The Importance of Magnesium

Micronutrients for brain performance:


If you’re one to invest time in sport, going for a hike, fitness activities and classes, chances are along the way someone has recommended you take some magnesium to deal with a cramp, get a better night’s sleep or to assist in the recovery process.

While magnesium can support these processes, the big picture tells us that magnesium does so much more than that. Magnesium is a macromineral and it actually plays a role in more than 300 processes in our body. Examples of some of the functional processes magnesium is involved in include:

  • Metabolism of food
  • Synthesis of fatty acids
  • Synthesis of protein

To really breakdown what magnesium does on a cellular level, it basically works as a “gatekeeper” stopping our cells from firing when they should not be. This should come as no surprise, considering that cramps (or involuntary muscle contractions) are the over firing of muscle cells, preventing relaxation of the muscles to occur.

Now imagine this same scenario but occurring within your brain and affecting the brain cells (or neurons). Over firing in the brain often leads to an increase in toxicity, oxidative stress and cell death (this is also known as excitotoxicity).  Excitotoxicity often occurs in the brain when there is too much calcium in the cells and often causes inflammation. Magnesium is responsible for allowing calcium into our cells.

You can see how it starts to make sense that not having the right levels of magnesium can influence cognitive deficits. Unsurprisingly, forthcoming research has only supported this by showing improvement in memory, learning and mood with the use of magnesium supplementation. Animal studies integrating the use of magnesium to understand its role of learning and consolidation of memory have only further supported this with profound results of enhanced recall, short term and long term memory results.

How to incorporate magnesium into your diet?

  • Almonds and cashews
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Spinach and kale
  • Peas, broccoli, cabbage, green beans, artichokes and asparagus
  • Magnesium supplements

Alternative ways to get magnesium into your body.

Low magnesium and Disorders


Magnesium deficiency has been commonly found in study examining magnesium levels in children with ADHD.  Kozielec et al (1997) found that 95% of an ADHD children sample were deficient in magnesium. Research has examined the correlation between magnesium levels and the severity of ADHD symptoms and found that supplementation reduced hyperactivity. Evidence also suggests that tailoring your child’s diet to include more nutrients can provide significant behavioural changes.

Depression and anxiety

Low magnesium levels have been strongly associated with adults diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Research has also showed that magnesium use has been successful in the management of depressive symptoms and anxiety symptoms. (Eby & Eby, 2006). In one study, improvement in symptoms were reported after two weeks of magnesium consumption when compared to a placebo group. (Tarleton, 2017).

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a disorder primarily characterised by cognitive impairment and impairs someone’s memory, thinking and often someone’s overall quality of life.

Excitotoxicity, neuroinflammation and poor mitochondrial functioning are all things seen in commonly in (AD). Similar to depression, low levels of magnesium have been linked to AD, with one metanalysis reporting 13 studies found lower levels of magnesium in AD patients vs controls. Emerging research has shown that this may have to do with the build up of Amyloid beta plaques, a hallmark of AD that has been known to disrupt the communication between neurons and lead to cell death and brain atrophy  (Li, et al. 2014).

Other Neurological Disorders

There is also a growing field of research that supports the efficacy of magnesium supplementation in treating migraines, epilepsy, chronic pain, stroke and Parkinson’s Disease.

Signs to look out for of a magnesium deficiency

While incorporating an adequate amount of magnesium into your diet, doesn’t exactly equate in some sort of instantaneous physical benefit you can become aware of, its main role is in the preservation of health and when adequate amounts are not met, symptoms of deficiency can be quite clear.

  • It is important to note, that while your diet may include an efficient amount of magnesium, there are other factors that mediate how much magnesium your body is able to process, such as the bioavailability of the food and how able you are able to absorb the magnesium itself. We will provide more information on an article in the future.

When your running low on magnesium symptoms to look out for include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fatigue and weakness

Symptoms of extreme deficiency include:

  • Numbness and tingling
  • Muscle cramps
  • Seizures
  • Personality changes
  • Heart rhythm changes and spasms

How much magnesium should I be taking?

AgeAmount per day
1-3 years80mg
4-8130 mg
During pregnancy350-400mg
During breast feeding310-360mg
14-18360 mg410 mg
19+310 mg360 mg

Low Magnesium on the body

  • Bone health: Magnesium is crucial to maintaining bone health and preventing osteoporosis. It plays a role in gathering calcium into the bone and assists in activating vitamin D in the kidneys
  • Diabetes: As magnesium plays a role in cell metabolism, it impacts risk of diabetes. Direct correlations between higher magnesium consumption and lower risk of Diabetes have been found. A meta-analysis conducted by Dong, et al (2011) including over 500 000 participants concluded that a higher level of magnesium intake resulted in a lower likelihood of risk of type 2 Diabetes regardless of location, gender or family history of Type 2 Diabetes.
  • Cardiovascular: Magnesium is essential to maintaining heart muscle and assists in the transmission of electrical signals in the body. It affects blood pressure through modulating vascular tone. Both experimental and epidemiological research on low magnesium is influential in the pathogenesis of hypertension (Sontia & Touyz, 2007).


Eby, G. A., & Eby, K. L. (2006). Rapid recovery from major depression using magnesium treatment. Medical hypotheses, 67(2), 362-370.

Kozielec, T., & Starobrat-Hermelin, B. (1997). Assessment of magnesium levels in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Magnesium Research, 10(2), 143-148.

Li, W., Yu, J., Liu, Y., Huang, X., Abumaria, N., Zhu, Y., … & Chui, D. (2014). Elevation of brain magnesium prevents synaptic loss and reverses cognitive deficits in Alzheimer’s disease mouse model. Molecular brain, 7(1), 65.

Rasmussen H H, Mortensen P B, Jensen I W. Depression and magnesium deficiency. Int J Psychiatry Med 1989; 19(1): 57-63.

Sontia & Touyz, (2007). Role of magnesium in hypertension. Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, 458(1), 33-39.

Tarleton, E. K., Littenberg, B., MacLean, C. D., Kennedy, A. G., & Daley, C. (2017). Role of magnesium supplementation in the treatment of depression: A randomized clinical trial. PloS one, 12(6), e0180067.

Veronese, N.; Zurlo, A.; Solmi, M.; Luchini, C.; Trevisan, C.; Bano, G.; Manzato, E.; Sergi, G.; Rylander, R. Magnesium status in Alzheimer’s disease: A systematic review. Am. J. Alzheimers Dis. Other Demen. 2016, 31, 208–213