What is it?
Magnesium is a mineral that is present in relatively large amounts in the body. Researchers estimate that the average person’s body contains about 25 grams of magnesium, and about half of that is in the bones. Magnesium is important in more than 300 chemical reactions that keep the body working properly. People get magnesium from their diet, but sometimes magnesium supplements are needed if magnesium levels are too low. Dietary intake of magnesium may be low, particularly among women.
An easy way to remember foods that are good magnesium sources is to think fiber. Foods that are high in fiber are generally high in magnesium. Dietary sources of magnesium include legumes, whole grains, vegetables (especially broccoli, squash, and green leafy vegetables), seeds, and nuts (especially almonds). Other sources include dairy products, meats, chocolate, and coffee. Water with a high mineral content, or “hard” water, is also a source of magnesium.
People take magnesium to prevent or treat magnesium deficiency. Magnesium deficiency is not uncommon in the US. It’s particularly common among African Americans and the elderly.
Magnesium is also used as a laxative for constipation and for preparation of the bowel for surgical or diagnostic procedures. It is also used as an antacid for acid indigestion.
Some people use magnesium for diseases of the heart and blood vessels including chest pain, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, high levels of “bad” cholesterol called low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, low levels of “good” cholesterol called high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, heart valve disease (mitral valve prolapse), and heart attack.
Magnesium is also used for treating attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, leg cramps during pregnancy, diabetes, kidney stones, migraine headaches, weak bones (osteoporosis), premenstrual syndrome (PMS), altitude sickness, urinary incontinence, restless leg syndrome, asthma, hayfever, multiple sclerosis, and for preventing hearing loss.
Athletes sometimes use magnesium to increase energy and endurance.
Some people put magnesium on their skin to treat infected skin ulcers, boils, and carbuncles; and to speed up wound healing. Magnesium is also used as a cold compress in the treatment of a severe skin infection caused by strep bacteria (erysipelas) and as a hot compress for deep-seated skin infections.
Some companies that manufacturer magnesium/calcium combination supplements promote a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio as being ideal for absorption of these elements. However, there is no credible research to support this claim. Claims that coral calcium products have ideal combinations of magnesium and calcium to cure a variety of diseases and conditions are being carefully evaluated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and US Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
How effective is it?
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.
The effectiveness ratings for MAGNESIUM are as follows:
- Constipation. Taking magnesium by mouth is helpful as a laxative for constipation and to prepare the bowel for medical procedures.
- Dyspepsia (heartburn or “sour stomach”). Taking magnesium by mouth as an antacid reduces symptoms of heartburn. Various magnesium compounds can be used, but magnesium hydroxide seems to work the fastest.
- Magnesium deficiency. Taking magnesium is helpful for treating and preventing magnesium deficiency. Magnesium deficiency usually occurs when people have liver disorders, heart failure, vomiting or diarrhea, kidney dysfunction, and other conditions.
- High blood pressure during pregnancy (pre-eclampsia and eclampsia). Administering magnesium intravenously (by IV) or as a shot is considered the treatment of choice for reducing high blood pressure during pregnancy (pre-eclampsia) and for treating eclampsia, which includes the development of seizures. Research suggests that administering magnesium reduces the risk of seizures.
Likely effective for...
- Irregular heartbeat (torsades de pointes). Giving magnesium intravenously (by IV) is helpful for treating a certain type of irregular heartbeat called torsades de pointes.
Possibly effective for...
- Irregular heartbeat (arrhythmias). Giving magnesium intravenously (by IV) seems to be helpful for treating a certain type of irregular heartbeat called arrhythmias.
- Asthma. Giving magnesium intravenously (by IV) seems to help treat sudden asthma attacks. However, it might be more beneficial in children than in adults. Taking magnesium by mouth does not seem to improve attacks in people with long-term asthma.
- Pain caused by nerve damage associated with cancer. Giving magnesium intravenously (by IV) seems to relieve pain caused by nerve damage due to cancer for several hours.
- Cerebral palsy. The best evidence to date suggests that giving magnesium to pregnant women before very preterm births can reduce the risk of cerebral palsy in the infant.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Administering magnesium as a shot seems to improve symptoms of fatigue. However, there is some controversy about its benefits.
- A lung disease called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Administering magnesium through a shot seems to be helpful for treating sudden COPD symptoms.
- Cluster headache. Giving magnesium intravenously (by IV) seems to relieve cluster headaches.
