You likely know magnesium is a mineral. But what exactly does it do for you? In short, a whole lot.“Magnesium helps maintain a healthy heart rate, so you literally can’t live without it,” says Kim Yawitz, R.D., gym owner of CrossFit 26 in St. Louis, Mo. “But heartbeat aside, magnesium plays a key role in more than 300 chemical reactions in the body. It’s involved in DNA repair, protein synthesis, bone health, fluid and electrolyte balance, bone health, energy production, and muscle contraction—just to name a few.”
As Yawitz explains, because magnesium plays a role in so many important bodily functions, it’s not surprising that a low dietary intake could lead to health problems. “Studies have linked low magnesium intake with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, inflammation, heart disease, stroke, migraine headaches, asthma, and colon cancer,” she says.
Before turning to magnesium supplements, tweaking your diet to contain more magnesium-rich foods may be a good move. “The best way to get enough magnesium is to eat lots of nuts, seeds, leafy greens, whole grains, and legumes,” says Yawitz. “But if you’re among the estimated 60 percent of adults who don’t do that, a supplement can help you to cover your bases.”
Unfortunately, as Yawitz shares, it’s actually pretty difficult to diagnose magnesium deficiency. “It doesn’t always show up on a lab test, because most magnesium is stored in the bones.”
As always, consult with a healthcare professional before adding a new supplement to your routine.
Magnesium supplement benefits
With that being said, the active set may particularly benefit from magnesium supplements. “There’s some evidence that athletes may need more magnesium than less active adults, possibly because the body uses more magnesium during exercise,” says Yawitz. “In one small study, magnesium supplements appeared to help reduce muscle damage after a multistage bike race. Overall, though, the research is mixed on whether supplements are helpful for exercise performance.”
In healthy adults, Yawitz also points out, there’s some evidence that magnesium supplements may improve sleep and mood in those prone to insomnia and depression.“In one meta-analysis, adults taking magnesium supplements fell asleep an average of 17 minutes faster and slept 16 minutes longer per night than those taking a placebo,” she says. “And in another large study, young adults taking magnesium reported better sleep quality than those who didn’t take it.” In yet another study, Yawitz comments, adults with mild to moderate depression saw significant improvements in depression and anxiety symptoms after taking magnesium supplements for just six weeks.
Taking magnesium supplement may be useful for those with chronic disease. “One meta-analysis also suggests that magnesium supplements could help reduce the odds of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and other chronic illnesses by reducing systemic inflammation,” says Yawitz.
How much magnesium do you actually need every day?
Healthy adult males require about 400 to 420 milligrams (mg) of magnesium per day, says Yawitz. “Your ideal supplement dose depends on how much you’re getting through your diet,” she says, adding that an app like Cronometer can help you estimate your daily intake, so you don’t overdo it on supplements (which can cause diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and other side effects).
“Regardless of dietary intake, I always suggest starting at a low dose of 100 to 150 milligrams (mg) per day and taking no more than 300 mg per day,” says Yawitz. “Keep in mind that certain medications—like antacids and laxatives—often contain magnesium,” she continues, stressing that you should check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting a supplement, especially if you take prescription or over-the-counter meds.
Below are six top-notch magnesium supplements selected by Yawitz and Amy Gorin, M.S., R.D.N, an inclusive plant-based dietitian and owner of Master the Media in Stamford, CT.
Magnesium Bisglycinate Powder
“I like to recommend this product because you can easily add it to a glass of water or 100% juice,” says Gorin, noting that this form of magnesium is well absorbed by the body. Echoing Yawitz, Gorin adds that “magnesium is so important, as the mineral activates about 300 enzymes in the body.”
This supplement contains 120 milligrams (mg) of magnesium glycinate per capsule. “It’s NSF Certified for Sport—making it a safe pick for competitive athletes—and the brand also has an expert panel of dietitians and nutritional pharmacologists for quality control,” says Yawitz.
“Magnesium L-threonate is a type of magnesium that has brain-health benefits—research suggests that it may help improve brain plasticity, which can have positive effects on memory, learning, and cognition,” says Gorin. FYI: This product was created by a team of scientists at MIT.
Magnesium Citrate Softgels
“Magnesium citrate is well absorbed by the body, making it a good choice,” says Gorin, emphasizing that magnesium is critical for so many things in our bodies, from muscle contraction to bone mineralization.
“Magnesium citrate is known to have a laxative effect, so I often recommend it to my clients who want to keep things moving,” explains Yawitz, who likes this formulation from Thorne which contains a blend of magnesium citrate and magnesium malate and is also third-party tested for quality.
Magnesium Glycinate Powder
“Magnesium capsules are convenient, but some contain more than you might need. Powders—like this one—allow you to experiment with your dosage and find what works best for you,” says Yawitz. This supplement powder is free of sugar, soy, dairy, yeast, gluten, and additives.
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