The many roles of Magnesium

Woman sitting on beach – The many roles of magnesium article

The many roles of magnesium

We should never underestimate the importance of magnesium, and the roles it plays in our general wellbeing. It is one of the more well-known and most available minerals available in supplement form, but there are still widespread deficiencies across the population, particularly among older adults.

Although there a no comprehensive studies monitoring the New Zealand population and its magnesium status, we know that our soils are low in magnesium. In the USA it’s estimated that two-thirds of all adults, and up to 90% of the elderly are not getting their Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) of this essential mineral.

There are a number of reasons for this. These include the depletion of minerals in the soils through intensive farming, the prevalence of processed foods which further strip away the mineral content, inadequate diet and lack of exercise, and increases in stress and anxiety. The increased use of antibiotics, antacids and prescription medication can also have a detrimental effect in terms of magnesium absorption.

✔️ Calm nerves and anxiety

✔️ Reduces inflammation

✔️ Helps regulate blood sugar levels

✔️ Supports deep sleep patterns

✔️ Relieves muscle aches

✔️ Heart regulation

Magnesium is required for many biological functions within the body, including more than 300 enzyme reactions. Below are some of the benefits of magnesium and the crucial roles it plays in the health of our heart, our muscles and our brain. There are reasons why we need more magnesium when pregnant or when placing significant demands on our bodies in terms of physcial activity. It also explains how we can get more magnesium into our diet through the foods we eat and what we should consider when looking to supplement.

Magnesium for your heart

Adequate levels of magnesium are required for maintaining the function of the nervous system and neuromuscular transmission and activity. It helps with heart muscle contraction-relaxation and regulating the heartbeat. Along with other macro minerals such as calcium, sodium and potassium, magnesium affects the muscle tone in the blood vessels, which enables optimal blood pressure control, with a decreased risk of erratic heartbeat and coronary artery disease.

Man looking out at ocean
Populations with high intakes of magnesium have a much lower rate of cardiovascular disease.

Our nerves depend on magnesium to help keep our arteries relaxed, and free from inflammation, which is the main cause of cardiovascular disease. This allows for good circulation, healthy arteries, and to ensure sufficient blood flow to all parts of the body, including our brain.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that one in three deaths are attributed to cardiovascular disease. Populations with high intakes of magnesium have a much lower rate of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arrhythmia and hypertension compared to those with insufficient levels. Magnesium supplementation programmes have shown to have a significantly postive effect on the treatment of patients with cardiovascular disease, and researchers have advocated for a higher RDI of this essential nutrient for many years.   

Magnesium for muscles and sleep

Magnesium can relax the muscles, our nerves and the mind. It also helps to avoid muscle cramps, headaches and can lessen the effects of stress, leading to a better quality of sleep. 

People with low magnesium status can be tense and irritable, and suffer from cold hands and feet due to poor circulation. They can find it hard to calm the mind and relax, and get a proper night’s sleep.

Woman sleeping in a bed. Magnesium can assist with alleviating muscle cramps at night.
Magnesium is best taken at night as it contributes to physical and mental relaxation.

The best I’ve had. I feel the difference almost immediately. No digestive problems with this. Helps me sleep and relax in general.”


Common symptoms of magnesium deficiency include muscle cramps, especially at night, as well as fatigue, insomnia, high blood pressure and heart disturbances.

Magnesium is best taken at night as it contributes to physical and mental relaxation, lessens the effects of stress, and when paired with a consistent night-time routine it can greatly assist with getting a restful night’s sleep.

Magnesium for your brain

Along with metabolic health and muscular function, magnesium is critical for brain health. It can help support cognitive function, especially among older adults who are at greater risk of deficiency.  

It is also essential for both short and long term memory, enables concentration and learning, and helps with mood, behaviour and healthy aging.

Our brains require an enormous amount of energy – up to 20 percent of all the body’s energy. This requires a constant supply of magnesium, and the trillions of neural networks and synapses within the brain need magnesium to process information. 

Magnesium is essential for brain function.
Magnesium is essential for brain function and acts on receptors which help brain development.

Magnesium has been shown to regulate the receptors in the brain associated with learning, memory, mood regulation. Abnormal NMDA receptor activity has been present in patients presenting with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease as well as depression and anxiety.

“Brilliant product. Sleeping much better compared to other magnesium products that I’ve tried. And my few muscle cramps have disappeared. Though the taste isn’t great, I choose to swallow it straight as the taste soon disappears, so it’s no problem.”


Low magnesium status has been linked to anxiety, fibromyalgia, age-related memory loss and depression. In addition, the various medications used to treat depression can further contribute to decreased magnesium levels.

In 2017, to assess the effects of magnesium supplementation, an open-label, randomized, cross-over trial was done with 126 adults who had been diagnosed with mild-to-moderate symptoms of depression. (6) Supplementation was undertaken with 248mg of magnesium chloride per day for 6 weeks, compared to 6 weeks of no supplementation. It led to a clinically significant improvement in mood and anxiety scores, and positive effects were observed within two weeks. The magnesium chloride was also well tolerated, and 61% of participants reported they would use magnesium in the future.

