From regulating blood sugar levels to boosting athletic performance, magnesium is crucial for your brain and body.

Yet, although it’s found in a variety of foods ranging from leafy greens to nuts, seeds, and beans, many people don’t get enough in their diet.

Here are 12 evidence-based health benefits of magnesium, along with some simple ways to increase your intake.

overhead view of pumpkin seeds cashews and almondsShare on Pinterest
Jelena Lalic/Getty Images

Magnesium is found throughout your body. In fact, every cell in your body contains this mineral and needs it to function.

About 60% of the magnesium in your body occurs in bone, while the rest is in muscles, soft tissues, and fluids, including blood (1).

One of its main roles is to act as a cofactor — a helper molecule — in the biochemical reactions continuously performed by enzymes. It’s involved in more than 600 reactions in your body, including (2):

  • Energy creation: converting food into energy
  • Protein formation: creating new proteins from amino acids
  • Gene maintenance: helping create and repair DNA and RNA
  • Muscle movements: aiding in muscle contraction and relaxation
  • Nervous system regulation: regulating neurotransmitters, which send messages throughout your brain and nervous system

Nonetheless, studies suggest that approximately 50% of U.S. adults get less than the recommended daily amount of magnesium (1, 3).

Summary

Magnesium supports hundreds of chemical reactions in your body. However, many people get less than they need.

During exercise, you need more magnesium than when you’re resting, depending on the activity (4).

Magnesium helps move blood sugar into your muscles and dispose of lactate, which can build up during exercise and cause fatigue (5).

Studies show that magnesium supplements may be particularly beneficial for improving exercise performance in older adults and those with a deficiency in this nutrient (6).

One study in 2,570 women associated higher magnesium intake with increased muscle mass and power (7).

In an older study, volleyball players who took 250 mg of magnesium per day experienced improvements in jumping and arm movements (8).

What’s more, one study suggested that magnesium supplements protect against certain markers of muscle damage in professional cyclists (9).

However, more studies are needed, as some research suggests that supplementing doesn’t help athletes or active people with normal magnesium levels (6).

Summary

Magnesium supplements have been shown to enhance exercise performance in several studies, but results are mixed.

Magnesium plays a critical role in brain function and mood, and low levels are linked to an increased risk of depression (10).

In fact, an analysis of data from more than 8,800 people found that those under age 65 with the lowest magnesium intake had a 22% greater risk of depression (10).

What’s more, supplementing with this mineral may help reduce symptoms of depression (11, 12).

In one small 8-week study, taking 500 mg of magnesium daily led to significant improvements in symptoms of depression in people with a deficiency in this mineral (12).

Plus, a 6-week study in 126 people showed that taking 248 mg of magnesium per day decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety, regardless of magnesium status (11).

Summary

Magnesium deficiency may be linked to depression. As such, supplementing may help reduce symptoms of depression.

Studies suggest that about 48% of people with type 2 diabetes have low blood levels of magnesium, which may impair the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels effectively (1, 13).

Additionally, research indicates that people who consume more magnesium have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes (14, 15, 16).

According to one review, magnesium supplements help enhance insulin sensitivity, a key factor involved in blood sugar control (17).

Another review reported that magnesium supplements improved blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity in people at risk for type 2 diabetes (18).

However, these effects may depend on how much magnesium you’re getting from food. For example, one older study found that supplements didn’t improve blood sugar or insulin levels in people who weren’t deficient (19).

Summary

Magnesium supplements may improve blood sugar levels, insulin sensitivity, and other risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

Magnesium plays an important role in keeping your heart healthy and strong.

In fact, studies show that magnesium supplements can help lower high blood pressure levels, which may be a risk factor for heart disease (20).

Another review linked high magnesium intake to a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure (21).

What’s more, one review found that magnesium supplements improved multiple risk factors for heart disease, including triglyceride, LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, and systolic blood pressure levels, especially in people with a magnesium deficiency (22).

However, more research is needed, as other research has found no effect of magnesium on cholesterol or triglyceride levels (23).

Summary

Magnesium may help lower blood pressure levels and reduce several risk factors for heart disease. Still, more research is needed.

Low magnesium intake is linked to increased levels of inflammation, which plays a key role in aging and chronic disease (24, 25).

One review of 11 studies concluded that magnesium supplements decreased levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation, in people with chronic inflammation (26).

Other studies report similar findings, showing that magnesium supplements may reduce CRP and other markers of inflammation, such as interleukin-6 (27, 28).

Furthermore, some research ties magnesium deficiency to increased oxidative stress, which is related to inflammation (29).

Summary

Magnesium has been shown to help fight inflammation by reducing markers such as CRP and interleukin-6.

Migraine headaches can be painful and often cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and noise (30).

Some researchers believe that people with migraine are more likely than others to have a magnesium deficiency (31).

In fact, several studies suggest that magnesium supplements may even prevent and treat migraine headaches (32, 33).

In one study, supplementing with 1 gram of magnesium provided relief from acute migraine attacks more quickly and effectively than a common medication (34).

Additionally, eating more magnesium-rich foods may help reduce migraine symptoms (35).

Summary

People with migraine may have low magnesium levels. Some studies show that supplementing with this mineral may provide relief from migraine attacks.

