Magnesium – functions, benefits and latest research

Magnesium was back in the spotlight last week when Dr Michael Mosley was discussing the importance of the essential mineral on Chris Evans’ BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show. Dr Mosley talked about some of the numerous proposed benefits of magnesium, including how he has used it to support his own insomnia, and how 10% of the population may be “noticeably deficient” in the essential mineral. The therapeutic use of magnesium may not be news to nutritional therapists, but this provides a good opportunity to review magnesium, its benefits, and the latest research.

Magnesium is the 8th most common element in the earth’s crust and is found in a variety of sources. It is an essential component of chlorophyll in plants, like iron is to haemoglobin in animals. Any green leafy vegetable therefore will contain magnesium. It is also found in nuts (particularly almonds), seeds, eggs, fish, seafood, wholegrains, and cocoa.

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Functions

Magnesium is a cofactor in over 300 enzymatic reactions within the body and therefore plays an essential role in maintaining the normal function of many metabolic processes. Magnesium critically stabilises enzymes, including many ATP-generating reactions. ATP is required universally for glucose utilisation, synthesis of fat, proteins, nucleic acids and coenzymes.1

Magnesium is therefore needed for normal energy production, and a deficiency in this essential mineral can significantly impact on energy levels. It is always worth considering magnesium supplementation in individuals who are experiencing fatigue and energy issues.

Magnesium is also a cofactor for the manufacture of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which is important for mood.  Reduced levels of serotonin are associated with low mood and depression.  However, research into the therapeutic use of magnesium in depression is inconclusive. This is likely to be due to the fact that, like many conditions, mood disorders are multi-factorial and although improving magnesium may be beneficial to some people, others will require further interventions.

Magnesium and calcium

Another function of magnesium is that it is involved in muscle contraction and relaxation, and works synergistically with calcium. The balance, therefore, between calcium and magnesium is critical to normal muscle function. As calcium is quite abundant in the western diet, this ratio can often become imbalanced.

Fundamentally, calcium allows muscles to contract and magnesium allows them to relax by stimulating calcium re-uptake. Because of its effects on muscle relaxation it is known as nature’s tranquiliser. If there are reduced levels of magnesium, muscles cannot relax efficiently.

In skeletal muscle this can present as muscle cramps, for example, but it can also have an effect on smooth muscle contraction including blood vessels, uterus and the digestive system. This is why magnesium deficiency is associated with symptoms such as hypertension, PMS and constipation.

The balance of calcium and magnesium is also important for bone density, as magnesium helps to balance calcium homeostasis. It is also an essential constituent of bone (nearly 70% of the body’s magnesium is located in bones and teeth). Lower magnesium intake is associated with lower bone density of the hip and whole body.2,3

Magnesium also facilitates glucose uptake in to cells by potentiating the action of insulin. A deficiency in magnesium is thought to be a risk factor for insulin resistance. Epidemiological studies have shown a high prevalence of hypomagnesaemia and lower intracellular magnesium concentrations in diabetics.1,4

Research:

Studies into magnesium supplementation demonstrated:

  • In non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus patients, daily magnesium administration contributed to improved insulin-mediated glucose uptake 5
  • Oral magnesium supplementation may prevent depression and might be used as an adjunctive therapy 6
  • Up to 50% of patients during an acute migraine attack have lowered levels of ionized magnesium. Infusion of magnesium results in a rapid and sustained relief of an acute migraine in such patients. Two double-blind studies suggest that chronic oral magnesium supplementation may also reduce the frequency of migraine headaches 7
  • Supplementation of magnesium appears to improve subjective measures of insomnia such as ISI score, sleep efficiency, sleep time and sleep onset latency, early morning awakening, and likewise, insomnia, objective measures such as concentration of serum renin, melatonin, and serum cortisol, in elderly people 8
  • Modified-release magnesium was effective in reducing premenstrual symptoms in women with PMS in a preliminary study 9
  • Magnesium supplementation lowered the arterial BP in NOS-inhibition induced hypertension model by restoring the agonist-induced relaxation response of the arteries 10

Magnesium Threonate

Magnesium threonate is a form of magnesium which has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier and therefore increase brain levels of magnesium. This form of magnesium has positive effects on cognitive health and has been shown to:

  • Modulate synaptic plasticity
  • Be important for plasticity and memory formation by upregulating the glutamate receptor NMDA

Findings suggest that an increase in brain magnesium enhances both short-term synaptic facilitation and long-term potentiation and improves learning and memory functions.11

Magnesium Intake and Deficiency

Magnesium is a water-soluble mineral and can be excreted quickly via the kidneys. This can be problematic for maintaining adequate levels, particularly if intake is low. The excretion of magnesium is increased by alcohol, medications including diuretics, and oral contraceptives.

Magnesium is also utilised more quickly in the body during periods of stress and intensive exercise. Even when intake is adequate (NRV 375mg/day) it can still therefore be difficult to maintain levels.

Magnesium in food form, or bound to an organic molecule such as citrate or bisglycinate, is better absorbed than magnesium bound to inorganic carriers i.e. sulphate or oxide.