- Chest pain (angina) due to artery disease. Taking magnesium seems to reduce chest pain attacks in people with coronary artery disease.
- Diabetes. Eating a diet with more magnesium is linked with a reduced risk of developing diabetes in adults and overweight children. Research on the effects of magnesium for people with existing diabetes shows conflicting results.
- Fibromyalgia. Taking magnesium with malic acid (Super Malic tablets) by mouth seems to reduce pain related to fibromyalgia.
- Hearing loss. Taking magnesium by mouth seems to prevent hearing loss in people exposed to loud noise. Also, taking magnesium seems to improve hearing loss in people with sudden hearing loss not related to loud noise.
- High cholesterol. Taking magnesium chloride and magnesium oxide appears to slightly decrease low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) and total cholesterol levels, and slightly increase in high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol levels in people with high cholesterol.
- Metabolic syndrome (increased risk for diabetes and heart disease). People with low magnesium levels are 6-7 times more likely to have metabolic syndrome than people with normal magnesium levels. Higher magnesium intake from diet and supplements is linked with a lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome in healthy women and healthy young adults.
- Migraine headaches. Taking high doses of magnesium by mouth seems to reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine headaches in some studies. However, other research suggests that it does not have any effect. It may be that only people with low levels of magnesium respond to treatment.
- Diseases of heart valves (mitral valve prolapse). Taking magnesium seems to reduce symptoms of mitral valve prolapse in people with low magnesium levels in their blood.
- Weak bones (osteoporosis). Taking magnesium seems to prevent bone loss in older women with osteoporosis. Also, taking estrogen along with magnesium plus calcium and a multivitamin supplement appears to increase bone strength in older women better than estrogen alone.
- Pain after a hysterectomy. Giving magnesium intravenously (by IV) seems to be help reduce pain after a surgical procedure to remove the uterus called a hysterectomy. There is some evidence that a high magnesium dose of 3 grams followed by 500 mg per hour can reduce discomfort. However, lower doses do not seem to be effective and might actually increase pain.
- Pain after surgery. When administered with anesthesia or given to people after surgery, magnesium seems to increase the amount of time before pain develops after surgery.
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Taking magnesium seems to relieve symptoms of PMS, including mood changes and bloating. Taking magnesium also seems to prevent premenstrual migraines.
- Stroke. Consuming more magnesium in the diet might decrease the risk of stroke in men. There is no proof that taking magnesium supplements has this same effect.
- Chest pain due to blood vessel spasms (vasospastic angina). Giving magnesium intravenously (by IV) seems to prevent blood vessel spasms in people with chest pain caused by spasms in the artery that supplies blood to the heart.
Possibly ineffective for...
- Heart attack. In general, giving magnesium intravenously (by IV) or taking magnesium by mouth does not seem to reduce the overall risk of death after a heart attack.
- Athletic performance. Taking magnesium by mouth does not seem to increase energy or endurance during athletic activity
- Muscle cramps. Taking magnesium supplements does not seem to decrease the frequency or intensity of muscle cramps.
- Stillbirths. Taking magnesium supplements during pregnancy does not seem to decrease the risk of stillbirths.
- Tetanus. Taking magnesium does not seem to reduce the risk of death in people with tetanus compared to standard treatment. However, taking magnesium might reduce the amount of time spent in the hospital, although results are conflicting.
- Traumatic brain injury. Taking magnesium does not seem to improve brain damage or reduce the risk of death in people with a traumatic brain injury.
Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...
- Alcohol withdrawal. Taking magnesium by mouth seems to improve sleep quality in people who are dependent on alcohol and going through withdrawal. However, injecting magnesium as a shot does not seem to reduce alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
- Altitude sickness. Taking magnesium before climbing a mountain and continuing until descending the mountain does not seem to prevent altitude sickness.
- Aluminum phosphide poisoning. Some research suggests that taking magnesium reduces the risk of death in people with aluminum phosphide poisoning. Other research suggests magnesium does not have this effect.
- Anxiety. Early research suggests that taking magnesium, hawthorn, and California poppy (Sympathyl, not available in the U.S.) might help treat mild to moderate anxiety disorder.
- Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Children with ADHD seem to have lower magnesium levels. Early research suggests that magnesium might help treat ADHD in children with low magnesium levels.
