Magnesium is the fourth most common mineral in our bodies and drives more than 300 enzymatic processes. It helps regulate muscle contractions, supports our bones, and is directly involved in how our bodies produce cellular energy. There’s a lot of science describing the benefits of magnesium for human health. Taking a look at some noteworthy studies will help to understand just how important magnesium is for optimal health.
Magnesium’s role in many hundreds of enzymatic processes makes it a likely influence for almost every aspect of our health. Understanding the benefits of magnesium to human health is like understanding the benefits of steel to a car. Without steel; it’s not that cars wouldn’t just run poorly—we couldn’t build them in the first place! When we don’t get enough magnesium a cascade of adverse events start. There are many different forms of magnesium, especially among magnesium supplements. While these may all offer different experiences they’re unified in their ability to help optimize our overall magnesium levels. Understanding the many benefits of magnesium isn’t easy but there’s a lot of research to help.
Benefits of Magnesium
The benefits of magnesium for the human body are a near-endless list. Researchers around the world have demonstrated its role in helping support healthy muscular function, holistic nutrition, and preventing Type 2 Diabetes. Magnesium plays a vital role in how our bodies synthesize DNA and RNA for the creation of new cellular structures and also helps those cells utilize the energy they need to perform a range of vital tasks. The importance of magnesium cannot be overstated. We’re still discovering new and exciting ways in which magnesium support optimal health. Below you’ll find an overview of well-supported research that describes the benefits of magnesium.
Magnesium is an essential mineral and is found in large amounts in our skeletal structures, along with other minerals such as phosphorus and calcium. Several studies have been completed that indicate less than adequate levels of daily magnesium may lead to bone density related conditions such as osteoporosis. Studies among post-menopausal women have shown the most significant increases in bone mass density are seen in those with inadequate magnesium intake. However, significant increases are present among those already within or near RDA range. Below are summaries of several related studies to provide a better idea of the conditions from which these conclusions were drawn.
Study 1: Higher Magnesium Levels Linked to Higher Bone Mass Density
This study was conducted on 132 women with a diagnosis of postmenopausal osteoporosis and 81 postmenopausal women without. Researchers assessed bone density via X-ray and measured serum levels of magnesium. Researchers noted that patients with osteoporosis showed an average magnesium serum level that was significantly lower than those without osteoporosis. Researchers concluded that chronically-low levels of magnesium may contribute to the development of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.
Source: Clinical Interventions in Aging
Study 2: Lower Magnesium Intake Causes Lower Bone Mass Density
This cohort analysis considered the conditions of more than 70,000 postmenopausal women to evaluate the correlation between their daily magnesium intake, bone mass density, and bone fracture incident rates. Researchers estimated daily magnesium intake from questionnaires, accounting for reported supplementation. Hip fractures were confirmed through medical records and bone density testing was done for a little over 4500 participants. This study found that participants consuming greater than 422.5mg/day magnesium compared to those consuming less than 206.5 mg/day had 3% higher bone densities in their hips and 2% in the whole body. Researchers concluded that magnesium clearly correlates to higher bone densities, but not necessarily fewer fractures.
Study 3: Magnesium Supplementation Really Helps in When Lower RDA Present
This study was conducted at the Clinical Research Centers at Yale University’s School of Medicine. Researchers investigated the bone density of 120 healthy Caucasian girls, ages 8 to 14. Based on their daily magnesium intake, those receiving less than 220mg/day were considered for the study. Qualifying participants were given 300mg elemental magnesium (effective dose) per day, for 12 months to assess the impact on bone density. At the end of this study, researchers noted that those in the test group saw a significant increase in hip area bone density, slightly increase (but not significant) spinal bone density, and unchanged serum magnesium levels. In other words, magnesium supplementation among those receiving inadequate magnesium from their diets is likely to improve bone mass density.
Blood Pressure & Hypertension
There are a lot of studies demonstrating the positive impact magnesium supplements have on blood pressure. These studies range from single-group studies to large-scale meta-analysis of many other related studies. Magnesium shows a dose-dependent relationship with lower blood pressure and also shows potential benefit used as both acute and chronic therapies.
