Alongside sodium, potassium, calcium and phosphorus, magnesium is a key micronutrient in supporting our bodies. It helps to regulate blood pressure, aids muscle and nerve function, keeps bones healthy, and could help to reduce leg cramps and bone fractures, according to research.
As such, a recent social media fad has prompted many people to turn to magnesium for just about any ailment. Generally, though, experts caution that immediately jumping to supplements is not the best approach for personal health concerns. So, why all the hype around magnesium?
“A lot of the research has pointed to magnesium being a really valuable micronutrient in relation to most aspects of health,” says Hazel Flight, program lead of nutrition and health at Edge Hill University in the U.K.
In relation to sleep and anxiety, Flight underlines magnesium’s connection to the nervous system.
“It can help regulate melatonin levels, which is one of the hormones needed for sleep,” she says.
For similar reasons, magnesium could potentially support problems with anxiety, as these can also be exacerbated due to lack of sleep. It’s also involved in serotonin regulation, which is connected to mood.
But the contribution of supplements in alleviating problems such as sleep, anxiety and mood requires further study, say experts.
“Sleep is largely controlled by the nervous system, and experts believe that nutrients like magnesium may play a role in sleep health,” according to statements from the Sleep Foundation. “However, the exact relationship between magnesium and sleep is still being studied.”
Flight voiced similar thoughts about the limited research results.
“I definitely think there needs to be a lot more research, not just into magnesium, but a lot of micronutrient deficiencies,” she says, stating that magnesium may only be a part of wider, underlying issues. “This nutrient alone will not alleviate all symptoms and it needs to be considered alongside a number of other factors.”
Magnesium deficiencies are widespread in today’s world and can contribute to a range of health problems. Levels in foods have dropped over the last decades and processed foods are stripped of many nutrients, contributing to the problem.
Supplements can be a quick go-to for topping-off levels, but they are not necessarily the best approach in all cases; it can come with risks if overused.
High doses of supplements can cause diarrhea, stomach cramps and nausea.
Flight explains that the first step to increasing nutrients should be to look at diet, particularly limiting the consumption of processed foods, and then ramping up healthier options.
“Things like nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans and green leafy vegetables have a lot of nutrients such as magnesium, and they’re really good for people,” Flight says. “And, magnesium is essential for the absorption and metabolism of vitamin D and calcium.”
Most adults should consume between 310 and 420 milligrams daily, according to medical guidelines.
Certain groups, such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions may need more, particularly from supplements.
Following social media trends that promote the consumption of supplements should be taken with an “air of caution,” according to Flight.
“I think it can become dangerous if people actually just follow that and then suddenly take magnesium supplements thinking it’s going to be a cure-all, when it’s not necessarily the case,” she says.
“There is certainly a place for supplements,” she adds. “But I think we need to look at the wider picture as well and if we have that varied and balanced diet, we should be getting all of the nutrients that we need.”