Medical Guides

Magnesium: The Mineral That Can Save Your Life


Magnesium is an essential mineral for our body that contributes, among other things, to the health of the heart, bones and the immune system. What foods are rich in magnesium? What can magnesium deficiency cause? When to take magnesium supplements? All the answers to these questions and more – inside

Magnesium deficiency is attributed to a long series of health problems including osteoporosis, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, arteriosclerosis and arrhythmias.

Magnesium is naturally present in many foods including legumes, vegetables (especially green leaves), seeds, nuts, almonds, cocoa, dark chocolate, coffee, milk and dairy products and meat.

Very high consumption of magnesium supplements over time can cause changes in heart rate, a sharp drop in blood pressure, confusion, difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness and cardiac arrest.

What is magnesium and what are its functions and benefits?

Magnesium is an essential mineral for humans that participates in many processes in the body.

Magnesium is essential – among other things – for building bones, regulating muscle and nerve activity, maintaining a stable heart rate, supporting the proper functioning of the immune system, regulating blood sugar levels and maintaining normal blood pressure. Magnesium helps to neutralize the acidity of the stomach and helps to increase the motility of the intestines. In this way, it helps prevent constipation . In addition, magnesium participates in the production process of proteins, bones and DNA.

Mainly women and the elderly suffer from magnesium deficiency, and this deficiency is attributed to a long series of health problems, including osteoporosis , high blood pressure , diabetes , stroke , arteriosclerosis , as well as heart rhythm disorders that increase the risk of death as a result of myocardial infarction (heart attack) .

What are the main sources of magnesium?

Magnesium is naturally present in many types of food as detailed in the table below as well as in foods that are artificially enriched with magnesium such as breakfast cereals. Other sources of magnesium are nutritional supplements that contain magnesium, medicines that contain magnesium (such as antacids and laxatives), “hard” tap water and mineral water.

Foods that are a good source of magnesium are also foods that are rich in dietary fiber, so their health benefits are particularly great. 

What foods are naturally rich in magnesium?

Plant foods that are rich in magnesium are: legumes, vegetables (especially broccoli, pumpkin, zucchini and green leafy vegetables), seeds, nuts, almonds, cocoa, dark chocolate, and coffee. Animal sources of magnesium are milk and its products and meat.

It is estimated that the population in Western countries currently consumes too little magnesium due to changes in dietary habits, including the shift to greater consumption of processed food at the expense of natural food such as vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes .

Drinking water with a high mineral content (“hard” water) is also an important source of magnesium. In places where there is “hard” water, the drinking water is responsible for about 20% of the supply of magnesium to the body.

The human body manages to absorb 30% to 40% of the magnesium obtained from food or water.

Magnesium rich foods

 (Source: Ministry of Health website)

The type of foodThe average magnesium content (in milligrams) per 100 grams of product
Wheat bran without additives​611
Pumpkin seeds without skin, not roasted, and without added salt ​535
Flax seeds​392
Pumpkin seeds with skin, roasted, without added salt​386
Brazil nuts​376
Sunflower seeds without shell, not roasted​354
Poppy seeds​331
wheat germ​320
​Natural cashew nuts, not roasted and without added salt​289
Almonds not roasted and without added salt​286
Raw tahini from whole sesame seeds​282
Dry soybeans​280
Unroasted almonds​275
Uncooked buckwheat​231
Dry white beans​190
Peanuts with shell, roasted, without added salt​176
Uncooked bulgur​164
Hazelnuts without shell, not roasted​163
Whole brown rice​162
Walnuts without shell​158
Natural peanut​157
Uncooked oats​148
dry peas​115
dry chickpeas​115
Whole wheat bread95
Fresh cooked spinach87

Magnesium in water

Magnesium in drinking water

As mentioned, tap water is an important source of magnesium, therefore drinking water that is poor in magnesium (“soft” water) may cause over time a decrease in magnesium content in the body and, as a result, an increase in morbidity and mortality. 

