Last month in this magazine we discussed the prevalence of low intake of dietary magnesium in the United States and some of the pitfalls associated with a low magnesium level. Now let’s see what we can do to remedy that situation and how your body will thank you.

Magnesium is involved in at least 600 enzymatic reactions in the body. But what does that mean? Enzymes are proteins that make things happen in the body – they are catalysts for reactions. But enzymes don’t act alone – they usually require various vitamins or minerals as co-factors to help drive the reactions. Because magnesium is needed as a co-factor for more than 600 of these enzymatic reactions, magnesium is needed all over the body.

Magnesium and your muscles

When I think about the health benefits of magnesium, I think first about muscles – all sorts of muscle – from skeletal muscles to heart muscle, to the smooth muscles inside your blood vessels, and the muscles of your respiratory tract. Magnesium and calcium work together in muscle cells – magnesium causes muscle fibers to relax, while calcium causes them to contract.*

When this occurs in the cells of the heart muscle, it enables your heart to contract and relax – contributing to your heart rate and rhythm.* Having plenty of magnesium in your skeletal muscles, like the calf muscle in your lower leg, for example, keeps it from spasming and cramping.* There’s nothing worse than being awakened in the middle of the night with a leg cramp!

When the smooth muscles that line the walls of your arteries have enough magnesium, they can relax, the blood vessels can dilate, and blood flow is enhanced – to every place arteries go – from your brain to your genitals to your feet.* And when the smooth muscles of the respiratory tract are relaxed, respiration is easier.*

And finally, the uterus, being a very muscular organ, can benefit from magnesium to help relieve the cramping associated with menses.* Because magnesium and calcium compete with each other in this process of relaxation and contraction, you want a good balance of the two.

Having enough magnesium in your muscles supports and promotes:

  • Maintenance of healthy blood pressure*
  • Normal heart rate and rhythm*
  • Healthy respiration*
  • Good circulation to the brain, genitalia, and hands and feet*

Magnesium and your nerves 

Magnesium also benefits your brain and nerves, thus helping you relax, achieve good sleep, and support a good mood.* One way that magnesium does this is by binding to and stimulating GABA receptors.* GABA receptors are the docking stations for the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). When these receptors are stimulated, excess nerve impulses are blocked, which helps calm the mind and body.*

Magnesium is a cofactor for the enzymes that support serotonin synthesis. When serotonin is low, increasing its level can improve mood.* Serotonin also converts to melatonin, so it can improve sleep as well.*1

Magnesium also helps dampen the secretion of stress hormones (cortisol) and neurotransmitters (norepinephrine, epinephrine) from the adrenal glands.*

Another way magnesium effects nerve impulses is as a cofactor for the enzyme Na+/K+ ATPase – also called the sodium/potassium (Na+/K+) pump. This mechanism is of particular importance to managing the firing of neurons – nerve cells – in the brain and in the peripheral nervous system (the nerves outside the brain). In this way, magnesium supports nerve function, including heart rate and rhythm*2 – because the sodium-potassium pump affects nerves that also influence your heartbeat.

Benefits of magnesium on the nerves result in:

  • Improved mood*
  • Support of good sleep*
  • Cognitive support*
  • Dampened stress response – relaxation*
  • Support for healthy nerve function throughout the body*

Magnesium and blood sugar metabolism

Because the cell receptors where insulin docks as it escorts sugar from the bloodstream into the cells require magnesium to work, magnesium is important for insulin sensitivity and maintenance of healthy blood sugar levels.* Research has found that individuals with good blood sugar metabolism tend to have higher serum levels of magnesium.*3

Evidence suggests magnesium’s beneficial effects on blood sugar metabolism3 provide support for:

  • Maintenance of healthy blood sugar levels*
  • Insulin sensitivity*
  • Healthy HbA1c levels*

Magnesium and bone

Did you know that 50-60 percent of the magnesium in your body is stored in your bones? Magnesium is needed to metabolize vitamin D because the enzymes that activate vitamin D in the liver and kidneys depend on magnesium to function.*4 And, while vitamin D is necessary for calcium absorption, magnesium is important for keeping calcium in the bones and out of the soft tissues.*

Maintaining healthy levels of magnesium:

  • Supports healthy bone formation via vitamin D metabolism*
  • Supports healthy kidneys by keeping calcium in the bones and outside the kidneys*
  • Supports healthy arteries by keeping calcium in the bones and out of the arteries*

Magnesium and energy

Let’s not forget about magnesium and energy production – it’s needed for ATP – the energy powerhouses in every single cell in the body.* When magnesium binds to ATP, it activates this powerhouse.

