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Magnesium: Overview of An Essential Nutrient

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April 7, 2020 • 1 min read

What is Magnesium?

Magnesium (Mg) is an essential nutrient for human health. Deficiencies in magnesium increase the risk for serious chronic diseases. A healthy diet rich in magnesium and/or supplementation with magnesium can improve health status and reduce risk of chronic illnesses. Unfortunately, current evidence indicates that half or more of Americans currently have some degree of subclinical magnesium deficiency. Increasing magnesium intake could be accomplished with the consumption of adequate amounts of nutritious whole foods (unrefined grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts) and reduced intake of refined or processed foods. For many people, the addition of a magnesium supplement may be required to replete magnesium stores and maintain healthy magnesium levels over the long term.

How Much Magnesium Should You Have?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements recommends the following magnesium intakes for people in various life stages:

Normal levels of magnesium, chart

How much magnesium should you have?

Magnesium and Pregnancy

Studies show that magnesium may reduce the risk of fetal growth restriction and preeclampsia and increase birth weight. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements recommends the following magnesium intakes for pregnant women:

Magnesium effects and pregnancy

 Can you take magnesium while pregnant?

Foods Rich in Magnesium

Whole foods offer unique access to essential nutrients, like magnesium, which work with other nutrients, vitamins and minerals, and phytonutrients to effectively support body systems.

Food sources of magnesium include:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Legumes
  • Produce
  • Whole grains
  • Dairy
  • Seafood
  • Meat

Magnesium Supplements

Plant-based magnesium supplements such as those produced from plants rich in magnesium provide naturally occurring sources of magnesium. Why use plant-based supplements to enrich your diet? First, the Standard American Diet (SAD) lacks sufficient levels of many essential nutrients, magnesium included. Supplemental magnesium can help people deficient in the nutrient to achieve a healthier magnesium status.

Compared to food alone, the addition of dietary supplements significantly increases intake of nutrients, including magnesium, and reduces nutrient inadequacies in adults.

More about whole food magnesium.

Forms of Magnesium Supplements

Magnesium supplements are available in a variety of forms, and different forms vary in how much elemental magnesium they contain and how well that magnesium is absorbed.

A few studies have shown that some magnesium forms are absorbed more completely and are more bioavailable.

What is magnesium citrate?

Magnesium citrate is one form of magnesium delivery where elemental magnesium is bound to citrate, a derivative of citric acid that is naturally found in citrus fruits.

What is magnesium aspartate?

Magnesium aspartate is one form of magnesium delivery where elemental magnesium is bound to aspartic acid, an amino acid involved in protein biosynthesis.

What is magnesium lactate?

Magnesium lactate is one form of magnesium delivery where elemental magnesium is bound to lactic acid, an organic acid.

What is magnesium chloride?

Magnesium chloride is one form of magnesium delivery where elemental magnesium is bound to chloride, a negatively charged ion formed from elemental chlorine.

Some magnesium forms might have poor bioavailability, such as:

  • Oxide
  • Sulfate

More on magnesium forms and absorption.

Other forms of magnesium:

  • Hydroxide
  • Esomeprazole
  • Stearate
  • Fluoride
  • Gluconate
  • Chelated
  • Nitrate
  • Malate
  • Threonate
  • Phosphate
  • Calcium
  • Taurate
  • Bromide

Learn more about whole food magnesium.

Magnesium Deficiency

Magnesium is under-consumed by most Americans. Experts estimate that about half of the U.S. population consumes less than the recommended daily amount (RDA) of magnesium. The estimated severity of magnesium deficits has led some experts to suggest that many people need at least 300 milligrams of magnesium per day to replete and maintain body stores.

Hidden or subclinical magnesium deficiencies are especially concerning, as they appear to be common, are difficult to diagnose, and may contribute to a wide range of chronic health problems.

What Causes Magnesium Deficiency to Be So Common?

With declining nutrient content in foods and broad consumption of SAD-style diets, deficiencies in essential nutrients such as magnesium have become extremely common.

The main factors underlying reduced magnesium intake are the declining nutrient content of produce and refined grains and increased consumption of processed foods, both of which are common in the Standard American Diet (SAD). Aging is associated with a higher risk for magnesium deficiency due to age-related changes in diet, intestinal absorption, and renal function.

What Are the Symptoms of Low Magnesium?

Some health conditions that are associated with magnesium intake include:

  • Bone disease
  • Depression
  • Heart failure
  • Hypertension
  • Kidney disease
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Migraine
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes

More on health consequences of magnesium deficiency.

Magnesium Health Benefits & Uses

Magnesium is used for energy production, DNA and RNA synthesis, muscle contraction and relaxation, and much more. Higher dietary magnesium intake has been linked to reduced risk for major diseases, reduced stress and depression, and improved migraine symptoms. Higher dietary intake has also been associated with increased fat-free mass (i.e., skeletal muscle), reduced risk for frailty, improved grip strength and bone density, and reduced risk of mortality due to liver disease. Adequate magnesium status may support healthy aging not only by reducing risk for the multiple diseases described above, but also by preserving chromosomal function.

More on health benefits of higher magnesium intake.

Magnesium: Frequently Asked Questions

Different forms of magnesium are absorbed at different rates. About 25 to 75 percent of dietary magnesium is absorbed – specific absorption rate depends on an individual’s magnesium status, gastrointestinal (GI) health and dose.

Magnesium is an essential nutrient, the fourth most abundant cation in the human body. It enables key metabolic processes, contributes to bone strength, and acts as a cofactor in hundreds of enzymatic reactions.

While uncommon, but possible, intake of too much magnesium can lead to digestive issues and irregular heartbeat, among other health concerns. The proposed normal range for serum magnesium is approximately 1.7 to 2.2 mg/dL. For most adults, the tolerable upper intake level (UL) for supplemental magnesium is 350 mg. The RDA (recommended daily allowance) and EAR (estimated average requirement) to maintain healthy levels of magnesium vary based on age, sex, and reproductive status.

According to the USDA, one medium (118 g) banana contains 32 mg of magnesium, which equals 10% of the recommended amount per day for an average woman and 8% for an average male.


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