Magnesium: 6 Ways It Boosts Your Brain And Overall Health

Magnesium is a powerhouse mineral vital for numerous bodily functions, from maintaining bone health and regulating blood sugar levels to supporting cognitive function and enhancing exercise performance.
The Top 10 Food Sources Of Magnesium

What is Magnesium?

Magnesium is a powerhouse mineral essential for the brain and body, from keeping blood sugar levels in check to boosting athletic performance.

Despite its presence in various foods like leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and beans, many still lack the daily magnesium they need.

Did you know that magnesium is everywhere in your body? Every single cell relies on this vital mineral to function correctly.

About 60% is stored in bones, while the rest is spread throughout muscles, soft tissues, and fluids, including blood [1].

Magnesium is a multitasking hero in the body. It acts as a cofactor, which means it helps enzymes perform the biochemical reactions that keep you alive and kicking. It’s involved in more than 600 different reactions [2], including:

  • Nervous system regulation: Keeping your neurotransmitters in check, which are crucial for sending messages throughout your brain and nervous system
  • Energy creation: Turning your food into energy
  • Protein formation: Building new proteins from amino acids
  • Gene maintenance: Helping to create and repair DNA and RNA
  • Muscle movements: Assisting in muscle contraction and relaxation

Despite its importance, studies show that nearly half of U.S. adults aren’t meeting their daily magnesium requirements [3].

Let’s take a look at some of magnesium’s science-backed benefits.

1. Brain Enhancement

Magnesium, a powerful ally for your brain, is pivotal in enhancing its health and function in intriguing ways.

First, let's discuss neuroplasticity, the brain's unique ability to form new connections between neurons.

Every time you learn something new, a signal zooms across the synaptic space between neurons, creating these connections. This process, called neuroplasticity, is essential for learning and memory.

Memories can fade when these pathways break down, and you might start forgetting simple things like names or phone numbers.

Magnesium plays a critical role in maintaining this neuroplasticity, which means it's crucial for your ability to learn and remember things. It helps control the ion channels, or electrical switches, that facilitate these signals [4].

The more these ion channels transmit signals, the stronger the connections between neurons and the better your memory formation.

Many studies have shown insufficient magnesium can seriously affect cognitive function [5].

However, magnesium's role doesn't end there. It's also a key player in ATP synthesis. ATP, or adenosine triphosphate, is the primary energy source generated within the mitochondria of your brain cells [6].

Interestingly, 20% of your body's total ATP is concentrated in your brain! For ATP to be biologically active, it must bind to a magnesium ion (Mg-ATP), illustrating the intricate processes that keep your brain functioning [7].

Without enough magnesium, your brain can't produce ATP, and all brain functions begin to break down. So, magnesium is indispensable for keeping your brain sharp and supporting learning, memory, recall, and overall cognition.

2. Depression Reduction

Low levels of magnesium have been linked to a higher risk of depression [8].

Researchers have discovered that magnesium works wonders in the hippocampus, the brain's memory hub, by suppressing the release of the stress hormone ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone). 

ACTH is the signal that tells your adrenal glands to pump out more cortisol and adrenaline.

Too much cortisol can wreak havoc on your hippocampus, leading to a vicious cycle of increased stress. This is toxic to both your brain and your body, and it's one of the contributing factors to chronic depression.

A 2020 review found that stress can deplete magnesium levels, making you more susceptible to anxiety and depression [8].

On the bright side, supplementing with magnesium may help reduce depression symptoms [9].

In a small 8-week study, participants who took 500 mg of magnesium daily saw significant improvements in their depression symptoms, especially those who were magnesium deficient [10].

Additionally, a 6-week study involving 126 people showed that taking 248 mg of magnesium per day reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, regardless of their initial magnesium levels [9].

3. Sleep Promotion

If you’re struggling with sleep issues like insomnia, magnesium supplements might be just what you need. Magnesium plays a crucial role in regulating neurotransmitters involved in sleep, including gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) [11].

One study on older adults with insomnia found that magnesium supplements helped them fall asleep faster—by an average of 17 minutes [12]!

Another study involving nearly 4,000 adults showed that higher magnesium intake was linked to better sleep quality and longer sleep duration [13].

Plus, there’s more good news for women. Another study found that women who consumed more magnesium were less likely to experience daytime tiredness and sleepiness [14].

4. Better Exercise Performance

Depending on the intensity of your activity, you might need more magnesium when you're working out than when you're resting [15].

Magnesium is critical to your body's energy production. It is instrumental in transporting blood sugar to your muscles and removing lactate, a byproduct of exercise that can lead to fatigue [16]. You can take charge of your exercise performance and recovery by ensuring adequate magnesium levels.

