or treat peptic ulcers
  • Very high doses of zinc supplements can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb and regulate magnesium.

Talk to your doctor, pharmacist, and other healthcare providers about any dietary supplements and prescription or over-the-counter medicines you take to find out how it might be affected by magnesium.

Magnesium and healthful eating

People should get most of their nutrients from food and beverages. If you consume a diet that is rich in a variety of whole plant foods each day you can easily get the magnesium you need. Fortified foods and dietary supplements are useful when it is not possible to meet needs for one or more nutrients (e.g., during specific life stages such as pregnancy). For more information or help in building a healthy eating lifestyle you can refer to the Canada Food Guide or reach out to us here at The Health Nut and we are happy to guide you through the process of building a more nutrient dense diet plan that is taylored to your specific requirements and tastes.



This information is intended as additional information and not to take the place of medical advice. Please speak with your healthcare providers (doctor, naturopath, registered dietitian, holistic nutritionist, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about,  dietary supplements and what may be best for you and your health.