Out of all the minerals present in the human body, magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body. It is an essential mineral maintaining health as it has a vital part in the physiological functions of the skeletal muscles, heart, and brain. The body does not produce it, so you must obtain it through proper diet and nutrition. Magnesium also possesses anti-inflammatory properties and performs as a calcium antagonist. The daily intake of magnesium as recommended by the United States Food and Nutrition Board is 320mg for women and 420mg for men (1). The salts of magnesium easily dissolve in water and therefore, it is promptly available for use in the body (2).
What does magnesium do in the body?
Magnesium is required in almost six hundred cellular reactions from helping in the contraction of muscles to making the DNA (3). In over three hundred enzymatic reactions involved in the metabolism of energy and synthesis of nucleic acid, magnesium functions as a co-factor. Moreover, several processes such as gating of calcium channels, binding of hormone receptors, transmembrane ion flux, and neuronal activity, regulation of adenylate cyclase, vasomotor tone maintenance, the discharge of neurotransmitters, and cardiac excitability also require the presence of magnesium (4,5).
Healthy Brain Function
The transmitting of signals between the body and brain relies on magnesium. The mineral acts as a gatekeeper for the receptors of N-Methyl-D-Aspartate (NMDA). NMDA is present on the nerve cells and helps in learning, and brain development, and aids memory (6). Normally, the NMDA receptors hold the magnesium. It prevents weak signals from triggering the receptors to inhibit unnecessary stimulation of nerve cells. Low magnesium levels mean fewer NMDA receptors occupied by magnesium making receptors prone to over-stimulation and this can cause the death of nerve cells and damage to the brain (7).
To generate contractions in the heart, magnesium competes naturally with calcium. The muscle fibers of the heart are stimulated to contract when calcium enters the cells of the heart muscles. Magnesium counters this action of calcium and helps the heart muscles to relax (5,8). This movement of magnesium and calcium across the heart muscles helps in maintaining a healthy heartbeat.
In the case of magnesium deficiency, overstimulation of heart muscles results due to calcium binding. Irregular or/and rapid heartbeat is one of the symptoms and can become life-threatening (9). Furthermore, the sodium-potassium pump is an enzyme that produces electrical impulses and it also needs magnesium to function properly. If magnesium is deficient, it can create certain electrical impulses that can impact the heartbeat (10).
Regulation of muscle contractions
Similar to its action in the heart, magnesium also has a role in blocking calcium in skeletal muscles to help them relax. In skeletal muscles, calcium attaches to proteins such as myosin and troponin C. The attachment changes the protein’s shape resulting in muscle contraction (11). To help muscles relax, magnesium fights with calcium for these attachment sites. The deficiency of magnesium can begin too much muscle contraction ensuing in muscle spasms and cramps.
Why is magnesium important?
Scientific data suggests that you will need more magnesium if you are active (12). There is a link between high magnesium levels in the blood and enhanced performance of muscles, for example, the greater strength of legs. This indicates that if you ensure adequate intake of magnesium, you can improve your performance.
So the question is how exactly does magnesium help to improve performance? Magnesium lowers the levels of lactic acid in the body (13). Lactic acid or lactate is a metabolite produced as a result of extensive physical activity. Increased lactic acid levels limit the performance of muscles and cause rapid fatigue. Magnesium actually helps the blood sugar to move into the muscles and dispose of the lactic acid (12).
Moreover, doing physical activity when magnesium levels are low in the body can lead to higher consumption of oxygen and increased heart rate. Additionally, this mineral is important to strengthen the defense system of the body known as the immune system. It functions similarly to the anti-oxidants by reinforcing the body’s defenses and providing protection against diseases.
The human body retains good levels of magnesium; however, the majority of individuals do not get enough quantity of magnesium through their diet (14). Certain factors increase the risk of an individual developing magnesium deficiency. This includes gastrointestinal disorders, genetic disorders resulting in excessive loss through sweating or urination, being hospitalized, type II diabetes, hyperaldosteronism, parathyroid disease, and intake of certain medicines such as diuretics, and proton pump inhibitors, etc.
The deficiency of magnesium in the body causes tremors, twitches, and cramps of muscles. The worst that can happen with magnesium deficiency are convulsions or seizures (15,16). Another sign more specific to magnesium deficiency is muscle weakness which may develop due to myasthenia gravis (17). Although everyone gets tired now and then, typically, it indicates that you need rest. Though, persistent or severe fatigue may be an indication of a health problem. It is believed that muscle weakness is caused by potassium loss from the muscle cells. This condition is linked with magnesium deficiency (18,19).
Magnesium deficiency can develop apathy characterized by a lack of emotions or mental numbness. Coma and delirium can also result from worsened magnesium deficiency (16). Additionally, low levels of magnesium are also linked with depression (20). It is also speculated that anxiety may also develop due to magnesium deficiency (21). Magnesium deficiency can also cause the bones to weaken as the levels of blood calcium decrease. It can increase the risk of osteoporosis (22,23). Magnesium deficiency can elevate blood pressure increases the risk for heart diseases (24,25), and causes irregular heartbeat, or heart arrhythmias (26).