In another study of more than 1,000 older individuals who were followed for 17 years, those with higher intakes of electrolytes such as calcium, potassium and magnesium had a lower risk of developing dementia. (7)

Magnesium for performance

As magnesium helps with regulating the heart and muscle contraction and movements, it is crucial for physical performance, and should be a part of any sports nutrition progamme. 

Woman running on New Zealand beach. Iron for energy.
Supplementation can avoid muscle cramping and even migraines during exercise.

Along with potassium, sodium, chloride and calcium, magnesium is an electrolyte, and is able to hold an electrical charge to supply these macro minerals to our cells accordingly.

Magnesium is depleted in the body through excessive sweating, and supplementation can be required to avoid muscle cramping and even migraines during exercise. As good quality sleep is so important to performance, maintaining sufficient levels of magnesium in the cells is necessary for athletes to enable recovery of both mind and body.

Athlete stretching on running track. About 60% of the magnesium in your body is found in bone, with the other 40% found in muscles.
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body. About 60% of the magnesium in your body is found in bone, with the other 40% found in muscles, soft tissues and fluids. 

Magnesium when pregnant or breastfeeding

When pregnant or breastfeeding, your body requires even more vitamins and minerals, especially iodine and selenium, and also magnesium, all of which are in short supply in the New Zealand soils. Magnesium plays a big part in the baby’s development and growth, and the health of the mother during this important time.

Higher amounts of magnesium have been shown to relieve pre-eclampsia and hypertension in women during the latter stages of pregnancy, and pregnancy-induced leg cramps.

The RDI for Magnesium in women is 310mg per day, but increases to 360mg when pregnant or breastfeeding.

How to get more magnesium into your diet

Through eating a balanced, whole-food diet, you can obtain good levels of magnesium from food sources. The less processed foods you eat the better. For example, approximately 80% of magnesium is lost when wheat is refined into white flour, and all magnesium is lost in the refining of white sugar.

Green leafy vegetables and raw, unsalted nuts (almonds, walnuts) and seeds (pumpkin/sunflower) sweetcorn, dates, beans and bananas are the best plant-based sources of magnesium. Other foods such as wheat bran, quinoa, dark chocolate and seafood such as shrimps and pipis contain good levels of the mineral.

How to get more magnesium into your diet with these foods. Green leafy vegetables, pumpkin seeds, sweetcorn, bananas, dark chocolate and almonds are all good sources of magnesium.
Green leafy vegetables, pumpkin seeds, sweetcorn, bananas, dark chocolate and almonds are all good sources of magnesium.

Gut health plays a significant part in the absorption of minerals and vitamins from our food, and so too with magnesium. If you experience digestive issues, your body may not be able to utilise the magnesium found in your foods.

“Couldn’t be without it. Have used this for years now. Great for headaches and deep sleep. Take it in a small amount of water just before bed and I always sleep peacefully.”


Stress, excessive alcohol intake, excessive sweating, the use of prescription drugs, and advancing age are all factors that can lead to magnesium deficiency. If you’re unable to access sufficient levels from your diet, supplementation may be an option. Magnesium supplements can be found in many forms – capsules, tablets, epsom salts, and liquid mineral formulas.  

Supplementing with magnesium

When considering supplementation, you should look for highly bioavailable options. These inlude organic forms such as magnesium citrate, or ionic liquid mineral supplements, which are more easily absorbed and tolerated by the body.

To generate magnesium ions, the compound must dissolve in water, but common supplements such as magnesium oxide do not dissolve and therefore cannot deliver magnesium ions into the bloodstream, and then into your cells and bone where it needs it most. 

The RDI for magnesium is 310mg for females, increasing to 360mg when pregnant or breastfeeding. The RDI for adult males is 420mg.

When should I take it?
While it’s best taken at night as it contributes to physical and mental relaxation, it can be taken at any time.

Individuals with kidney disease, severe heart disease or on prescription medication should consult their health practitioner before taking a magnesium supplement.  


Most of us could benefit from topping up our magnesium stores, and the health benefits it provides. Whether we’re taking it for our heart, our brain, to get more energy or improve the quality of our sleep, magnesium is responsible for more than 300 enzymatic reactions in the body, so there’s hardly any part of the body that doesn’t benefit.

The information in this article is not intended as a medical prescription for any disease or illness. Nothing stated here should be considered medical advice. Use as directed. If symptoms persist, consult your healthcare professional. 

A to Zinc: A handy guide

A to Zinc

Acne: Zinc is an important component for healthy skin, and in particular for sufferers of acne. It can control the production of oil in the skin and help balance some of the hormones that can lead to acne. Many skin disorders can be attributed to insufficient zinc.

Bioavailability: The bioavailability of zinc from grains and plant foods is lower than that from animal- based foods such as lean red meat and poultry, although many grain and plant-based foods are still good sources of zinc.

Common Cold: Much research has been done around zinc and its capacity to combat the common cold. Although studies examining zinc treatment on cold symptoms has shown varied results over years, it appears to be beneficial under certain circumstances. The Cochrane Report concluded that taking it within 24 hours of developing symptoms and has been shown to reduce the severity and duration of cold symptoms in healthy people by up to a third. It does this by directly inhibiting the rhinovirus binding and replicating and suppressing inflammation.

