Magnesium can help your body calmly sail through stressful situations. This mineral also has the goods to protect against conditions such as diabetes and depression.
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The amount of stress we experience is entirely dependent on the way we react to life’s challenges.
You probably know that the stress response often has a psychological component. However, there’s also a physiological component that many people may not know about.
It has to do with a mineral called magnesium. The body’s nervous system relies on magnesium to effectively cope with stress. That means that if you want to give yourself the support needed to handle life’s problems in a cool, calm way, you need to make sure you’re getting enough of this essential nutrient.
Magnesium’s benefits don’t end there. This mineral can support your health and well-being in many other ways.
Are you ready to learn more about the power of magnesium?
In this article, we will:
- Explain what magnesium is, and talk about how it supports the body
- Show how this mineral affects your body’s stress response
- Talk about magnesium deficiency and its symptoms, and tell you who is most at risk
- Let you know how much magnesium you should be getting each day, and discuss whether it’s possible to ingest too much of this mineral
- Discuss the ways in which magnesium benefits your health
- Provide you with a list of foods that are rich in magnesium
- Discuss common types of magnesium, and explain how they differ
What is magnesium?
Magnesium is a mineral that the body relies on to function effectively. As a result, this nutrient plays a part in over 300 different enzyme reactions.
Your body needs magnesium to:
- Support muscle function
- Soothe and manage the nervous system
- Regulate blood pressure
- Manage blood sugar levels
- Support the immune system
- Produce protein, bone and DNA
This mineral is stored in the body. Most of it is contained in the skeletal system, but you’ll also find magnesium in your muscles, bodily fluids and soft tissue.
Magnesium and stress
Magnesium can help you handle stress in a calmer, more levelheaded way.
Let’s take a closer look at the ways in which this mineral impacts the body’s stress response.
Magnesium and the brain
For starters, magnesium affects a part of your brain that’s called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus governs the pituitary and adrenal glands. These glands play a big role in your body’s stress response.
Magnesium also affects brain function from a much broader perspective. It’s largely responsible for regulating neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters send messages all throughout the body and the brain. If the brain isn’t getting the magnesium it needs to handle these processes in an effective way, it can negatively impact the way you handle stressful situations.
If life often leaves you feeling stressed and anxious, the problem may lie with magnesium deficiency. A 2012 study shows there’s a relationship between magnesium deficiency and chronic anxiety.
An essential neuroprotector
The extent to which your body’s central nervous system relies on magnesium to cope with daily stresses is huge. How huge? Well, the relationship between magnesium and the nervous system is important enough for researchers to call this mineral a “neuroprotector.”
So, it’s clear that our bodies need magnesium to cope with stress. However, there’s an irony at play here, and it’s this: The more stress we experience, the more magnesium we are likely to lose.
We shed magnesium from our bodies via urine. As stress levels rise, more magnesium is excreted, and this can lead to a deficiency.
Over time, this can get you stuck in a hellish cycle: You feel stressed, you lose magnesium, your stress levels rise, you lose even more magnesium, etc.
Your adrenal glands respond to stress by creating stress hormones: adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are responsible for the physiological symptoms we experience when faced with stressful events. These symptoms may include things such as a racing heartbeat, nervousness and tremors.
If your magnesium levels are low, the point at which your adrenal glands produce these stress hormones will be low, as well. This means that even the slightest challenges and irritations may be enough to generate a significant stress response.
For example, the noise emitted by that jackhammer from a nearby construction site may be enough to overwhelm your nervous system with adrenaline and cortisol, leaving you feeling jittery and irritable. And this will further diminish your magnesium levels.
Want to govern and limit the level of stress hormones produced by your body? The solution lies with making sure you’re getting enough magnesium.
Magnesium deficiency is also known as hypomagnesemia.
So, just how common is this type of deficiency?
First, it’s important to understand that there are two types of nutritional deficiencies: clinical and subclinical. A clinical deficiency is the more severe of the two, and it results in dramatic symptoms. With a subclinical deficiency, the symptoms may be harder to detect. Still, this condition can have dangerous long-term consequences.
While clinical magnesium deficiency is relative rare, subclinical deficiency is common. It’s estimated that up to 50 percent of the U.S. population suffers from this type of deficiency.
What’s responsible for this deficiency? Three factors are to blame:
- Consumption of foods rich in magnesium has been steadily dwindling. The standard American diet contains only about 50 percent of the recommended daily allowance for magnesium.
- Industrialized agriculture has a hand in this, as well. It results in mineral-deficient soil. The crops grown in this soil contain less-than-optimal levels of key minerals such as magnesium.
- Finanlly, dietary habits also play a role. A large part of our population consumes lots of processed foods that include refined grains, fats and sugar. These foods tend to be low in magnesium.
Signs of magnesium deficiency
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you may be low on magnesium:
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle weakness
- Tremors and twitches
- Muscle cramps
- Muscle contraction
- Tingling in your hands and feet
- Mood swings
- Joint pains
- Muscle aches
- Abnormal heart rhythm
- Low energy levels
Who is most at risk?
Certain people are more likely than others to suffer from magnesium deficiency.
