What Does Magnesium Do?

Co-Authored by Dr. Melissa Glover, ND & Dr. Brittany Schamerhorn, ND 

In a perfect world, magnesium is supposed to be the fourth most abundant mineral in our body, as it is necessary for the synthesis of ATP, the body’s main form of energy. However, it is estimated that over 43% of Canadians do not get sufficient magnesium through the diet. This is due to our food sources being depleted of magnesium themselves. With depleted soils, food processing, and absorption issues becoming more common getting enough magnesium in a day can become quite challenging! When you increase your demand for magnesium by chronic stress and various medications, it is no wonder it is one of the most commonly deficient minerals in developed countries.

....it is estimated that over 43% of Canadians do not get sufficient magnesium through the diet.

Magnesium works on a fundamental level and is involved in many biochemical and physiological roles, so the signs of deficiency can be quite variable. Here is a very simplified list of some of the key functions of magnesium:

  • Magnesium activates enzymes - making our biochemical processes more efficient
  • Magnesium activates enzymes that help produce cellular energy (ATP)
  • Magnesium helps with the regulation of minerals - for example: 
    • Sodium and potassium in our nerve cells
    • Pumping calcium out of our muscles (preventing muscle spasms or twitching)

The Optimal Daily Intake is 600-800 mg/day (including all sources, both supplemental and food).

Food Sources: Nuts, whole grains, legumes, leafy green vegetables, fish and meat. (Note: 50-75% of Magnesium is lost in water when vegetables are boiled)

Fun fact: 

 The absorption of magnesium is actually regulated by the level of magnesium you already have. If you are deficient in magnesium, your body will automatically increase absorption, while if you have sufficient magnesium levels your body will decrease absorption.

 photo credit: https://eatlove.live/daily-need-of-magnesium/

photo credit: https://eatlove.live/daily-need-of-magnesium/

Since Magnesium is so crucial to so many processes the signs of deficiency are vast and various! Just a few potential signs of a magnesium deficiency are:

• Brain Fog
• Headaches
• Elevated blood pressure
• Decreased glucose tolerance
• Neural excitation
• Inflammation
• Fatigue
• Muscle cramps or tightness
• Irritability
• Weakness
• Insomnia
• Anxiety
• Depression


  • Acid reflux & heartburn - magnesium will reduce spasm of the lower esophageal sphincter and prevent the release of acid into the esophagus. Magnesium is also needed for stomach acid production, so deficiency can be an indicator of low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria).
  • Alzheimer & dementia - magnesium acts as a cofactor for enzymes that break down and prevent amyloid-beta plaques, which are closely associated with Alzheimer's disease & dementia.
  • Anxiety, stress & panic attacks - magnesium promotes relaxation through the sympathetic nervous system, thyroid and adrenal glands.
  • Blood sugar regulation - magnesium helps to improve insulin sensitivity
  • Bone health - magnesium and calcium go hand in hand.
  • Constipation - magnesium induces muscle relaxation and some forms act as a gentle laxatives.
  • Hypertension - magnesium leads to general relaxation and dilation of blood vessels which promote improved circulation at a lower pressure.
  • Vitamin D & calcium deficiencies - magnesium regulates key enzymes that activate Vitamin D and promote calcium absorption
  • Depression - magnesium helps convert tryptophan into serotonin (our happy and calm neurotransmitter)
  • Migraines & headaches - magnesium promotes relaxation of muscles and the production of serotonin (both with have shown effective in treating migraines and headaches)
  • Fatigue - magnesium increases ATP levels which is our main source of cellular energy in the mitochondria.
  • Sports endurance & athletic recovery - magnesium creates cellular energy and promoting optimal muscle relaxation & contraction.

Now that you know a bit more about magnesium this contraindicating statement should make a bit more sense. Magnesium can be energizing in the fact that it can support our various energy-producing pathways, while also decreasing our stress response and increasing our sleep quality. Magnesium truly can be both relaxing and energizing, acting to balance and optimize the body's energy levels.

Magnesium truly can be both relaxing and energizing, acting to balance and optimize the body’s energy levels

Unfortunately, there is not one type of Magnesium that is better than all of the others. Given the various uses of magnesium in the body, the type best chosen for treatment is specific to both the desired outcome and the demands on an individual.

  • Magnesium Aspartate: thought to help more specifically with fatigue since aspartic acid plays a role in energy production. Higher absorption of ~42%.
  • Magnesium oxide/oxalate: gastrointestinal side effects like diarrhea and bloating are common due to a lower absorption rate. Can be useful for severe constipation. Absorption is low, ~4-5%.
  • Magnesium glycinate: the quickest and easiest to be absorbed through the intestine (this means there is minimal if any, laxative effect). Successfully used for chronic pain and hypertonicity. Higher availability than magnesium oxide.
  • Magnesium citrate: has a more gentle laxative effect than the oxide form and it is rapidly absorbed in the GI tract. Absorption is ~25-30%
  • Magnesium malate: the combination of malate and magnesium can improve ATP production has may relieve pain and tenderness in fibromyalgia. Similar absorbability as magnesium citrate (~25-30%).
  • Magnesium sulfate: not used in oral form, but can be absorbed through the skin, so it is found in topical applications & Epsom bath salts.
  • Magnesium orotate: this form is studied mostly in relation to heart health.
  • Magnesium-L-Threonate: has been shown to improve cognitive function. Not as useful when suspecting magnesium deficiency.

If you think you may be deficient in magnesium or that supplementation may benefit you make sure you talk to your doctor first to make sure it is right for you! This article was written for information purposes only and was not intended to diagnose or prescribe.  

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Can Prev - Magnesium A complete primer