What is Magnesium?

Magnesium is an essential mineral involved in over 300 metabolic/enzymatic reactions in the body. Its name comes from the district of Magnesia in Greece, an area that contains a vast amount of magnesium ore. Magnesium plays a key role in cardiovascular health (normal blood pressure and steady heart rhythm), bone health, the transmission of nerve impulses, immune function, and the production of cellular energy.

Most people are deficient in magnesium, but are totally unaware of it. This is further compounded by low levels in foods and low-quality supplements. While there are blood tests that can assess magnesium levels in the bloodstream, they are not necessarily accurate, as over 50%of magnesium is stored in the skeletal system, and the rest is found in muscle, soft tissues, and bodily fluids. Only 2% of the magnesium in the body is stored in the blood. Numerous health conditions and persistent symptoms can be the result of a deficient or sub-optimal magnesium levels. Therefore, magnesium supplementation can have positive effects on blood flow, energy production, muscle function, nerve signaling, and several other fundamental bodily functions. Often, the wide range of actions and health benefits make a mineral like magnesium go under the radar. Most people don’t fully appreciate the importance of this mineral for their health. Therefore, awareness and information play a key role in fully understanding the benefits of magnesium. This document will help enhance your overall understanding magnesium and its various forms.


Henry Wicker, a 17th century farmer at Epsom in England, attempted to give his cows water from a well. They refused to drink because of the bitter taste of the water: it was magnesium sulphate, MgSO4. However, magnesium was only recognized as an element nearly a century later, in 1755, by the chemist Joseph Black.

Figure 1. Primary Functions of Magnesium

The Health Benefits of Magnesium

Considering the pivotal role that magnesium plays in cellular signaling and energy function, it is not surprising that a deficiency may create a broad impact on multiple organ systems. These deficiencies are often linked to numerous health conditions. Therefore, supplementing with magnesium is shown to result in positive outcomes for a number of health conditions, such as:

Cardiovascular Function and Blood Pressure

One of the most well-known benefits of magnesium is its positive effect in improving cardiovascular health. A review published in the Journal of Cardiology found that low levels of blood magnesium corresponded with an increase in the incidence of cardiovascular diseases.1 Low magnesium levels have been implicated in inflammation and endothelial (the inner lining of blood vessels) dysfunction. Inflammation of blood vessel walls disrupts the arterial lining and may promote blood clot formation, hypertension, and vascular hardening (also known as calcification). Magnesium can counter these effects by causing blood vessel walls to relax. This is because it acts as a mild calcium blocker (calcium can constrict blood vessels) and reduces angiotensin-induced aldosterone production, a key hormone in increasing blood pressure.1 A recent meta-analysis found that magnesium supplementation decreases systolic blood pressure by 3-4 mmHg, and the diastolic by 2-3 mmHg.2 Magnesium supplementation also improved blood vessels’ stiffness, which is a key factor for proper blood flow. These benefits were noted after at least six months of regular supplementation.3 Additionally, people taking diuretic medications for hypertension may have a higher level of magnesium excretion, resulting in a need for magnesium supplementation. A 2017 review looked at the effect of magnesium supplementation on cardiovascular risk factors, and found that supplementation produced a favorable effect on fasting glucose, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure.

Figure 2. Magnesium Deficiency and Cellular Stress: Higher levels of calcium and lower levels of magnesium inside a cell out the cell into a constant state of low grade over function and stress, which ultimately leads burnout.

Health Conditions

Key contribution of Magnesium

1. Asthma

Magnesium has powerful bronchodilation and anti-inflammatory effects, both of which can be very beneficial for people suffering from asthma.

2. Brain injury
After a concussion or brain injury, tissue magnesium levels could fall by up to 60%, a reduction which lasts over a week. Research in animals has also shown that magnesium improved neurological functions, such as behavior and cognition. It also reduced brain swelling, depression, and anxiety after an injury.
3. Depression
Magnesium is a cofactor in the production of neurotransmitters, and plays a key role in improving blood flow and reducing inflammation. Studies looking at oral administration of magnesium to animals showed its anti-depressant-like effects were comparable to those of strong anti-depressant medications. Human studies have also confirmed that magnesium supplementation has a beneficial effect on mood.
4. Fibromyalgia
Research shows that patients suffering from fibromyalgia often have a deficiency in magnesium. This potentially contributes to a lower level of energy production in the mitochondria within each cell: a hallmark of fibromyalgia. Magnesium malate is a form that has been specifically studied for fibromyalgia. In addition, malic acid is commonly found in fruits, and is regarded by many as being ideal for targeted fatigue-specific conditions.
5. Cranial discomfort
Up to half of patients suffering from cranial discomfort may be dealing with magnesium deficiency. Clinical studies have shown that oral magnesium supplementation could alleviate the frequency and intensity of cranial discomfort.
6. Heart palpitations and Irregular heartbeats
The highest levels of magnesium in the body are in the heart. Magnesium is a key electrolyte in regulating nerve and heart conduction. Along with potassium, magnesium supplementation can stabilize and regulate heart contraction. In magnesium deficient conditions, calcium floods the cell and leads to hypercontraction of the muscle cells, which translates into angina, and even heart attacks.
7. Osteoporosis
An adult body contains about 25g of magnesium. Of all magnesium in the body, 50-60% is stored in the bones. Magnesium has been shown to slow the rate of bone turnover. Magnesium shortages could result in a reduced assimilation of vitamin D, as well as the inhibition of parathyroid hormone, leading to low blood calcium levels.
8. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and painful periods
Some women experience dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps) and mood variation (PMS) before and during their periods. Magnesium’s muscle relaxing effect can counter these symptoms. In fact, several human studies suggest that magnesium reduces painful cramps and headaches and helps relieve premenstrual mood swings.

