I swore off supplements for a long time, thinking that I could get everything my body needs through food.
While I still think that’s a mostly accurate statement, it assumes I’m eating a wide variety of foods every single day, for my entire life. Unfortunately, my love for tacos and homemade pizza permanently disqualifies me.
I don’t know what, but something clicked last year and I did some research on adding supplements to my diet. It could have been the fact that my restless legs were keeping me up EVERY.SINGLE.NIGHT. Whatever spawned me to research the benefits of magnesium, I’m so glad I did – it could have been the root cause of so many of my problems!!
Benefits of Magnesium: A Better Nights’ Sleep
In my research I found this article that specifically looked into the effect of magnesium and its effect on insomnia in elderly patients, but there’s a line in there that caught my eye:
With aging, several changes occur that can place one at risk for insomnia, including age-related changes in various circadian rhythms, environmental and lifestyle changes, and decreased nutrients intake, absorption, retention, and utilization.
Now, I know I’m not old enough to be considered elderly (yet!), but I am getting older and have noticed some of these changes already. Maybe it was moving across the country (environmental and lifestyle change), or living in a one-bedroom apartment with my family for 3 months, or achieving a “one-day” dream of buying a house in cash, or maybe it’s the fact that I’m officially closer to 40 than I am 30… or maybe it’s all of the above.
In either case, I wasn’t sleeping well and that same article found that magnesium does indeed help with sleep!
Specifically, it helped the test subjects fall asleep faster, sleep longer and not wake up too early. It also helped with benefits that a good night sleep provides, like stable melatonin levels, lower blood pressure and regulated cortisol levels.
Benefits of Magnesium: Reduces Stress and Anxiety
According to this article, stress causes a double whammy to our magnesium levels.
- First, high levels of stress and anxiety cause the body to release magnesium and in turn, excrete it in urine.
- Then, low magnesium levels can cause the release of certain hormones in the body that are already on the rise because we’re stressed.
Essentially, the more stressed a person becomes, the more magnesium is lost from the body.
And to make matters worse, sleep deprivation itself is a chronic stressor that can lower magnesium levels too!
Benefits of Magnesium: Calming Nerves and Relaxing Muscles
Although calming the nerves and relaxing muscles could fall under the benefit of reducing stress and anxiety, I’m listing this benefit separately because you could easily be nervous and not stressed, or tense and not anxious.
Why? Too much calcium.
This article explains why calcium is added to a large part of the modern food supply, and yes calcium is good for our bones. BUT, calcium alone isn’t enough. We need other vitamins and minerals WITH calcium in order for our bodies to be able to use the calcium we ingest, and one of those minerals is magnesium.
Too much calcium, and not enough magnesium, can lead to muscle cramps. When the muscles don’t relax, it can create problems as we try to fall asleep.
Benefits of Magnesium: Helps the Body Produce Collagen
This benefit surprised me big time, especially since I just wrote about the benefits of collagen!
I’m not going to copy/paste that whole article (you can read it here), but basically, our body needs collagen for a wide variety of daily functions (circulation, healing, hair/skin/nail growth, etc.), and magnesium helps the body to produce the proteins that will become collagen!
Different Types of Magnesium
Did you know that there are over 10 different types of magnesium out there?!
When I shared my whipped magnesium lotion tutorial on Facebook, people chimed in with the magnesium they were using. My concern was that they were using magnesium for one purpose, when they really needed to be using a different type!
Here are a few of the major types of magnesium, summarized from this article and this article. Note that this list is not all inclusive. I just shared the ones you are likely to run into, or have already heard of before in some way.
- Magnesium Chelate: the type of magnesium found naturally in foods. Highly absorbable, bound to multiple proteins and used to restore magnesium levels.
- Magnesium Citrate: magnesium combined with citric acid. Improves digestion and prevents constipation; may have a laxative effect when taken in high doses. (This kind of magnesium is found in the popular “anti-stress” drink Natural Calm.)
- Magnesium Chloride: best magnesium to take for detoxing the cells and tissue, aids in kidney function and can boost metabolism. Easily absorbed by the body, it’s also helpful for people with digestive disorders preventing them from absorbing magnesium in their food. Topically, it’s usually take via magnesium oil, magnesium lotion or in a bath. (This is the magnesium I use and recommend for a better nights’ sleep, and the focus of this post!)
- Magnesium Sulfate: also known as Epsom salt, this is a great aid for constipation but an unsafe source of dietary magnesium. Overdosing is easy.
- Magnesium Oxide: the most common form of magnesium found over-the-counter. Compared to magnesium chloride and magnesium citrate, it has a very poor absorption rate. (This is the type of magnesium found in these Nature’s Bounty supplements or Nature Made supplements.)
Are you deficient in magnesium?
According to this article, it’s difficult to determine with accuracy whether or not you are magnesium deficient. That’s because 50-60% of the magnesium in our bodies is stored in the bones. Less than 1% of total magnesium is actually stored in the blood, and these levels are kept under tight control by the kidneys.
Doctors may run blood tests, urine tests or even conduct a magnesium “tolerance” test, but no single method is considered best. A good doctor should conduct a variety of tests, including labs and clinical assessments.
With that said though, some of the most common symptoms of low magnesium include:
- Headaches (migraines)
- Muscle pain
- Digestive problems
- High blood pressure
- Hormone problems
- Low energy
How do you increase your intake of magnesium?
The chart on this page shows the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for magnesium according to the Food and Nutrition Board. I’ll let you browse for kids and special circumstances like pregnancy and lactating, but here are the numbers for general purposes:
- 19-30 years old women 310 mg / men 400 mg
- 31-50+ years old women 320 mg / men 420 mg
If you think you’re deficient in magnesium, here’s how you can boost it:
Magnesium is found naturally in a wide variety of foods, like nuts, greens, avocado, yogurt, grains, meat and fruit. This is how our bodies absorb nutrients best, so it’s no wonder why we should look to food first to boost our magnesium!
Almonds (1 oz), spinach (1/2 cup) and cashews (1 oz) are at the upper end of the spectrum with about 20% of the RDA per serving. White rice (1/2 cup), apple (1 medium) and carrot (1 raw medium) are at the lower end of the scale with 2-3% of the RDA per serving. (You can see a full list of magnesium levels in our food on this page.)
A few of my own favorite recipes that include these foods:
It’s important to note that conditions like leaky gut, Chron’s, kidney problems, alcoholism and some medication can inhibit your body’s ability to absorb magnesium from food. In those cases, I recommend a topical magnesium supplement.
As I mentioned earlier, I love tacos and homemade pizza too much to give them up for a good nights’ sleep. Plus, that would lead to a very boring dinner menu!
My go-to solution for increasing magnesium is using magnesium lotion. I’ve been using it for nearly a year now and it’s one of the best changes I’ve made to my routine. Not only do I sleep like a rock, but I’m a more relaxed person and less stressed overall!
And I know it’s the magnesium because I tell the difference almost immediately when I don’t use it!
Magnesium citrate and chloride are the two best forms of magnesium that our body will absorb well and in turn be able to use. I haven’t tried Natural Calm myself, but I’ve heard great things about it.
I personally use magnesium lotion, and have loved the benefits of it. It’s also a great option for those who get an upset stomach from taking magnesium internally.