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Is Magnesium a Miracle Mineral?

Although magnesium gets little attention in office visits, it is critical for good health. Many people find this miracle mineral very useful.

The body needs minerals to function. Without adequate levels of sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium we would perish. Doctors often encourage patients to cut back on sodium and increase calcium. Potassium levels are monitored in routine blood tests, and if low, a potassium supplement is usually prescribed. Magnesium, on the other hand, often gets short shrift. It is frequently forgotten, even though it is absolutely crucial for every cell in the body. You could think of it as a miracle mineral.

Magnesium Supplements to Reduce Migraines:

Q. I suffered with migraines for over 20 years and also had chronic constipation. A friend gave me an article linking low magnesium levels with migraine. I began to supplement with 400 mg per day and gradually reduced this to a maintenance dosage of 250 mg. I have not had a migraine since I started taking magnesium.

My naturopath also boosted my daily vitamin D3 dose. The two, in combination, appear to have reduced calcium deposits in my breasts as shown in the 3D mammogram I had a year after I increased the D3. I’ve learned that D3 and magnesium help the body metabolize calcium better.

A. Research suggests a relationship between low magnesium and migraine headaches (British Journal of Nutrition, Jan. 17, 2022). In this study, women whose diets supplied adequate magnesium, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin C and vitamin K were less likely to suffer migraines.

Magnesium and its Interplay with Vitamin D and Calcium:

The relationship between magnesium and vitamin D is complicated. Adequate vitamin D helps improve magnesium absorption from the digestive tract. At the same time, magnesium is essential for vitamin D metabolism. Taking large doses of vitamin D when magnesium is low could further deplete the body of this essential mineral (American Journal of Therapeutics, Jan/Feb. 2019).  Both nutrients are also crucial to calcium utilization.

Another Testimonial on Magnesium to Prevent Migraines:

“I had been suffering from migraines since I was 12 years old. Suddenly I began to suffer from constipation as well. When I finally learned my food triggers for migraines (@ 50 years of age!), that helped, but if a low pressure weather system visited my area, I would get a raging migraine…what can one do about the weather?

“OK, back to the constipation problem. I started taking chelated magnesium, 250mg, 3 each every night before bed. No more constipation, but better yet, I have not had a migraine in literally months!”

Drugs Can Lower Levels of Miracle Mineral Magnesium:

Diuretics are found in most blood pressure medicines. Such drugs not only deplete the body of potassium; they can also cause low levels of magnesium.

So can acid-suppressing drugs called proton pump inhibitors. These include esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid) and omeprazole (Prilosec). Most people are unaware that their heartburn medicine or blood pressure pills could cause hypomagnesemia (perilously low magnesium levels) (Gastroenterology Research and Practice, online, May 4, 2015; Expert Opinion on Drug Safety, Jan. 2020).

What Are the Dangers of Low Magnesium?

What happens when magnesium levels fall into the danger zone? Symptoms can include weakness, lethargy, loss of appetite, nausea, muscle cramps, irregular heart rhythms, depression, changes in personality, confusion and disorientation. If magnesium drops too low it can cause cardiac arrest.

Can You Get Too Much Magnesium?

Q. You have written about the benefits of magnesium, even calling it a “miracle mineral.”. However, there should be a cautionary comment for anyone who takes magnesium supplements.

Magnesium supplements can cause severe diarrhea and electrolyte imbalance in those with a sensitive gut such as irritable bowel syndrome. People taking magnesium should be closely monitored.

A. You are quite right that magnesium can have a laxative effect that may be unwelcome for some people. Those with IBS may be especially vulnerable, but others may also find supplements hard to tolerate. In addition, people with reduced kidney function should avoid magnesium supplements, as these can strain the kidneys.

Magnesium as a Miracle Mineral:

Not only is magnesium essential for good health, it has become a popular home remedy. We recently received an intriguing letter from a reader who found it helped with back spasms.

Chiropractor Calls for Valerian, Magnesium and Passionflower:

Q. I was experiencing debilitating back spasms. The medication prescribed by my doctor turned me into a zombie.

My chiropractor recommended valerian root, magnesium and passionflower extract. After two weeks, the spasms disappeared without any side effects. This combination was the only change I made. Is such a combination truly effective?

A. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) has been shown to provide muscle relaxation in mice (Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, April, 2018).  We couldn’t find human research supporting the addition of magnesium and passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) for humans suffering back spasms. In one case report, however, magnesium reversed spasms and convulsions that resulted from a medication error (International Journal of Obstetric Anesthesia, May 2016). We are glad this combination helped you. Back spasms may resolve after about two weeks regardless of treatment, but why would you choose to suffer so long if you could get relief?

Magnesium as a Miracle Mineral for Constipation:

Europeans have used magnesium compounds to treat constipation since 1618 (Nutrients, Feb. 2021). Traditional healers in China and Japan began utilizing magnesium even earlier. If a person took too high a dose, the result could be diarrhea. (One other caveat: people with impaired kidney function should not take magnesium supplements, as it could build up to toxic levels.)

Many readers report that magnesium is their best solution to constipation. After all, milk of magnesia remains a classic drugstore solution to this common complaint.

Here is just one of the many messages we have received along this line:

“I have a solution for constipation I would like to share with your readers. I take around 500 mg magnesium every night. The result is what ‘normal’ people experience: a regular, comfortable bowel movement. Nothing else I tried in the past helped me so gently.”

Too much magnesium can cause diarrhea, so don’t overdo. For many people, a dose of 500 mg would have that result. In addition, as mentioned above, people with poor kidney function must avoid magnesium supplements.

Using a Mineral to Fight Depression:

Others report that magnesium helps against depression:

“Please tell your readers that taking moderate amounts of a magnesium supplement can alleviate depression. I have personally had good results taking magnesium at a dose of 400 mg a day.

“Last year my girlfriend had a friend who was suffering from major depression and had to go on disability from her teaching job as a result. She was under medical care, but still having a lot of difficulties. After we gave her a big bottle of magnesium tablets, she started to recover. She’s doing much better now and is back to teaching and going out and doing things. I can’t think of another treatment that is so cheap, simple and safe.”

Science supports this concept (Pharmacological Reports, vol. 63, number 3, 2013).

Other Uses:

Other uses for magnesium include as a sleep aid, an antidote to leg cramps, a treatment for migraines and to help control blood sugar. Readers report that topical magnesium in the form of milk of magnesia can help control acne on the face and body odor when applied to underarms. To learn more about “Magnesium, the Neglected Mineral” check out our one-hour radio interview with Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, and Tieraona Low Dog, MD.

More Amazing Magnesium Stories:

Miracle Mineral Against Insomnia:

We received this message 14 years ago:

“I have suffered from episodes of insomnia for years and have tried many remedies without relief. Cutting down on caffeine and taking valerian didn’t work. Over-the-counter sleep aids such as Benadryl and Tylenol PM made me groggy the next day. Even prescription drugs like Ambien didn’t help.

“Then a friend suggested I try taking magnesium at bedtime. Since I was already taking a calcium-magnesium supplement daily, I started taking the calcium in the daytime and the magnesium (250 mg) at night. Magnesium has helped my insomnia more than anything else I’ve ever tried. There are still occasional nights when I don’t sleep well, but they are few and far between.

“I have heard that magnesium supplements can cause diarrhea, but I haven’t had that problem. I hope this information will help someone else.”

Leg Cramps & RLS Respond to the Miracle Mineral:

“Many people have horrible leg cramps and cannot take quinine because it has been taken off the market. I am 70 years old and have suffered with leg cramps all my life.

“Years ago, I used to take OTC quinine tablets, but quinine water never worked for me. A long time ago I found that 250 mg tablets of magnesium at bedtime worked like a charm in warding off leg cramps and restless leg syndrome.”

OK. We could go on and on about the benefits of magnesium. You can learn a great deal more about this amazing mineral by putting “magnesium” into a search on our PeoplesPharmacy.com website.

A word of caution: too much magnesium can be hard on the kidneys if they are not functioning normally. As mentioned, diarrhea is often a tip off that someone is getting too much of this miracle mineral.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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