Thursday, May 31, 2012

Magnesium - Maximizing This Essential Mineral

Magnesium is an essential mineral that is absolutely critical to health. Without magnesium we cannot make energy or even grow healthy bones. Sadly, magnesium is one of the most overlooked nutrients, yet it may be one of the most important in the prevention and treatment of many diseases like osteoporosis.

Let’s look at how magnesium is used in the body and how you can make sure that you get enough magnesium to maintain optimal health.


In your body, there are over 300 enzymes which require magnesium to be able to perform even the most basic metabolism. Included in these enzymes is the set of ALL of the enzymes needed for your body to be able to make and use ATP as a source of cellular energy. In fact, ATP must be bound with magnesium in order for it to be biologically active. Simply put, without magnesium, you could not function at all because your body’s source of energy is dependent on ATP and, therefore, on magnesium. Once you realize this, it is not hard to understand how a magnesium deficiency can easily lead to many symptoms including fatigue. Without enough energy from ATP not only will your cells be starved for energy -- you will be too!

In addition, magnesium is essential for bone growth and maintenance. About 60% of the magnesium in your body is bound up as bone mineral. It is also essential for absorbing calcium and phosphate (the two biggest ingredients in bones) both in the gut and into bones themselves. Thus magnesium is absolutely critical in preventing and treating osteopenia and osteoporosis.


A magnesium deficiency is difficult to measure in the blood or urine directly. Your body does a lot of work to keep levels in the blood constant. This can include pulling magnesium out of your bones (along with calcium and phosphorus) if you are running low. Unfortunately, this makes testing for a deficiency of magnesium very difficult until it is extremely severe.

Studies have shown that inadequate magnesium intake can lead to muscle spasms, and has been associated with migraines, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, anxiety disorders, and osteoporosis. When these symptoms present together, it is not unreasonable to consider a magnesium deficiency as a possible cause.

Furthermore, because magnesium is so important physiologically, it is likely that there are many other conditions that might improve with magnesium supplementation. Because magnesium is so critical for energy production, it is possible that a magnesium deficiency might be a contributing factor in patients suffering from a lack of energy or symptoms of fatigue which is otherwise unexplained. One good symptomatic clue to the presence of a magnesium deficiency is unexplained chronic constipation (more on this later).

So let’s look at foods that are high in magnesium and how you can ensure that are getting enough in your diet?


A well rounded, healthy diet (as discussed in our previous post here) should contain enough magnesium to cover your body’s needs. Sadly, most people do NOT eat a well rounded healthy diet, so it’s no big surprise that many people also do not get enough magnesium from their food.

Some foods rich in Magnesium that should be included in a healthy diet include:

  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Green Leafy Vegetables (Spinach, Kale, Dandelion Greens, Arugula, etc.)
  • Whole Grains
  • Seaweed

Seaweed salad is a great way to get essential minerals in your diet.
Seaweed - nature’s perfectly balanced mineral food:

Seaweed is a simple and healthy way to get magnesium and many other essential minerals. The great thing about seaweed is that you get an excellent overall balance of essential minerals together. Minerals rarely work alone in the body, rather they work together synergistically. For example, it is not just calcium that matters for the health of your bones, but the balance between calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium working in combination with vitamin D that helps you create and maintain healthy bones. Because the essential minerals for your body are found in seaweed, it just makes sense that seaweed is a great part of a healthy diet. For further discussion about seaweed see our post on seaweed.


If you need more magnesium than you can obtain from food alone, then you should consider supplementation. But not all supplements are created equal, so it is important to read labels and consult with your healthcare practitioner to decide exactly which type of supplement is the best choice for you.

Magnesium when in supplement form must be coupled with another element or chemical (oxygen, citric acid, etc.) in order to make it stable and bioavailable (easily absorbed by your body). On supplement packaging you may see ingredients listed such as magnesium-oxide, magnesium-citrate, magnesium-lactate, magnesium-aspartate, and many other combinations. However, not all of these combinations of magnesium are absorbed equally well and some may cause more side effects than others. We will outline some of the most common options below to give you an idea of their pros and cons.

Magnesium-oxide contains a lot of magnesium by weight, so it is often used in inexpensive supplements. Unfortunately, your body cannot absorb it very well, so most of it gets wasted by simply passing through your digestive system. Lower quality supplement manufacturers often use magnesium-oxide in their supplements because it is very inexpensive compared to other forms.

Another big drawback of magnesium-oxide is that the higher magnesium content can cause diarrhea (one of the side effects of magnesium, in general), even if it is not fully absorbed by your body. So not only do you absorb less magnesium to start with, but you are also more likely to have diarrhea when you take it. Diarrhea also has the unfortunate side effect of preventing any other valuable nutrients in your digestive system from being absorbed, as everything in your gut speeds its way through with no real time for absorption along the way. Of course, that means that any other vitamins, minerals, or other dietary supplements you took at the same time as the magnesium-oxide are poorly absorbed, essentially turning them into very expensive poop. So you absorb less magnesium and you absorb less of the multivitamin you spent your money to buy - this certainly does NOT seem like a good option to me. So my advice is simply to avoid any preparation which contains magnesium-oxide, especially if it is the primary ingredient.

Magnesium-citrate, on the other hand, is one of the most bioavailable (easily absorbed) forms of magnesium to take as a supplement. In addition, the citrate (citric acid) portion of this form (which breaks off and is also absorbed when your body absorbs the magnesium) is also a crucial part of human metabolism. This is one of the best forms of magnesium as a supplement because this form of magnesium is absorbed more easily in the gut and side effects are much less likely to occur.

