Toggle Nav

The Benefits of Magnesium

woman runner in pink shirt sitting on stairs
Highlights
  • Magnesium is an essential mineral that influences hundreds of vital physiological processes related to heart, nervous system, and muscle function
  • Despite its importance, roughly two thirds of Americans do not consume the recommended amount of daily magnesium
  • Chelated magnesium supplements are an effective way to meet your daily magnesium needs by maximizing absorbability and usability

Most people don’t give a lot of thought to their magnesium intake—but they should. Magnesium is an essential mineral, meaning that the human body requires it to maintain life-sustaining functions, but can’t synthesize it on its own. As the fourth most abundant mineral in the body, magnesium contributes to over 600 biochemical reactions affecting the heart, bones, and muscular health.1 In addition to its well-established roles in energy production, cell growth, protein synthesis, and blood sugar balance,25 emerging research suggests that magnesium may also play a role in the management of stress and a healthy mood (something we could all benefit from these days, no?)6

Unfortunately, studies also show that 68% of American adults consume less than the recommended amount of daily magnesium.7 In effect, this means that roughly 2 out of every 3 Americans are not receiving the essential nutritional support they need for critical biochemical and physiological bodily functions. Not great, considering the importance of foundational health these days.

Fortunately, this article is here to help. Keep reading to learn more about the important health benefits of magnesium, and how to help ensure you are getting the amount you need to maintain optimal health and wellness. 

Health Mechanisms and Benefits of Magnesium

Amongst its many physiological roles in the human body, magnesium is perhaps most well-known for its contributions to muscle function and energy production. Numerous studies find that consuming sufficient magnesium facilitates critical muscle-related processes including muscle contraction, exercise performance, glucose availability, and the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP).810 Often referred to as the “energy currency of the cell”, ATP is an organic compound found in all forms of life, and is the primary source of energy in cells.11 Notably, because ATP must be bound to a magnesium ion in order to be biologically activated, what is commonly referred to as ATP is often actually Mg-ATP. Incidentally, this means magnesium also plays a key role in the synthesis of DNA and RNA—arguably the two most important molecules in cell biology.12 (So yeah, magnesium is kind of a big deal). 

But that’s not all. In addition to its mechanisms for muscle function and energy production, magnesium is also critical for nervous system and heart health. For example, magnesium has been shown to:  

  • Influence the release of neurotransmitters and the plasticity (malleability) of neuronal synapses13
  • Decrease the potential for neuronal damage due to overstimulation14,15
  • Enhance short- and long-term memory16
  • Modulate blood pressure and nerve conduction 17,18
  • Regulate heart rhythm and platelet activity19

Benefits for Mood and Mental Health

Yet another way that magnesium is believed to benefit overall wellness is by promoting positive mental health.6 More specifically, studies find a negative correlation between magnesium levels and symptoms of negative mood, stress, and anxiety, and positive correlations between magnesium intake and greater well-being.2023 In other words, these studies indicate that the less magnesium people consume, the more likely they are to experience symptoms of suboptimal mental health, whereas the more magnesium people consume, the more likely they are to experience normal or positive mental well-being. 

What’s more, research also suggests that stress can actually deplete your magnesium reserves, further compounding most American’s poor magnesium intake and prevalence of deficiency.24 (Also not great, considering the stressful global pandemic we are facing). 

But why? According to a recent review of the literature, magnesium’s role in regulating mood and stress levels likely has to do with its effects on the body’s physiological response to stress.6 For example, magnesium is believed to regulate the activity of the body’s stress response system and influence other neurological pathways associated with fear and anxiety.2528 Although more high-quality clinical research is needed to further evaluate the relationship between mood and magnesium intake, the evidence thus far does suggest a significant relationship between magnesium status and mental health.6

