Given our modern food landscape and the standard American diet (SAD), ⅔ of us are simply not getting enough magnesium. And the thing is, it’s partially out of your control! Soil and crop quality just aren’t what they used to be, so even the most beautiful organic produce don’t have nearly as much magnesium in them as they once did. Additionally, your body burns through magnesium when under stress and many of us live high-stress lives these days. Because of these factors, it’s paramount that we make a conscious effort to load up on magnesium-rich foods and consider supplementation when necessary to stay as healthy as possible.

Why is magnesium so important?

Magnesium is one of those buzzwords that has been thrown around liberally over the past few years. It’s now in sleep elixirs, balms, sprays, gummies, bath bombs and more, boasting wide-ranging benefits for whole body health. But have you ever wondered what magnesium actually does in your body? On a cellular level, the mineral plays an essential role in over 300 chemical reactions, from building proteins to contracting muscles. In other words, it has its hand in every single body system. So here’s your primer on magnesium, what it’s good for and how to get more of it.

Health benefits of magnesium:

Improves Bone Health – Over half of the magnesium in your body is stored in your bones, so it’s no surprise that it’s a vital component of bone structure and function. Specifically, it’s involved in bone-building cell activity and regulating parathyroid hormone, which controls your calcium levels. Several studies identified a correlation between magnesium levels and bone mineral density at the population level (1). One study found that magnesium deficiency can cause bone loss, fewer osteoblasts (cells that build and repair bone), and higher osteoclasts (cells that break down bone) (2).

Helps with Anxiety/Depression – There have been countless research studies on the association between depression and magnesium with the consensus being that magnesium is effective for mild-to-moderate depression in adults. One randomized clinical trial found that supplementing with magnesium chloride for 6 weeks resulted in lower self-reported depression scores in the adult participants as well as improved generalized anxiety disorder scores (3). 

It’s important to note here that similar effects were observed regardless of gender, severity of depression, baseline magnesium level or past/present use of antidepressants. Another upside of therapeutic magnesium is how quickly it gets to work – most people notice a difference within 2 weeks! Since the exact mechanism of how magnesium improves depressive symptoms is still largely unknown, another study examined the relationship of serum (blood) magnesium levels and depression. They discovered that lower serum magnesium levels were correlated with lower self-reported depression scores, suggesting that looking at serum magnesium may help to identify people who are likely to respond positively to supplemental magnesium as a depression therapy (4).

Reduces Muscle Cramps – The two main minerals involved in muscle contractions are magnesium and calcium. Essentially, calcium stimulates muscle contractions by binding to proteins like troponin C and myosin (5). Magnesium competes with calcium for these receptor sites and can ultimately block calcium from binding to contract your muscles. So without adequate magnesium levels to compete with calcium, you’ll end up with frequent muscle contractions, spasms, and painful cramps. 

Improves Sleep – There are actually several ways magnesium can help you sleep better. First off, it increases your gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels by modulating your GABA receptors. GABA is a neurotransmitter in your brain that has a calming effect on your nervous system, helping your brain to switch “off” when it’s time to hit the hay. Since magnesium promotes muscle relaxation, it can be super supportive if you’re the kind of person who gets in bed and feels restless or tense in your body.

Lastly, by regulating neurotransmission pathways, magnesium reduces the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ATCH) which decreases your cortisol levels (6). Ideally you want your cortisol levels to peak in the morning 30 minutes after waking and then slowly taper until they reach their lowest point at bedtime. The problem nowadays is that most of us have this diurnal pattern flipped, with cortisol rising at night and bottoming out in the morning hours. This is known as the “tired and wired” concept you may have heard before. Luckily, magnesium can help! Note: the best form of magnesium for sleep is magnesium glycinate as it’s highly absorbable. This drink that features magnesium is perfect to prepare before bed for a good night’s rest.

How to get more magnesium:

Diet! Although we lamented over the days of yore when our produce was chock full of magnesium, it is indeed still possible to get a hefty dose of it in certain foods. Scientifically speaking, the core of a chlorophyll molecule is a magnesium atom. Simply put, anything that is high in chlorophyll (green) will also be rich in magnesium. Think: dark, leafy greens like kale, swiss chard, spinach, mustard greens, beet greens, and turnip greens. 

Some other food sources of magnesium are:

  • Dark chocolate
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Black beans
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Avocado
  • Salmon
  • Tofu
  • Chia seeds
  • Banana 
  • Peanuts

Herbs – Similar to leafy veg, deeply green pigmented herbs such as seaweed, alfalfa, horsetail, stinging nettle, cleavers, red clover, and oats are fantastic sources of magnesium. Our favorite way to use these herbs is by making a mineral-rich overnight infusion. You can find cleavers and horsetail in our mineral-rich Purifier Tea. All you need to do is throw any combination of the dried aforementioned herbs into a mason jar, cover with hot (but NOT boiling) water, cover, and let that steep overnight.

Alternatively, you can blitz up a nettle pesto, add cleavers to your green juices, or toss some seaweed into your soups and bone broths. And if you’re more into the idea of using culinary herbs, basil, cilantro, mint and tarragon are tasty ways of zhushing up your food while also sneaking in some much-needed magnesium.

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