The following groups of people are at high risk for this condition:
1. People with gastrointestinal diseases
Gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn’s disease and celiac disease make it more difficult for the body to absorb vital nutrients from food. As a result, people who suffer from these conditions are likely to the low in magnesium.
2. Type 2 diabetics
3. Long-term alcoholics
Those with chronic alcoholism frequently suffer from magnesium deficiency. Alcohol consumption causes the body’s magnesium levels to drop. Ethanol is the main ingredient in alcohol, and it works as a magnesium diuretic. It draws magnesium and other electrolytes out of the body via the kidneys.
Over time, if you consume more alcohol than the daily recommended limits, your body’s magnesium levels will plummet.
Heavy drinking can cause liver damage, and this can make the deficiency even worse.
4. Elderly people
Elderly people are at high risk for magnesium deficiency. Older people are often on prescription medications; in some cases, these drugs can negatively impact magnesium levels.
Also, internal absorption of magnesium tends to decline with age. This can make it more difficult for older people to get enough of this mineral from the foods they eat.
How much magnesium do you need?
The amount of magnesium you need each day is dependent on factors such as your age and your gender. Pregnancy will also impact how much of this mineral is needed by the body.
Here are the average daily recommended amounts of magnesium for each life stage, per the National Institutes of Health:
- Birth to 6 months – 30 mg
- Infants 7-12 months – 75 mg
- 1-3 years – 80 mg
- 4-8 years – 130 mg
- 9-13 years – 240 mg
- Teen boys 14-18 years – 410 mg
- Teen girls 14-18 years – 360 mg
- Men – 400-420 mg
- Women – 310-320 mg
- Pregnant teens – 400 mg
- Pregnant women – 350-360 mg
- Breastfeeding teens – 360 mg
- Breastfeeding women – 310-320 mg
Can too much magnesium be harmful?
Is it possible to get too much magnesium? That depends on whether the mineral comes from food intake or supplements.
Magnesium sourced from food is never harmful, and it never needs to be restricted. Your body will get rid of excess amounts via urine with the help of your kidneys.
However, the picture is different for magnesium that comes from oral supplements. If you’re supplementing with magnesium, keep your daily intake at or below these upper limits:
- Birth to 6 months – Not established
- 1-3 years – 65 mg
- 4-8 years – 110 mg
- 9-18 years – 350 mg
- Adults – 350 mg
If your intake of magnesium from oral supplements exceeds the upper limits shown above, it can cause symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea and abdominal cramping. In cases when your intake of supplementary magnesium is extremely high, it can cause irregular heartbeat and cardiac arrest.
Health benefits of magnesium
Here are some of the key ways in which magnesium can benefit your health:
1. Supports healthy bones
When most people think about bone health, they think about calcium. However, magnesium is just as important as calcium in creating strong bones.
A 2013 study established a clear link between adequate magnesium intake and higher bone density.
This mineral is especially important for women who have experienced menopause. These women are more likely to suffer from osteoporosis. Adequate magnesium intake can lower their risk of developing this condition.
Magnesium also affects bone health in less direct ways. This mineral governs the levels of calcium and vitamin D present in the body. Both calcium and vitamin D play a vital role in bone health.
2. Improves exercise performance
Studies show that magnesium can help you optimize your workouts.
This mineral helps transport blood sugar to your muscles, providing them with the energy they need to perform at their best during your exercise routines.
Magnesium also helps the body get rid of lactate. During exercise, lactate can build up and cause you to feel fatigued. By expelling lactate, magnesium can help you maintain the energy level you need to successfully complete your workout.
Supplementing with this mineral can be especially valuable for athletes. It can also work to powerfully support the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions during their exercise routines.
In a study involving volleyball players, magnesium intake via supplementation resulted in notable improvements in physical performance. This was true even for players who weren’t previously deficient in this mineral.
3. Helps fight depression
It’s clear that magnesium impacts brain function. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that this mineral can be a valuable tool in fighting depression.
Low magnesium levels have been linked with an increased risk of depression. In one study involving 8,894 participants, a very clear link was established between low magnesium intake and depression, especially in younger adults.
In another study involving older depressed adults, 450 mg of magnesium taken daily was just as effective at improving mood as an antidepressant.
4. Lowers blood pressure
People with high blood pressure are usually given prescription drugs to treat the issue. Studies show that magnesium can work just as well in keeping blood pressure at healthy levels.
One study looked at people with high blood pressure who took 450 mg of magnesium each day. These participants experienced a notable decrease in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Research indicates that magnesium lowers blood pressure only in those who currently have high blood pressure. If your blood pressure levels are normal, magnesium won’t have the same effect.
5. Reduces inflammation
Chronic inflammation has been linked with a wide range of conditions, including everything from obesity to arthritis. It’s also a key driver in the aging process.
Research shows a link between low magnesium levels and chronic inflammation. Those who are obese or those who have a chronic condition that causes low-grade inflammation are often found to be magnesium-deficient.
In these cases, increased magnesium intake can reduce inflammation.
6. May prevent and relieve migraines
If you suffer from migraine headaches, you know how debilitating they can be. When a migraine hits, it can make you ultra-sensitive to lights and noise. It may even cause nausea and vomiting.