Getting Sufficient Magnesium: Dietary Sources and Supplements 

So how can you get the essential magnesium you need to support all of these important physiological processes? As is the case with most vitamins and nutrients, the best way to meet your recommended daily intake of magnesium (approximately 400-420 mg/day for men, and 310-320 mg /day for women) is through dietary sources.29 Foods providing relatively high levels of magnesium include pumpkin seeds, green leafy vegetables, unrefined grains, nuts (e.g., cashews, almonds), salmon, and avocado.30 However, given that it can be difficult to obtain sufficient magnesium intake from food alone, dietary supplements are often recommended.1

Magnesium supplements are available in a variety of forms and generally well-tolerated. When choosing a magnesium supplement, it is important to recognize that the absorption of different magnesium forms and supplements can vary tremendously. For example, forms of magnesium that dissolve well in liquid (e.g., magnesium in the aspartate, citrate, and taurate forms) are more completely absorbed in the gut than less soluble forms, such as magnesium sulfate or magnesium oxide.3135

Another variable to consider is whether or not the mineral is being provided in a chelated form, which is often more effective for restoring nutrient deficiencies than a non-chelated supplement.36,37

Chelated Magnesium: What is it and what are the benefits?

You may have heard of “chelated minerals”, but if you’re like most people, you probably don’t know how they differ from non-chelated minerals, or why “chelates” are important. Not to worry though—we’re here to clarify.

For starters, a chelate is a chemical compound that is formed when a metal ion (a mineral) is combined with an organic molecule. In fact, the word chelation (from the Greek word for “claw”) refers to “holding” or “grabbing” a mineral by a special type of chemical bonding. This process of binding a mineral with an organic molecule (typically an amino acid) transforms the resulting compound into a form that can pass more easily through the intestinal wall and into the blood—resulting in increased bioavailability of the mineral.38

Put more simply, the chelation process transforms the mineral into a form that the body can absorb more efficiently, and thus utilize to a greater extent. 

For example, studies with magnesium aspartate (a chelate containing one magnesium molecule and two aspartic acid molecules) have demonstrated absorption rates up to 70%, which is markedly higher than other forms of magnesium.32,33 (As a reference point, only 30 to 50% of the magnesium consumed from food is actually absorbed in the intestine, where it can be utilized by the body).1 Also, unlike other forms of non-chelated magnesium, magnesium aspartate’s high retention in the bloodstream makes it especially effective for resolving magnesium deficiency.36,37

Further evidence for the superior absorbability of chelated magnesium comes from studies demonstrating that magnesium taurate (a chelate with one magnesium molecule bound to two taurine molecules) is rapidly absorbed, able to pass through the blood-brain barrier, and more bioavailable than other non-chelated magnesium forms.39 Also, clinical studies with magnesium glycinate (a chelate containing one magnesium molecule combined with glycine molecules) suggest that this chelated form can be absorbed as an intact compound, making it preferable to non-chelated forms of magnesium for certain individuals.40

Conclusion 

In sum, two out of every three Americans are likely not enjoying optimal foundational health due to insufficient magnesium intake and would benefit from supplementation. A significant advantage of chelated magnesium supplements is that they mimic the body’s natural chelation process to improve the stability and bioavailability of the mineral.41 This allows the magnesium to be more available and efficiently utilized by the body in the hundreds of biochemical reactions for which it is essential. We encourage you to speak with a health professional about whether magnesium supplementation is right for you. 

Gina Jaeger, PhD is a Developmental Specialist and Lead Research Writer for Nordic Naturals. She holds a doctorate in Human Development, and has published several research articles on children's cognitive development. Gina enjoys studying and educating others on strategies for optimizing health and wellness throughout the lifespan.

Adenosine triphosphate: An organic compound found in all forms of life that serves as the primary source of energy of cells. It is a nucleotide consisting of a purine base (adenine), a sugar (ribose), and a chain of three phosphate groups bound to ribose.

Amino acid: An organic compound characterized by having a carboxyl group, amino group, and side-chain attached to a central carbon atom; considered to be the building blocks of peptides and proteins.

Chelate: A chemical compound that is formed when a metal ion (a mineral) is combined with an organic molecule.

DNA: Short for deoxyribonucleic acid, is the molecule that contains the genetic code for organisms. It consists of two strands that wind around one another to form a “double helix”.

