Magnesium – A Mineral We Can’t Do Without

Betty Chaffee/ July 14, 2023/ Dietary Supplements, Medication Management, nutrition/ 13 comments

Magnesium is a mineral that’s been getting a lot more attention in recent years. If you subscribe to any health newsletters you may have seen an article or two about it. But if not, the idea that we should wonder if we're getting enough of it may be completely new to you. I know it was to me, until several months ago. At that time I began to see more use of magnesium supplements and became curious. I’ll share what I learned with you in this post.

Magnesium’s Role in the Body

Our bodies operate in fascinating ways. So much is going on to keep us not only alive, but physically and mentally active. Heart beating, muscles engaged, brain alert (well, most of the time, anyway). Nutrients digested, sounds picked up – we can’t possibly keep track of all the chemical, physical, and electrical activity that makes all that happen. There are many different minerals, vitamins and proteins that work together to keep things moving. And magnesium is an important part of the chain.

Magnesium is essential for the activity of more than 75% of enzymatic reactions in the body. It helps to make bones strong and ensure that muscles and nerves function well. It also regulates blood sugar and blood pressure, which can decrease the risk of heart disease. The jury is still out on how much it helps our brains function, allows for better sleep, and decreases the likelihood of depression and anxiety. But it’s safe to say that the more we learn about magnesium, the clearer it is that we need to pay attention to our intake.

So what’s the big deal?

In the past, it was pretty easy to get plenty of magnesium from a balanced diet., since it's contained in so many foods. The problem is that farming practices have changed the magnesium content of soil over many years. And that means that plants grown in some soils end up having a much lower content than in the past. Experts have found over the past decade or two that the majority of Americans aren’t getting enough magnesium in their diet because of that. 

PrilosecWe also know that certain medications can deplete magnesium stores. Regular use of proton-pump inhibitors for heartburn (omeprazole, pantoprazole and others) can make it harder for the body to absorb it from foods. Diuretics (water pills) can cause the kidneys to eliminate it more quickly. Alcohol use Nexiumdisorder is more common now, too – that can result in low intake of healthy foods as well as an increase in elimination of magnesium. And other health disorders such as uncontrolled diabetes can increase its elimination.

All these things put together have drastically increased the number of people suffering from magnesium deficiencies. And because your body stores most of this mineral away from the bloodstream, it’s not often noticed on routine testing. So because we can’t be sure our food contains adequate magnesium, and deficiencies aren’t usually part of routine health screening, it’s reasonable to wonder if we’re at risk for problems.

Symptoms of magnesium deficiency

Magnesium deficiency can often go unnoticed. It doesn’t always result in obviousFoot cramp problems. If you aren’t getting enough magnesium, you may suffer fatigue, muscle cramps, sleeplessness, or anxiety. In more severe cases there can even be an abnormal heart rhythm. But many people can be deficient in this mineral for a long time without knowing it.

The absence of obvious symptoms on a daily basis doesn’t mean that all’s well, though. Decreased magnesium may result in a higher risk of osteoporosis, heart rhythm problems, and inability to regulate other electrolytes, like potassium. There’s some evidence to suggest that adequate levels allow for better sleep patterns, and improved muscle and nerve function. We’re learning more every day about the importance of magnesium.

Recommended daily allowance

 Adults should get 320mg (women) to 420mg (men) of magnesium each day. Though many foods typically contain it, the way they’re grown can make the content variable. As we’ve said before in these posts, one of the best ways to stay healthy is to eat a balanced diet. And that’s true with regard to magnesium intake as well. If you can do your best to eat a variety of foods every day that contain magnesium, you’re more likely to take in an adequate amount to keep your body going.

So what should you do?

If you’ve read my blog posts in the past, you already know that I’m not one to recommend taking lots of dietary supplements. (Exception to that rule – calcium and vitamin D!) But it’s important for you to know that magnesium deficiency is more common than it used to be, and it can have negative effects on your health. Here’s what I recommend:

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about using a magnesium supplement if you

  • have symptoms listed above that might be related to magnesium deficiency (unexplained muscle cramps, for example) OR

  • are at risk of magnesium deficiency (taking a diuretic or have diabetes, for example)

Cautions and side effects

You can choose to try a magnesium supplement on your own, but here are some things to be aware of before you do.

If you have kidney problems of any severity, don’t attempt to use magnesium supplements without talking to your doctor first. Once absorbed into the bloodstream, magnesium is only eliminated through the kidneys. So don’t take the chance that you might overdo – get guidance from your doctor first.