Depression: Virtually every enzyme reaction in the brain involves zinc, and low levels have been linked to anxiety and depression.

Eyesight: Research has suggested that zinc and antioxidants may delay the progression of age- related macular degeneration and vision loss, possibly by preventing cellular damage in the retina.

Food sources: Lean red meat is an excellent dietary source, and it is also highly bioavailable, meaning your body can absorb it much more readily. Poultry, nuts, seeds, and lentils are other good sources. Green leafy vegetables and fruits contain modest amounts of zinc.

Grains: Wholegrain breads, cereals and other grains contain zinc, but these foods also contain phytates, which can bind zinc and therefore inhibit its absorption. While these plant-based options are good dietary sources, the bioavailability is often lower than animal-based products.

Hair loss: In severe cases zinc deficiency can cause hair loss and a dry flaky scalp.

Immune system: Zinc is needed for the proper functioning of the immune system, and enables protein synthesis and cell growth.

Job: Zinc is often seen as the gatekeeper for your immune system, to ward off bacterial and viral infections like the common cold.

Kids: Zinc supports normal growth and physical development during pregnancy, and this continues through childhood and adolescence.

Low zinc content in our soils: Plants, like our bodies, cannot make minerals. They instead extract them from the soil. Like many other mineral and trace elements, if they are lacking in the soil they will be lacking in the plants we eat or the animals that are grazing the fields and providing our much-need protein. If certain crops aren’t rotated, it can seriously deplete the soils of these minerals, leading to deficiencies in our diet.

Magnesium: Both zinc and magnesium help protect the brain and the eyes from excitotoxin additives that are common in foods today. In New Zealand, deficiency of both of these minerals is common due to soil depletion.

Nutrients: As well as being involved in hundreds of processes within the body, zinc helps us absorb and utilise nutrients from our food.

Oysters: Oysters contain more zinc per serving than any other food.

RDI for zinc is higher for pregnant and lactating women.

Pregnant women: Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers may require bigger intakes, as there are high foetal requirements for zinc, and lactation can also rapidly deplete mineral stores. For these reasons, the RDI for zinc is higher for pregnant and lactating women, and supplementation is often recommended.

Quote: “Just about all skin disorders improve if you build up your zinc stores.” Dr Robert Atkins

RDI (Recommended Daily Intakes): Common RDIs for zinc are as low as 5mg for a child, 7mg for a teenage girl, 13mg for a teenage boy. For adult woman it is 8mg, increasing to 12 mg when breastfeeding or pregnant, and 14mg for adult males.

Stress: There is evidence that zinc levels decrease following physical stress or injury. It is one of the few minerals lost in the urine following acute or chronic physical stress.

Taste test: There is a simple test you can take to measure your zinc status, which can often be provided by your local health shop. It involves taking a tiny amount of zinc sulphate, dissolving it in water and then tasting as little as a spoonful. This test works because zinc is required for your taste buds to function. If you notice a bitter, astringent taste you are not deficient. If this bitter taste is delayed by more than a few seconds, you need more zinc in your diet. If there is a much longer delay or if you don’t notice the bitterness or it tastes like water, you may have a deficiency and will need to restore your zinc levels.

Ultimate nutrient: Zinc is responsible for hundreds of processes within our brain and our body, and is one of the most important minerals for our health throughout our life. There are more roles in the body for zinc than any other nutrient.

Vegetarians often require as much as 50% more of the RDI for zinc.

Vegetarians: Vegetarians often require as much as 50% more of the RDI for zinc than non-vegetarians. Zinc can be sourced from whole-grain breads, cereals, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes, but these foods also contain phytates, which can bind zinc and therefore inhibit its absorption. While these plant-based options are good dietary sources, the bioavailability is often lower than animal- based products.

Vitamin C: With the help of vitamin C, zinc has been used in research into improving age-related macular degeneration (AMD). After an average follow-up period, supplementation with antioxidants plus zinc (but not antioxidants alone) significantly reduced the risk of developing advanced AMD and reduced visual acuity loss.

Wound healing: Zinc is critical for wound healing, whether it is a small cut, or helping the skin recover from surgical procedures. It also helps prevent scar formation.

EXcessive zinc: A over-large intake of zinc may result in side effects with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Intake of 50 to 150 milligrams per day of supplemental zinc may cause minor intestinal distress occurring within three to 10 hours after ingestion. Single doses of 225 to 450 milligrams of zinc usually cause nausea and induce vomiting.

Yellow fungus growth on toenails: Many skin disorders are related to insufficient zinc, including abdominal stretchmarks after childbirth, split fingernails with white specks, as well as yellow toenails and/or fungus growth.

Zinc: There are more roles for zinc than any other nutrient. It is one of the most important elements for our health yet one of the most deficient in our diet, especially here in New Zealand. This is due to the quality of our soils and the impact of the foods we eat, and the water we drink.

The information in this article is not intended as a medical prescription for any disease or illness. Nothing stated here should be considered medical advice. Use as directed. If symptoms persist, consult your healthcare professional.