- Bipolar disorder. Early research suggests that taking a certain magnesium product (Magnesiocard) may have similar effects as lithium in people with bipolar disorder.
- High blood pressure. Some research suggests that taking magnesium slightly reduces diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number in a blood pressure reading) in people with mild to moderate high blood pressure. Magnesium might not lower systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading).
- Kidney stones. Taking magnesium by mouth might prevent the recurrence of kidney stones, but other medications such as chlorthalidone (Hygroton) may be more effective.
- Mania. Early research suggests that taking magnesium plus the drug verapamil reduces manic symptoms better than just verapamil alone. Other early research suggests that giving magnesium intravenously (by IV) reduces the dose of other drugs needed to manage severe mania symptoms.
- Multiple sclerosis (MS). Magnesium might reduce stiff or rigid muscles in people with MS.
- Pregnancy-related leg cramps. Research on the use of magnesium for treating leg cramps caused by pregnancy has been inconsistent. Some studies show that magnesium might reduce leg cramps during pregnancy. However, another study shows no benefit.
- Premature labor. Giving magnesium intravenously (by IV) might prevent contractions when premature labor occurs. Some research suggests that magnesium is more effective at delaying labor by 48 hours compared to some conventional drugs. However, not all experts believe it is beneficial, and some research suggests it is not more effective than conventional drugs.
- Restless leg syndrome. Taking magnesium might decrease the amount of movement and increase the amount of sleep in patients with restless leg syndrome. However, the role of magnesium, if any, in restless leg syndrome is uncertain. Some people with this condition have high levels of magnesium in their blood, while others have low magnesium levels.
- Bleeding in the brain (subarachnoid hemorrhage). There is mixed evidence on the effect of magnesium in managing bleeding in the brain. Some research suggests that giving magnesium intravenously (by IV) reduces the risk of death and vegetative state. However, other research does not support these findings.
- Sudden cardiac death. Some preliminary research suggests that higher levels of magnesium are linked with a lower chance of experiencing sudden cardiac death. However, it is not known if taking a magnesium supplement reduces the risk of sudden cardiac death. Giving magnesium intravenously does not seem to have a benefit.
- Lyme disease.
- Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate magnesium for these uses.
Magnesium is required for the proper growth and maintenance of bones. Magnesium is also required for the proper function of nerves, muscles, and many other parts of the body. In the stomach, magnesium helps neutralize stomach acid and moves stools through the intestine.
Magnesium is LIKELY SAFE for most people when taken by mouth appropriately or when the prescription-only, injectable product is used correctly. In some people, magnesium might cause stomach upset, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and other side effects.
Doses less than 350 mg per day are safe for most adults. When taken in very large amounts, magnesium is POSSIBLY UNSAFE. Large doses might cause too much magnesium to build up in the body, causing serious side effects including an irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, confusion, slowed breathing, coma, and death.
Special precautions & warnings:
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Magnesium is LIKELY SAFE for pregnant or breast-feeding women when taken by mouth in the recommended amounts. These amounts depend on the age of the woman. Check with your healthcare provider to find out what amounts are right for you.
Bleeding disorders: Magnesium seem to slow blood clotting. In theory, taking magnesium might increase the risk of bleeding or bruising in people with bleeding disorders.
Heart block: High doses of magnesium (typically delivered by IV) should not be given to people with heart block.
Kidney problems, such as kidney failure: Kidneys that don’t work well have trouble clearing magnesium from the body. Taking extra magnesium can cause magnesium to build up to dangerous levels. Don’t take magnesium if you have kidney problems.
Be cautious with this combination.
Antibiotics (Aminoglycoside antibiotics)
Some antibiotics can affect the muscles. These antibiotics are called aminoglycosides. Magnesium can also affect the muscles. Taking these antibiotics and getting a magnesium shot might cause muscle problems.
Some aminoglycoside antibiotics include amikacin (Amikin), gentamicin (Garamycin), kanamycin (Kantrex), streptomycin, tobramycin (Nebcin), and others.
Antibiotics (Quinolone antibiotics)
Magnesium might decrease how much antibiotic the body absorbs. Taking magnesium along with some antibiotics might decrease the effectiveness of some antibiotics. To avoid this interaction, take these antibiotics at least 2 hours before, or 4 to 6 hours after, magnesium supplements.
