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Magnesium: Nature’s Chill Pill

Magnesium (Mg) is one of the most versatile, abundant, and essential minerals in your body. It’s a critical factor in more than 600 biochemical reactions that power every cell, every organ, and every body system. Magnesium is involved in reactions that generate cellular energy, form and break down protein, manufacture and metabolize hormones, control muscle contraction, and even regulate gene expression. We absolutely depend on Magnesium for life but unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, most people do not get enough of this vital mineral. Government data demonstrates that greater than 60 percent of American adults are not getting enough Mg in their diets!  

Magnesium Is Vital To Your Health

Before we dig into the reasons why so many people do not get enough magnesium, I’d like to explain some of the many ways that magnesium is important to your health.

  • Magnesium deficiency is associated with depression and anxiety.
  • Our stress management system depends on Mg to function optimally.  
  • Magnesium plays a role in blood sugar regulation and can improve blood sugar control in diabetics.
  • Studies demonstrate that magnesium supplements can help prevent migraines.
  • Magnesium is essential for keeping blood vessels healthy and can help lower blood pressure.
  • Constipation can be effectively managed with regular Mg supplementation.
  • Mg is important for muscle health. Optimizing Mg levels can help relieve muscle tension and improve muscle performance.

Why Are People Not Getting Enough Magnesium

We’ve established two main points so far:  

  1. Magnesium is critical for human health
  2. 2. Most people ( >60 percent) are not getting anywhere near enough.  

There are a variety of reasons that Mg deficiency is so common:

  • Magnesium is found in “healthy foods” like vegetables, fruits, nuts/seeds, and whole grains which most people do not eat enough of.
  • Even when people do make healthy food choices, modern farming and industrial agricultural practices have depleted the soil of magnesium so that there is significantly less Mg in crops today than there was in the past.  
  • Food processing techniques strip Mg from grains by removing the mineral-rich husk.
  • Many processed foods contain added calcium which can create an unnatural mineral imbalance that depletes magnesium levels.
  • Excessive consumption of carbonated sodas can rob the body of magnesium.
  • Many conventional medications (particularly antacids) both deplete and interfere with magnesium absorption.
  • Chronic stress has been shown to deplete magnesium.

As you can see, the epidemic of Mg deficiency is easy to explain.  

Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency

It’s no wonder that magnesium deficiency is a problem…But what symptoms can you expect if you are not getting enough? Here’s a short list:

  • Muscle cramps: Mg is intimately involved in the action at the neuromuscular junction where nerves signal muscles to contract.  When Mg levels are low, it can create something like a “short circuit” that increases muscle tone and causes increased risk of spasm.
  • Insomnia: Magnesium has been called “the restful mineral” for a reason. Studies show that GABA receptors in the brain depend on adequate levels of magnesium to function properly. GABA is the neurotransmitter that helps put the brain in a restful and relaxed state.
  • Anxiety and depression: Magnesium deficiency has been known to be linked to depression for over 40 years and has been called a “chill pill” because of its calming effects on the nervous system.  
  • High blood pressure: Numerous studies have shown that the risk for hypertension is greatly increased for those who have a magnesium deficiency.
  • Chronic fatigue: Magnesium is critical to the formation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which (if you remember from your high school chemistry and biology classes) is the main source of cellular energy.
  • Heart disease: Magnesium counteracts calcification (and clotting), which is why emergency caregivers often provide patients having heart attacks with injections of magnesium chloride.  
  • Menstrual disorders: Mg pays a role in the manufacture and metabolism of hormones. Low levels of Mg can create hormonal imbalances which can lead to endocrine problems including menstrual disorders in women. This may explain why women sometimes crave chocolate before or during menstruation…chocolate is rich in magnesium.
  • Morning sickness during pregnancy: Physicians often prescribe transdermal magnesium for women experiencing nausea while expecting.

Correcting Mg Deficiency

Thankfully, there are abundant natural dietary sources of magnesium. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Spinach
  • Dark chocolate
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Salmon
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Black beans
  • Bananas
  • Yogurt
  • Figs
  • Avocado
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Artichokes
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Potatoes

It’s always best to get your nutrition from food, but for the reasons listed above, that’s not always so easy when it comes to magnesium. If you think that you may be dealing with symptoms related to Mg deficiency, you might consider taking a Mg supplement because they supply much greater levels that can easily be obtained in the diet. If you are considering Mg supplementation, there are several different forms available over the counter:  

  1. Mg citrate: This form tends to be the most effective but also the most likely to cause loose stool or diarrhea. I usually recommend taking 150-200mg twice per day with meals as a starting dose.
  2. My glycinate:  This is a good from of Mg for people who are worried about getting loose stools.  It is less likely to cause that problem than Mg citrate as above.  Dosage is usually in the range of 250 mg twice daily with food.  
  3. Mg sulfate: Commonly known as “epsom salt”, Mg sulfate is famous for helping relax tense muscles when used as an additive to a hot bath. Add 2-3 cups of epsom salt per bath and relax…
  4. Mg oxide: Newer studies have suggested that Mg Oxide is better absorbed than previously thought…although I generally see my patients do better on Mg citrate or glycinate as described above.  

If you take prescription medications (including blood pressure medication, diuretics, blood thinners, or antibiotics), you should consult with a physician before starting Mg supplementation to make sure there are no potentially adverse interactions.  


Your body depends on Mg for optimal function. Thankfully, there are a lot of great sources of this mineral (dark leafy green vegetables, legumes, and whole grains). If you are suffering from symptoms associated with magnesium deficiency, look for sources of Mg-rich foods in your diet, and consider supplementation of this safe and effective “chill pill”.

Take good care,

Dr. Josh

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