Magnesium is an essential nutrient, meaning that your body needs it for healthy functioning. It is found in significant quantities throughout the body and used for numerous purposes, including muscle relaxation, blood clotting, and the manufacture of ATP (adenosine triphosphate, the body's main energy molecule).
It has been called nature's calcium channel blocker. The idea refers to magnesium's ability to block calcium from entering muscle and heart cells. A group of prescription heart medications work in a similar way, although much more powerfully. This may be the basis for some of magnesium's effects when it is taken as a supplement in fairly high doses.
Requirements for magnesium increase as we grow and age. The official US and Canadian recommendations for daily intake are as follows:
- 0-6 months: 30 mg
- 7-12 months: 75 mg
- 1-3 years: 80 mg
- 4-8 years: 130 mg
- 9-13 years: 240 mg
- 14-18 years: 410 mg
- 19-30 years: 400 mg
- 31 years and older: 420 mg
- 9-13 years: 240 mg
- 14-18 years: 360 mg
- 19-30 years: 310 mg
- 31 years and older: 320 mg
- 18 years and younger: 400 mg
- 19-30 years: 350 mg
- 31-50 years: 360 mg
- 18 years and younger: 360 mg
- 19-30 years: 310 mg
- 31-50 years: 320 mg
: These recommendations refer to total intake from food plus supplements. The average diet provides a daily intake of magnesium very close to these amounts.
is very high in magnesium. Other good sources include blackstrap molasses, brewer's yeast (not to be confused with nutritional yeast), and buckwheat. The National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements provides this list of other foods that contain magnesium:
||% Daily Value
|Almonds, dry roasted
|Spinach, frozen, cooked
|Raisin bran cereal
|Cashews, dry roasted
|Mixed nuts, dry roasted
|Bran flakes cereal
|Shredded wheat cereal
|Fortified instant oatmeal
|Peanuts, dry roasted
|Baked potato (with skin)
|Blackeyed peas, cooked
|Pinto beans, cooked
|Brown rice, cooked
|Vegetarian baked beans
|Kidney beans, canned
In the United States, the average dietary intake of magnesium is lower than the recommended daily allowance; however, it is unclear whether this truly indicates deficiency, or if the recommended allowance is too high.
supplements, certain types of diuretics (
, but not
, and the medications cisplatin and
have been reported to reduce the body's level of magnesium or increase magnesium requirements.
If you are taking
supplements, you may receive greater benefit from them if you take extra magnesium as well.
While it is sometimes said that
interferes with magnesium absorption, this effect is apparently too small to have a significant effect on overall magnesium status.
Preliminary double-blind studies suggest that regular use of magnesium supplements may help prevent
hearing loss caused by exposure to loud noises,
and help treat
high blood pressure
21,22pregnancy-induced leg cramps
premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
(including menstrual migraines).
are often deficient in magnesium,
and according to some (but not all) studies, magnesium supplementation may enhance blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity in people with diabetes or prediabetic conditions.
Magnesium may also help control blood pressure in people with both
One study found that magnesium supplements might be helpful for people with
mitral valve prolapse
who also have low levels of magnesium in the blood.
There is some evidence that magnesium may decrease the
risk caused by hydrogenated oils, the margarine-like fats found in many junk foods.
Studies on magnesium supplements for improving
have returned contradictory results.
Magnesium supplements do not appear to be very helpful, if at all, for preventing
(Magnesium, taken by injection rather than orally, however, is probably helpful for
preeclampsia that already exists.
Magnesium is sometimes said to decrease symptoms of
restless legs syndrome
, but the evidence that it works consists solely of
trials without a placebo group, and such studies are not trustworthy.
(For information on why this is so, see
Why Does This Database Rely on Double-blind Studies?
) Very weak evidence hints at possible benefits for
It is often said that magnesium supplements are essential for preventing or treating
, but there is only minimal supporting evidence for this claim.
Magnesium has also been suggested as a treatment for
attention deficit disorder
, low HDL ("good")
. However, there is virtually no evidence at all that it is helpful for any of these conditions.
Magnesium is sometimes advocated for stabilizing the heart after a
, but one study actually found that use of magnesium slighltly increased risk of sudden death, repeat heart attack, or need for bypass surgery in the year following the initial heart attack.
However, magnesium may be helpful in
congestive heart failure
In a well-designed trial involving 79 patients with severe congestive heart failure, magnesium (as magnesium orotate) significantly improved survival and clinical symptoms after one year compared to a placebo.
Despite some early enthusiasm, combination therapy with
and magnesium has not been found helpful in
Alternative medical literature frequently mentions magnesium as a treatment for
However, this idea seems to be based primarily on the use of intravenous magnesium as an emergency treatment for asthma. When you take something by mouth, it's a very different matter from having it injected into your veins. Studies of oral magnesium for asthma have shown more negative than positive results.