Some of these antibiotics that might interact with magnesium include ciprofloxacin (Cipro), enoxacin (Penetrex), norfloxacin (Chibroxin, Noroxin), sparfloxacin (Zagam), trovafloxacin (Trovan), and grepafloxacin (Raxar).
Antibiotics (Tetracycline antibiotics)
Magnesium can attach to tetracyclines in the stomach. This decreases the amount of tetracyclines that the body can absorb. Taking magnesium along with tetracyclines might decrease the effectiveness of tetracyclines. To avoid this interaction, take calcium 2 hours before, or 4 hours after, taking tetracyclines.
Some tetracyclines include demeclocycline (Declomycin), minocycline (Minocin), and tetracycline (Achromycin).
Magnesium can decrease how much bisphosphate the body absorbs. Taking magnesium along with bisphosphates can decrease the effectiveness of bisphosphate. To avoid this interaction, take bisphosphonate at least two hours before magnesium or later in the day.
Some bisphosphonates include alendronate (Fosamax), etidronate (Didronel), risedronate (Actonel), tiludronate (Skelid), and others.
Digoxin (Lanoxin) helps the heart beat more strongly. Magnesium might decrease how much digoxin (Lanoxin) the body absorbs. By decreasing how much digoxin (Lanoxin) the body absorbs, magnesium might decrease the effects of digoxin (Lanoxin).
Medications for diabetes (Sulfonylureas)
Some magnesium salts might increase how much sulfonylurea the body absorbs. By increasing how much sulfonylurea the body absorbs, magnesium might increase the risk of low blood sugar in some patients.
Some sulfonylurea agents include carbutamide, acetohexamide, chlorpropamide, tolbutamide, gliclazide, glibornuride, glyclopyramide, and glimepiride.
Medications for high blood pressure (Calcium channel blockers)
Some medications for high blood pressure work by blocking calcium from entering cells. These medications are called calcium channel blockers. Magnesium might also block calcium from entering cells. Taking magnesium with these medications might cause blood pressure to go too low.
Some of these medications include nifedipine (Adalat, Procardia), verapamil (Calan, Isoptin, Verelan), diltiazem (Cardizem), isradipine (DynaCirc), felodipine (Plendil), amlodipine (Norvasc), and others.
Medications that slow blood clotting (Anticoagulant / Antiplatelet drugs)
Magnesium might slow blood clotting. Taking magnesium along with medications that also slow clotting might increase the chances of bruising and bleeding.
Some medications that slow blood clotting include aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix), dalteparin (Fragmin), enoxaparin (Lovenox), heparin, indomethacin (Indocin), ticlopidine (Ticlid), warfarin (Coumadin), and others.
Magnesium seems to help relax muscles. Taking magnesium along with muscle relaxants can increase the risk of side effects of muscle relaxants.
Some muscle relaxants include carisoprodol (Soma), pipecuronium (Arduan), orphenadrine (Banflex, Disipal), cyclobenzaprine, gallamine (Flaxedil), atracurium (Tracrium), pancuronium (Pavulon), succinylcholine (Anectine), and others.
Water pills (Potassium-sparing diuretics)
Some "water pills" can increase magnesium levels in the body. Taking some "water pills" along with magnesium might cause too much magnesium to be in the body.
Some "water pills" that increase magnesium in the body include amiloride (Midamor), spironolactone (Aldactone), and triamterene (Dyrenium).
Magnesium in the blood is processed by the kidneys and excreted into the urine. It then leaves the body. In women, boron supplements can slow this process down and raise magnesium levels in the blood. In young women, age 18 to 25 years, the effect appears to be greater in less active women than in athletic women. In postmenopausal women, the effect is more marked in women with low dietary magnesium intake. It is not known how important these effects are or whether they occur in men.
Calcium supplements can decrease the absorption of dietary magnesium, but only at very high doses (2600 mg per day). However, in people with adequate magnesium stores, calcium doesn't have any clinically significant effect on long-term magnesium balance. People at high risk for magnesium deficiency should take calcium supplements at bedtime, instead of with meals, to avoid interfering with dietary magnesium absorption. Magnesium does not seem to affect calcium absorption.
Herbs and supplements that might slow blood clotting
Using magnesium along with herbs that can slow blood clotting could increase the risk of bleeding in some people. These herbs include angelica, clove, danshen, garlic, ginger, glucosamine, Panax ginseng, and others.
Various forms of vitamin D increase magnesium absorption; especially when taken in high doses. This effect has been used to treat low magnesium in people with conditions that make it difficult for them to absorb magnesium.