Studies have shown that magnesium supplements can be especially beneficial for improving exercise performance in older adults and those deficient in this nutrient [17].

For instance, an older study involving 2,570 women found that those with higher magnesium intake had increased muscle mass and power [18].

In a 2019 study, professional male cyclists who took 400 mg of magnesium daily for three weeks experienced better muscle recovery and less muscle damage after a tough race than those who took a placebo [19].

5. Blood Sugar Management and Heart Protection

Did you know that nearly half of people with type 2 diabetes have low magnesium levels? This deficiency can make it harder for their bodies to manage blood sugar effectively [20].

Interestingly, research shows that people who consume more magnesium tend to have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes [21].

A comprehensive review has revealed that magnesium supplements can significantly enhance insulin sensitivity, a vital factor in maintaining optimal blood sugar control [22].

It demonstrated that these supplements improved blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity in people at risk for type 2 diabetes.

But magnesium’s benefits don’t stop there—it also plays a crucial role in keeping your heart healthy and strong.

A 2021 review showed magnesium supplements could help lower high blood pressure, a significant risk factor for heart disease [23].

Another review linked high magnesium intake to a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure [24].

Moreover, one review found that magnesium supplements improved various heart disease risk factors, including triglyceride levels, LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, and systolic blood pressure, especially in those with a magnesium deficiency [25].

6. Bone Health Support

Magnesium is essential for keeping your bones strong and healthy. In fact, a whopping 50–60% of your body’s magnesium is stored in your bones [26].

Lower levels of this vital mineral are linked to a higher risk of osteoporosis, a condition that causes bones to become brittle and weak [27].

In a 3-year study involving 358 people on hemodialysis (a treatment that helps remove waste and water from the blood), those with the lowest magnesium intake had three times more fractures than those with the highest intake [28].

Furthermore, a recent review of 12 studies found that higher magnesium intake is associated with increased bone mineral density in critical areas like the hip and femoral neck, prone to fractures [29].

Ensuring you get enough magnesium can be critical in maintaining strong bones and preventing fractures, especially as you age!

Safety and Food Sources

Meeting your daily magnesium requirements is crucial for maintaining your health. Men typically need about 400–420 mg daily, while women require around 310–320 mg [26].

This essential mineral can be obtained from both your diet and supplements.

The Top 10 Food Sources Of Magnesium

It is noteworthy that approximately 30% to 40% of the dietary magnesium consumed is typically absorbed by the body.

Food

Milligrams

(mg) per serving

Percent

DV*

Pumpkin seeds, roasted, 1 ounce

156

37

Chia seeds, 1 ounce

111

26

Almonds, dry roasted, 1 ounce

80

19

Spinach, boiled, ½ cup

78

19

Cashews, dry roasted, 1 ounce

74

18

Peanuts, oil roasted, ¼ cup

63

15

Soymilk, plain or vanilla, 1 cup

61

15

Black beans, cooked, ½ cup

60

14

Edamame, shelled, cooked, ½ cup

50

12

Peanut butter, smooth, 2 tablespoons

49

12

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) FoodData Central [10] lists the nutrient content of many foods and provides comprehensive list of foods containing magnesium arranged by nutrient content and by food name.

Adding these foods to your meals can help you meet your magnesium needs and maintain overall health.

Conclusion

Magnesium is a powerhouse mineral vital for numerous bodily functions, from maintaining bone health and regulating blood sugar levels to supporting cognitive function and enhancing exercise performance.

Despite its importance, many people don't get enough magnesium from their diets, which can lead to various health issues, including increased stress, poor sleep, and higher risks of chronic diseases like osteoporosis and type 2 diabetes.

Fortunately, magnesium can be found in various delicious and nutritious foods such as seeds, nuts, leafy greens, legumes, fish, and whole grains. Incorporating these foods into your daily diet ensures your body gets the magnesium it needs to function optimally.

Additional Readings

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References

[1]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4586582/

[2]https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/physrev.00012.2014

[3]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6316205/

[4]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25135336/

[5]https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0108645

[6]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18510943/

[7]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2931560/

[8]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25748766/

[9]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5487054/

[10]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28241991/

[11]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5452159/

[12]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8053283/

[13]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8996025/

[14]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6212970/

[15]https://academic.oup.com/qjmed/article/111/11/759/4209351

[16]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5622706/

[17]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29637897/

[18]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26288012/

[19]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24015935/

[20]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34836329/

[21]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5711333/

[22]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6470576/

[23]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7827637/

[24]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6692462/

[25]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28150351/

[26]https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/

[27]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8313472/

[28]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8136656/

[29]https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S8756328221003999

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