Magnesium is a go-to supplement for many people these days, but for those not in the know, its name most likely just conjures up an image of their 7th grade periodic table. If you’re part of the latter group (no judgment!), it’s high time you give the mineral the attention it deserves.
Best known for its role in helping your nerves and muscles fire on all cylinders, “magnesium is involved in many biological processes, ranging from bone health, to blood pressure control, to kidney function, to protein synthesis, to energy production,” says Dafna Chazin, R.D.N., of Virtua Wellness & Nutrition. “It is even required to make DNA!” Yet despite its importance, nearly half of all Americans don’t meet their daily magnesium needs (320 milligrams per day for women and 420 milligrams per day for men).
“Under ideal circumstances, your magnesium intake should come from a well-balanced diet,” says Joseph Galati, M.D., author of Eating Yourself Sick: How to Stop Obesity, Fatty Liver, and Diabetes from Killing You and Your Family. (A serving of almonds, spinach, or cashews provides about 20 percent of your daily needs.) Luckily, since many of us don’t eat enough magnesium-rich foods, we can fill in any gaps with supplements.
Still not convinced you should care about getting more magnesium? Trust us: After reading about some of the very noticeable ways it affects your health and well-being, you will be. Here are four unexpected—and important—benefits magnesium has to offer.
1. Better Digestion
“Magnesium plays a huge role in regulating our muscles, heart rhythm, bowels, and immune system,” says Rebecca Lee, R.N., founder of the natural health resource Remedies For Me. Magnesium has a relaxing effect on our tissues, and can help relax intestinal walls and draw water into the colon, both of which support regular trips to the toilet. That’s why you’ll see magnesium—specifically ‘magnesium citrate’—listed as an ingredient in many laxatives.
If you’re having trouble going to the bathroom, Lee recommends taking 300 to 400 milligrams of magnesium citrate with some water before bed. Chances are, you’ll wake up ready to go.
2. Quality Sleep
Because of magnesium’s relaxing effect on the body, deficiency can contribute to increased levels of stress and anxiety, which in turn makes good sleep hard to come by, says Galati.
A recent study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Science found that people with sleep issues can benefit from magnesium supplementation. After eight weeks of supplementing with 500 milligrams of magnesium, participants reported increased sleep times and quality, and had higher levels of blood melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep-wake cycle.
Related: Are You Getting Enough Magnesium?
What’s more, according to one review article published in Medical Hypothesis, numerous studies have found magnesium to be helpful for those with mood issues, such as anxiety and depression.
3. Strong Bones
Typically, when we think of bone health, we think of calcium. But guess what? Magnesium keeps your frame in shape, too! In fact, “magnesium deficiency directly contributes to osteoporosis (which is characterized by a loss of bone mass) by acting on crystal formation and on bone cells, and indirectly by impacting the secretion of parathyroid hormone and promoting low grade inflammation,” says one 2013 Nutrients review.
The authors identified a positive correlation between magnesium intake and bone mineral density in older adults, concluding that optimizing magnesium intake supports bone health long-term—and can help protect against osteoporosis.
4. Healthy Blood Pressure
“Tension in the smooth muscle of blood vessels throughout the body due to magnesium deficiency can be a cause of high blood pressure,” says Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D., a functional medicine doctor and author of The Magnesium Miracle.
Research suggests that higher magnesium intake supports healthy blood pressure, with one 2011 meta-analysis published in Hypertension identifying a correlation between supplementing with magnesium and lower blood pressure. After analyzing data from 34 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials that included over 2,000 participants, the researchers proposed that 300 milligrams of magnesium daily for a month supported healthy blood pressure.