The magnesium content in drinking water has a double importance since we consume water not only directly but also indirectly, for example when we eat fruits and vegetables or animal products.

Magnesium in desalinated water

The water currently produced from desalination facilities in world is about 50% of the amount of benign water supplied for all needs and about 80% of the amount of water supplied for domestic needs and industry. The problem is that the existing desalination plants operate using the reverse osmosis method that produces mineral-free water. This means that there is no magnesium in desalinated water, in contrast to natural water in world which contains on average between 25 and 30 milligrams of magnesium per liter.

Pure desalinated water is not provided for domestic consumption, but a combination of desalinated water and the water of the national carrier (or a combination of desalinated water and well water). This combination ensures that the water will have a certain amount of minerals – including magnesium – but it is much less than the amount of magnesium in natural water.

Magnesium in bottled water and water from domestic purification plants

The lack of magnesium in tap water can be solved by buying mineral water in bottles (on which it is indicated how much magnesium they contain), but this is an expensive solution. Another solution is to place a home purification device in the kitchen that includes a mineralizer that adds minerals to the purified water. But even this solution is not very cheap.

Other solutions are to ensure an increased consumption of magnesium-rich foods and taking magnesium supplements.

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Older people are especially sensitive to magnesium deficiency

What are the dangers of magnesium deficiency? 

In the short term, magnesium deficiency does not usually manifest itself in clinical symptoms. When it comes to healthy people who do not consume enough magnesium, the kidneys help maintain a normal level of magnesium in the body by limiting the amount of magnesium excreted in the urine.

However, under-consumption of magnesium over time can cause a lack of magnesium in the body and all the damages that accompany this deficiency. However – as you will read later – magnesium deficiency can occur even if it is consumed in the right amounts, for example as a result of certain diseases or due to taking various medications that may impair the body’s ability to absorb the magnesium that is consumed or that cause an increase in the excretion of magnesium in the urine.

What are the main symptoms of magnesium deficiency?

Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and weakness. An extreme lack of magnesium can be manifested in circumcision, muscle contractions, convulsions, changes in behavior and changes in heart rate.

Who is particularly sensitive to magnesium deficiency?

These are the populations most sensitive to magnesium deficiency:

• Patients with diseases of the digestive system (such as Crohn’s disease and celiac disease ).

Type 2 diabetes patients.

• Alcoholics.

• Elderly people. 

The decrease in magnesium content in the body is particularly severe among the elderly population, who suffer from a decrease in the absorption capacity of magnesium in the intestines. Furthermore, this is a population that often consumes medications that further damage the magnesium stores in the body.

These include, among other things, diuretics, digoxin and certain antibiotic drugs. And if that’s not enough, certain diseases, whose frequency increases with age, such as diabetes, also cause a decrease in the concentration of magnesium in the body because they cause its increased excretion in the urine.

It is likely that the magnesium levels among the older population in our country are even lower than in other western countries because of the heavy heat that prevails here for many months of the year and because of the stress that characterizes life here.

Heat causes a loss of magnesium in sweat, while prolonged stressful situations cause a loss of magnesium in the urine due to the increase in adrenaline levels. 

How much magnesium do I need in a day?
 (The data is taken from the website of the Ministry of Health)

The groupThe ageThe daily allowance (in mg)
Babies0 to 6 months
7 to 12 months
Children1up to 3 years
4 to 8 years
9 to 13 years
Men14 to 18 years
19 to 30 years
31 to 50 years
51Up to 70 years
70years and more
Women14 to 18 years
19 to 30 years
31 to 50 years
51Up to 70 years
70years and more
pregnant women​Less than 18 years
19 to 30 years
31 to 50 years
Breastfeeding women​Less than 18 years
19 to 30 years
31 to 50 years

What magnesium supplements are there on the market?

In pharmacies , health food stores, and pharmacy stores, you can purchase dietary supplements that contain different salts of magnesium, such as magnesium oxide, magnesium citrate, and magnesium chloride.

