What is Magnesium's Role in the Human Body: The Science Made Simple

On This Page

    Magnesium is found in more than 300 enzyme systems that regulate a whole range of important biochemical functions.

    What is Magnesium's role in the human body?

    Magnesium is a major mineral in the body. It’s found in more than 300 enzyme systems – systems that regulate a whole range of important biochemical functions in the body, including blood pressure support, muscle and nerve function, and blood glucose support . It helps synthesize DNA, RNA, and the antioxidant glutathione. It acts as a gatekeeper for the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, which aid memory and learning. And it’s essential to bone health and heart health. Some magnesium rich foods include almonds, green leafy vegetables, cashews, pumpkin seeds, and chia seeds.

    Signs that you might have a magnesium deficiency

    Some common signs that might signify a magnesium deficiency include muscle weakness or fatigue, muscle spasms, muscle cramps, weak bones, and brain fog. However, these signs are not limited to a magnesium deficiency and can be a symptom of other conditions. If you’re experiencing any of these issues, speak with your healthcare provider.

    What's the right Magnesium dosage for me?

    The right magnesium dosage for you depends on your age and gender. Adult men should aim for 420 mg per day and adult women should aim for 320 mg per today, as per the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). During pregnancy, however, adult women should up their magnesium supplement dose to 400 mg. According to the NIH, the tolerable upper intake level (also referred to as the upper limit (UL)) for supplementing with magnesium is 350 mg daily. Upper limits are meant to prevent excessive intake of nutrients and are different from the RDA.

    What are the health benefits of maintaining healthy Magnesium levels?

    Maintaining healthy magnesium levels is essential to your overall health – both mental and physical. Magnesium is one of seven macrominerals in the body – minerals of which people need to maintain relatively large amounts of. Still, many people don’t get enough magnesium in their diets, despite the availability of some magnesium rich foods.

    Having a healthy magnesium level supports hundreds of biochemical reactions in your body. It may boost exercise performance, support brain health, support healthy blood sugar levels, and promote heart health. Some studies also indicate that it can mitigate PMS symptoms.

    May support maintenance of healthy blood pressure

    This year, the FDA approved a qualified claim that consuming adequate magnesium could lower blood pressure. The FDA stated the following: “Consuming diets with adequate magnesium may reduce the risk of high blood pressure (hypertension). However, the FDA has concluded that the evidence is inconsistent and inconclusive.”

    May support heart health

    Research shows that maintaining adequate magnesium levels may support heart health. However, as with magnesium’s effect on blood pressure, more research is necessary to determine its true effectiveness.

    May maintain healthy blood sugar levels

    Since magnesium plays an important role in glucose metabolism, it helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Indeed, a meta-analysis reviewed the correlation between increased magnesium intake and blood sugar levels.

    May support sleep quality

    While some research has found that magnesium intake can improve sleep, the most recent research and meta-analyses have not demonstrated definite relationships between magnesium and sleep. In older adults, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of older adults showed that taking 500 mg magnesium daily for eight weeks helped them fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. While overall research doesn’t prove magnesium can help with sleep, if your intake isn’t adequate, a healthcare professional may recommend magnesium supplementation, whether or not it could support your sleep or not.

    May combat PMS symptoms

    For people with PMS, a magnesium supplement may support general wellness, although research is not fully clear. Generally, magnesium has been shown to be most effective–as a PMS remedy or otherwise–when taken in combination with other vitamins. A study from the National Institutes of Health showed that women who took magnesium along with a vitamin B6 supplement experienced significant improvements in PMS symptoms compared to the women in the placebo group. It’s not possible to determine whether magnesium produced the benefits, since it was paired with B6, so more studies are needed.

    Helps support bone health

    More than half of your body’s magnesium is found in your bones. Maintaining adequate magnesium levels is vital for your bone health. Studies have consistently demonstrated that having lower levels of magnesium can weaken overall bone health and are at greater risk of bone injury. By contrast, those who have adequate magnesium levels have been shown to have greater bone resiliency. A recent review of twelve studies showed that higher magnesium intake can lead to greater bone density in the femoral neck and hip for older adults.

    May promote balanced state of mind

    Low magnesium levels can impact brain health and mood. Research from the National Institutes of Health found that healthy magnesium levels can be supportive for a healthy, balanced state of mind alongside other mood therapies. Another study – a six-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled study – found that taking 248 mg per day resulted in a greater balance in mood and state of mind.