The bottom line
If you are on your journey to fitness, then you should not underestimate the role of magnesium. The more you perform extraneous physical activities, the more your body will require magnesium. The focus should be on meeting the needs through a balanced diet comprising of food rich in magnesium including but not limited to whole grains, almonds, leafy greens, avocados, bananas, salmon, lentils and pumpkin seeds. Still, if your diet is not able to fulfill the magnesium deficiency, you can take help from magnesium supplements. Always consult a doctor or a nutritionist before starting any supplement.
CEO – OC FITNESS COACH
1. Institute of Medicine (US) Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Vitamin D, and Fluoride [Internet]. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1997 [cited 2021 Nov 27]. (The National Academies Collection: Reports funded by National Institutes of Health). Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK109825/
2. Maguire HC. Specific acquired immune unresponsiveness to contact allergens with cyclophosphamide in the mouse. Int Arch Allergy Appl Immunol. 1976;50(6):651–8.
3. de Baaij JHF, Hoenderop JGJ, Bindels RJM. Magnesium in man: implications for health and disease. Physiol Rev. 2015 Jan;95(1):1–46.
4. Altura BM. Introduction: importance of Mg in physiology and medicine and the need for ion selective electrodes. Scand J Clin Lab Investig Suppl. 1994;217:5–9.
5. Iseri LT, French JH. Magnesium: nature’s physiologic calcium blocker. Am Heart J. 1984 Jul;108(1):188–93.
6. Newcomer JW, Farber NB, Olney JW. NMDA receptor function, memory, and brain aging. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2000 Sep;2(3):219–32.
7. Arundine M, Tymianski M. Molecular mechanisms of calcium-dependent neurodegeneration in excitotoxicity. Cell Calcium. 2003 Nov;34(4–5):325–37.
8. Jahnen-Dechent W, Ketteler M. Magnesium basics. Clin Kidney J. 2012 Feb;5(Suppl 1):i3–14.
9. Efstratiadis G, Sarigianni M, Gougourelas I. Hypomagnesemia and cardiovascular system. Hippokratia. 2006 Oct;10(4):147–52.
10. Apell HJ, Hitzler T, Schreiber G. Modulation of the Na,K-ATPase by Magnesium Ions. Biochemistry. 2017 Feb 21;56(7):1005–16.
11. Potter GDM, Skene DJ, Arendt J, Cade JE, Grant PJ, Hardie LJ. Circadian Rhythm and Sleep Disruption: Causes, Metabolic Consequences, and Countermeasures. Endocr Rev. 2016 Dec;37(6):584–608.
12. Zhang Y, Xun P, Wang R, Mao L, He K. Can Magnesium Enhance Exercise Performance? Nutrients. 2017 Aug 28;9(9):E946.
13. Cinar V, Nizamlioğlu M, Moğulkoc R. The effect of magnesium supplementation on lactate levels of sportsmen and sedanter. Acta Physiol Hung. 2006 Jun;93(2–3):137–44.
14. NIH. Office of Dietary Supplements – Magnesium [Internet]. [cited 2022 Aug 17]. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/
15. Gragossian A, Bashir K, Friede R. Hypomagnesemia. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 [cited 2022 Aug 17]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK500003/
16. Pham PCT, Pham PAT, Pham SV, Pham PTT, Pham PMT, Pham PTT. Hypomagnesemia: a clinical perspective. Int J Nephrol Renov Dis. 2014;7:219–30.
17. Caddell JL. Magnesium deficiency promotes muscle weakness, contributing to the risk of sudden infant death (SIDS) in infants sleeping prone. Magnes Res. 2001 Mar;14(1–2):39–50.
18. Huang CL, Kuo E. Mechanism of hypokalemia in magnesium deficiency. J Am Soc Nephrol JASN. 2007 Oct;18(10):2649–52.
19. Whang R, Flink EB, Dyckner T, Wester PO, Aikawa JK, Ryan MP. Magnesium depletion as a cause of refractory potassium repletion. Arch Intern Med. 1985 Sep;145(9):1686–9.
20. Cheungpasitporn W, Thongprayoon C, Mao MA, Srivali N, Ungprasert P, Varothai N, et al. Hypomagnesaemia linked to depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Intern Med J. 2015 Apr;45(4):436–40.
21. Sartori SB, Whittle N, Hetzenauer A, Singewald N. Magnesium deficiency induces anxiety and HPA axis dysregulation: modulation by therapeutic drug treatment. Neuropharmacology. 2012 Jan;62(1):304–12.
22. Castiglioni S, Cazzaniga A, Albisetti W, Maier JAM. Magnesium and Osteoporosis: Current State of Knowledge and Future Research Directions. Nutrients. 2013 Aug;5(8):3022.
23. Flynn A. The role of dietary calcium in bone health. Proc Nutr Soc. 2003 Nov;62(4):851–8.
24. Ettehad D, Emdin CA, Kiran A, Anderson SG, Callender T, Emberson J, et al. Blood pressure lowering for prevention of cardiovascular disease and death: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Lond Engl. 2016 Mar 5;387(10022):957–67.
25. Laurant P, Hayoz D, Brunner HR, Berthelot A. Effect of magnesium deficiency on blood pressure and mechanical properties of rat carotid artery. Hypertens Dallas Tex 1979. 1999 May;33(5):1105–10.
26. Dyckner T. Serum magnesium in acute myocardial infarction. Relation to arrhythmias. Acta Med Scand. 1980;207(1–2):59–66.