Interactions

As magnesium has its own hypotensive properties, it can possibly potentiate the effects of anti-hypertensive drugs. Therefore, if patients are on blood pressure medication, magnesium should be used with caution and blood pressure should be monitored carefully.

Boosting Magnesium levels

You can improve magnesium status by:

    • Increasing intake of magnesium rich foods such as dark leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds. Try adding kale, spinach and rocket to a breakfast smoothie
    • Soak in an Epsom salt (magnesium sulphate) bath. Magnesium ions can be absorbed through the skin, which can aid muscle relaxation
    • Opt for a magnesium supplement 200-400mg per day
    • Avoid excess alcohol
    • Try stress relieving techniques such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness

Key Takeaways

  • Magnesium is essential for normal energy production and is a cofactor for over 300 enzymes in the body. It can be useful for moderating symptoms of fatigue
  • Shown to have beneficial effects on blood pressure, headaches, migraines, PMS, cramps and constipation, due to its effects on muscle relaxation
  • Can potentiate insulin mediated glucose uptake
  • Cofactor for the production of serotonin and may have beneficial effects on mood and insomnia
  • Essential for calcium homeostasis and bone density
  • Magnesium threonate can cross the blood-brain barrier and has beneficial effects on synaptic plasticity and memory formation
  • Depleted by excess alcohol, stress, exercise and some medications

If you have any questions regarding the topics that have been raised, or any other health matters please do contact me (Helen) by email at any time.

helen@cytoplan.co.uk

Helen Drake and the Cytoplan Editorial Team


Related Cytoplan products:

Magnesium Citrate – is a non-food forms of magnesium. As a citrate, it is readily absorbed into the bloodstream via the citric acid cycle.

Biofood Magnesium – is an organic matrix form of magnesium, complete with natural amino acid carriers.


References

1.  Wilhelm Jahnen-Dechentcorresponding author1 and Markus Ketteler2. Magnesium basics. Clin Kidney J. 2012 Feb; 5(Suppl 1): i3–i14. doi: 10.1093/ndtplus/sfr163
PMCID: PMC4455825.

2. Orchard TS1, Larson JC, Alghothani N, Bout-Tabaku S, Cauley JA, Chen Z, LaCroix AZ, Wactawski-Wende J, Jackson RD. Magnesium intake, bone mineral density, and fractures: results from the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Apr;99(4):926-33. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.067488. Epub 2014 Feb 5.

3. Farsinejad-Marj M1,2, Saneei P1,2,3, Esmaillzadeh A4,5,6.Dietary magnesium intake, bone mineral density and risk of fracture: a systematic review and meta-analysis.  Osteoporos Int. 2016 Apr;27(4):1389-99. doi: 10.1007/s00198-015-3400-y. Epub 2015 Nov 10.

4. Barbagallo M1, Dominguez LJ. Magnesium metabolism in type 2 diabetes mellitus, metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance. Arch Biochem Biophys. 2007 Feb 1;458(1):40-7. Epub 2006 Jun 12.

5. Barbagallo M1, Dominguez LJ, Galioto A, Ferlisi A, Cani C, Malfa L, Pineo A, Busardo’ A, Paolisso G. Role of magnesium in insulin action, diabetes and cardio-metabolic syndrome X. Mol Aspects Med. 2003 Feb-Jun;24(1-3):39-52.

6. Derom ML1, Sayón-Orea C, Martínez-Ortega JM, Martínez-González MA. Magnesium and depression: a systematic review. Nutr Neurosci. 2013 Sep;16(5):191-206. doi: 10.1179/1476830512Y.0000000044. Epub 2012 Dec 6.

7. Mauskop A1, Altura BM. Role of magnesium in the pathogenesis and treatment of migraines. Clin Neurosci. 1998;5(1):24-7.

8. Abbasi B1, Kimiagar M, Sadeghniiat K, Shirazi MM, Hedayati M, Rashidkhani B. The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Res Med Sci. 2012 Dec;17(12):1161-9.

9. Quaranta S1, Buscaglia MA, Meroni MG, Colombo E, Cella S. Pilot study of the efficacy and safety of a modified-release magnesium 250 mg tablet (Sincromag) for the treatment of premenstrual syndrome. Clin Drug Investig. 2007;27(1):51-8.

10. Basralı F1, Koçer G2, Ülker Karadamar P1, Nasırcılar Ülker S1, Satı L3, Özen N1, Özyurt D4, Şentürk ÜK1. Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure and vascular reactivity in nitric oxide synthase inhibition-induced hypertension model. Clin Exp Hypertens. 2015;37(8):633-42. doi: 10.3109/10641963.2015.1036063. Epub 2015 Jun 26.

11. Slutsky I1, Abumaria N, Wu LJ, Huang C, Zhang L, Li B, Zhao X, Govindarajan A, Zhao MG, Zhuo M, Tonegawa S, Liu G. Enhancement of learning and memory by elevating brain magnesium. Neuron. 2010 Jan 28;65(2):165-77. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2009.12.026.