The degree of absorption of magnesium derived from dietary supplements varies according to the type of salt in question. Magnesium salts that dissolve well in liquids are absorbed at a higher rate from the intestines into the body compared to magnesium salts that are less soluble in water. 

Magnesium aspartate, citrate, lactate and chloride salts have high absorption compared to magnesium oxide and magnesium sulfate salts.

It is important to check the amount of magnesium available in each magnesium preparation.

How effective is magnesium in the treatment of various diseases?

Today, various studies are being conducted in which the effect of taking magnesium to treat various health problems is examined.

The following information is not a recommendation to treat these problems with magnesium, but only an overview of several health conditions that magnesium can have a positive effect on. For any medical problem, consult the attending physician or the pharmacist and act in accordance with their instructions – also regarding the consumption of magnesium supplements.

Constipation : Magnesium is an effective laxative. Mainly magnesium sulfate is used for this indication of preventing constipation. Consult the doctor or the pharmacist regarding the appropriate dosage. The supplement should be taken once a day with a full glass of water.

Heartburn : Magnesium is used as an effective antacid, usually in combination with calcium . The magnesium salts used for this purpose are mainly magnesium carbonate, magnesium hydroxide, magnesium oxide and magnesium trisilicate. The doctor or the pharmacist should be consulted regarding the most appropriate preparation and regarding the appropriate dosage.

Low magnesium in the blood is a side effect of various diseases such as alcoholism, cirrhosis of the liver , heart failure , severe diarrhea and severe vomiting, kidney failure , inflammatory bowel disease,  pancreatitis and various diseases that cause malabsorption of food. A lack of magnesium in the blood is often accompanied by a lack of other minerals such as potassium, sodium and calcium.

The preferred treatment for magnesium deficiency in the blood is the oral administration of magnesium gluconate or magnesium chloride.

These preparations are preferred because they are less likely to cause diarrhea (which is a risk factor for mineral loss). It is forbidden to treat hypomagnesium in the blood with magnesium oxide as it is a strong laxative. Magnesium carbonate is also not suitable for this purpose since its absorption rates are low (it is mainly used to treat heartburn and constipation).

High blood pressure and heart disease : High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Magnesium supplements may reduce blood pressure moderately. Studies show that people who consume more magnesium in their diet have a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. You should consult a doctor or a pharmacist regarding the recommended dosage.

Type 2 diabetes : People who consume more magnesium in their diet have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Magnesium helps break down sugars, and it may even reduce the risk of insulin resistance (which is a risk factor for the formation of diabetes). You should consult a doctor or a pharmacist regarding the recommended dosage.

Osteoporosis: Magnesium is important for maintaining bone health. Increased consumption of magnesium helps increase bone density and prevent osteoporosis and fractures. Consuming magnesium from dietary supplements may help older women improve bone density. You should consult a doctor or a pharmacist regarding the recommended dosage.

Migraine : In people who suffer from migraines , low levels of magnesium are sometimes detected in the blood and tissues. A few small studies show that taking magnesium supplements may reduce the frequency of migraines. It should be noted: consumption of dietary supplements for the treatment of migraines should be done under the supervision of a doctor.

Muscle cramps in the legs:  magnesium may prevent leg muscle cramps – but only in people who suffer from magnesium deficiency in the blood. When it comes to those who do not suffer from a magnesium deficiency – it has not been proven in studies that giving a supplement of magnesium may help them prevent these muscle contractions.

The recommended treatment for them is non-medicinal: avoid prolonged sitting, go for walks as well as stretching exercises for the affected leg. Other treatments that may help are a hot shower or a hot bath, massaging the contracted leg muscles with ice, placing a cold bandage on the contracted muscles, making sure to drink a lot during the day, making sure to eat a diet rich in potassium. Especially adults should make sure to consume a lot of foods that are rich in potassium. It is also recommended to use comfortable shoes.

