hands holding magnesium supplement

What are the health benefits of magnesium?

Magnesium is an essential mineral that powers many functions in our bodies.

“Magnesium plays a crucial role in muscle function, the nervous system and energy production. It also helps maintain blood sugar and blood pressure,” said Brittany Van Tine, a dietetic intern at OSF HealthCare.

How much magnesium should I take?

Normal magnesium levels are usually between 1.5 and 2.5 milligrams per deciliter of blood for adults.

It’s likely that a minor magnesium deficiency won’t interrupt your life too much. But, a severe, long-term deficiency may cause more health problems.

“Low levels of magnesium increase the risk of high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and weak bones,” Brittany said.

Magnesium also helps balance other things like sodium, calcium and potassium.

You can get your daily dose of magnesium from a well-balanced diet. If you need a supplemental dose, 200 mg/day is generally considered a safe and adequate amount.

It is possible to take too much magnesium, which can cause fatigue, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

Why supplement magnesium?

“Our bodies cannot create it, so we rely on our diet to consume magnesium,” Brittany said.

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Many people believe that getting more magnesium through supplements and vitamins helps with many health issues. However, many of the popular ideas don’t have much merit. These are some of the most popular reasons people give for taking magnesium:


Taking magnesium for anxiety isn’t a surefire way to relieve those feelings. Reducing anxiety starts with plenty of sleep, eating a well-balanced diet and staying on top of your behavioral and mental health.


There’s not enough research to support the claim that taking magnesium for sleep is effective at helping fall or stay asleep.

Instead, Brittany suggests using tart cherry juice, which naturally contains a little bit of melatonin. However, it won’t ensure better or longer sleep; it merely will help you fall asleep. To get better sleep, try balancing your diet and sticking to a daily and nightly routine.

Muscle cramps

People may experience muscle cramps, often in the middle of the night. These could be the result of too much vigorous exercise or other kinds of physical labor.

The effectiveness of magnesium for leg cramps isn’t supported by much research.


Taking magnesium for headaches, especially for migraines, can potentially be helpful. It’s not backed by a lot of research, but for people with migraines, magnesium may help.

For people with migraines, it’s best to talk to your primary care provider about finding the cause.


Magnesium is one of the many minerals found in most prenatal vitamins.

Taking magnesium for pregnancy helps keep a mom’s contractions from starting until it’s time to deliver. Plus, it helps baby’s bone growth.

While magnesium is good and essential for our bodies, it’s not a miracle supplement. It won’t solve every health condition.

Food with magnesium

Most adults in the United States don’t get enough magnesium through the foods that they eat. So, taking a supplement is a possible option. However, Brittany said people can easily get their daily recommended intake by adding a few foods to their daily diet.

Our bodies often can get all the magnesium we need by eating a well-rounded diet. But, many foods contain enough magnesium to fulfill our daily value. Some good food sources of magnesium include:

Fortified foods – Breads and cereals that have magnesium added are labeled as fortified. Choose a whole or multigrain fortified bread for the best health boost. Same with cereals. Choose whole grain cereals rather than sugary options.

Dark chocolate – Believe it or not, this delicious treat has magnesium. Cocoa beans are a high magnesium plant. The darker the chocolate, the more concentrated the cocoa, which means the magnesium content is higher.

Nuts and seeds – Almonds, peanuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and flaxseeds are extremely good, natural sources of magnesium. Even just one handful of almonds per day gives us nearly a quarter of our daily value of magnesium. Peanut butter is another easy way to get magnesium in your diet.

Dark green, leafy plants – Spinach, Swiss chard and collard greens are rich in magnesium. They can be added to many different kinds of recipes, and you can get a full day’s worth of magnesium.

Vegetables – Corn, peas, broccoli and potatoes with the skin left on are great sources of magnesium. Like the dark green leafy plants, all of these vegetables work very well in recipes.

Dairy – Milk and yogurt contain magnesium.

Grains – Brown rice, quinoa and shredded wheat are healthy ways of adding magnesium into your diet.

Fruits – Bananas are well known for being high in magnesium and potassium. It’s often recommended to eat more bananas when you have frequent leg cramps. Other fruits high in magnesium include blackberries, papaya and avocados.

Beans and legumes – Black beans, cooked edamame beans and kidney beans offer magnesium.

Brittany suggests focusing on eating foods rich in magnesium rather than starting with supplements. Most people get their full daily intake of magnesium through eating.

Types of magnesium supplements

There are a few different magnesium supplement options you might find on the drugstore shelf.

Magnesium citrate – This one is usually easy to find. It easily absorbs into your digestive tract compared to other options.

Be aware that this supplement is often used as a laxative to relieve constipation. That means that if you’re taking this as a magnesium supplement, it may cause unintended side effects.

Magnesium malate – This is another easily absorbed option. And it’s easier on the digestive system than some other options.

Magnesium lactate – Similar to magnesium malate, this is gentler on the digestive system and is easily absorbed.

Magnesium oxide – This type of magnesium supplement is often used to prevent migraine.

Magnesium glycinate – There’s not enough research to prove, but it’s often believed that this type of supplement has calming properties. That’s likely why magnesium supplements have gotten their reputation as something to help with sleep and anxiety. More research needs to be done to verify if this makes a significant difference.

Each of these types of magnesium has side effects, including upset stomach and diarrhea. And before you take a magnesium supplement, make sure you aren’t taking any antibiotics that might interact negatively with the supplement.

Before taking any supplements, you should talk to your primary care provider. They’ll be able to help you decide what supplement is the best for your health goals.

Last Updated: August 9, 2023

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About Author: Katie Faley

Katie Faley is a Writing Coordinator for OSF HealthCare. She graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in English Studies. Before joining OSF HealthCare in 2021, she worked in magazine editing, digital marketing and freelance writing.
Katie is often found listening to ‘60s folk music, deciding on a new skill to learn, losing track of time in a library or spending time with her family and friends.

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