Inhaled, aerosolized magnesium, however, has shown some promise.
Although magnesium is sometimes mentioned as a treatment to help keep the heart beating normally, a 6-month, double-blind trial of 170 people did not find it effective for preventing a particular
abnormality called atrial fibrillation.
However, a small double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found that magnesium supplements reduced episodes of arrhythmia in individuals with
congestive heart failure (CHF)
One possible explanation: People with congestive heart failure often take drugs (
) that deplete magnesium. The combination of magnesium deficiency with
(another drug given for CHF) may cause arrhythmias.
Thus, it is possible that the benefits seen here were caused by correction of that depletion.
One double-blind, placebo-controlled study failed to find magnesium helpful in
What Is the Scientific Evidence for Magnesium?
A double-blind study found that regular use of magnesium helps prevent
. In this 12-week trial, 81 people with recurrent migraines were given either 600 mg of magnesium daily or placebo.
By the last 3 weeks of the study, the treated group's migraines had been reduced by 41.6%, compared to a reduction of 15.8% in the placebo group. The only side effects observed were diarrhea (in about one-fifth of the participants) and, less often, digestive irritation.
Similar results have been seen in other smaller double-blind studies.
One study found no benefit,
but it has been criticized on many significant points, including using an excessively strict definition of what constituted benefit.
Noise-related Hearing Loss
One double-blind, placebo-controlled study on 300 military recruits suggests that 167 mg of magnesium daily can prevent
due to exposure to high-volume noise.
Magnesium inhibits the growth of calcium oxalate stones in the test tube
and decreases stone formation in rats.
However, human studies have had mixed results. In one 2-year open study, 56 people taking magnesium hydroxide had fewer recurrences of
than 34 people not given magnesium.
In contrast, a double-blind (and, hence, more reliable) study of 124 people found that magnesium hydroxide was essentially no more effective than placebo.
Magnesium works with calcium and potassium to regulate
. Several studies suggest that magnesium supplements can reduce blood pressure in people with hypertension,
although some studies have not shown this.
In one study, 82 people (aged 40-75 years old) with diabetes, high blood pressure, and low levels of magnesium were randomized to receive 2.5 g of magnesium chloride or placebo for 4 months.
Those in the treatment group had lower blood pressure readings compared to those in the control group.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 187 people with
, 6 months of treatment with magnesium at a dose of 730 mg daily improved exercise tolerance and enhanced overall quality of life.
Benefits were also seen in a similar, smaller double-blind trial.
After a Heart Attack
In a 1-year, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 468 individuals who had just experienced a
, use of a magnesium supplement at a dose of 360 mg daily failed to prevent heart-related events (defined as heart attack, sudden cardiac death, or need for cardiac bypass), and actually may have increased the risk slightly.
A 6-month, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 50 women with
found that treatment with magnesium significantly improved symptoms.
The researchers reported evidence of reduced levels of prostaglandin F
alpha, a hormone-like substance involved in pain and inflammation.
Similarly positive results were seen in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 21 women.
Premenstrual Syndrome Symptoms
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 32 women found that magnesium taken from day 15 of the menstrual cycle to the onset of menstrual flow could significantly improve
symptoms, specifically mood changes.
Another small double-blind preliminary study found that regular use of magnesium could reduce symptoms of PMS-related fluid retention.
In this study, 38 women were given magnesium or placebo for 2 months. The results showed no effect after one cycle, but by the end of two cycles, magnesium significantly reduced weight gain, swelling of extremities, breast tenderness, and abdominal bloating.
In addition, one small double-blind study (20 participants) found that magnesium supplementation can help prevent menstrual migraines.
Preliminary evidence suggests that the combination of magnesium and
might be more effective than either treatment alone.
Pregnancy-induced Leg Cramps
women frequently experience painful leg cramping. One double-blind trial of 73 pregnant women found that 3 weeks of magnesium supplements significantly reduced leg cramps as compared to placebo.
The US government has set the following upper limits for use of magnesium supplements:
- 1-3 years: 65 mg
- 4-8 years: 110 mg
: 350 mg
Pregnant or Nursing Women
: 350 mg
In general, magnesium appears to be quite safe when taken at or below recommended dosages. The most common complaint is loose stools. However, people with severe kidney or heart disease should not take magnesium (or any other supplement) except on the advice of a physician. Maximum safe dosages have not been established for young children. There has been one case of death caused by excessive use of magnesium supplements in a developmentally and physically disabled child.
Pregnant or nursing women should not exceed the nutritional dosages presented under
If taken at the same time, magnesium can interfere with the absorption of antibiotics in the
and, possibly, the drug
Also, when combined with
drugs in the sulfonylurea family, magnesium may cause blood sugar levels to fall more than expected.