Some studies show that people who suffer from migraines are more likely than non-migraine patients to be deficient in magnesium. It’s estimated that magnesium deficiency is present in up to half of all migraine patients.
With this in mind, it’s not surprising to learn that magnesium has been effectively used to treat migraines. In a 2015 study, magnesium was more effective and fast-acting at relieving migraine pain than a commonly used medication.
7. Protects against type 2 diabetes
Research indicates that many people who suffer from type 2 diabetes have low levels of magnesium. Also, studies show that those with low magnesium intake are more likely develop diabetes.
Diabetes is linked with high blood sugar levels. The body relies on insulin to keep blood sugar levels under control. Magnesium plays a role in the process by which insulin is generated and distributed throughout the blood. Without enough magnesium, the body won’t have the support it needs to produce the insulin that can keep blood sugar levels in check.
By increasing your magnesium intake, you may be able to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. One study tracked more than 4,000 people over a span of 20 years. The data revealed that those with the highest magnesium intake were less likely than others in the study to develop type 2 diabetes,
8. Relieves PMS symptoms
Many women who are of childbearing age suffer from premenstrual syndrome (PMS). This condition can leave them feeling exhausted and irritable. It can also cause symptoms such as water retention and abdominal cramps.
Research indicates that magnesium works to relieve many common PMS symptoms. In a 1991 study, oral magnesium supplements were successful at relieving the mood changes that sometimes come with PMS.
9. Protects against strokes
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), here in the U.S., more than 795,000 people each year have a stroke. In 2016, one in every six deaths caused by heart disease was attributable to a stroke.
This condition is also a leading cause of major long-term disability. Strokes reduce mobility in more than half of all survivors who are 65 and older.
Research shows that by stepping up your intake of magnesium, you may be able to reduce your risk of a stroke. In a 2019 meta-analysis, it was established that for each 100 mg increase in daily magnesium intake, the risk of getting a stroke dropped by 2 percent.
You can up your magnesium intake by eating more foods that are rich in this mineral. In most cases, dietary magnesium is more bioavailable than magnesium found on oral supplements. This means your body will have an easier time accessing this mineral if it’s getting it from foods that are part of your daily diet.
The foods below are loaded with magnesium. We’ve included each food’s magnesium content, listed in mg.
- Spinach – 157 mg per cup cooked
- Pumpkin seeds – 156 mg per 1 oz handful
- Lima beans – 126 mg per cup cooked
- Tuna – 109 mg per 6 oz fillet
- Brown rice – 86 mg per cup
- Almonds – 77 mg per 1 oz handful
- Dark chocolate – 65 mpg per 1 oz square
- Avocado – 58 mg per avocado
- Non-fat yogurt – 47 mg per cup
- Bananas – 41 mg per cup sliced
Types of magnesium
If you’re looking to supplement with magnesium, you may be overwhelmed by the many different types of this mineral that are available. Here are some of the most common and useful types of supplemental magnesium:
1. Magnesium citrate
This type of magnesium is bound with citric acid, and it’s naturally found in citrus fruits. Studies suggest that it may be more easily absorbed by the body than many other forms of this mineral. It’s taken orally to boost low magnesium levels. At higher doses, it’s often used to treat constipation.
2. Magnesium chloride
This is a magnesium salt that includes chlorine, and it’s often sourced from sea water. Your body absorbs magnesium chloride quite easily, and it’s a great treatment for conditions such as low magnesium levels, constipation and heartburn. This type of magnesium may be taken orally or topically. When used topically, it can help ease muscle soreness.
3. Magnesium malate
This type of magnesium includes malic acid. Malic acid is found naturally in foods such as fruits and wine. Magnesium malate is readily absorbed by the body.
4. Magnesium L-threonate
This is essentially a mixture of magnesium and threonic acid. Threonic acid is a water-soluble substance that’s created when vitamin C is allowed to break down.
Magnesium L-threonate has been hailed for its brain-supporting benefits. It’s easily processed by the body, and it’s said to be the only form of magnesium that can penetrate the blood-brain barrier. Research indicates that this type of magnesium may be effective at improving memory.
5. Magnesium sulfate
When you mix magnesium, sulfur and oxygen, the result is magnesium sulfate. Epsom salt is another name for this type of magnesium. When taken orally, it can help treat constipation. Dissolve magnesium sulfate in bathwater to relieve muscles that are aching and sore.
6. Magnesium glycinate
What happens when you combine magnesium and the amino acid glycine? You get magnesium glycinate. Your body uses glycine to form protein. Foods such as fish, meat, beans and dairy are all sources of glycine.
Magnesium glycinate can be calming and soothing. It’s used to treat conditions such as anxiety, depression and insomnia.
Are you getting enough magnesium each day? If not, head to the grocery store to stock up on some magnesium-rich foods, or invest in a high-quality supplement.
If you’re looking for an easy way to include more high-magnesium foods in your diet, subscribe to Fresh N’ Lean. Our meal delivery service includes dishes that contain foods rich in magnesium, such as tuna and brown rice. We offer five different meal plans that cater to a variety of diets, and we conveniently deliver straight to your door.