In other words, magnesium may help lower blood pressure on a regular basis and may be useful in treating acute episodes of hypertension. Some researchers note that, among several related studies, there seems to be evidence of disproportionate effect size between those responding well to magnesium and those responding less so. In other words, when magnesium works it really works. Below you’ll find some discussion on studies that accurately represent the benefits of magnesium in lowering blood pressure.
Study 1: Magnesium Lowers Blood pressure in Post Workout Analysis
This study has been used to describe the increase in strength demonstrated during workouts, following magnesium supplementation. Participants also demonstrated a significant lowering of blood pressure as well. This double-blinded, placebo-controlled, cross-over study compared the effects of chronic vs. acute magnesium supplementation on the recorded strength performance and blood pressure of resistance training.
Subjects given acute doses of magnesium (300mg 4 hours before workout) showed a significant decrease in Systolic and Diastolic blood pressures. It’s worth noting that similar decreases were not of a significant amount in the group receiving chronic magnesium supplementation (300mg in 4 divided doses throughout the day.) In other words, researchers found that taking high doses of magnesium may lower blood pressure significantly.
Study 2: Meta-Analysis Shows Magnesium Causes Significant Reduction in Blood Pressure
This analysis, published in the August 2016 edition of Hypertension, examined the results of 34 relevant publications to better describe the benefits of magnesium in lowering blood pressure. In total, 1010 participants receiving magnesium supplementation and 1018 receiving placebos were analyzed. After bringing everything together for comparison, researchers found a significant correlation between magnesium supplementation and the lowering of both systolic and diastolic blood pressures.
Researchers also found that magnesium supplementation at 200mg/day for 1 month was sufficient to elicit a significant increase in measured serum magnesium. Serum magnesium is regarded as inferior to RGB testing, but still a useable metric for gauging holistic magnesium presence. Researchers also noted that higher doses, for longer periods, were needed to increase serum levels to higher amounts. This illustrates a dose-dependent correlation between magnesium supplements and overall serum magnesium level.
That might sound obvious, but not all supplements stick around when taken! Overall, this analysis shows strong evidence that doses of magnesium supplements of 200mg/day and more are able to cause a significant reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Study 3: Magnesium Lowers Blood Pressure Among Patients Receiving Hypertension Medication
This meta-analysis took into consideration 44 human studies involving magnesium supplementation for hypertension. Qualifying individuals showed a measured systolic blood pressure of 155mmHg, which resulted in 135 total qualifying subjects. Researchers found that magnesium supplementation was able to cause a significant (15mmHG) drop in systolic blood pressure and a significant drop in diastolic blood pressure (10.9mmHg.)
Researchers also noted that, even among individuals not meeting the blood pressure levels to qualify as hypertensive, magnesium supplementation was able to provide similar effects but not as significant as those responding the best. Researchers phrased this phenomenon as having the potential to “mask strong effects of Mg treatment in some subjects.” In other words, people that respond to magnesium for blood pressure reduction typically do so either really well or only slightly.
Source: Magnesium Research
Study 4: Meta-Analysis Finds Magnesium Provides Dose-Dependent Reduction in Blood Pressure
This analysis considered 20 separate clinical studies including more than 1200 patients. Each study provided data on measured magnesium, blood pressure, and the amount of supplemental magnesium administered. Researchers found that for each 243mg (10mmol) increase of magnesium, a 4.3mm/Hg drop in systolic blood pressure was observed. This suggests that magnesium supplementation may help those wishing to lower their blood pressure by more natural means.
Source: American Journal of Hypertension
Athletic & Muscle Performance
Many studies have investigated the impact of magnesium supplementation on athletic performance. In general, magnesium has a larger impact on physical strength and endurance among individuals with lower baseline magnesium levels. These are those whom as likelier to be deficient in magnesium.