There are other forms of magnesium supplements which are combined with amino acids (e.g. glycinate, lysinate), which may also be better tolerated. These forms are better absorbed than magnesium-oxide, but slightly less so than magnesium-citrate. However, these forms may be better suited for people with stomach or intestinal issues, as they tend to put less of a strain on the digestive system. Your health care practitioner should be able to help you decide which preparation is right for your particular needs.

Many forms of magnesium supplements can also be made into a sustained release formula, which can also help to prevent the occurrence of diarrhea.

Epsom Salt (magnesium sulfate) is often used in a warm bath.

Magnesium Sulfate - Epsom Salt: Magnesium is also used in the form of “Epsom Salt” which can be used internally as a laxative, but usually used externally. You can add Epsom salt to a bath to soothe aching muscles (magnesium gets absorbed through the skin) and reduce inflammation. By the same token, magnesium can also help relax the muscles around your airways, making breathing easier.

For a broader discussion of supplements and how to pick a high quality supplement, please see our post about supplements.



Magnesium is very safe as a supplement because healthy kidneys can very easily remove any excess, so there are very few issues or side effects from taking magnesium. The main side effect of magnesium is diarrhea. This is due to the way in which magnesium pulls water into your intestines as it is absorbed; too much magnesium can lead to loose stools and eventually watery diarrhea. Magnesium will act as a laxative at high enough dosages no matter the type of magnesium supplement or preparation. As we discussed earlier, diarrhea can interfere with the absorption of other nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and can also lead to dehydration.

Side effect as treatment effect:

In the case of products like Milk of Magnesia (magnesium-hydroxide), the side effect of loosening stools is actually the treatment effect that is advertised to sell the product. Milk of Magnesia may well be a preparation that you are familiar with from childhood. While it is not a terribly tasty alternative, it is effective if all you care about is making sure you pass a bowel movement. Here’s the thing though, any magnesium preparation will work equally well for constipation, but only some of the ones we have discussed may provide other significant long term health benefits as well.

Dosage as a supplement vs. laxative:

Some key points that are important during magnesium supplementation:

Since magnesium will cause loosening of stools and possible diarrhea, no matter the preparation, you may wonder why you wouldn’t simply use an inexpensive preparation like magnesium-oxide or magnesium-hydroxide (Milk of Magnesia) if all you need is to relieve constipation? Well, you could do that, and you would relieve your constipation temporarily, but the question that remains is: what caused the constipation to begin with? There are many causes for constipation, but a likely culprit might well be a deficiency of magnesium. Since these preparations are not as bioavailable or help improve your overall magnesium levels as much as other preparations might, it makes sense to always use the healthiest and most bio-available form of magnesium even if constipation appears to be your primary concern.

Figuring out an appropriate dose for supplementation or treating constipation is pretty easy. Start with approximately 500 mg of magnesium a day and move the dose up or down depending on how your stools respond. If your stools loosen within a day or two then you are at a good dose. If you get diarrhea, back off the dose a bit, if your stools don’t loosen then increase the dose by about 100-150 mg per day until your stools loosen. Often, your requirements for magnesium will decrease after several months of replacement. This can occur as your body stores of magnesium are replenished.

Generally, your body won’t absorb more than it needs, so you should be able to easily determine the level you need by simply paying attention to your stools. As your body needs to absorb less magnesium, you may find that your stools start to loosen at a lower dose, which indicates it is a good time to decrease the amount you are taking. Finally, it is important to drink plenty of water when taking a magnesium supplement, as this is essential for the absorption of magnesium into your body.


Magnesium is an essential mineral that is involved in many critical physiological processes in the human body. Most people do not get adequate magnesium through diet alone. Magnesium supplementation has been associated with significant improvement in several chronic conditions. The main side effect of magnesium of diarrhea which also works as a treatment effect to alleviate constipation. Chronic constipation may be a sign of magnesium deficiency and can be treated easily with magnesium which may also help treat other chronic symptoms like fatigue.

Magnesium supplementation is generally safe for anyone with healthy kidneys. No matter what type of magnesium supplement you choose to take, there are three key points you should remember.

  • Make sure you take magnesium with plenty of water to help it get absorbed.
  • If you start to develop diarrhea, consider lowering your dose of magnesium until it stops.
  • Magnesium-citrate is the most bio-available (easily absorbed) form of magnesium supplement.

Always check with your health care practitioner regarding any program of supplementation you are considering. They will be able to help you decide on the proper preparation and dosage for your individual needs.

Researched and written by Dr. Rebecca Malamed, M.D. with assistance from Mr. Malcolm Potter.


  1. magnesium oil is very helpful for our health and Skin, Today i Found your article

    which is about magnesium oil related, I am Happy to find it and read the whole word and know about it. Thanks for


    Im a new comer to magnesium oil, just received my first spray bottle today!
    I get migraine very badly and very frequent and had heard it helps if not cures it. Time will tell.

    I’m enjoying the high-purity magnesium oil I recently received from MG12 I tried

    both Ancient Minerals ultra pure magnesium oil (sourced from ancient seabed minerals) and Ocean Minerals (from

    purified Pacific seawater). They both work well. I enjoy using the Ancient Minerals directly on my skin mixed in

    my favorite lotion, and reserve Ocean Minerals for baths and footbaths.

    I make a lotion using equal parts magnesium oil, coconut oil, and aloe vera gel. I also get great results using a

    mixture of magnesium oil and almond oil. I’m sure I’ll try other mixtures.

  2. I'm a new comer to magnesium oil, just received my first spray bottle today!
    I get migraine very badly and very frequent and had heard it helps if not cures it. Time will tell.