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Magnificent Magnesium – A critical co-factor for 300+ body reactions

This article was featured in Lifestyles55 (in two parts)

According to Bruce Ames, Ph.D., the famous professor of biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, we need a healthy diet and about 28 micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and amino acids) each day to slow down the aging process, keep our minds sharp, and help prevent DNA damage that can lead to the diseases of aging, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, immune system dysfunction, dementia, and cataracts.

Ames’ Triage Theory predicts that the consequence of a deficiency of even a single micronutrient like magnesium can result in DNA damage that is equal to the damage caused by radiation.

The second most abundant mineral in soft tissue (after potassium), magnesium is critical for energy metabolism, and is vital to the production of ATP (required for energy), which the body requires for mental, physical and biochemical processes. It also relaxes muscles and to help reduce stress, as it acts as a natural tranquilizer and anti-stress mineral, while helping to improve sleep by reducing the stress hormone cortisol.

Magnesium is a critical co-factor for the production of proteins, enzymes, and over 300 biochemical and enzymatic reactions in the body. It plays an important role in the synthesis of proteins, the metabolism and utilization of carbohydrates and fats, and the synthesis of glutathione, the most important antioxidant in the body. Magnesium inhibits platelet aggregation which may help prevent blood clots, and helps to relax and dilate blood vessels, improving circulation.

Magnesium is required for growth and development, maintaining normal muscle and nerve function, regulating heartbeat, wound healing, temperature regulation, cognitive performance and mental health, heart and skeletal muscle contraction, building bone mineral density and immune function. A recent meta-analysis of 11 controlled trials found that magnesium supplementation may reduce chronic inflammation. As an important co-factor for the production of detoxification enzymes, magnesium helps the body eliminate toxins, including lead, mercury, aluminum, cadmium and arsenic.

Because magnesium is required for so many biological and biochemical processes, a deficiency can cause a tremendous range of symptoms and conditions that may not seem related. Estimates are that about 60% of North Americans are deficient in magnesium. While magnesium deficiency can be due to a poor diet (consuming processed or refined foods), prescription drugs also deplete a wide range of micronutrients including magnesium. With age, many have a gradual decrease in the stomach acid required to break down and assimilate minerals.  In addition, the mineral levels in foods are decreasing due to farming practices and soil quality. Magnesium deficiency can affect every system in the body.

Early symptoms of magnesium deficiency include fatigue (physical and mental), irritability, twitching under the eyes, leg and muscle cramps, foot pain, muscle spasms, loss of appetite, numbness or tingling, abnormal heart rhythm and back pain. Other symptoms can include neck pain, upper back, neck and shoulder tension, tension headaches, TMJ (jaw joint pain), bruxism (jaw clenching, teeth grinding), constipation, menstrual cramps, difficulty swallowing, sensitivity to loud noises, adjusting to bright oncoming headlights, insomnia, breast tenderness, anxiety, hyperactivity (the inability to sit still), lack of mental focus, panic attacks and agoraphobia. Craving salt, carbohydrates and cocoa (cocoa/chocolate is high in magnesium) can also be a symptom of magnesium deficiency.

Dr. Norman Shealy states: “Every known illness is associated with a magnesium deficiency” and that, “magnesium is the most critical mineral required for electrical stability of every cell in the body. A magnesium deficiency may be responsible for more diseases than any other nutrient.” Magnesium may be the most important micronutrient needed by the body, after oxygen, pure water and nutritious food. Dr. Mark Sircus, a magnesium authority, believes magnesium deficiency is directly related to diabetes and is at the root of many if not all cardiovascular problems.

Magnesium can help improve sleep quality, fight fatigue and may lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A recent study found that more than 50% of pre-diabetics given magnesium supplements saw improvements in fasting and post-meal blood glucose levels as well as insulin resistance. Magnesium improves insulin sensitivity and can reduce the risk of retinopathy. Magnesium improves blood clotting, can help lower high blood pressure and cholesterol, reduces muscle spasms including leg cramps and restless legs, and helps alleviate asthma symptoms, kidney stones, osteoporosis and migraine headaches.

Magnesium deficiency is a common cause of constipation. Increasing fibre, probiotics, drinking plenty of pure water and magnesium can almost always cure chronic constipation and normalize bowel function.

Magnesium-Rich Foods

If magnesium levels are very low, it is often difficult to raise them to the normal range initially through oral supplementation. IV injections, adding foot baths or bathing in water with 1-2 cups of magnesium chloride crystals or flakes, or transdermal application of magnesium oil (rubbing it into or spraying on the skin), can more rapidly increase cellular magnesium levels, and can be effective for quickly reducing muscle spasms and cramps. Bathing in Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate), as it is excreted more quickly, is not as effective as magnesium chloride. 