Ion: An atom that bears an electrical charge (either positive or negative) because the number of electrons do not equal the number of protons in the atom.

Organic: Of, relating to, or containing carbon compounds.

RNA: Short for ribonucleic acid, is a molecule used in key metabolic processes and necessary for all steps of protein synthesis in living cells. Unlike double-stranded DNA, RNA consists of a single strand of nucleotides.

1. De Baaij JHF, et al. Physiol Rev. 2015. 95: p. 1–46.
2. George GA, Heaton FW. Int J Biochem. 1978. 9(6): p. 421-5.
3. Littlefield, NA et al. Cell Biol Toxicol. 1991. 7(3): p. 203-14.
4. Garfinkel L, Garfinkel D. Magnesium. 1985. 4(2-3): p. 60-72.
5. Dorup I, Clausen T. Br J Nutr. 1991. 66(3): p. 493-504.
6. Boyle NB, et al. Nutrients. 2017. 9(5): p. E429.
7. King DE, et al. J Am Coll Nutr. 2005. 243: p. 166–171.
8. Trenkwalder C, et al. Mov Disord. 2008. 23(16): p. 2267-302.
9. Zhang Y, et al. Magnesium. 1987. 6(1): p. 28-33.
10. Mildvan AS. Magnesium. 1987. 6(1): p. 28-33.
11. Potter JD, et al. Fed Proc. 1981. 40(12): p. 2653-6.
12. Vernon WB. Magnesium. 1988. 7(5-6): p. 234–248.
13. Slutsky I, et al. Neuron. 2004. 44(5): p. 835-49.
14. Johnson JW, Ascher P. Biophys J. 1990. 57(5): p. 1085-90.
15. Iseri LT, French, JH. Am Heart J. 1984. 108(1): p. 188-93.
16. Billard JM. Magnes Res, 2006. 19(3): p. 199-215.
17. Mert T, et al. Pol J Pharmacol. 2003. 55(1): p. 25-30.
18. Newhouse IJ, Finstad EW. Clin J Sport Med. 2000. 10(3): p. 195-200.
19. Altura BM, Altura BT. Magnesium. 1985. 4(5-6): p. 245-71.
20. Serefko A, et al. Magnes Res. 2016. 29(3): p. 112–119.
21. Tarleton EK, et al. PLoS One. 2017. 12(6):e0180067.
22. Derom, ML et al. Nutr Neurosci. 2013. 165, 191–206.
23. Jacka FN, et al. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2009. 43(1): p. 45–52.
24. Cuciureanu MD, Vink R. Magnesium in the Central Nervous System, 2011. University of Adelaide Press.
25. Murck H. Nutritional Neuroscience. 2002. 5(6): p. 375-389.
26. Held K, et al. Pharmacopsychiatry. 2002. 354: p. 135–143.
27. Masugi M, et al. J. Neurosci. 1999, 193, 955–963. 53.
28. Niswender CM. Annu Rev Pharmacol Toxicol. 2010. 50: p. 295–322.
29. Institute of Medicine (IOM). Food and Nutrition Board. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1997.
30. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. Food Data Central, 2019.
31. Ranade VV, Somberg JC. Am J Ther. 2001. 8: p. 345-57.
32. Muhlbauer B, et al. Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 1991. 40(4): p. 437-8.
33. Firoz M, Graber M. Magnes Res. 2001. 14(4): p. 257-62.
34. Walker AF, et al. Magnes Res. 2003. 16:183-91.
35. Ates M, et al. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2019.
36. Spasov AA, et al. Vestn Ross Akad Med Nauk. 2010. (2): p. 29-37.
37. Aguilar F, et al. EFSA Journal. 2008. 883: p. 2-23.
38. Ashmead, HD. Amino acid chelation in human and animal nutrition, 2012. Taylor & Francis Inc.
39. Uysal N, et al. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2019. 187(1): p. 128-136.
40. Schuette SA, et al. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 1994. 18(5): p. 430-5.
41. Blaine J, et al. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2015. 10(7): p. 1257–1272.