    May boost exercise performance

    Magnesium supplementation can have a positive impact on your exercise performance. Since magnesium serves so many vital functions in the body – present in 300 enzymes and aiding in muscle function and energy production – it is essential for physical activity. Studies of the connection between magnesium supplementation and exercise showed that physical activity increased with magnesium intake Meanwhile, animal studies have indicated that magnesium may enhance exercise performance by boosting glucose availability in the brain, muscles, and blood, and by reducing lactate accumulation in your muscles – leading to less muscle soreness.

    May regulate nerve function

    One of the main roles of magnesium is to regulate nerve function. Nerves are essential conduits for communication within our body. They send signals throughout the body (sensory, motor, and interneurons) using action potentials. Magnesium appears to be a vital element in this system of nerve transmission. Also, initial studies suggest that magnesium may also play a role in nerve regeneration, although more research is needed to confirm these early results.

    A clinical deficiency in magnesium may result in nervous system issues. Sufficient levels of this mineral are needed to maintain optimal nerve health. For instance, a study on animal models showed that magnesium sulfate has a positive effect on nerves.

    Additionally, magnesium plays a pivotal role in the formation of membrane phospholipids, signal transduction, and even in the development of the protective myelin sheath and synapses that cover and connect our nerve cells. It also regulates the transmission of neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin (5-HT). Further research indicates magnesium's role in promoting axonal growth and neural stem cell proliferation.

    Along with magnesium, B vitamins have also been shown to be essential for nervous system function and nerve health.

    May enhance muscle function

    Research suggests that a deficiency of magnesium could negatively impact muscle function. Magnesium helps muscles relax by counteracting the contracting function of calcium in muscle fibers.

    Since magnesium is an important component of muscle function, the need for this mineral increases with more physical activity. Given that many people are already deficient in magnesium, this increased need becomes particularly significant for athletes and those who exercise regularly. Exercise helps manage the use and distribution of magnesium across the body.

    To further enhance muscle function, factors such as exercise and adequate protein are also critical. Higher protein intake leads to increased muscle synthesis, while resistance exercise can increase muscle function.

    May facilitate energy production

    Magnesium ions have the ability to bind with ATP – our body’s primary energy source – creating a biologically active form of ATP that participates in countless cellular processes and physiological functions. It is also necessary for healthy mitochondria – the energy generators within cells. However, although magnesium plays this important role in energy production processes, that does not mean that magnesium supplementation will provide an instant energy boost.

    May fortify immune system function

    Studies have found that magnesium levels can impact immune responses. Yet, there is a stronger correlation between immune system function and nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, probiotics, prebiotics, elderberry, and adaptogenic mushrooms. Ultimately, the best way to fortify immune system health is adequate sleep, regular exercise, a balanced diet, and proper hydration.

    Sources of magnesium

    Food sources of magnesium

    Magnesium can be naturally found in a variety of foods. Some of the best sources include pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, almonds, cashews, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

    Magnesium supplements

    Magnesium supplements are a great way to fill any gaps that you may have in your diet. They come in various forms to cater to individual preferences and needs, including capsules, tablets, liquids, powder, and gummies. As with any supplement, though, you should consult with your doctor before implementing magnesium into your regimen.

    Does Magnesium have any side effects?

    Taking supplements of any kind can result in side effects, and the same is true of magnesium. This varies from person to person. However, when taken in appropriate doses, magnesium supplements pose very little risk. Some side effects may include diarrhea, cramping, and nausea.

    You're unique. Your supplements should be too.

    Take the quiz
    Laurel Ash, ND
    Laurel Ash, ND: Medical Content Reviewer
    Laurel Ash, ND is a board-certified Naturopathic Physician. She holds additional credentials with a master’s in integrative mental health. Dr. Ash graduated from the National University of Natural Medicine in 2019. Dr. Ash practices in Oregon and Washington where ND’s scope of practice includes primary care. Using the best tools of allopathic/conventional medicine with the holistic tenants of naturopathic medicine has created a powerful force of healing for the patients in her practice. Dr. Ash focuses on combining integrative/functional health modalities with evidence-based medicine. She has experience as a medical reviewer in the holistic medicine field and partners with companies and practitioners to produce science-backed content for readers and consumers interested in holistic medicine. She is passionate about blending the strengths of allopathic and integrative medicine to transform the healthcare industry, empowering people with an understanding of all their options on their wellness journey.
    Jordana Tobelem, RD
    Freelance Contributor
    Jordana Tobelem is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys helping others become the best versions of themselves through proper nutrition education. Jordana is passionate about promoting lifestyle changes through nutrition, physical activity, and behavior to create a superior quality of life. She uses her experience in the clinical field of dietetics to provide consulting services to an array of healthcare brands and companies. Jordana loves finding the most current research in nutrition to create meaningful content to share with her clients. Jordana has been a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics since 2018 and also holds certifications in both Personal Training and Health Coaching.