Intravenous administration of magnesium is part of the treatment of  preeclampsia and a rare rhythm disorder called torsade de pointe.

Is it possible to take a magnesium supplement during pregnancy and breastfeeding?

Yes. Magnesium can be taken during pregnancy and breastfeeding in the doses listed in the table above.

At what time of day should you consume magnesium? 

The time of consumption of magnesium (from food or supplement) is not important. You can consume it whenever you want.

I increased my magnesium intake to avoid a deficiency. When will my condition improve?

The body absorbs only about a third of the amount of magnesium consumed. The absorption efficiency of magnesium from the digestive system depends on the size of the magnesium stores in the body. The larger the existing reservoir, the smaller the absorption rate.

In addition to this, it should be taken into account that there is variation in the degree of absorption of the various magnesium salts: soluble magnesium salts such as magnesium chloride, magnesium lactate and magnesium aspartate are well absorbed and have good bioavailability; Insoluble magnesium salts such as magnesium oxide and magnesium sulfate are absorbed at a low rate (4%), and their activity is mainly in the digestive system – as explained in the article. 

Magnesium reaches its peak concentration in the blood within about 4 hours of taking it.

In the body there is a reservoir of about 25 grams of magnesium which is divided equally between the skeleton (bones) and the soft tissues.

Can excess magnesium be dangerous? 

Magnesium from food cannot harm healthy people. The reason: in healthy people, the kidneys excrete the excess magnesium that comes from food. On the other hand, if you suffer from kidney failure, there is a fear that excess magnesium will accumulate in the body and cause dangerous side effects. Therefore, those who suffer from kidney failure should be careful not to take magnesium supplements.

It should be noted that increased consumption of magnesium from supplements and medicines can cause side effects even in healthy people. These are mainly diarrhea, nausea and stomach pains. Very high consumption of magnesium supplements over time can cause changes in heart rate, a sharp drop in blood pressure, confusion, difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness and cardiac arrest.

Taking magnesium with medications: what are the mutual effects?

Magnesium has interactions with various drugs: 

1. Medicines from the bisphosphonate family such as Poslan and Actonel for the treatment of osteoporosis. It must not be taken together with magnesium supplements, as these may reduce the absorption of bisphosphonates. Make sure that there are at least two hours between taking the magnesium supplements and taking the bisphosphonates.

2. Antibiotics . Magnesium may reduce absorption of antibiotics from the quinolone family such as ofloxacin , ciprofloxacin , moxifloxacin . Magnesium may also reduce the absorption of antibiotics from the tetracycline family such as tetracycline and minocycline . These antibiotics should be taken 2 hours before taking the magnesium supplements or 4 hours after taking these supplements.

3. Diuretic drugs can increase or decrease the level of magnesium in the blood. 

4. Medicines to treat heartburn or peptic ulcers that are taken for a long time reduce magnesium levels in the blood.

5. Minerals . Zinc supplements as well as calcium supplements in high doses reduce the body’s ability to absorb magnesium.

6. Digoxin . Magnesium reduces absorption of digoxin. 

7. Gabapentin . Magnesium may reduce absorption of gabapentin . Gabapentin should be taken 2 hours before taking a magnesium supplement or 4 hours after taking the supplement.

8. Levodopa+Carbidopa (Dupicar, Cinmet) . Magnesium oxide reduces the absorption and effectiveness of levodopa + carbidopa (a drug for the treatment of Parkinson ‘s ).

9. Anticoagulants such as clopidogrel , warfarin , heparin, enoxaparin . There is an increased risk of bleeding if these drugs are taken with magnesium supplements.

What are the recommendations of the Ministry of Health?

• Continue promoting the program to restore magnesium to desalinated water.

• Consume foods rich in magnesium, including fruits, vegetables and unprocessed food.

• There is no room for the consumption of magnesium supplements, except in certain risk groups and in accordance with the recommendation of a doctor or a dietician.

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