However, there has been at least one study to demonstrate that magnesium can boost the physical performance of individuals already receiving adequate magnesium from dietary sources. Another interesting observation is that a relatively high dose of pre-workout magnesium supplementation (~80% RDA) can cause significant increases in strength. Below are summaries of some related studies assessing the benefits of magnesium in physical performance.
Study 1: Pre-workout Magnesium Provides Significant Increase in Strength
This study was designed to measure the difference between regular magnesium supplementation vs. pre-workout magnesium supplementation on overall strength during training. Researchers gave participants 300mg magnesium citrate in two separate ways. The first way, designed to mimic regular magnesium use, administered four 75mg magnesium citrate capsules evenly throughout non-testing days.
The second method gave participants four 75mg capsules 3 hours before fitness testing. The group receiving the pre-workout magnesium dosage saw a significant improvement in overall strength, measured by 80% bench press max, until exhaustion. The daily magnesium group saw only a slight improvement compared to placebo groups. This study suggests that high-dose magnesium is an effective pre-workout supplementation method for improving overall strength.
Study 2: Regular Magnesium Oxide Supplementation Improves Physical Performance
This study was conducted among 139 healthy women, of an average age of 71 years, to assess the impact of regular supplementation of magnesium oxide on physical performance. The treatment group received 300mg magnesium oxide per day over the course of 12 weeks. Researchers used a physical performance test routine, as well as grip strength test, to measure the impact of the magnesium oxide.
After the twelve weeks of supplementation, members of the treatment group demonstrated significant improvements in all measured assessments. Researchers noted that improvements were more profound in participants with a dietary intake of magnesium below the recommended daily allowance (RDA.) This study reinforces the notion that magnesium has a favorable impact on physical performance and also that magnesium oxide is an efficacious form of magnesium to be used for supplementation.
The 70+ age group, both male and female, are statistically more likely to not meet the RDA for magnesium. The results of this study were likely more pronounced than would be seen in other age groups. The researchers own observations of more profound results among participants in the treatment group with a lower daily intake of dietary magnesium seem to support this. In other words, younger people might not see as profound an impact.
Study 3: Improved Physical Performance of Athletes Without Existing Magnesium Deficiency
This study was designed to measure the impact of magnesium supplementation on physical performance of athletes that already received adequate magnesium. Researchers assessed the impact of a 350mg/day dose of magnesium, continued for four weeks, on the physical performance of professional male volleyball players. RBC, serum, and urinary levels of magnesium were tested to assess and monitor the magnesium levels of each participant.
Athletes in the test group demonstrated significantly higher performance ability as well as significantly lower lactic acid production. In other words, they were able to perform better and perform longer. This study was important because it illustrated that magnesium improves athletic performance among individuals that already receive enough magnesium.
Source: Journal of Sports Sciences
Metabolic Syndrome & Diabetes
Metabolic Syndrome is characterized by several biomarkers such as fasting blood sugar levels, blood triglyceride levels, increased blood pressure, increased abdominal fat, and several others. Together, these symptoms serve as diagnostic measures to help predict and prevent health conditions such as heart attack, stroke, and diabetes. Magnesium has been studied for its benefit in lowering and stabilizing several biomarkers characteristic of metabolic syndrome. It’s also proven effective as a predictive measure of Type 2 Diabetes. There is considerable evidence to describe magnesium’s favorable role in such cases. Below you’ll find a brief discussion of several studies that describe as much.
Study 1: Magnesium Lowers Fasting Blood Sugar Levels
This study considered the effect of magnesium supplementation on subjects of normal body weight, but poor metabolic measures. In other words, people that had blood pressure and blood sugar levels similar to those of people that were obese. This randomized, placebo-controlled trial administered 382 mg/d magnesium for four months. Researchers found magnesium treatment to lower fasting blood sugar levels by 12% and fasting triglyceride levels by nearly 50%. Additionally, as in many other such studies, magnesium supplementation was shown to cause significant reductions in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure as well. In our opinion, this study is representative of magnesium’s potential as an early therapy for metabolic disorder before conventional treatments such as statins or blood pressure medications are warranted.