High doses of zinc (142 mg/day) appear to decrease magnesium absorption and magnesium balance in healthy adult men. Also, moderately high dietary zinc intake (53 mg per day) seems to increase magnesium loss in postmenopausal women. This might harm bone health. More research is needed to find out how important this interaction is.
There are no known interactions with foods.
The following doses have been studied in scientific research:
- For mild magnesium deficiency: magnesium sulfate 3 grams every 6 hours for 4 doses.
- For treating constipation in adults, single doses of magnesium should be taken with a full glass of water and should only be used occasionally. Typical doses are:
- magnesium citrate 8.75-25 grams (150-300 mL of magnesium citrate solution, 290 mg per 5mL).
- magnesium hydroxide 2.4-4.8 grams (30-60 mL of milk of magnesia, 400 mg per 5mL).
- magnesium sulfate 10-30 grams.
- For treating heartburn in adults:
- magnesium hydroxide 400-1200 mg 4 times daily (5-15 mL of milk of magnesia, 400 mg per 5mL)
- magnesium oxide 800 mg daily.
- For reducing the frequency and severity of migraine headaches in adults:
- magnesium citrate 1830-3625 mg in divided doses for up to 3 months.
- magnesium oxide 400 mg twice daily.
- For reducing the frequency and severity of migraine headaches in children: 15 mg per kg body weight of magnesium oxide per day in 3 divided doses for up to 16 weeks.
- For treatment of low magnesium levels in adults with type 2 diabetes: 50 mL of a 5% magnesium chloride solution daily for 16 weeks.
- For weak bones (osteoporosis): 300-1800 mg of magnesium hydroxide daily for 6 months, followed by 600 mg of magnesium hydroxide daily for 18 months.
- For premenstrual syndrome (PMS): 333mg of magnesium oxide daily.
The daily Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for elemental magnesium are: Age 1-3 years, 80 mg; 4-8 years, 130 mg; 9-13 years, 240 mg; 14-18 years, 410 mg (boys) and 360 mg (girls); 19-30 years, 400 mg (men) and 310 mg (women); 31 years and older, 420 mg (men) and 320 mg (women). For pregnant women age 14-18 years, the RDA is 400 mg; 19-30 years, 350 mg; 31-50 years, 360 mg. For lactating women age 14-18 years, the RDA is 360 mg; 19-30 years, 310 mg; 31-50 years, 320 mg. For infants less than one year of age, adequate intake (AI) levels are 30 mg from birth to 6 months and 75 mg from 7 to 12 months. The daily upper intake level (UL) for magnesium is 65 mg for children age 1-3 years, 110 mg for 4-8 years, and 350 mg for anyone over 8 years old, including pregnant and breast-feeding women.
Aspartate de Magnésium, Atomic Number 12, Carbonate de Magnésium, Chelated Magnesium, Chlorure de Magnésium, Citrate de Magnésium, Dimagnesium Malate, Epsom Salts, Gluconate de Magnésium, Glycérophosphate de Magnésium, Glycinate de Magnésium, Hydroxyde de Magnésium, Lactate de Magnésium, Lait de Magnésium, Magnesia, Magnesia Carbonica, Magnesia Muriatica, Magnesia Phosphorica, Magnesia Sulfate, Magnesia Sulfurica, Magnesio, Magnésium, Magnesium Ascorbate, Magnesium Aspartate, Magnesium Carbonate, Magnésium Chelaté, Magnesium Chloride, Magnesium Citrate, Magnesium Disuccinate Hydrate, Magnesium Gluconate, Magnesium Glycerophosphate, Magnesium Glycinate, Magnesium Hydroxide, Magnesium Lactate, Magnesium Malate, Magnesium Murakab, Magnesium Orotate, Magnesium Oxide, Magnesium Phosphate, Magnesium Phosphoricum, Magnesium Sulfate, Magnesium Taurate, Magnesium Taurinate, Magnesium Trisilicate, Malate de Magnésium, Milk of Magnesia, Mg, Numéro Atomique 12, Orotate de Magnésium, Oxyde de Magnésium, Phosphate de Magnésium, Sels d’Epsom, Sulfate de Magnésium, Trisilicate de Magnésium.
To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology.methodology (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/methodology.html).
To see all references for the Magnesium page, please go to http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/998.html.
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