magnesium pills in hand

All About Magnesium: Benefits, Types, Symptoms of Deficiency, and Side Effects

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Magnesium has taken a seat in the spotlight in recent years and for a good reason.  This mineral is responsible for many core bodily functions, and the vast majority of people in this country are deficient. While most cases of magnesium deficiency go undiagnosed, it’s been estimated that up to 50% of the U.S. population is not reaching the recommended daily intake.

Supplementing with magnesium has become incredibly popular due to the various health benefits, which include treatment for anxiety, depression, acid reflux, heartburn, and muscle cramping, among others. I started taking magnesium regularly back in 2017 after a series of bizarre symptoms, and a journey down the internet rabbit hole led me to the conclusion that I was deficient.  The signs of magnesium deficiency can be extremely subtle. For many people, like myself, symptoms have to get very severe before we recognize and alleviate a magnesium deficiency.

Supplementing with magnesium has changed my life for the better.  It has helped to calm my anxiety, eliminate muscle cramping and eye twitching, and even make my bathroom visits a bit easier.  Read on for information about magnesium and the types of magnesium supplements on the market today.

Disclaimer:  I am not a doctor, nor do I pretend to play one on the internet.  The opinions expressed in this article are based on my own experiences and are not a substitute for professional medical advice.  If you believe you are suffering from a magnesium deficiency, consult with your physician.

What is magnesium?

Magnesium is a mineral in the body that assists with many biochemical reactions, including muscle and nerve function and blood pressure regulation.  Magnesium is present in food, including high fiber options like green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. However, most Americans are ingesting less than the daily recommended intake from food, especially those on a highly-processed diet.

What are symptoms of low magnesium in the body?

Below are some of the symptoms that I noticed when I experienced low magnesium. (All of these have since resolved through regular supplementation.) In addition to my symptoms, others have identified the following symptoms of magnesium deficiency:

  • Fatigue
  • Tingling in extremities
  • Headaches/Migraines
  • Nausea
  • Mood issues
  • Brain fog & memory problems
  • Digestive trouble & lack of appetite

Eye Twitching

An eye twitch is the number one thing that notifies me that I need to get some magnesium in my system.  It was also the first symptom that caught my attention enough to make me act. After several days of intermittent eye twitching, I was desperate for a solution. After just 3-4 days supplementing with magnesium, my eye twitch stopped. Since magnesium plays a significant part in muscle relaxation, spasms or twitches are commonly cited issues of deficiency.

Night Terrors

It was September of 2017, and I remember it like it was yesterday.  I woke in the middle of the night screaming, heart racing, sweat pouring from all over my body, feelings of dread, and the uncertainty of not knowing why any of it happened.  I hugged my sweet puppy to calm down, and when I finally came to and understood what happened, I knew from hearing others talk about it before that I had a night terror.

While I haven’t seen many stories that share this symptom as it relates to magnesium deficiency, there are some. This event correlated so closely with my intense eye twitching, as outlined above, that it led me to magnesium supplementation. Since I started supplementing, I have not had issues. The calming and relaxation effects of magnesium have been shown to help with numerous other sleep disorders as well, most notably insomnia.

Cramping

My muscle cramping tends to present in the calves, but since magnesium is a critical element in proper muscle function, cramping can happen in any muscle. I have experienced a noticeable difference in the number of muscle cramps since starting to supplement with magnesium.

Difficult Stools

Most major laxatives (think Milk of Magnesia, Miralax) use magnesium as a core ingredient.  So it should come as no surprise that there are benefits for your poops from supplementing with magnesium. Be cautious, though. As I’ll explain in the next section, overconsumption of magnesium can show itself in some kind of unpleasant ways.

Can you consume too much magnesium?

Because the kidneys eliminate excess magnesium in the urine, it’s not risky to overconsume magnesium from food.  It is possible, though, to overdo it on the supplement front. The result can be diarrhea and sometimes nausea and abdominal cramping.

I’ve often heard the recommendation that you should start slow with magnesium supplementation and build up over time as needed.  Your body’s threshold will notify you if you’ve taken too much via diarrhea. So like with any other new supplement, it’s best to try to plan to take the supplement the first time on a weekend or sometime when you’ll have faster access to facilities.

What dose of magnesium is safe?