Source: Archives of Medical Research
Study 2: Low Levels of Magnesium Found in Patients with Metabolic Syndrome
This study analyzed data collected from the 2007-2008 Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (KNHANES) to assess relationships between mineral deficiencies and metabolic syndrome. Intake levels of magnesium, manganese and copper were all considered for their relationship with metabolic syndrome. In total, 540 men and 748 women met criteria to qualify a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome. Researchers found significant correlations between overall dietary intake of magnesium for risk of metabolic syndrome in both men and women. On average, those with qualifying biomarkers of metabolic syndrome consumed, on average, 20mg less dietary magnesium per day. Researchers also found similar relationships for Copper among men and women, and manganese in women (but not men.) The results of this study suggest a potential link between the lower dietary intake levels of certain minerals, including magnesium, and the development of metabolic syndrome.
Study 3: Higher Dietary Magnesium Intake Lowers Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
This meta-analysis considered nearly 300,000 cases where magnesium intake from dietary sources and/or supplementation where diabetic status was verifiable. All totaled, this encompassed consideration of seven unique studies. Researchers found a negative correlation between magnesium levels and a Type 2 Diabetes in all studies but one. Researchers noted that an increase of magnesium intake by 100mg per day was associated with a 15% decreased risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Researchers noted that results for similar for amounts of dietary magnesium and total magnesium (accounting for magnesium supplementation.) In our opinion, this is pretty strong evidence of sufficient daily magnesium intake lowering the risk of Type 2 Diabetes.
Source: Journal of Internal Medicine
Study 4: Magnesium & Cereal Fiber Lower Risk of Stroke
In this study, researchers assessed more than 40,000 United States men aged 40 to 70 without any existing diagnosis of heart attack, stroke, or diabetes. Each participant was given a food frequency questionnaire to assess typically dietary intake. Eight years later, researchers followed up to assess correlations between the intake of potassium, magnesium, calcium, and fiber and stroke. Researchers found a significant connection between diets higher in fiber, calcium, or magnesium, all to be associated with a lowered risk of stroke.
Study 5: Higher Levels of Serum Magnesium Correlate with Lower Risk of Heart Related Issues
Researchers analyzed over 500,000 patients from 19 different clinical studies where data from cardiovascular health and magnesium sufficiency was recorded. After analyzing all these data, researchers found a significant inverse correlation between cardiovascular risk and magnesium levels. In other words, people with higher levels of tested magnesium had a lower risk of suffering heart attacks or having heart-related medical issues. The higher the magnesium levels, the lower the risk. Researchers noted the highest reduction of cardiovascular event risk was found when daily magnesium intake was increased from 150mg/day to 400mg/day.
Source: PLOS One
Magnesium holds many benefits, if for no other reason than it’s widespread role as an enzymatic precursor. Many of these benefits have been narrowed to have particular benefit for cognitive health in areas such as learning and memory, age-related cognitive decline, and even the reduction of migraines. Magnesium Threonate is commonly marketed as the defacto “brain magnesium” but the data to separate that form from others, at least in terms of being the most beneficial, aren’t robust. Below are some selective discussions of studies examining the cognitive benefits of magnesium.
Study 1: High-Dose Magnesium Reduces Migraine Frequency
This study observed the impact of 600mg/day dosage of magnesium, for 12 weeks, on the frequency of migraines. Researchers analyzed 81 patients aged 18-65 years with a minimum of 3.6 migraines per month (reported, in line with the International Headache Society migraine diagnostic guidelines). In the final week of study, the treatment group reported a 40% reduction in migraine frequency compared to a reported 16% by the placebo group. Researchers noted the intensity of attacks among those receiving the magnesium treatment tended to be less severe, though not enough to be clinically significant. The only noted side effects were diarrhea and “gastric irritation.” It’s worth noting that researchers used an uncommon type of magnesium in this study, named trimagnesium dicitrate. This study paints a favorable impression of magnesium as an effective preventative treatment for migraine headaches.
