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Magnesium: Everything You Need to Know

Everything you need to know about magnesium including the many roles it plays in the body, its top health benefits, the different supplement forms and what they’re good for, and delicious food sources and recipes so you can boost your dietary intake.
May 7, 2024 | Joy McCarthy

Today, I want to focus on one of my favourite minerals–yes I have a favourite mineral–magnesium! In fact, I love magnesium so much I recorded an entire podcast episode about it with Dr. Barb Woegerer that is still one of our most listened to episodes.

Today I want to break down everything you need to know about magnesium including the many roles it plays in the body, its top health benefits, the different supplement forms and what they’re good for, and delicious food sources and recipes so you can boost your dietary intake.

Magnesium: Importance & Function

Magnesium is a naturally occurring mineral that is found in the body and many foods (more on that later!).

Did you know that magnesium is involved in close to 300 different enzymatic reactions in the body and is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body?

The body contains about 25 total grams of magnesium. Roughly 50-60% of this is found in your bones, the rest is in your soft tissues, and only a measly 1% is circulating in your serum, which makes it notoriously difficult to test for deficiencies.

While calcium tends to get most of the love when it comes to health recommendations, magnesium is just as important when it comes to supporting the whole body from your nervous system to muscle health, including your heart! In fact, magnesium is required to:

  • Synthesize protein for muscles and hormones
  • Produce adequate energy
  • Regulate blood pressure
  • Manage blood sugar balance
  • Build strong, healthy bones
  • Synthesize DNA and RNA
  • Regulate nerve function
  • Create the master antioxidant in the body, glutathione
  • Support nervous system and brain health/function

Another important role of magnesium is to help shuttle potassium and calcium ions into cell membranes. This process is required to help your muscles properly contract and relax, for healthy nerve impulse control, and to maintain a normal heart beat. While magnesium is involved in many other enzymatic functions, this list highlights just how important this mineral is.

In fact, we literally cannot live without magnesium, but many of us are likely deficient. There are several contributing factors that can lead to chronically low levels of magnesium in the body such as:

  • Certain medications
  • Age–our magnesium levels can naturally decline as we age
  • Digestive issues–can impact our absorption
  • Excessive sweating–always make sure to replenish with electrolytes!
  • Soil depletion–leads to lower levels of magnesium in our food supply
  • Chronic stress
  • A diet high in refined carbohydrates
  • Excess alcohol or coffee–or other diuretics

As I mentioned above, it’s tough to test for a magnesium deficiency since so little is found in the blood. However, some signs that you may need to up your intake may include:

  • Chronic inflammation
  • Fatigue
  • Achy, stiff, or sore muscles
  • Insomnia
  • Osteoporosis
  • Mood disorders, such as anxiety
  • Insulin resistance

Top Health Benefits of Magnesium

I’ve already outlined how crucial magnesium is for 300+ enzymatic functions in the body, but I wanted to share some specific health benefits and reasons why I take magnesium every day and load my plate with magnesium-rich foods.

1. Supports Balanced Hormones

Adequate magnesium levels have been shown to help regulate a variety of hormones in the body including cortisol (see more below!), insulin, testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, and thyroid hormones.

2. Supports Deep Rest

The importance of sleep as the foundation for joyous health cannot be overstated. That’s why I’ve written about it so many times (you can read all the goods here). Magnesium plays an important role in sleep because it helps to reduce cortisol levels and downgrade the stress response, balances the nervous system, promotes healthy levels of GABA, and regulates melatonin.

3. Activates Vitamin D

Vitamin D is so important for whole-body health, including immune support and bone health, that I interviewed my good friend and Clinical Nutritionist, Josh Gitalis about it for the podcast. You can listen here. Having adequate magnesium levels is one necessary cofactor for proper vitamin D activation.

4. Supports Mood Disorders

Low levels of magnesium can impact neurological function and nervous system balance, both of which are required to be functioning optimally to prevent mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. While there may be other factors at play, ensuring you aren’t deficient in magnesium can help set a solid foundation for healing.

5. Helps Boost Energy

If you can remember back to high school biology, one of the three main pathways of energy production is the ATP system. In order to properly fuel your cells and become biologically active, ATP must first bind with magnesium.

Top Food Sources of Magnesium

While supplements can be a helpful way to incorporate targeted forms of magnesium into your routine for specific health benefits, I'm all about getting as many nutrients as possible from whole foods. Below is a list of my favourite, easily accessible magnesium-rich foods.

1. Cocoa

Chocolate lovers rejoice! One of the best food sources of magnesium is raw cacao, which is also loaded with antioxidants compounds like theobromine that help boost mood. As a noted chocoholic, I have tons of delicious chocolate-rich recipes on the blog that you can find here. One of my current faves are these No-Bake Chocolate Truffles.