It’s best to consult your physician before starting any new supplement regimen.  The recommended daily intake for magnesium varies by gender and age but typically falls somewhere in the range of 250-400mg.

What are the different types of magnesium?

One of the most confusing things about purchasing a magnesium supplement is how many different kinds there are. If you type in “magnesium” on Amazon, it returns over 1,000 results. Holy overwhelming. The following are the main types of magnesium you’ll see, and what they are said to support.

Magnesium Citrate*

Magnesium citrate is said to have higher bioavailability than other types of magnesium.  But this high availability also means it draws more water into the gut, which generates the laxative effect and can deplete levels of the mineral because it moves through you too quickly. Be sure to take this kind of magnesium with a big glass of water to combat any dehydrating effects.

Magnesium Glycinate*

Magnesium glycinate is the type most often recommended by doctors.  In this supplement, magnesium is bound to glycine, which is known for its benefits regarding sleep quality, assistance in collagen and glutathione production, and the potential to repair liver damage. Magnesium glycinate has limited laxative properties and has been used to treat anxiety, sleep issues, and even PMS symptoms.

This form of magnesium is also more expensive than others, making it not the first choice for a lot of consumers. However, the benefits are encouraging and may be worth the extra money.

At our house, we go back and forth between citrate and glycinate. I do notice more calming feelings after using glycinate vs. citrate.

Magnesium Malate*

Magnesium malate is bound to malic acid and has been thought to be the most bioavailable form of magnesium. This form of magnesium absorbs slowly and tends to be more powerful in providing energy.  For athletes and others, this could prove to have the most noticeable results.  Magnesium malate is sometimes used in the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome as well as fibromyalgia.

Magnesium Chloride*

This type of magnesium is typically used in detoxification but is not often recommended for everyday use.  It’s usually lower in bioavailable magnesium, but it chelates (bonds to) excess iron and other minerals plus heavy metals.  This, plus the laxative effect, makes it a great detox tool. While it exists in tablet form, many of the types of magnesium chloride are powder or flakes, specifically designed to be used in baths.

Magnesium Oxide*

Magnesium oxide is typically used to treat acid reflux, upset stomach, and indigestion. It has a lower bioavailability than some other kinds of magnesium, despite the fact that it actually has more magnesium per mg than other supplements. I’ve heard some say that magnesium oxide is not one of the best options and can sometimes be wasted money due to the poor absorption.

Magnesium Taurate*

There are many uses for magnesium taurate in the medicinal space, specifically around cardiac benefits. As this type of magnesium binds to taurine, which is known to help the heart pump blood, it is used to help lower blood pressure as well as prevent arrhythmias. There is speculation that there are also for applications for diabetes, including improvement of insulin sensitivity.

Magnesium sulfate*

The common name for magnesium sulfate is Epsom salt. This compound, created from magnesium, sulfur, and oxygen, has been used in baths to reduce pain and swelling, enhance recovery, and promote sleep. When given intravenously, magnesium sulfate has also been a popular treatment for preeclampsia in pregnant women.

Magnesium threonate*

Magnesium l-threonate is relatively new on the scene and is best known for its potential brain-boosting benefits. While there are minimal studies in humans, you’ll be pleased to know that plenty of rats have seen gains of memory improvements in both the short and long term. Until there’s more research, I’m kind of on the fence about this one.

Resources for more information

Y’all already know I’m a huge fan of books and podcasts for information.  So what better way to offer up more info on the benefits of magnesium than to provide some of my favorite podcast episodes?

The Model Health Show

Shawn Stevenson, one of my favorites that I’ve featured in my favorite nutrition podcasts, is a proponent of absorbable magnesium through the skin, as opposed to through the mouth. There are several podcasts with Shawn that discuss magnesium, but this one solely focuses on magnesium, which I love.

The Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast

Ben Greenfield is insanely thorough in his assessment of magnesium in this podcast episode.  Thomas DeLauer joins him who is a former unhealthy CEO turned expert on inflammation and low-carb diets.  The good stuff starts around minute 11.

Natural MD Radio

Dr. Aviva Romm focuses on women’s health as it relates to magnesium in this informational podcast episode.  She claims magnesium to be one of her favorite natural remedies. A great listen for ladies and men alike!

Did you learn something new about magnesium or have a success story of your own? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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