Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in your body, and it’s a nutrient you need to stay healthy. Magnesium is important to many bodily processes, such as regulating muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure. It is also essential to bone development, and it helps your body synthesize proteins and DNA.

What happens if you don’t get enough magnesium?

The estimated average requirement (EAR) for magnesium varies depending on sex and gender. Pregnancy also plays a factor in determining the EAR for magnesium. You can find Health Canada’s guidelines for magnesium intake here.

If you’re magnesium deficient, you may experience symptoms such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness or numbness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Migraines
  • Spasms, weakness, or stiffness in your muscles
  • Seizures
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar

Left untreated, magnesium deficiency can lead to worsening symptoms and serious medical issues. If you suspect you are magnesium deficient, it’s important to consult your doctor so they can conduct further testing to identify the problem.

How can I increase my magnesium intake?

According to a 2012 survey by Health Canada, more than 34% of Canadians over the age of 19 consume less magnesium than the daily estimated average requirement (EAR). There are several steps you can take to increase your magnesium intake, and they start in the kitchen.

Incorporating magnesium-rich foods like legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, milk, and yogurt into your diet is an excellent way to up your magnesium intake. Magnesium is also available as a supplement in various forms, including capsules and tablets.

Who should take magnesium supplements?

According to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements, the following groups of people are more likely than others to not consume enough magnesium:

  • People with gastrointestinal diseases (such as Crohn’s disease and celiac disease)
  • People with type 2 diabetes
  • People with long-term alcoholism
  • Older people 

If you fall into one of these groups and you’re experiencing symptoms of magnesium deficiency, it’s worth considering taking steps to increase your intake of this nutrient. You may also benefit from taking magnesium supplements if you are looking to:

  • Improve your sleep — steadily maintaining high magnesium levels can help relax your body, resulting in deeper sleep
  • Improve your heart health — magnesium regulates muscle function (including the heart) and balances blood pressure levels
  • Boost your physical performance — by moving blood sugar into your muscles and eliminating lactate (which can build up during physical activity and cause feelings of tiredness), magnesium can increase your performance during exercise
  • Strengthen your bones — magnesium can play a role in increasing bone density and decreasing the risk of bone loss
  • Enhance your mood — low levels of magnesium are linked to an increased risk of depression, and magnesium is essential to brain function and mood

Always consult your doctor for guidance if you are considering taking a new supplement.

When should magnesium supplements be taken?

The type of magnesium you’re taking and its desired effect will determine when the best time is for you to take your supplement. 

Generally, magnesium supplements should be taken near mealtime to avoid upsetting your stomach. If you’re using magnesium to improve your sleep, take your supplement one to two hours before you go to bed to allow its relaxing effects time to work.

Like many other supplements, magnesium supplements work best when you take them at the same time each day to keep your levels consistent.

Is there a downside to taking magnesium?

Magnesium supplements are generally considered safe, but you should check with your healthcare provider before you begin taking them — particularly if you have a medical condition.

According to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements, magnesium supplements may be unsafe for people who take certain medications, including bisphosphonates, antibiotics, diuretics, and proton pump inhibitors.

Most people don’t experience side effects from taking magnesium supplements. Among reported side effects from those who have experienced them are diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. This is seen more often when magnesium is taken in high doses.

According to a 2017 study, people with kidney issues are at a higher risk of experiencing negative side effects from magnesium supplements. Take these factors into consideration if you’re thinking about starting magnesium supplements.

Can taking too much magnesium hurt you?

Magnesium that is naturally present in food and beverages isn’t harmful to your health and you don’t need to limit it. In healthy people, the kidneys can eliminate any excess magnesium via urine.

However, the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements notes that high intakes of magnesium from dietary supplements and medications can lead to diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal cramping. Extremely high intakes of magnesium can result in irregular heartbeat and cardiac arrest.

Magnesium in dietary supplements and medications should not be consumed in amounts above the upper limit, unless this has been recommended to you by a healthcare provider.

Getting enough magnesium helps you maintain good overall wellbeing, and it could also help you manage stress, muscle aches, and migraines — along with a variety of other health benefits. If you’re experiencing symptoms of magnesium deficiency (such as feelings of tiredness or weakness), don’t ignore them. Consult with your doctor if you notice any of these signs to determine what’s causing your symptoms.