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is one of the most common conditions in female-bodied people of childbearing age. It often causes symptoms such as water retention, abdominal cramps, tiredness, and irritability (36).

Some research suggests that magnesium supplements help relieve PMS symptoms, as well as other conditions such as menstrual cramps and migraine attacks (37).

This may be because magnesium levels fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle, which may worsen PMS symptoms in those who have a deficiency. As such, supplements may help reduce the severity of symptoms, including menstrual migraine attacks (38).

In fact, one older study found that taking 250 mg of magnesium per day helped decrease bloating, depression, and anxiety in 126 women with PMS compared with a control group (39).

Still, more recent, high quality studies are needed to determine whether this mineral can improve symptoms regardless of your magnesium levels.

Summary

Some studies suggest that magnesium supplements help improve PMS symptoms, though more research is necessary.

Magnesium is crucial for maintaining bone health and protecting against bone loss. In fact, 50–60% of your body’s magnesium is found in your bones (40).

Some studies associate lower levels of this mineral with a higher risk of osteoporosis, a condition that causes bones to become brittle and weak (41).

A 3-year study in 358 people undergoing hemodialysis — a treatment to help remove waste and water from the blood — showed that those who consumed the least magnesium experienced 3 times more fractures than those with the highest intake (42).

What’s more, one recent review of 12 studies linked high magnesium intake to increased bone mineral density in the hip and femoral neck, both areas that are susceptible to fracture (43).

Summary

Magnesium is important for bone health. Some studies tie a higher intake to a lower risk of osteoporosis, fractures, and bone loss.

Magnesium supplements are often used as a natural remedy for sleep issues such as insomnia.

This is because magnesium regulates several neurotransmitters involved in sleep, such as gamma aminobutyric acid (44).

One review in older adults with insomnia found that magnesium supplements lowered the amount of time it took people to fall asleep by an average of 17 minutes (45).

Another study in nearly 4,000 adults linked increased intake of this mineral to improvements in sleep quality and duration (46).

Furthermore, another study associated higher magnesium intake in women with a reduced likelihood of falling asleep during the daytime (47).

Summary

Increasing your intake of magnesium through foods or supplements may help treat certain sleep issues and improve sleep quality.

Some research suggests that magnesium helps treat and prevent anxiety (48).

For example, one study in 3,172 adults associated increased magnesium intake with a lower risk of depression and anxiety (49).

Similarly, a small 6-week study found that taking 248 mg of magnesium per day significantly reduced symptoms of anxiety (11).

Other research suggests that magnesium deficiency may increase your body’s susceptibility to stress, which may amplify symptoms of anxiety (50).

One review concluded that magnesium supplements may help reduce mild to moderate anxiety but noted that research is conflicting — and that the effects of supplements haven’t been studied beyond 3 months (51).

Summary

Magnesium may help reduce symptoms of anxiety and decrease stress, but more studies are needed.

Magnesium is essential for many aspects of health. The recommended daily intake is 400–420 mg per day for men and 310–320 mg per day for women (40).

You can get this mineral from both food and supplements.

Food sources

The following foods are rich in magnesium (40):

  • Pumpkin seeds: 37% of the DV per ounce (28 grams)
  • Chia seeds: 26% of the DV per ounce (28 grams)
  • Spinach, boiled: 19% of the DV per 1/2 cup (90 grams)
  • Almonds: 19% of the DV per ounce (28 grams)
  • Cashews: 18% of the DV per ounce (28 grams)
  • Black beans, cooked: 14% of the DV per 1/2 cup (86 grams)
  • Edamame, cooked: 12% of the DV per 1/2 cup (78 grams)
  • Peanut butter: 12% of the DV per 2 tablespoons (32 grams)
  • Brown rice, cooked: 10% of the DV per 1/2 cup (100 grams)
  • Salmon, cooked: 6% of the DV per 3 ounces (85 grams)
  • Halibut, cooked: 6% of the DV per 3 ounces (85 grams)
  • Avocado: 5% of the DV per 1/2 cup (75 grams)

Supplements

If you have a medical condition, check with your doctor before taking magnesium supplements. Though these supplements are generally well tolerated, they may be unsafe for people who take certain diuretics, heart medications, or antibiotics (52).

Forms that tend to be absorbed well include magnesium citrate, glycinate, orotate, and carbonate (3).

Summary

Getting enough magnesium is vital for your health. Many foods contain it, and many high quality supplements are available.

Magnesium is essential for maintaining good health and plays a key role in everything from exercise performance to heart health and brain function.

Enjoying a variety of magnesium-rich foods may ensure that you’re getting enough of this important nutrient in your diet. Spinach, chia seeds, peanut butter, and avocados are a few examples that make great additions to smoothies, snacks, and other dishes.

Alternatively, you can try supplementing or using a multivitamin to help fill any gaps in your diet.

Still, study results should be interpreted with a grain of salt. Following a balanced diet is more important than focusing on a single nutrient. Keep in mind that magnesium is not guaranteed to provide any of the results above.

Just one thing

Try this today: For a simple and delicious way to increase your magnesium intake, make homemade trail mix with a few of your favorite nuts and seeds. Not only is this treat packed with nutrients, but it’s also a great on-the-go snack.