When I hear the word “magnesium,” the first thing I think of is a restful sleep, but professionals say the mineral does more than supply some solid Zs. “Magnesium is an essential mineral that has myriad benefits on our health,” says vice president of scientific affairs and education at HUM Nutrition, Jennifer Martin-Biggers, PHD, MS, RDN.
According to Spat, chewable magnesium supplements had 5.2K average monthly searches in the month of May, and Jessica Mulligan, founder of Winged Women’s Wellness, isn’t surprised. “It’s no secret that we are collectively under more stress than ever before. In the past year, 24 percent of American women experienced an anxiety disorder. Magnesium’s soaring popularity is directly tied to its relaxing and calming benefits.”
Here, wellness professionals sound off on everything you need to know about magnesium.
What is magnesium?
“Magnesium is a crucial mineral involved in hundreds of metabolic processes in the body,” says Mulligan. “From energy production, to PMS cramps and tense muscles, to migraines and depression, magnesium plays an important role in every system of the body.”
Known for its calming effect, magnesium works in conjunction with calcium in the muscles for contraction and relaxation of the muscle fibers, hence its ability to help melt away pain. “It counteracts the contracting effects of calcium, so if someone is magnesium deficient, their muscles will not be able to fully relax,” Mulligan adds. And, to our surprise, she tells us that this is the case for up for 68 percent of Americans. “Our bodies also tend to excrete magnesium more rapidly than calcium, so our calcium and magnesium balance if often out of whack, leading to chronically tense muscles.”
What are the benefits of magnesium?
Martin-Biggers offers a handful of benefits for the power supplement, the first being that it helps with constipation. “There are over-the-counter medications and supplements that contain magnesium citrate or magnesium oxide, which can act as laxatives,” she says. “It does this by pulling water into your intestines, helping to soften and bulk bowel movements.” Along these same lines, she says that magnesium can give metabolism a mega boost. “People with low blood levels of magnesium are more likely to have impairments to their insulin function, regardless of their weight or other lifestyle factors. Clinical studies have shown that supplementing with magnesium reduces insulin resistance and improves insulin sensitivity, meaning it is easier for cells to utilize insulin and normalize blood sugar levels.”
In terms of other lesser-known benefits of the mineral, she also says that it can play a big role in bone health and physical activity. “Deficiencies in magnesium can result in impaired exercise abilities and clinical studies have shown supplementing magnesium improves physical performance (especially in older adults who are at higher risk of deficiency). Low blood levels of magnesium lead to low blood calcium and resistance to some of the beneficial effects of vitamin D, all of which contribute to bone loss.”
Founder of Moon Juice, Amanda Chantal Bacon, says that relaxation and sleep are the supplement’s main benefits. “Magnesium plays a role in the sleep-wake cycle and deficiency has been shown to cause restlessness and impact sleep quality. The L-Theanine in our Magnesi-Om ($38) supports sleep by promoting alpha-wave activity in the brain—the same brain waves present during REM.”
How long does it take for magnesium to get to work?
“It’s not uncommon to feel the resulting relaxation quickly after taking a magnesium supplement,” says Mulligan. “I’ve worked with many clients that describe a pleasant fluttering and then relaxation of individual muscles throughout their bodies within an hour of taking a magnesium supplement for the first time.”
Mulligan adds that the relaxing effect of magnesium isn’t only physical. “Magnesium also plays a role in our nervous systems and affects our emotions as well. Magnesium binds to a neurotransmitter called GABA, which is known to ‘put the brakes on the brain’ to calm our minds and halt anxiousness. Additionally, it plays a role in the signaling and release of our sleep hormone, melatonin, so a deficiency may cause difficulty sleeping or as disruption in our sleep-wake cycle.”
Are there any side effects with magnesium?
Chantal-Bacon says that most people don’t experience any side effects from the mineral, as long as you’re taking the recommended daily dose. “Take magnesium citrate for example. It has a gentle laxative effect, helping draw water into the bowels to encourage regular movement. But, if you take more than the recommended daily dose, it can cause an upset stomach or diarrhea.” To avoid this, Martin-Biggers recommends starting with a lower dosage or consulting your doctor to ensure you are using magnesium correctly to treat constipation.
What are natural sources of magnesium?
“Nuts like Brazil nuts, cashews, almond and hazelnuts, seeds like pumpkin or chia, whole grains, brown rice, beans, bananas, avocados and leafy greens are good sources of magnesium,” says Martin-Biggers. A good general rule is that foods high in fiber are good sources of magnesium.”
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