The most common side effect with magnesium is intestinal discomfort and diarrhea. That happens because magnesium taken orally is only partially absorbed into the bloodstream. The rest continues on through the digestive tract, typically drawing water in as it goes. That doesn’t result in problems for everyone, but some find the discomfort intolerable.

Some research points to the possibility that certain forms of magnesium may be bettermagnesium supplements tolerated than others. The most common form you’ll see among dietary supplements is magnesium oxide. It’s relatively inexpensive but may be more likely to cause intestinal discomfort. An alternative is magnesium glycinate, which may be a bit more expensive, but also may be one of the best tolerated forms. In between are several other options, including magnesium chloride, magnesium lactate, and others.

Better My Meds wants you to stay healthy!

If you have any questions about magnesium (or anything else, honestly) please comment in the space below. Or contact us directly at Better My Meds. We love hearing from you!

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About Betty Chaffee

Betty Chaffee, PharmD, is owner and sole proprietor of BetterMyMeds, a Medication Management service devoted to helping people get the maximum benefit from their medications.


  1. Great article. You mentioned “The most common side effect with magnesium is intestinal discomfort and diarrhea. That happens because magnesium taken orally is only partially absorbed into the bloodstream. The rest continues on through the digestive tract, typically drawing water in as it goes.” Is it known what the mechanism is that prevents magnesium from being absorbed? Seems like a waste of magnesium if the body is not going to use it. Do you think the recommended daily allowance of this supplement may be too high?

    1. Good question Tony,

      I believe there are lots of reasons for the partial (and variable) absorption of magnesium from the digestive tract. How much is eaten/taken and in what form, whether other minerals are present, and other more complicated issues. Here’s a link to an article that has more detail:

      Typically the recommended daily allowances set by the Food and Nutrition Board account for the fact that not all of a nutrient may be absorbed. Certainly that’s true with calcium, too, where we know that the more you introduce at one time via food or supplements, the lower the absorption. And same as with calcium, magnesium needs to be replenished every day — the body doesn’t store it long term. So we’re taking in enough on a daily basis to account for only partial absorption, and the fact that some might be eliminated unused is what we’re stuck with. And just to be clear, as long as the kidneys are working normally, they’ll get rid of any unneeded magnesium so it doesn’t accumulate. A person with kidney disease would likely need a lower dose for that reason.


      1. Thanks for the links. Your explanations are more user friendly for the layman that I am. LOL. The body in an incredible machine. I don’t think it was meant for us to fully understand it.
        Could you also add Saw Palmetto to your list of possible discussion? I’m mainly concerned with its affect on prostate health.

        1. Thanks Tony, and I totally agree. No matter who or what we believe brought us into existence, the body is wonderfully and marvelously made! Doesn’t stop us from asking questions about it though. 🙂

          Thanks too for your suggestion for an article. I’ll put it on my list!

  2. Have you written any articles about CoQ10? I’ve read many positive comments about it and would like your thoughts on this supplement. Thank you.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion Sue! No, I haven’t written on CoQ10. I’ll put it on my list!


  3. I’m also interested in the answer to the question by Tony.

  4. Very interesting. Thank you.

    1. You’re welcome, Caroline!

  5. Thank you for the information, very helpful. Sometimes I can not sleep and feel restless for no apparent reason.

    What foods would recommend for magnesium intake?

    1. Dear Karin,

      Thanks for your comment and question. The link in the article where “balanced diet” is highlighted is a list from the online publication Healthline. I’ve pasted it again below. Another good link is below that, with a more comprehensive list of the magnesium content of foods. Keeping in mind, of course, that farming practices may decrease the amount of magnesium and it’s not really clear to me how to find that out.

      Good luck, and let me know how it goes!

  6. I have just had an annual check-up with my doctor. She did not recommend my taking magnesium. I take a multiple vitamin with 100mg magnesium9 oxide and 4mg sulfate. I have 3 stage kidney disease.Do you think I need more?

    1. Dear Joyce,

      Great question, and one that others might be wondering about, too. The kidneys are largely responsible for eliminating magnesium. So when the kidneys aren’t working at 100%, it’s important to be more cautious about using magnesium. Your doctor is rightly being cautious, and in the absence of any symptoms of magnesium deficiency it makes a lot of sense to limit the amount you get in supplements. You likely still get some from your diet so it sounds like you and your doctor are on the right track.

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