Out of the positively-charged minerals in the body, magnesium is the fourth most abundant after calcium, phosphorus, and sulfur, and the second most abundant inside cells, following potassium [1]. Very little magnesium circulates in the blood as a good 60% of bodily magnesium is held in the bones, with another 20% residing in muscle tissue [2].

The importance of magnesium to our health is becoming more widely understood, but did you know that around 80% of all known metabolic functions in the body are governed by enzymes that rely on magnesium [3]? We know that these metabolic functions involve at least 600 different enzymatic reactions, and an additional 200 are showing that they are likely activated by magnesium as well [4].

What roles does magnesium play in the body?

Magnesium is essential for energy production in the body because the metabolism of ATP (our energy currency) is dependent upon magnesium – magnesium and ATP must be partnered [5]. Magnesium is a global regulator of electrical activity for this reason, and is critical for the brain, heart, and skeletal muscle as a mineral battery [6]. It is also needed for DNA repair, gene expression, protein synthesis, and the transmission of signals through the nervous system [7] [8]. Being a primary electrolyte and acid buffer, magnesium even helps maintain a normal blood pH [9].

Related article: Natural Electrolytes are Essential for Life, Health, and Peak Performance

Magnesium levels tie in with weight control because this mineral is involved in the oxidation of carbohydrates and fats [10]. It is therefore crucial for converting food into fuel, as too little magnesium contributes to insulin resistance and diabetes mellitus, causing weight gain [11].

We tend to think that bone health is mostly an issue of calcium, but magnesium plays a major role in keeping bones strong by stimulating bone formation and converting vitamin D into its active form [12] [13]. This mineral powerhouse is also a big player for the immune system, defending the body against viruses and augmenting both humoral and cell-mediated immunity [14].

Are we getting enough?

While the average dietary intake for magnesium is estimated to be between 320 and 420 milligrams per day, some evidence suggests that the optimal range may be closer to 600 mg/day, as this number is more in line with what our Paleolithic ancestors likely took in [15].

Unfortunately, many of us are magnesium-deficient per a 2016 report which concluded that: Approximately 50% of Americans consume less than the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) for magnesium, and some age groups consume substantially less” [16]. In fact, Dr. Robert Whang of the University of Oklahoma averred that “Hypomagnesemia is probably the most underdiagnosed electrolyte deficiency in current medical practice” [17]. This underdiagnosis crisis is mainly due to the fact that blood magnesium levels can appear normal despite intracellular magnesium depletion, as it usually takes more severe tissue deficiency before blood levels will read low [18].

Related article: Are Supplements Needed to Prevent Mineral Deficiency?

In the research literature, insufficient magnesium in the body has been connected to a myriad of health conditions such as anemia, cardiovascular disease, PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), obsessive-compulsive disorder, arthritis, prostate cancer, and both major types of diabetes [19]. Neurologically, migraines, strokes, multiple sclerosis, seizures, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease have also been associated with a lack of magnesium [20] [21].

Precluding the onset of overt disease, some symptoms that commonly arise from magnesium deficiency include muscle cramps, vertigo, apathy, depression, tinnitus, general weakness, fatigue, and abnormal heart rhythms [22] [23].

Related article: Magnesium, The Forgotten Mineral

What factors can lead to a shortage of magnesium in the body?

While there are many agents capable of diminishing magnesium status out there, here is a list of the most common culprits:

  • Soil depletion – soil magnesium concentrations have been dropping for decades due to the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and unsustainable farming practices [24].
  • Chronic inflammation and stress – cortisol and adrenaline both drain magnesium stores [25].
  • Sugary foods – the more processed and high-sugar foods we eat, the more our magnesium must be spent metabolizing refined carbohydrates and fats [26].
  • Damage to the small intestine or leaky-gut syndrome – most magnesium is absorbed from the small intestine but some can also be taken up by the colon [27] [28]. Inflammation in this area impairs the normal passage of magnesium across the gut wall.
  • Damage to or dysfunction in the kidneys – due to lessened reabsorption before the mineral is expelled in the urine [29].
  • Hyperinsulinemia – excess insulin ramps up urinary magnesium loss [30].
  • Electromagnetic field exposure – EMFs from cell phones and computers cause calcium influx into cells by activating voltage-gated calcium channels, which ties up magnesium [31].
  • Phosphorus excess from soft drinks – phosphoric acid binds magnesium, making it unavailable for use [32].
  • Aluminum exposure – aluminum, common in deodorant, toothpaste, and cookware, displaces magnesium from Mg-ATP and damages electrolyte pumps in cell membranes [33].
  • Caffeine consumption – caffeine increases the urinary excretion of magnesium as well as other needed minerals [34].
  • Drinking alcohol – alcohol acts as a magnesium diuretic and depletes body stores of this critical mineral [35].
  • Too much or too little dietary protein – adequate protein is necessary for the normal retention and utilization of magnesium, but an excessively high protein intake can increase the amount of Mg wasted in the urine [36] [37].
  • Medications – antacids, antibiotics, antihistamines, blood pressure-reducing drugs, steroid anti-inflammatories (hydrocortisone and prednisone), estrogen drugs used for hormone replacement therapy, Ritalin®, proton-pump inhibitors used for acid reflux, and drugs used for both osteoporosis and breast cancer can all sap magnesium levels through multiple mechanisms [38].
  • Pancreatitis (acute or chronic) – due to malabsorption and hormonal aberrations [39].
  • Hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism – thyroid problems tend to dysregulate the trafficking of electrolytes and water [40].
  • Strenuous exercise or significant sweating – electrolytes are regularly lost through sweat, which raises the magnesium requirements for athletes [41] [42].

Related article: How to Get Rid of a Charley Horse – 4 Simple Fixes


In closing, there is no denying how pivotal magnesium is to our health and well-being. Because our food staples have been deprived of their natural mineral content, many are looking to supplementation to nourish their bodies with the foundational nutrients basic to life But not all mineral supplements are created equal! Synthetic fillers and nasty chemicals are rife in products from the nutraceutical industry. For more information on the unique quality and purity of the mineral solutions offered by MRI by way of the pristine north shore of the Great Salt Lake, please read the article Liquid Trace Minerals – How to Judge a Mineral Product by our President, Bruce Anderson.


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