Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral found in the human body and the second most prevalent electrolyte. It is responsible for over 300 biochemical reactions including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose regulation, and blood pressure control.

Magnesium is critical to the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats and energy production. It also plays an important role in transporting calcium and potassium ions across cell membranes, which is critical to the conduction of nerve impulses, contraction of muscles, and normal heart rhythm. During training and competition the body’s need for magnesium increases, as it is lost in sweat and urine.

Magnesium is also crucial to energy production, contributes to bone development, and is required for the synthesis of DNA, RNA, and the antioxidant glutathione – the master antioxidant and detoxifier of every cell in the body.

Along with calcium, chloride, phosphorus, and potassium, magnesium is an essential mineral required by the human body in substantial amounts. It also plays an important role in:

    • Preventing the calcification of soft tissue;
    • Electrolyte balance;
    • Serotonin production;
    • Blood pressure regulation.

Chronic stress by itself can deplete magnesium from the body. To make matters worse, chronic stress is frequently accompanied by excessive intake of saturated fat, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol as a sort of coping mechanism. Under these conditions magnesium can be depleted from the body at an accelerated rate.

Having a magnesium deficiency is often correlated with Metabolic Syndrome – a group of factors that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes – and is the most common mineral deficiency among diabetics. Magnesium and insulin work together to transport sugar in the body and a deficiency prevents the body from using sugar properly.

A magnesium deficiency primes the body for a deterioration of proper metabolic function, making every disease worse. Suboptimal magnesium levels have also been correlated with an increased risk of death from every type of disease.

The best way to detect a magnesium deficiency is to test the level found in red blood cells. The result of this test provides a more accurate result than testing serum levels of magnesium.

The functions of magnesium are so diverse that virtually every system in the body depends on it to operate properly.

What You Should Know About Magnesium

According to the USDA 68% of the U.S. population does not meet the Recommended Daily Allowance for magnesium. Despite its importance to physiologic function, many Americans experience functional deficiencies that go unnoticed.

Both strenuous training and competition can deplete the body of magnesium. It is estimated that athletes, and highly active individuals, need 10-20% more magnesium than the general population.

Modern Westernized diets are rich in grains and processed foods, which do not supply magnesium in sufficient enough quantities to meet an increased need. This is further compounded by the fact that foods rich in magnesium, such as leafy green vegetables and nuts, are not consumed in adequate quantities.

The body can healthfully withstand strenuous exercise and competition and the stress of every day life when magnesium is at optimal levels. When magnesium is deficient the combination of these stressors can severely impair physical performance, immune system function, and the ability to recover from injuries and illness.

Symptoms of low magnesium are listed below.

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Sleep disturbances (restless leg syndrome)
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Nervousness
  • Chronic fatigue and chronic pain syndromes
  • Depression
  • Leg cramps and heaviness in the legs
  • Migraines (over 50% of chronic migraine sufferers are deficient in magnesium)
  • Heart palpitations
  • Arrhythmia

What to Look for in a Magnesium Supplement

The amount of magnesium listed on a supplement label can be misleading. The amount of elemental magnesium is how much magnesium the supplement actually contains. It is not uncommon for supplement companies to list their products as having 500 mg or 1000 mg of magnesium. However, these products are typically referring to the magnesium and what it is bound to, such as a mineral salt, and not elemental magnesium alone.

It is not possible to know how much magnesium is actually present in a product if the amount of elemental magnesium is not listed. The average person needs approximately 400-600 mg of magnesium daily including dietary sources. Therefore, products that claim to contain 500 mg or 1000 mg of magnesium should automatically be suspect as being of inferior quality.

The body cannot absorb pure magnesium. It must be bound to something else so it can be transported in the bloodstream to exert its affects on different tissues. Products stating they contain 500 mg or 1000 mg of magnesium, do not list it as elemental magnesium, or what it is bound to are typically using low quality mineral salts.

When magnesium is bound to a mineral salt it is cheap to produce, poorly absorbed by the body, and generally works as antacids and laxatives. Magnesium supplements containing mineral salts like magnesium oxide or magnesium chloride have commonly been associated with gastrointestinal side effects such as diarrhea and bloating.

In high quality magnesium supplements the magnesium will be bound (chelated) to an amino acid. When magnesium is chelated to an amino acid it is better tolerated by the body, easily digested, and more readily absorbed. Below are amino acid chelates to look for.

  • Citrate
  • Malate
  • Citrate-malate
  • Bisglycinate
  • Threonate
  • Taurate
  • Fumarate
  • Glycerophosphate
  • Orotate

Summary and Recommendations

Magnesium is responsible for over 300 biochemical reactions and is required by the human body in substantial amounts. It is crucial to virtually every system in the body, including energy production, metabolic function, and muscle contraction.

The stressors of every day life, strenuous training, and overconsumption of caffeine, sugar, and alcohol deplete the body of magnesium. Modern grain-based diets are a poor source of magnesium and do not supply it in quantities that athletes and active individuals require.

The best way to detect a magnesium deficiency is to test the level found in red blood cells. The result of this test provides a more accurate result than testing serum levels of magnesium.

Testing the amount of magnesium found in red blood cells should be a routine test as low levels set the stage for further deterioration of metabolic health and make virtually every known disease worse.

The optimal range for red blood cell magnesium levels is 5.6-6.8 mg/dL.

Optimal dosage for magnesium supplementation is between 400-600 mg of elemental magnesium per day for most individuals. However, if a deficiency is present daily dosage could be as high as 1200 mg (elemental magnesium) daily.