2. Leafy Greens

kale salad

Green veggies are rich in chlorophyll, a compound whose central molecule is magnesium. That means loading up on your leafy greens and other green veggies is a great way to increase your magnesium intake. Try this delicious Kale Crunch Salad .

3. Pumpkin, Chia, & Flax Seeds

Cranberry Walnut Muffins

I love seeds since they’re so versatile to use in recipes and provide a delicious texture to everything from crackers to cookies. But these three seeds are special because they contain a high amount of magnesium in addition to their healthy fats and proteins. Vienna and I love these Blueberry Flax Oatbran Muffins!

4. Tempeh

Another great source of protein and magnesium, tempeh makes a great addition to a plant-forward diet. Just ensure you are purchasing organic, non-GMO for the healthiest source to prevent contamination with pesticides such as glyphosate. These two recipes are a huge hit with my hubby Walker, who tends to enjoy a more meat-forward meal: Maple Tamari Tempeh and Tempeh Tacos with Purple Cabbage Slaw.

5. Fatty Fish

baked salmon

You know I love fatty fish thanks to their high content of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats and nourishing protein. Surprise, surprise–they’re also a great source of magnesium! Try my favourite Baked Salmon with Kale Lemon Pesto for a meal that is absolutely packed with magnesium from the leafy greens, salmon, and lemons!

6. Legumes

Black bean brownies

I love legumes since they are a great protein-rich meat alternative that also contain gut-nourishing fibre and other nutrients, one of which is magnesium. I’ve got tons of recipes that use beans, lentils, and cashews (did you know they’re also a legume?), but I have to say the one I make the most is definitely this one: Cosmic Black Bean Brownies . Vienna and I make them all the time for her classmates and no one knows they’re healthy!

Magnesium Supplements: What to Avoid

When it comes to magnesium supplements, there are many forms on the market which tend to have different effects in the body. Before I get into them, I want to share a couple of things to look out for when shopping for the right supplement.

There are a few things you will want to avoid that can impact the quality and effectiveness of your supplement such as:

  • Magnesium oxide–a cheap form of magnesium that can irritate your gut and cause diarrhea.
  • Artificial colours or preservatives
  • Natural flavours or sweeteners
  • Healthwashing marketing terms–don’t believe over-the-top claims

There are many great brands on the market, so your choice will depend on your budget and the impact your looking for, but if you avoid the fillers above you can feel confident you’re getting an effective supplement for your money.

Magnesium Supplements: Types and Dosage

There is some interesting research on magnesium supplements and I’m going to briefly share a few forms of magnesium and what they’re generally best used for.

Magnesium Bisglycinate

One of the gentlest forms of magnesium that is highly absorbable. It’s a general form that is often used for issues including anxiety, insomnia, nervous system support, hormone balance, and muscle tension. You’ll want to make sure it is a chelated and buffered form–it should say this clearly on the packaging.

Magnesium Malate

This form has been most widely used to support chronic pain such as fibromyalgia, tender points, and achy muscles or joints.

Magnesium Citrate

This form is probably the most common on the market, but be careful since taking too much can cause some digestive discomfort since it is an osmotic, meaning it can draw water to the colon and cause a laxative effect. With that said, if you don’t go overboard it can be helpful for improve digestion, relieving constipation, migraines, and may improve sleep quality.

Magnesium L-threonate

This form is interesting because its targeted effects seem to be mostly on cognitive and brain health since it is the only supplemental form that can cross the blood/brain barrier. It is likely going to be the best form to take for those with anxiety or mood disorders.

Magnesium Sulfate

This form is what you’ll find in your Epsom salts and is best used in the bath to help relieve muscle aches, promote relaxation, and support detoxification. I love adding two cups to a bath with some lavender essential oil for a calming spa-like end to a busy day.

Magnesium Taurate

This form is best used to support heart health and blood sugar balance, so can be great for anyone looking to improve their glucose tolerance.

As always, check with your natural healthcare provider when it comes to the forms and dosages that are right for your needs. That said, most people can comfortably take 300-400 mg/day based on the RDA.

Well there you have it! Everything you need to know about the miracle mineral, magnesium. I hope this post has inspired you to boost your intake through foods or supplements to support long-lasting joyous health.

Xo Joy

Gail Grant   •   May 7, 2024

What brand would you recommend as a multi source containing malate (for fibro). I do want other forms as well. Thanks Joy!

Joy McCarthy   •   May 8, 2024

Rebecca   •   May 7, 2024

Is there a best time of day to take magnesium? I often take it before bed.

Joy McCarthy   •   May 8, 2024

Brenda   •   May 8, 2024

Do you have a brand name to get for magnesium?

Joy McCarthy   •   May 8, 2024

Kim   •   May 9, 2024

Hi Joy, Can you recommend a couple of options (brands) for 50 years. I also read somewhere that if you’re over 50 you shouldn’t take more than 300 mg/day. What are your thoughts?

Joy McCarthy   •   May 13, 2024

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