Magnesium is one of my favourite essential minerals because it does SO much in the body, and is helpful for mental, emotional and physical conditions. Along with zinc, it is also one of the nutrients that I tend to see signs of deficiency in many of my clients who come to see me both for Naturopathic and remedial massage treatments.
Every cell in your body requires magnesium to function, and it plays many roles in the body including converting food into energy, creating proteins and amino acids and repairing DNA. It can also help with reducing insulin resistance, improving PMS symptoms, reducing inflammation and improving exercise performance. But some of the more commonly known roles (and the ones people tend to come and see me for) are muscle contraction and relaxation, and the regulation of neurotransmitters. (1)
Not getting enough magnesium can lead to many common symptoms including low mood, higher than normal stress levels, restless sleep, fatigue and muscle twitches and spasms. Other symptoms that low magnesium may contribute to include high blood pressure, heart palpitations, migraines, osteoporosis and asthma. (2) Let’s have a look at some of the more common conditions and symptoms that low magnesium may contribute to:
Stress & Mood
The relationship between magnesium and stress is a two way street – stress depletes magnesium, and magnesium counteracts stress. So when you are going through times of high stress, you need more magnesium! Magnesium helps to reduce stress by balancing the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is the body’s main stress response system. Without enough, your cortisol and adrenaline is left unchecked which exacerbates your body’s fight or flight response. Stress can be physical or mental, however the results are very similar. When in this fight or flight state, your muscles become tense, which can further exacerbate stress. Magnesium is muscle relaxant, and so can help calm both the nervous system and your muscles, reducing your overall stress levels. (3) Magnesium also plays a role in neurotransmitter function, including those responsible for regulating mood such as serotonin, GABA and dopamine. It is required for the body to both create these neurotransmitters and allow them to transmit, and so can be a factor in mental health and mood conditions such as depression and anxiety. (4)
Sleep & Fatigue
If a client has troubles with getting to and staying asleep, one of the first things I recommend is magnesium, especially if they’re showing any other signs or symptoms of deficiency. Not only can magnesium help you get to sleep, it can help you get a better quality and deeper rest. As mentioned in the previous section, magnesium can help calm the nervous system down which in turn can help promote sleep. It helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for helping you relax, and it plays a role in regulating melatonin, which is the chemical responsible for managing your sleep/wake cycle. (5) Poor quality sleep can also contribute to fatigue, and so one thing to really look at is if you are fatigued, are you sleeping poorly? In some cases, addressing the sleep issue can help to improve fatigue. The other way magnesium helps with fatigue is that its involved in formation and storage of the energy molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Low magnesium can also contribute to oxidative stress and inflammation in the body, which has been shown to contribute to conditions such as chronic fatigue and depression. (6)
Muscle Tension & Exercise Performance
Magnesium can help reduce muscle tension and improve recovery from exercise due to its role in relaxing muscles. Its opposing mineral is calcium, which contributes to muscle contraction – and so the balance of these two minerals in the body is important. This also relates to how magnesium status can impact on heart palpitations and increases in blood pressure – due to increase contraction in the cardiovascular muscles. Low levels of magnesium can also increase lactic acid build up which is well known to cause post workout tension and cramping. For those who exercise frequently, and especially endurance athletes, the need for magnesium increases due to increased sweat and overall nutrients required for the body to function. (7)
Now that you know how important magnesium is, how do you get it? The food sources highest in magnesium include seeds, dark leafy greens, dark chocolate (yay!), whole grains, bananas, legumes, nuts, avocado and some fish. (8) However some people have a higher demand that exceeds what they may get from dietary sources alone, and may require supplementation. I generally recommend a powder form of magnesium over tablets, because it is better absorbed. I don’t recommend buying a cheap product from the supermarket, if you are looking for a retail product go for brands like BioCeuticals, ATP Science, Ethical Nutrients or Herbs of Gold.
And if you’re ever unsure about whether you need magnesium or something else to help with your stress, sleep or fatigue, then please be sure to visit the Holistia Naturopathy page so that you can start your own personal healing journey!
1. Spritzler F. 10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Magnesium2018 23 April 2019. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-proven-magnesium-benefits.
2. Arnarson A. 7 Signs and Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency2017 23 April 2019. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/magnesium-deficiency-symptoms.
3. Smith MD. Can Magnesium Help You Cope with Stress?2018 23 April 2019. Available from: https://www.betternutrition.com/supplements/more-magnesium-less-stress.
4. Greenblatt J. MAGNESIUM: THE MISSING LINK IN MENTAL HEALTH?2016 23 April 2019. Available from: http://www.immh.org/article-source/2016/11/17/magnesium-the-missing-link-in-mental-health.
5. Jennings K-A. How Magnesium Can Help You Sleep2017 23 April 2019. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/magnesium-and-sleep.
6. STAFF U. Low Energy Causes May Be Rooted in These 3 Nutritional Deficiencies2018 23 April 2019. Available from: https://universityhealthnews.com/daily/energy/3-top-nutritional-deficiencies-as-fatigue-causes/.
7. PHARMA W. This is how to protect your muscles from magnesium deficiencyN.D. 23 April 2019. Available from: https://www.woerwagpharma.de/en/health-topics/bone-muscle-joint-health/this-is-how-to-protect-your-muscles-from-magnesium-deficiency/.
8. Blackmores. 10 magnesium foods for your health2018 23 April 2019. Available from: https://www.blackmores.com.au/energy/10-magnesium-foods-for-your-health.