As magnesium is the centre of the chlorophyll molecule, all green vegetables contain this magnificent mineral. As Dr. Ames says, “eat your spinach.” Other excellent sources are Swiss chard, nuts including almonds, yogurt, seeds (especially pumpkin), whole grains, sardines, salmon, cocoa, and animal foods.

Styrian pumpkin seeds (produced in Styria, Austria) are especially high in magnesium and other healthful nutrients. But even a diet rich in vegetables will usually only provide about 200 mg of magnesium.

Take Magnesium Separately

While many supplements and vitamins combine magnesium with calcium, when taken together, they can compete for absorption, so I recommend taking magnesium supplements without calcium, however if calcium and magnesium are combined, I prefer a supplement that contains twice the amount of magnesium (i.e. 200 mg of magnesium/100 mg of calcium). Magnesium is often combined with calcium, as magnesium’s laxative effects can counteract the tendency of calcium to be constipating.

Ionic Magnesium: Ionic magnesium in liquid form, sourced from the Great Salt Lake (Concentrace, Magnesion) does not require stomach acid for absorption, and is recommended for older people who may be low in the gastric acid needed to break down other forms of magnesium. Ten drops supplies 65 mg of ionic magnesium. I recommend 40 drops per day which supplies 250 mg of magnesium, adding just a few drops to food and drink to reach the total.

Magnesium Chelates: Supplemental magnesium is combined with another element to form a “chelate.” The combination used to make the different chelates results in different levels of absorption and health benefits, as the added molecule can have complementary health benefits.

Elemental (actual) Levels of Magnesium, and Bioavailability: Below are the most popular forms, with the elemental amount and bioavailability if known. The actual amount of magnesium by weight in each supplement varies depending on the material with which it has been combined. The bioavailability is even more important, as this number indicates how well the magnesium raises magnesium levels in the body.

Magnesium Products for Transdermal Applications & Bathing

Magnesium Chloride: Available as flakes, crystals, and a liquid called magnesium oil, a super-saturated solution of magnesium chloride and water that feels oily on the skin.

Ancient Minerals has a variety of liquid products with additional ingredients, including Magnesium Gel (with added aloe), Magnesium Ultra (with MSM, to help reduce pain), and as Magnesium Lotion with oils designed to help alleviate eczema, psoriasis and other skin conditions. These are the preferred magnesium chloride products for transdermal application, and can be used as a spray, rubbed on the skin, in full body or foot baths.

Dead Sea Salts: Available as a bath crystal, Dead Sea salts are preferred to Epsom salts, as they contain magnesium chloride (about 34%) with other minerals including calcium and potassium, which many find helpful for dry, itchy, or eczema prone skin.

Magnesium Sulfate: This is the form of magnesium found in Epsom salts. Normally, this is not ingested orally, but absorbed transdermally through the skin through bathing or foot baths. 10% elemental, but the bioavailability is not known.

Oral Supplements - Understanding the Different Types of Magnesium

ConcenTrace and Magnesion: A liquid supplement that contains 72 trace minerals from the Great Salt Lake, with 99% of the sodium removed. As it is also high in chloride, this supplement also helps the body produce hydrochloric acid in the stomach, to aid in the digestion and assimilation of food. While chloride salts are related to the gas chlorine, they are essential for maintaining human health, with none of the harmful effects of isolated chlorine gas.

Magnesium Oxide, the least expensive form, isn’t as well absorbed as other forms, and can have strong laxative effects, however Dr. Alan Gaby, MD, the author of Magnesium, How An Important Mineral Helps Prevent Heart Attacks and Relieve Stress, and Nutritional Medicine, one of the most comprehensive reference books on nutritional therapy, indicates that this form has been successfully used in clinical trials for the treatment of migraine headaches, hypertension, premenstrual syndrome, restless legs and other conditions.

Magnesium oxide is 60% elemental, but with only 4% bioavailability. Compared to the other options, I do not recommend magnesium oxide, other than for use as a laxative.

Magnesium Citrate, which combines magnesium with citric acid, is very bioavailable, especially for people with low stomach acid, but like magnesium oxide, can have a strong laxative effect if too much is consumed at one time, so it’s best to take smaller amounts four or five times a day. Natural Calm, well-known for helping relax and reducing stress is a pleasant tasting magnesium citrate powder that becomes ionic when dissolved in hot water. Magnesium citrate is 16% elemental magnesium, with a bioavailability of 90%.

Magnesium Glycinate (also called bis-glycinate), combines magnesium with the amino acid glycine. Glycine also has a relaxing effect which is synergistic to magnesium. As minerals are normally bound to amino acids in food, this form is absorbed very well, without the laxative effects of some forms of magnesium.

