Diet and Nutrition

5 Reasons Why Women Should be Getting More Magnesium

Recent studies have suggested that taking a standard multi-vitamin may not be as beneficial as we once thought. In 2011, the Iowa Women’s Health Study reported that women who used a multivitamin were actually at a higher risk of mortality than women who didn’t. In 2012, the Harvard Physician’s Study II found that taking a multivitamin had no effect on heart attack, stroke, or mortality.

Carbonated beverages, for example, reduce the absorption of magnesium. Refined sugar increases magnesium excretion from the body, as does stress and caffeine. So if you’re having a stressful day and you’re drinking a lot of coffee, you may end up with low stores of magnesium at dinnertime.

Other studies have shown similar results, with multivitamins having little effect on heart disease, cancer, or longevity. Since then, a lot of women have been confused about whether or not they should take a multivitamin, or take supplements at all.

Personally, I’ve found that zeroing in on a few nutrients that you’re less likely to get from your daily diet is the more effective approach to health. If you take medications that rob you of vitamin B, for example, you may want to supplement. Vitamin C is also one of those super-supplements shown to have significant benefits.

As you look over your lifestyle, your diet, and your health concerns, here’s one more supplement I think most women need to have in their cupboards: magnesium. Here’s why.

What is Magnesium?

Magnesium is one of seven minerals essential for life as we know it. We don’t make it ourselves, so we have to get it from the food we eat. According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, the mineral is involved in over 300 enzyme systems that regulate reactions in the body, including protein synthethis, muscle and nerve function, blood sugar control, blood pressure regulation, energy production, bone development, DNA synthesis, and heart function.

The human body contains about 25 grams of magnesium, with 50-60 percent in the bones and the rest in soft tissues. The current recommended daily intake for adult women is about 320 mg/day, though many experts recommend more for various reasons. (Pregnant women are advised to take 350 mg/day, and breastfeeding women 320 mg/day). Magnesium aspartate, citrate, lactate, and chloride forms are believed to be absorbed more completely than oxide or sulfate.

Some of the top food sources for magnesium include the following:

  • Nuts (almonds, peanuts, cashews)
  • Seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, flaxseed)
  • Spinach
  • Black beans and other beans
  • Edamame
  • Peanut Butter
  • Fish (mackerel, tuna, pollock)
  • Whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, whole wheat pasta, oats)
  • Avocados
  • Low-fat dairy (yogurt, milk)
  • Dried fruit (figs, prunes, apricots)
  • Potatoes
  • Bananas

Are You Getting Enough Magnesium?

Are most American women getting enough? This is a tough question to answer, because it’s difficult to test. Most of the magnesium in our bodies is stored in bone and the rest in tissue, leaving only a minimal (about one percent) in the blood, so a simple blood test doesn’t show accurate results. A complete magnesium testing process can, however, create a better picture. Some researchers have made efforts to find out if Americans are getting enough. According to a 2003 study, we’re not. Researchers wrote: “Despite the role of magnesium in maintaining health, much of the U.S. population has historically not consumed adequate amounts of magnesium.” They went on to analyze data from over 4,200 participants from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and found that the median intake of magnesium was 237 mg/day among Caucasian women, 177 mg/day among African American women, and 221 mg/day among Mexican American women. All intakes were lower than recommended.

In addition, magnesium intake decreased with age, but those who used vitamin or mineral supplements were able to get more into their diets than those who didn’t use supplements.

“Substantial numbers of U.S. adults fail to consume adequate magnesium in their diets,” the researchers concluded.

Meanwhile, many of the things we do in our modern lives can deplete magnesium from the body. Carbonated beverages, for example, reduce the absorption of magnesium. Refined sugar increases magnesium excretion from the body, as does stress and caffeine. So if you’re having a stressful day and you’re drinking a lot of coffee, you may end up with low stores of magnesium at dinnertime.

National Institutes of Health

Those who are most at risk for a magnesium deficiency include women with type 2 diabetes, those with gastrointestinal diseases like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, those dependent on alcohol, and older women. As we get older, the gut is less able to absorb magnesium, and we also tend to excrete more.

Medications, too, can rob the body of this vital nutrient. Things like birth control drugs, asthma medication, estrogen replacement therapies, heart medications, proton pump inhibitors (like Nexium), and diuretics can all increase magnesium loss through the kidneys.

If you are deficient in this mineral, you may notice some subtle signs like nausea, loss of appetite, fatigue, and weakness. Other clues may include an increase in headaches, a persistent eye twitch, irritability, and brain fog. If you’re super low, you may have numbness or tingling, muscle cramps, or even abnormal heart rhythms, but these are rare. Most of the time, you won’t notice a deficiency, but if you start getting as much as you need, you are likely to notice the benefits.

5 Reasons Why Women Need More Magnesium

Below are five ways magnesium can benefit women’s health.

