9 surprising benefits of magnesium you didn't know about, but should

·7-min read
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Magnesium: one of many minerals your body needs to stay happy and healthy and one that, like its counterparts, your body often doesn't get enough of.

But while you're likely up to speed with the nutritional prowess of iron and know how to get your fill of calcium, you might not know exactly what this crucial nutrient can do for your health.

As it turns out, a lot. From inducing better sleep to boosting your workouts (yes, really), WH rounds up the science-backed health benefits of magnesium you didn't know about, but should – plus how to incorporate it into your lifestyle and diet.

What is magnesium?

First things first, magnesium is a crucial nutrient or 'co-factor' for multiple systems within your body, basically meaning that, without it, your body can't function properly.

'Magnesium is an important mineral for the body, acting as a helper in over 300 different enzyme systems that regulate various processes such as muscle and nerve function, blood sugar control, and blood pressure regulation,' agrees Dr Andy Daly, Nutritional Therapy practitioner at Dr David Jack Clinic.

It's been linked to everything from improved sleep, cognitive function and even reducing period pains. A growing body of research is stacking up in its favour too. According to the Sleep Foundation, one study of adults suffering from insomnia found that supplementing magnesium helped improved sleep quality. Meanwhile, another found that taking magnesium had a 22% lower risk of participants developing type 2 diabetes.

How can you tell if you're deficient?

The things is, magnesium needs to be incorporated into your diet (it's found in foods like almonds, broccoli and leafy greens) or via supplementation.

It's thought that most adults don't get enough of it either. While signs you may be deficient could manifest as trouble sleeping, muscle aches or constipation, determining whether a person has enough magnesium in their body isn't quite so straightforward given that most magnesium is located inside cells or in bones, says Dr Daly.

'While measuring the level of magnesium in the blood is the most commonly used method, it doesn't necessarily reflect the total amount of magnesium in the body or specific tissues,' she adds. According to the RDA, the recommended amount for adults (19-51+ years) is 400-420 mg daily for men and 310-320 mg for women.

The potential health benefits of magnesium

1/ It promotes heart health

Dr Daly says that magnesium helps regulate heart rhythm and supports healthy blood pressure levels. And, as you know, high blood pressure is linked to a whole host of health issues, including heart and circulatory diseases, like heart attacks or strokes, and kidney damage.

A scientific review which explored the impact of magnesium supplements for heart disease (such as LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, and blood pressure levels) proved effective in those deficient in magnesium.

2/ It helps with period pains

Anyone who's found themselves bent over in the foetal position, a hot water bottle glued to their stomach, knows just how crippling period pains can be. Of course, as with everything, magnesium isn't going to be a silver bullet cure to getting rid of cramps but there is some preliminary research that suggests magnesium combined with vitamin B12 could help reduce PMS symptoms.

3/ It can help boost your workouts

Playing a crucial role for muscle function, magnesium has been linked to preventing muscle cramps and even powering up your workouts, too. According to Women's Health US, one study of more than 2,500 women also found that those who took in higher levels of magnesium had more muscle mass and 'power' than people with lower magnesium levels.

4/ It supports bone health

You've been lectured on the importance of healthy bones since you said your first words. And magnesium is one mineral miracle worker that is key when it comes to bone density. 'Magnesium is essential for bone formation and helps maintain bone density,' says Dr Daly. Higher bone mineral density can reduce the risk of osteoporosis or bone fractures.

5/ Reduces inflammation

Since magnesium is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties, there is reason to suggest it may help reduce inflammation in the body. Remember: a chronic state of inflammation can cause health issues down the line.

6/ It relieves anxiety and depression

Since magnesium plays a role in the production of neurotransmitters that regulate mood, says Dr Daly, magnesium is being touted as a veritable nutrient to support mental health. Recent studies have found that magnesium supplementation may improve symptoms of anxiety and depression.

7/ It helps regulate blood sugar levels

'Magnesium helps the body use insulin more effectively, which can help regulate blood sugar levels,' says Dr Daly.

8/ It supports better sleep

If you've seen the myriad TikTok posts proclaiming the benefits of magnesium (of which the term has nearing 1 billion views on TikTok) most have one thing in common: that magnesium is a miracle worker when it comes to sleep. Magnesium works by activating the parasympathetic nervous system induce feelings of calm, and also plays a role in muscle relaxation and nerve function, all of which could help improve sleep quality and reduce symptoms of insomnia.

9/ Relieves acid reflux or heartburn

Magnesium combined with hydroxide or carbonate ions may help neutralise the acid in your stomach, says Daly, alleviating symptoms of acid reflux and heartburn.

Foods rich in magnesium

  • Milk

  • Pumpkin seeds

  • Chia seeds

  • Almonds

  • Spinach

  • Cashews

  • Peanuts

  • Black beans

  • Peanut butter

  • Potatoes

  • Rice

  • Oatmeal

  • Bananas

  • Salmon

Should you take magnesium supplements?

Aside from diet, you could also consider supplementing magnesium. Though supplements will differ in their ingredients, it's also important to note the different forms of magnesium. 'Each form has different benefits and is recommended for different health and lifestyle issues,' says Daly.

As always, it's important to talk to your healthcare provider or GP before taking any type of magnesium supplement, especially if you have any underlying medical conditions or are taking any medications.

Magnesium supplements

Magnesium citrate

Constipated? Digestive issues? Magnesium citrate may help. 'It works by drawing water into the intestines, which helps to soften the stool and make it easier to pass,' adds Dr Daly. 'Magnesium oxide and magnesium hydroxide are also commonly used to relieve constipation, but they may not be as effective as magnesium citrate,' she adds.

Magnesium glycinate

Another highly absorbable form, magnesium glycinate may help with anxiety and depression, support muscle relaxation and improve sleep quality, says Dr Daly. 'This is because magnesium glycinate has a high bioavailability, meaning it is easily absorbed by the body, and it also has calming properties.'

Magnesium oxide and hydroxide

These forms of magnesium are less absorbable but may be beneficial for reducing the symptoms of acid reflux and heartburn as they work by neutralising stomach acid, says Dr Daly. She urges that while magnesium supplements may help to relieve heartburn and acid reflux symptoms, they should not be used as a long-term treatment. 'Chronic heartburn and acid reflux can be a sign of a more serious underlying condition, and it's important to talk to your healthcare provider if you are experiencing these symptoms on a regular basis.'

Magnesium chloride

If you're prone to eczema or acne, magnesium chloride could prove a salve. It's believed to have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, which can help reduce inflammation, irritation, and infection in the skin. 'It can be applied topically as a spray or a solution and is commonly used to treat conditions such as acne, eczema, psoriasis, and dermatitis. It can also be used to soothe and heal wounds, cuts, and insect bites,' says Dr Daly.

Another caveat to note is that magnesium chloride may cause skin irritation. 'It is always best to do a patch test before using any new skincare product, and to consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns about using magnesium chloride topically,' she adds.

Best magnesium supplements

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