Table 1: Health conditions that could benefit from magnesium supplementation.

Health Check

Who could benefit from additional magnesium?

Everyone can benefit from a magnesium supplement, since it plays an essential role in energy production. The following list highlights conditions or situations where supplemental magnesium is strongly recommended:

  • Poor diet – low in greens and vegetables
  • Prescription medication – many drugs deplete magnesium
  • Use of antacids and acid blocking medications – these drugs are especially notorious at depleting magnesium
  • Athletes – excess sweat further depletes magnesium
  • Frequent muscle cramps and twitches
  • Chronic headaches
  • Chronic constipation
  • Chronic health conditions – diabetes, heart disease, asthma, depression, insomnia, pain, etc.



1. Ramsay LE, Yeo WW, Jackson PR. Metabolic effects of diuretics. Cardiology 1994;84 Suppl 2:48-56.

2. Kass L, Weekes J, Carpenter L. Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2012 Apr;66(4):411- doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2012.4. Epub 2012 Feb 8.

3. Joris et al. Long-term magnesium supplementation improves arterial stiffness in overweight and obese adults: results of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled intervention trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 May;103(5):1260-6.

4. Verma and Garg. Effect of magnesium supplementation on type diabetes associated cardiovascular risk factors: a systematic review and meta -analysis. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2017 Feb 2. doi: 10.1111/ jhn.12454. [Epub ahead of print]

Diabetes and Blood Sugar Balance

1. Kupetsky-Rincon EA, Uitto J. Magnesium: Novel Applications in Cardiovascular Disease – A Review of the Literature. Ann Nutr Metab. 2012 Aug 14;61(2):102-110. [Epub ahead of print]

2. Barbagallo and Dominguez. Magnesium and type 2 diabetes. World J Diabetes. 2015 Aug 25;6(10):1152-7.

3. Chaudhary DP, Sharma R, Bansal DD. Implications of magnesium deficiency in type 2 diabetes: a review.Biol Trace Elem Res. 2010 May;134(2):119-29. Epub 2009 Jul 24

4. Simental-Mendía et al. A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials on the effects of magnesium supplementation on insulin sensitivity and glucose control. Pharmacol Res. 2016 Sep;111:272-82. doi: 10.1016/j.phrs.2016.06.019. Epub 2016 Jun 18.

Inflammation and chronic pain

Simental-Mendía et al. Effect of magnesium supplementation on plasma C-reactive protein concentrations: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Curr Pharm Des. 2017 May 25. doi: 10.2174/1381612823666170525153605

Health Conditions That Could Benefit From Magnesium Supplementation

1. General benefits
Volpe SL. Magnesium in disease prevention and overall health. Adv Nutr. 2013 May 1;4(3):378S-83S 6

2. Migraine
auskop and Varughese. Why all migraine patients should be treated with magnesium. Neural Transm (Vienna). 2012 May;119(5):575-9. Chiu et al. Effects of Intravenous and Oral Magnesium on Reducing Migraine: A Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Pain Physician. 2016 Jan;19(1):E97-112

3. Depression – magnesium
Serefko et al. Magnesium in depression. Pharmacol Rep. 2013;65(3):547-54. Eby GA 3rd, Eby KL Magnesium for treatment-resistant depression: a review and hypothesis. Med Hypotheses. 2010 Apr;74(4):649-60

4. Fibromyalgia /CFS – magnesium
Bagis et al. Is magnesium citrate treatment effective on pain, clinical parameters and functional status in patients with fibromyalgia? Rheumatol Int. 2013 Jan;33(1):167-72. doi: 10.1007/s00296-011-2334-8. Epub 2012 Jan 22. Cox IM, Campbell MJ, Dowson D. Red blood cell magnesium and chronic fatigue syndrome. Lancet. 1991 Mar 30;337(8744):757-60

5. PMS
Fathizadeh et al. Evaluating the effect of magnesium and magnesium plus vitamin B6 supplement on the severity of premenstrual syndrome. Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 2010 Dec;15(Suppl 1):401-5.

Walker et al. Magnesium supplementation alleviates premenstrual symptoms of fluid retention. J Womens Health. 1998 Nov;7(9):1157-65. Facchinetti et al. Oral magnesium successfully relieves premenstrual mood changes. Obstet Gynecol. 1991 Aug;78(2):177-81

6. Asthma
Davalos Bichara and Goldman RD. Magnesium for treatment of asthma in children. Can Fam Physician. 2009 Sep;55(9):887-9. Kazaks AG et al. Effect of oral magnesium supplementation on measures of airway resistance and subjective assessment of asthma control and quality of life in men and women with mild to moderate asthma: a randomized placebo controlled trial. J Asthma. 2010 Feb;47(1):83-92

7. TBI / Concussion and Magnesium
Fromm L, Heath DL, Vink R, Nimmo AJ. Magnesium attenuates post-traumatic depression/anxiety following diffuse traumatic brain injury in rats. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004;23:529S–33

Dr. Paul Hrkal

About The Author

Dr. Paul Hrkal is a board-certified Naturopathic doctor with a passion to apply innovative and evidence-based nutritional, biological, and supplemental interventions to address underlying metabolic, endocrine and immunological dysfunctions. He is strong advocate of integrative medical education frequently writing and lecturing to both healthcare practitioners and public audiences. He also is the medical director for Advanced Orthomolecular Research, a leading Canadian natural health product company, and maintains a clinical practice in the Toronto area.

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