You might take vitamin C for your immune system, calcium for your bones, and omegas for brain health. But if you’ve been hearing about people taking magnesium supplements, you may be wondering where they’d fit into your wellness regimen. This increasingly popular yet mysterious mineral plays a role in a surprising number of bodily functions, which is why it may make sense to add it to your morning pile of supplements.
Along with the likes of calcium and sodium, magnesium is one of the seven macro-minerals the body needs (and naturally contains) to keep your bones, brain, heart, muscles, and nerves functioning properly, says Linda Lin, a registered holistic nutritionist. “It is responsible for over 300 biochemical functions in the body, including the production of enzymes and hormones,” Lin tells Bustle. Magnesium helps your cells produce energy and it supports your immune system, too, adds Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, a registered dietician with Zhou Nutrition, which adds to the many benefits of taking magnesium supplements.
The mineral is naturally found in foods like leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and whole grains — but it’s often tough to get enough of it from food alone. In fact, Lin says magnesium is actually one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the U.S. due to the depletion of nutrients in soil, which affects how much ends up in our food. It’s why she highly recommends taking it as a supplement, even if you have a well-balanced diet.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of magnesium is 350 to 420 mg. If you don’t hit that mark, Manaker says you may start to experience signs of magnesium deficiency like irritability, fatigue, nausea, and insomnia, and even issues like muscle weakness, cramps, low blood sugar, and migraines. Here’s what you need to know about adding a magnesium supplement to your routine.
The Benefits Of Magnesium Supplements
Like all vitamins and minerals, magnesium plays a vital role in the way the body functions. But it also has some standout benefits.
1. It Can Help With Anxiety
According to Lin, magnesium may help ease stress and anxiety thanks to the way it suppresses the release of stress hormones from the hippocampus, aka the part of the brain involved with emotions. It then reduces the release of cortisol and adrenaline from the adrenals glands, Lin explains, and it’s also involved in serotonin production, aka the hormone that stabilizes your mood and promotes well-being and relaxation.
2. It Promotes Better Sleep
A little extra magnesium might also come in handy if you struggle with insomnia or trouble sleeping. According to Lin, magnesium regulates the hormone melatonin, which guides the sleep-wake cycle and helps you fall asleep and stay asleep. It also promotes the physical relaxation of your muscles by countering the effects of calcium that can tighten and contract them.
Here’s another reason to take magnesium: Stress and sleepless nights actually deplete your magnesium levels at a faster rate, Lin says, so it becomes even more important to replenish it to prevent a vicious cycle. Making sure you get that RDA of magnesium can really make a difference, especially if you’re stressed or sleepy.
3. It Can Help Relieve Muscle Cramps
Magnesium is also good to keep in mind if you sweat a lot from working out or playing sports, particularly if you tend to get muscle cramps. “Magnesium is a beneficial mineral as a part of a rehydration blend to replenish magnesium and other electrolytes lost in sweat,” says Jenna Stangland, MS, RD, the co-founder of A4 Health and team dietician for the Minnesota Timberwolves. It’s why it’s often found in sports drinks, along with sodium and potassium.
4. It Supports Cognitive Function
According to Stangland, different forms of magnesium can serve different purposes. “A magnesium threonate has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and as a result, it supports cognitive function by helping the brain generate energy,” she explains.
5. It Can Help Ease Constipation
Finally, and this one may come as a big, uh, relief, but magnesium citrate can help with constipation, she says. That’s because it supports the relaxation of the nerves lining the digestive tract, making it easier to keep things moving.
How To Take Magnesium
Besides through food, you can take magnesium supplements in the form of a capsule, powder, or a liquid, Stangland says. “Liquid gets into the bloodstream the fastest but that form of magnesium is only magnesium citrate,” she explains. “Magnesium in powder forms tends to be easier to consume than a capsule, and absorption is also higher with a powder.” So which one you choose comes down to what’s easiest to take and the wellness goals you have.
Here’s a fun fact: It’s also possible for magnesium to soak through your skin, which is why you can also spray or rub it on. “Magnesium chloride can be found as a topical oil, which would then have the ability to cross the skin barrier,” Stangland explains, adding you might use it to relieve tension headaches or sore muscles by slathering it onto the affected area.
Another option is to soak in a magnesium-infused Epsom salt bath. According to Stangland, a magnesium bath supports muscle relaxation, increases your sense of calm, and thus improves your quality of sleep. All good things.
How Much Magnesium To Take
The recommended daily intake for magnesium is 350 to 420 mg and no more than 500 mg per day, though Manaker says this amount can vary depending on your age, sex, and health status. That’s why it’s always a good idea to check in with your doctor before adding a new supplement, in any form, to your wellness routine. “If you have any type of health issue, like high blood pressure, then talk with your healthcare provider about what dose might work best for making sure your body gets enough magnesium,” she adds.
Side Effects Of Magnesium Supplements
According to Dr. Jennifer Greer, ND, MEd, a medical science liason at supplement company Thorne, one of the main things to keep in mind is that magnesium can interact with some medications, which is another reason to check with your doctor or pharmacist before giving it a try. This is especially true if you have heart or kidney disease, she says.
“Magnesium supplementation can also cause abdominal cramping and diarrhea in some individuals, particularly at higher doses,” Dr. Greer tells Bustle. “Be sure to check other medicines, such as anti-acids or supplements, you may be taking for any magnesium content, as taking several different products could add up to a dose that leads to diarrhea.” And nobody wants that.
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Linda Lin, registered holistic nutritionist