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Nutrient Spotlight: Magnesium

Magnesium plays a vital role in health and disease prevention. Unfortunately, its importance is not stressed or addressed frequently enough - magnesium deficiency is rampant. It’s estimated that up to 80% of the population is not getting adequate magnesium (1).

I have personally supplemented with magnesium for years, and it's one of the top five nutritional supplements I recommend to patients. Magnesium is one of those rare interventions that nearly everyone can benefit from. In this article, I’ll cover why you need magnesium, who will benefit from it, magnesium foods rich, and how to supplement correctly.

Why you need magnesium

Magnesium is involved in more than 300 essential metabolic reactions in the body. It’s necessary for energy production, DNA and protein synthesis, muscle contraction, bone formation, detoxification, and cell signaling, to name just a few. If that's too much science for you, just know magnesium is one hard working mineral.

Conditions that benefit from magnesium

  • Migraines

  • Osteoporosis treatment and prevention

  • PMS, PCOS and other female hormone imbalances

  • Depression and anxiety

  • Insomnia

  • Constipation

  • Muscle cramps and tension

  • Diabetes and pre-diabetes

  • Asthma

  • High blood pressure

  • Cardiovascular disease and prevention

  • Detoxification

Magnesium rich foods

Given how many people are low in magnesium, you probably thought there are few food sources. Surprisingly, magnesium is found in a lot of foods. Most notably dark leafy greens, whole grains, nuts and chocolate. So why are so many of us deficient?

The standard American diet (SAD) consists of overly processed “food” that lacks adequate nutrients. If it doesn’t come from the ground or an animal, you shouldn’t eat it!

Here is a sample of what to eat in a day to get enough mag:

  • Dark leafy greens (spinach, chard, seaweed, kale etc.): 3 cups per day

  • Nuts and seeds (Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds): 1 small handful per day

  • 70% cocoa dark chocolate: 1-2 ounces

Food is our best medicine, and I encourage you to get your nutrients from your food. But, sometimes eating a whole foods based diet just isn’t enough. Modern farming practices often leave soils depleted of minerals, and don’t forget, magnesium is a mineral. If you’re not sure if you’re getting enough magnesium, get tested (see below) or try supplementing and see how you feel.

And if that wasn’t enough, here are additional causes​ of deficiency.

Other causes of magnesium deficiency

  • Magnesium is depleted in the body from high stress, and excess alcohol and sugar

  • Digestive issues can cause poor absorption through the digestive tract

  • Proton pump inhibitors (acid reflux medication) decreases absorption

  • Pregnancy and lactation increase the bodies demand for magnesium

  • Increased elimination through the kidneys: high calcium (if you supplement with calcium supplement with magnesium too) and certain medications

The best kind of magnesium supplements

In addition to eating magnesium rich foods, supplementation is safe and well tolerated. When you're buying a supplement, not all are created equal. There are numerous forms of magnesium out there but some of them aren't absorbed well. Here are my preferred forms:

  • Magnesium glycinate: this is my personal favorite. It’s absorbed well and relaxing. I take around 240mg at night before bed. Sometimes I'll take 360mg if I've had a particularly hard workout or have sore muscles.

  • Magnesium taurate: also well tolerated. This version is a little more pricey. I recommend magnesium taurate for anything cardiovascular: high blood pressure, heart palpitations, cardiovascular disease, etc.

  • Magnesium citrate: this is the best form to treat constipation. Take between 150-500mg per day.

Potential side effects: because magnesium is helpful at relieving constipation, it can cause loose stools. If this occurs, try taking it with food and dividing it throughout the day.


Epsom salt baths: Epsom salt is rich in magnesium, and you can actually absorb it through the skin. Add 2-4 cups of Epsom salt to your bath. It's also great for sore muscles and insomnia.

Testing: Serum magnesium vs. Magnesium, RBC

Serum magnesium is the level of magnesium floating around in your bloodstream

Magnesium, RBC is the level of magnesium in your Red Blood Cells (RBCs).

Serum magnesium is the most commonly used test to screen for magnesium deficiency. However, results can be normal despite low body stores (2). This is because your body has mechanisms in place to keep serum magnesium adequate. Because of this, Magnesium RBC is a better indicator for an early deficiency.

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