Study 2: Magnesium Therapy Treats Cluster Headaches of Those with Magnesium Deficiency
In a study of 22 patients suffering from cluster headaches, researchers investigated the effect of IV magnesium therapy. Researchers administered 1 gram of magnesium sulfate over a period of 5 minutes. Researchers noted that only three patients with serum ionic magnesium levels above .53mmol/L responded favorably. In nine patients, magnesium therapy completely or partially cured their cluster headaches. Researchers noted that the most favorable results were among patients with serum magnesium levels below .521mmol/L. This would suggest, while magnesium deficiency might not be the sole cause of cluster headaches when it’s present it’s a likely candidate. Also, in such cases, magnesium therapy is beneficial in the treatment of cluster headaches. This is a small study but illustrates that magnesium supplementation might not be as effective if health levels are already present.
Study 3: Magnesium Improves Memory and Learning
This study was designed to assess the clinical efficacy of a patented form of magnesium threonate used in a supplement named ClariMem®. Specifically, this study investigated a form of L-Threonic acid magnesium salt (L-TAMS) labeled MMFS-01. I’m pretty sure that’s just a fancy way of saying Magnesium Threonate. Researchers studied the effects of this compound on 44 subjects ages 50-70, at a dosage of 1.5 to 2 grams per day (depending on body weight), for 12 weeks. Researchers found this magnesium treatment did not produce significant increases in serum magnesium levels compared to placebo but that RBC magnesium levels were noticeably higher in the treatment group at the end of the study. Cognitive testing was measured through four well-established cognitive tests. The scores from these four tests were averaged to produce a single composite score of overall cognitive improvement.
Source: Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease
Prevalence of Magnesium Deficiency
Magnesium is a well-studied mineral with clear and well-supported dietary requirements, such as those outlined in the 1997 Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Vitamin D, and Fluoride. This work provides a clear estimation of the daily requirements of magnesium for optimal health, broken down by age, gender, and some life specific circumstances such as pregnancy. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for men is around 420mg/day and around 320mg/day for women.
Measuring Magnesium levels
A healthy human body contains approximately 25 grams of magnesium at any given time. Of this, 50-60 percent is located in one’s bones, with only one-third of that amount being “interchangeable” which means able to fluctuate to do things like balance pH levels or lend magnesium to other processes. Of all the magnesium in our bodies, only 1 percent is flowing through our bloodstream. This is called Extracellular Magnesium or Serum Magnesium. A common serum magnesium range for healthy adults is .75-.95 mmol/L. You might be thinking “is measuring one percent of all magnesium really an effective measure of total magnesium?” Well, it’s probably not. That’s why many regard the RBC magnesium test to be a much better indicator of overall magnesium utilization.
The data available for estimating magnesium deficiency rates is, at best, incomplete. There are self-reported nutritional datasets such as the NHANES that help estimate how many people might be magnesium deficient simply because they don’t consume enough magnesium. There are clinical studies that explicitly record magnesium levels but the methods of their measurement all vary. For example, some studies measure serum magnesium, some measure RBC magnesium, and some measure serum ionic magnesium. It’s hard to reconcile the differences in such cases. The most-referenced study on magnesium deficiency rates concludes 68% of adults don’t get enough magnesium from their diets.
People like to use this study to say “68% of people have a magnesium deficiency!” The truth is, the rates are probably much higher if one took into account all the variables that could affect magnesium absorption and retention. Anti-nutrients, parasites, and even common bacteria like Candida Albicans can all reduce the bioavailability of dietary magnesium. In other words, someone could meet the RDA for magnesium and still not be receiving sufficient magnesium. In my opinion, it’s safest to assume you have a magnesium deficiency until RBC testing proves otherwise.
The health benefits of magnesium are many. This elemental compound is essential for so many vital processes in our bodies it’s impossible to list them. Researchers around the world continue to describe how magnesium can be used to support optimal health as well as predict imbalances leading to major diseases such as Diabetes. It’s hard to predict how prevalent magnesium deficiencies may be throughout the world but the research we have painted a grim picture. Working to ensure adequate dietary intake, and utilizing magnesium supplementation when necessary, is essential for feeling one’s best.