Ahh, magnesium. There are very few things in this world that I love as much as magnesium. My Amazon purchase history tells me that I first started taking supplemental magnesium in March 2014, and 8 years later, I’ve never looked back. You likely know that I believe many supplements are over-hyped (and potentially dangerous if taken carelessly), but I’m here to sing the praises of magnesium! In this post, I’ll discuss the benefits of magnesium, how to get it from food, and then dissect the types of magnesium. Get ready to fall in love!
Benefits of magnesium
Magnesium is needed for over 300 documented metabolic reactions in the body, including protein synthesis, cellular energy production, muscular contraction, DNA production and repair, nerve transmission, and glucose and insulin metabolism. It’s not an exaggeration to say that your body simply cannot operate without adequate magnesium.
Unfortunately (for reasons we’ll get to below), estimates show that 60-75% of Americans do not consume adequate magnesium, and it’s rarely tested on standard blood panels (although I’m happy to order tests for my clients, and always recommend the RBC magnesium test over the serum, which doesn’t tell much). And even for the rare people who do consume enough magnesium according to government standards (which are 420mg / day for men and 320 mg / day for adult women), our magnesium is rapidly depleted by stress, exercise, caffeine, sugar, and refined carbs … the (unfortunate) staples of American life these days. Alcohol, proton pump inhibitors (for acid reflux), diuretics, laxatives, and digestive issues also deplete magnesium quickly.
What are the benefits of having adequate magnesium? Here are just a few of many:
- Magnesium helps regulate the stress response by increasing GABA and inhibiting glutamate. So, having low magnesium can result in anxiety, panic, migraines, fatigue, and depression
- Magnesium facilitates muscle contraction and relaxation, and prevents muscle cramps from exercise as well as menstrual cramps
- Magnesium regulates blood pressure via nitric oxide production and blood vessel constriction
- Adequate magnesium reduces the risk of all-cause dementia and pancreatic cancer, among many other chronic diseases
How to get magnesium from food
Historically, we could get all of our magnesium from food, so I venture to guess that your grandparents were not taking magnesium supplements. But the mineral content of our produce has declined by 80-90% in the past 100 years, so even if we were eating 10 times as many vegetables as our ancestors (which we’re decidedly not), we’d just barely get there.
I personally eat tons (8+ servings per day!) of the foods in the below list, and I don’t plan to stop. But because my body just loves magnesium, and requires a lot of it, I will continue supplementing my dietary intake with additional magnesium.
Here are several foods that are rich in magnesium:
- Pumpkin seeds (1 oz): 168mg
- Almonds (1 oz): 80mg
- Spinach (1/2 cup cooked): 78mg
- Cashews (1 oz): 78mg
- Black beans (1/2 cup cooked): 60mg
- Edamame (1/2 cup cooked): 50mg
- Dark chocolate (1 oz): 50mg
- Peanut butter (2 Tbsp): 49mg
- Avocado (1 cup): 44mg
- Potato (3.5 oz): 43mg
- Brown rice (1/2 cup cooked): 42mg
- Plain yogurt (8 oz): 42mg
- Salmon or halibut (4 oz): 32mg
- Chicken (4 oz): 30mg
- Beef (3 oz): 20mg
Which type of magnesium supplement is best for you?
- Magnesium l-threonate. I don’t like to play favorites, but here, I’m definitely playing favorites. Magnesium l-threonate is far and away my most recommended type of magnesium (and the one I take personally). Magnesium l-threonate crosses the blood-brain barrier most effectively of all formats, and is very effective for anxiety and depression management, as well as cognition, memory, and neuroplasticity. It has even been shown to reduce cognitive deficits from Alzheimer’s in mouse models, and Stanford is currently undergoing a clinical trial to study this in humans. For my clients (and myself!) whose racing mind inhibits sleep, magnesium l-threonate has proven to be the most effective. Basically, for anything related to the brain (memory, anxiety, racing mind, long-term brain health), I suggest magnesium l-threonate. Here’s the one I like.
- Magnesium glycinate (or magnesium bisglycinate). I already played favorites, but if I could choose two, this would be my second choice for sure. This one is gentle on the stomach (keep reading for ones that are not!), and is bioavailable, but may not cross the blood-brain barrier as effectively as l-threonate. Similar to l-threonate, though, this format helps with sleep quality, insomnia, and relaxation. New Chapter has a magnesium glycinate with ashwagandha that I recommend (read more about adaptogens here).
- Magnesium malate. The research is quite inconclusive at this time, but some evidence is showing that magnesium malate may help with muscle soreness and even chronic pain like that experienced in fibromyalgia. Some athletes like to use magnesium malate and report that it reduces soreness, but again, the research isn’t quite robust enough to support this yet. Here is a magnesium malate I recommend.
- Magnesium citrate. I do not recommend magnesium citrate on a daily basis, because it is likely to cause diarrhea unless you are already constipated. In fact, all of the magnesium formats (including the ones above that I do recommend) can promote healthy bowel function, but citrate tends to … get things moving rather quickly, if you know what I mean. If you’ve ever had a colonoscopy, magnesium citrate is likely what you drank to prepare! For occasional digestive support, this one can help.
- Magnesium carbonate. Were you one of the early adopters of Natural Calm? I have to say, their branding is genius, because everyone wants more calm in their lives, but I have not seen any research indicating any benefits of this variety over the aforementioned (and, anecdotally, myself and hundreds of clients feel much better on other varieties), so I don’t recommend it.
- Magnesium oxide. Again, I don’t recommend this one, because it doesn’t stay in your system for very long. However, it has been used effectively for preventing migraines in those who experience auras, and, similar to magnesium citrate, can be used as a gentle, non-habit forming laxative. Some suggest it is also effective against heartburn. If you do want this format, this is the one I recommend.
There are several other varieties (magnesium orotate, magnesium sulfate, magnesium chloride, magnesium lactate, and more), but before you tear your eyes out, I’ll stop here. I hope you enjoyed learning more about magnesium, and feel inspired to try it yourself! If you do, of course, it’s always safe to check with a practitioner to get their opinion on you taking magnesium, although side effects are extremely rare (except for the diarrhea mentioned in #4!).
Want to hear about magnesium in audio format? Check out the podcast episode here!
Now it’s your turn … Do you take magnesium? If so, what benefits have you experienced, and which type are you taking?
Want more? In my Revitalize Health Accelerator, I walk you through every step of what it takes to be a well-rounded healthy person. This covers everything from affirmations to emotional eating, from supplements to sleep quality, from macronutrient balance to meal planning. If you’re curious, set up a free call with me here to discuss!