1. Improves Heart Health 

Studies have shown that women who are in the higher levels of magnesium intake are likely to have healthier hearts. In a 2010 study of over 14,000 participants aged 45 to 64, with a 12-year follow-up, those with the highest levels of magnesium had a 38 percent reduced risk of sudden cardiac death compared to those with the lowest levels.

Another study of over 88,000 female nurses found that women who consumed the most magnesium through food and supplements had a 34 percent lower risk of sudden cardiac death.

Higher magnesium intake may also reduce the risk of stroke. In a study of over 240,000 participants, though who consumed an additional 100 mg/day had an eight percent decreased risk of stroke.

2. Supports Bone Health

Women know that after menopause, their bones are at risk. The drop in estrogen removes our protection against osteoporosis and fractures. Magnesium can help. It is critical for bone formation, and it’s also involved in maintaining bone density.

A number of studies have linked magnesium intake and healthier bones, and a lack of magnesium with more fragile bones. Women with osteoporosis, for example, were found in one study to have lower magnesium levels than those who didn’t have osteoporosis. Increasing our intake of magnesium, however, may help.

In one small study, researchers found that postmenopausal women who took magnesium supplements for 30 days experienced decreased bone loss.

3. Relieves Pain

If you suffer from headaches, fibromyalgia, muscle pain, and more, a magnesium supplement may help. Several studies have found that boosting magnesium intake can help relieve pain, while a magnesium deficiency is related to changes that occur in the body to cause headaches.

In studies on migraine headaches, participants who took 300 mg two times a day (for a total of 600 mg) experienced reduced frequency in the headaches. The American Academy of Neurology and the American Headache Society have also concluded that magnesium therapy is “probably effective” for preventing migraines. Some small studies have indicated that it may help relieve the pain of overworked muscles, as well.

If you are one of the many women who suffer from fibromyalgia, magnesium may help. We have only a few studies so far, but they have shown that taking magnesium, or magnesium with calcium, helped relieve pain and tenderness. Talk to your doctor about this possible nutritional treatment.

And if you dread “that time of the month” because of pain and mood changes, grab some magnesium. In one study, 34 percent of women who took a supplement of 250 mg/day for three months experienced improvements in mood and pain.

4. Reduces Stress and Anxiety and Improves Mood

Magnesium is important for the production of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, particularly the “good mood” neurotransmitter, serotonin, and the “relaxing” neurotransmitter, GABA. If you’re not getting enough, you may experience more anxiety or irritability than usual.

In fact, in a 2012 animal study, those subjects who didn’t get enough started showing anxiety-related behaviors. An earlier study found similar results, with a magnesium deficiency inducing anxiety. Magnesium is so effective this way that some call it the original “chill pill.”

Magnesium may also be effective against depression. In a 2006 study, researchers found that using 125-300 mg of magnesium with each meal and at bedtime proved to be an “unusually effective treatment of depression.” The researchers noted that dietary deficiencies in magnesium could lead to symptoms like anxiety, irritability, and sleeplessness.

5. Eases Digestion

Magnesium can have a laxative effect on the body, which can help if you’re suffering from constipation. An interesting connection: stress has been found to contribute to constipation, and stress also depletes the body of magnesium. If you are going through a stressful time in your life right now that is “stopping you up,” a magnesium supplement may be all you need to feel better.

Magnesium naturally relaxes the muscles in the digestive tract, making the whole digestive process easier. It also helps neutralize stomach acid so you don’t experience as many stomach irritations. If you’re not getting enough, you’re likely to experience digestive problems. In a 2007 study, students who had low intakes of this mineral were more likely to suffer from constipation.

Can I Take Too Much?

Sometimes when we think of supplements, we think more is better, but that’s usually not true. We have to be careful we don’t get too much, as that can turn a good thing bad.

Fortunately, with magnesium, the risks of taking too much are low. The kidneys do a good job of making sure we have just what we need, and will excrete any excess. Another good thing with magnesium is that if you take too much, you’ll know it—because you’ll likely get diarrhea. In fact, magnesium is a popular laxative. Just look at the back of your Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia to see.

You’d have to take a lot for a long time, however, to experience any serious health effects. Taking a lot of magnesium-based laxatives, for example, can cause magnesium toxicity and symptoms like nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, and muscle weakness.

The “tolerable upper intake level” for magnesium supplements established by the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) is 350 mg/day for adult women, but levels up to 1,000 mg/day have been shown to be tolerated with no adverse effects.


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Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story is a novelist, health and wellness writer, and motivational speaker committed to helping people take control of their own health and well-being. She’s authored thousands of articles for a variety of health publications, and ghostwritten books for clients in the health and wellness industry. She is the founder of Writing and Wellness, a motivational site for writers and other creative artists. Find more at her website, or follow her on Twitter.