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10 thoughts on “Magnesium – functions, benefits and latest research

      1. Hi Susan,

        In response to your comment, the body needs an intake of 2:1 calcium to magnesium for general health. But the reality is that most people are ingesting far more than calcium than magnesium as some foods are fortified with calcium and also magnesium is one of the most depleted minerals in the food chain, so normally people need to supplement either equally with 1:1 calcium to magnesium or even more magnesium is needed at times. Most particularly because stress and other factors in modern day living increase the need for magnesium and further deplete body stores. Needs hence should be assessed individually.

        Regards,
        Amanda

    1. Hi Maggie,

      Thank you for your comment. No not necessarily at all. Both forms will go into all magnesium pathways in the body but the added benefit of Magnesium threonate is that is also crossed the blood brain barrier to elevate brain circulating levels of magnesium, which no other form does as efficiently. If you feel you need magnesium threonate to elevate brain levels but also get muscle cramping in other parts of your body then, yes both forms could be indicated to make sure you have sufficient circulating in all areas to meet your total needs.

      If you want to email me with more information about your own circumstances and what you are trying to achieve I can help more specifically.

      Best

      Amanda
      amandas@cytoplan.co.uk

  1. Your information on MAGNESIUM I found very interesting. I broke a hip in March and have since been recovering well. My last visit to my doctor was to obtain details of a DEXA scan , which showed T-scores of
    -3.5 for the Lumber spine
    -1.5 for the right hip
    -1.6 for the right femoral neck.
    I left the surgery with a prescription for biphosphonates (alendronic acid tablets), and for calcium tablets.

    Having read about the possible side effects I determined to find out about alternative treatments and found out about the importance of the magnesium / calcium ratio, and how this could gradually repair bone density and strength.
    I am now taking daily doses of:
    Vitamin D3 +K2
    Magnesium Citrate
    Eurogold..

    I am 74 and my husband is a fit 78. He has joined me with the D3+K2 , the Magnesium tablets, and Euro Gold.
    What amounts of supplements should we be taking?
    Can you confirm that with no calcium supplements our calcium / magnesium ratio should be satisfactory, or do we need to up the magnesium amount. I note a reference in your blog to “opt for a magnesium supplement 200-400mg per day. Does this quantity refer to Elemental Magnesium?
    We are neither of us on any prescribed medicines. We have been vegetarians for over 40 years.
    I look forward to your reply with great interest.
    Many thanks,
    Marion Richardson.

    1. Hi Marion,

      Thank you for your response and do respect all you are trying to do and achieve yourself.

      But I do feel I need more information to help you in the way you need. The results of your Dexa scan are showing a degree of very low bone density/osteopenia and I wonder why? This might have been the reason that your hip fractured more easily than it should have done. To really help you we need full information as can be collected on one of our health questionnaires. This will include medical history and details of dietary intake. The health questionnaire can be downloaded from our website at https://www.cytoplan.co.uk/nutrition-advice/educational-literature/health-questionnaire

      The important thing is to ensure the best possible dietary intake of bone-supportive nutrients bolstered by supplements that will ensure levels of important nutrients are optimum. Your Dr is clearly concerned about this and maybe we can give you a suggested programme that you can share with your Dr as it is unwise not to take prescribed medications without rationalising your decision with your Dr.

      Men do not usually have to worry about bone density in the same way as women do and indeed it is not usually recommended for men to supplement with calcium. A generally supportive programme for your husband would be either wholefood multi or COQ10 multi, and an omega3 product. Cytogold contains calcium and although not a high amount, one of the other multis is likely to be better for your husband. If you want to give him other things we can help personalise this for him with a little more information. This can be via a health questionnaire or please do feel able to email me directly at amanda@cytoplan.co.uk and I can ask you a few more appropriate questions.

      All the best,
      Amanda

  2. I have recently started taking magnesium citrate to help sleep quality.
    In addition I have MS and am interested in the brain barrier concept of
    mag threonate. I already take krill supplements and Seronol to help
    but would you suggest I add mag threonate too!

    Thank you

    1. Hi Stella,

      You could certainly take 1x Magnesium threonate and 1x Magnesium citrate at bedtime, which should work in all the ways you need. If you are taking higher doses of magnesium citrate or magnesium in any other form t would be helpful for me to know the totality you are taking at this time and if the desired effect is being achieved for you, before any changes are made. Please email me amanda@cytoplan.co.uk and I can you more personally on this.

      Regards,
      Amanda

  3. I’ve heard multiple times that it’s better to absorb magnesium through the skin via a spray. You don’t refer to this in your article. Is that because Cytoplan does not make a spray or because this is incorrect? TIA.

    1. Dear Louise,

      Thanks for your question on our blog. The following review published this year evaluates the current literature on transdermal magnesium application and concludes that “the propagation of transdermal magnesium is scientifically unsupported”, whereas “the effectiveness of oral magnesium supplementation for the treatment of magnesium deficiency has been studied in detail” . https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579607/
      Nevertheless people do use transdermal magnesium for muscle relaxation and Epsom salt baths or sprays (as well as oral supplementation) may be used for this purpose.

      All the best,
      Clare

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