Magnesium Glycinate is 14% elemental magnesium, with a bioavailability of 90%. Note that many magnesium glycinate products are buffered with magnesium oxide, to boost elemental magnesium levels and reduce the cost to manufacture.

Read labels carefully to ensure you are purchasing only magnesium glycinate. If the capsule or tablet contains more than about 100mg of magnesium, it is probably buffered with magnesium oxide.

Magnesium Malate is often recommended in the treatment of fibromyalgia, as malate is also involved in energy production and ATP synthesis. Many have found this form to help alleviate muscle tenderness and pain, but this is also an excellent form for general supplementation. Magnesium malate is only 6.5% elemental magnesium, however the malate enhances its benefit for energy production.

Magnesium Aspartate, a chelate of magnesium and the amino acid aspartate, is also recommended for treating fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue and is very well absorbed. Studies have found that three weeks of supplementation with a combination of magnesium and potassium aspartate can restore energy levels, as a successful treatment for fatigue. Magnesium Aspartate is 15% elemental, with 70% bioavailability; however as with magnesium malate, aspartate synergistically helps to boost energy levels.

Magnesium Asporotate, a combination of magnesium aspartate, magnesium citrate, and magnesium orotate, is an interesting highly absorbable magnesium choice. Also found in a patented formula called ZMA, which combines zinc monomethionine aspartate with magnesium asporatate, ZMA is promoted for improved exercise performance and a more restorative sleep. As zinc is also a critical and important mineral, especially for immune function, this combination is excellent for overall health improvement.

Magnesium Orotate is a chelate of magnesium and orotic acid, and is a well absorbed form that is recommended for improving cardiovascular health. Studies have found Magnesium Orotate to improve symptoms of angina, heart failure, and exercise performance. A double blind study of 79 patients with congestive heart failure found a 38.5% improvement in symptoms (the placebo group didn’t improve), with the number of patients still alive after one year significantly higher.

Magnesium Taurate is a chelate of magnesium and the amino acid taurine, with synergistic benefits for improving insulin sensitivity and improving cardiovascular health, and relaxing the brain and muscles. Magnesium Taurate is only 9% elemental magnesium, but the amino acid taurine’s synergistic benefits improve its health benefits.

Magnesium Threonate combines magnesium with the vitamin C metabolite L-Threonate. Developed by researchers at MIT including a Nobel Prize winning scientist, this is one of the most exciting new forms of magnesium, with clinically proven cognitive benefits (improved learning, working memory as well as short - and long-term memory) as this is the only form that has been shown to cross the blood brain barrier. Magnesium Threonate (Magtein) may also be effective in the treatment of ADHD and dementia including Alzheimer’s disease.

Magnesium Bicarbonate Water: A wonderful method of boosting magnesium levels is to drink magnesium bicarbonate water. You can purchase magnesium bicarbonate water in some health stores, but it is also easy to prepare, by combining milk of magnesia with carbonated water. Recipes can be found on the Internet.

AOR Magnesium Synergy

Magnesium Synergy: The most effective magnesium supplement available, Magnesium Synergy contains two of the most effective forms of magnesium, magnesium glycinate and magnesium malate, with the coenzyme form of vitamin B6, a vitamin that enhances absorption.

Vitamin B6 is an important cofactor required by the body for many of the enzymatic reactions in the body that utilize magnesium. For example, without magnesium and vitamin B6, vitamin D cannot be produced after the skin is exposed to the ultraviolet rays of the sun.

Magnesium Synergy also contains potassium, manganese, selenium, zinc, glycine, and taurine. Zinc is the most important mineral for balancing the immune system. Potassium, when combined with magnesium can also help to normalize blood pressure.

A healthy diet, supplemented with vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and amino acids (when necessary), regular exercise and sufficient rest and sleep are critical factors in achieving optimum health and wellness. If you have any of the symptoms described above, I recommend supplementing with 300-400 mg of elemental magnesium, in divided doses. Higher levels are sometimes required, as individual requirements can vary. If you find the magnesium has a laxative effect, reduce the dosage. The health benefits can be remarkable.

Health Disclaimer. Copyright ©2017-2023. First published in July 2017. Latest major revision in July 2019 and last updated in February 2024. Nathan Zassman is a trained nutrition practitioner and the owner of Aviva Natural Health Solutions.


Effect of Magnesium Supplementation on Plasma C-reactive Protein Concentrations: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. PMID: 28545353.

Review: Subclinical magnesium deficiency: a principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis. Open Heart. 2018. PMCID: PMC5786912

The Effects of Oral Magnesium Supplementation on Glycemic Response among Type 2 Diabetes Patients. Nutrients. 2019 Jan; 11(1): 44. PMID: 30587761

Magnesium orotate in severe congestive heart failure (MACH). December 2008. International Journal of Cardiology.