How can you be sure you’re getting enough magnesium?

By now, you must be convinced that magnesium is absolutely essential for your whole body to function efficiently.* But what’s the best way to get more magnesium in your diet? Interestingly, if you are eating a diet with plenty of magnesium, then you are probably eating a healthy diet because magnesium is found in many foods that are good for you – green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans – and don’t forget dark chocolate – which has health benefits of its own that could be in part due to magnesium.

According to FDA guidelines, we should all be getting at least 400 milligrams of magnesium daily (they say slightly less for women, but I’m not buying that). Let’s see the amount of magnesium in some specific foods, according to the Cleveland Clinic.


Serving size

Amount of magnesium (mg)

Pumpkin seeds (kernels)

1 ounce

168 mg (these are high in zinc too)

Almonds (dry roasted)

1 ounce

80 mg

Spinach (cooked)

½ cup

78 mg

Cashews (dry roasted)

1 ounce

74 mg

Pumpkin seeds (in shell)

1 ounce

74 mg

Peanuts (oil roasted)

¼ cup

63 mg

Shredded wheat cereal

2 large biscuits

61 mg


1 cup

61 mg

Black beans (cooked)

½ cup

60 mg

Edamame (cooked, shelled)

½ cup

50 mg

Dark chocolate (60-69% cacao)

1 ounce 

50 mg


What about a magnesium supplement? And if so, which one?

A good way to assure you are getting a good supply of magnesium is to add a magnesium supplement to your daily regimen. Although Thorne provides magnesium in numerous multiple-ingredient products, two products feature it by itself – Magnesium Bisglycinate and Magnesium CitraMate. Which one to choose?

Well, in part it depends on whether you would like an easy-to-take-on-the-go capsule (Magnesium CitraMate) or a great-tasting powder that can be mixed with water, juice, or with other powdered supplements (Magnesium Bisglycinate). 

First let’s talk about the compound magnesium bisglycinate. It’s sometimes just called magnesium glycinate; however, because it has two glycine molecules attached (bis=two), it is more accurately called “bisglycinate.” Glycine is an amino acid that, when bound to a mineral, supports superior absorption of the mineral because it increases its solubility.

Another advantage to this form of magnesium is that it tends to have less of a laxative effect than some magnesium formulations. Why is this? One reason is better absorption from the intestinal tract. But also, because it has two glycine molecules, they attach to the magnesium and block binding sites where water would otherwise attach, which also decreases the laxative affect.

An added benefit of glycine is that it acts as a neurotransmitter that provides relaxation and stress reduction for the body – making Magnesium Bisglycinate a good choice for pre-bedtime supplementation to support restful sleep.*

Thorne’s Magnesium CitraMate is a combination of magnesium citrate and magnesium malate – both are well-absorbed forms of magnesium. What do citrate and malate do for the body? They are both organic acids that are used by the body to produce energy in the process called the Krebs or Citric Acid Cycle.

Citrate has the added benefit of working with magnesium to support kidney function by decreasing calcium oxalate and phosphate crystals in the urine.* Malate pairs well with magnesium to provide benefit for individuals with muscle tenderness and fatigue.*


  1. Cuciureanu M, Vink R. Magnesium and stress. In: Vink R, Nechifor M, editors. Magnesium in the Central Nervous System. Adelaide, AU: University of Adelaide Press; 2011. 
  2. Efstratiadis G, Sarigianni M, Gougourelas I. Hypomagnesemia and cardiovascular system. Hippokratia 2006 Oct;10(4):147-152.
  3. Elderawi W, Naser I, Taleb M, Abutair A. The effects of oral magnesium supplementation on glycemic response among type 2 diabetes patients. Nutrients 2018 Dec 26;11(1). pii: E44. doi: 10.3390/nu11010044.
  4. Uwitonze A, Razzaque M. The role of magnesium in vitamin D activation and function. J Am Osteopath Assoc 2018;118(3):181-189.
  5. Magnesium rich food. [Accessed Nov. 27, 2019]