Summary: Magnesium Review
Involved in hundreds of bio-pathways, magnesium is essential to your overall health and fitness — and, yet, many have suboptimal levels of this trace mineral. What’s notable about magnesium, as opposed to most other minerals, is that, when taken as a supplement, magnesium can have acute effects on mood and cognition. Namely, magnesium helps with relaxation, hence its importance for improving sleep quality and reducing stress and anxiety. Especially if you’re a sweaty athlete/exerciser, you’ll want to add magnesium to your daily supplement regimen.
The Ultimate Magnesium Guide
Magnesium is an essential mineral, meaning you not only need magnesium but you need to consume it to maintain healthy levels. Your body isn’t a magnesium-producing machine, unfortunately — but also fortunately: if our bodies produced essential minerals, we’d all probably look like Tetsuo, the Iron Man.
Which would actually be kind of sick, now that I think about it.
Essentially… magnesium is involved in a wide variety of biomechanisms, most notably those involved in energy regulation, DNA and RNA production, neuromuscular function, blood pressure regulation, cognitive performance, and mood management. As far as what magnesium feels like, especially when taken as a supplement, can be simply stated as: RELAXING.
Magnesium helps your mind and body relax.
At nighttime, this might mean getting better sleep. During the daytime, it may mean warding off anxiety for a calmer, more focused and stable mindset. Or if you’re an intense athlete, this means soaking in a post-workout/post-game Epsom salt (read: magnesium) bath for greater muscle relaxation and recovery.
If we lived in a healthier world with a clean, honest dietary paradigm, magnesium supplementation wouldn’t even be necessary. Likewise, for those hyped up on Adderall and other nootropic smart drugs, magnesium supplementation is also very, very important for offsetting the excitatory effects of stimulants. All of which is to say that, given the lack of magnesium in the modern diet as well as our penchant for pharmaceutical stimulation, magnesium supplementation is virtually a must.
But I’ll get into all that in this magnesium review. For now, here are a few natural food options to increase your daily magnesium intake:
Foods High in Magnesium
|Food||Serving Size||Amount Per Serving|
|Pumpkin Seeds||30 g||156 mg|
|Chia Seeds||30 g||111 mg|
|Almonds||30 g||80 mg|
|Spinach||1/2 cup||78 mg|
|Cashews||30 g||74 mg|
|Peanuts||1/4 cup||63 mg|
|Rolled Oats||100 g||29 mg|
|Whole Wheat Bread||2 slices||46 mg|
|Avocado||1 cup||44 mg|
|Brown Rice||1/2 cup||42 mg|
Tired of hearing that you should eat “more fiber” and “green, leafy vegetables”? Well, there’s a reason for this advice — actually, many reasons, but at least one of those reasons is magnesium. Generally speaking, where there’s fiber, there’s magnesium. Likewise, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains are a good source of fiber.
Personally, I like my daily handful of almonds with a handful of blueberries, because yum. My grandmother did it and she’s healthy as an ox.
A magnesium-rich ox!
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Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency
Oftentimes, when I feel strung out, I have to ask myself: am I actually strung out or am I just magnesium deficient? More often than not, soon as I ask the question, I remember that I’ve been slacking on my magnesium intake.
Feeling “strung out” comes close to what it feels like being low on magnesium. Without a doubt, a healthy diet requires a healthy amount of dietary magnesium. With that in mind, here’s a more detailed list of the more common symptoms associated with magnesium deficiency:
- Poor Sleep Quality
- Panic Disorders
- Muscle Spasms
- Fatigue & Weakness
- Heart Palpitations
- High Blood Pressure
The mind and body basically fail to “take it easy” when you’re low on magnesium, putting you in a simultaneous state of fatigue and irritability. It’s a lot like feeling t’wired: tired and wired. You can’t turn off, though you desperately need to.
How Does Magnesium Work?
As the fourth most abundant mineral in your body and a cofactor in over 300 enzymatic processes, magnesium works in very, very many ways, depending on how granular we want to get here. Given that up to 68% of American adults don’t meet the recommended daily intake, all you really need to know is that you should probably take it. However, if you’re a curious cat like me, you still need to know the how’s to your why‘s.
Here are the basic biomechanisms of how magnesium works in your body.
Glutamate works in a homeostatic push-pull relationship with magnesium. As the body’s main excitatory (stimulatory) neurotransmitter, glutamate binds to the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor, which in turn stimulates neural and neuromuscular activity. Of course, excess stimulation (in the face of magnesium deficiency) can lead to neuronal dysfunction and injury, as well as anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. Magnesium counteracts glutamate, allowing brain and body to chill out.
Metabotropic glutamate (mGluR) receptors participate in the modulation of synaptic transmission and neuron firing throughout the central nervous system (CNS), and both glutamine and magnesium interact with these receptors to adjust neurological activity. As with NMDA receptors, magnesium engage mGluR receptors to stabilize bodily responses to excitatory stimuli. Notably, magnesium’s involvement in mGluR helps mitigate anxiety and panic disorders.
If glutamate is the body’s main excitatory neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter. One of magnesium’s biopathways towards a calmer, more relaxed mental state is through supporting the activity of GABA. Animal research points to the GABAergic pathway for magnesium’s well-known anxiolytic effects.
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People are waking up to the importance of supplementing magnesium. “Importance” might be a strong word, but it’s true: with magnesium levels virtually cut in half from where they were 100 years ago, supplementing magnesium is more or less a must for the average person.
The benefits you can expect with a magnesium supplement include:
- Better Mood Management
- Improved Sleep Quality
- Bone & Heart Support
“Support,” “Quality,” “Management” — I admit, these are pretty weak, vague terms, but they’re actually applicable here. With magnesium’s foundational effects on neural activity, magnesium supplementation does have a broadly positive effect on these systems: mood, sleep, bone, heart, etc. etc.
In terms of acute benefits, magnesium supplementation can drastically improve mood quickly by lowering your anxiety levels and producing an all-body calm. Likewise, if you’re a heavy exerciser or athlete who’s prone to muscle spasms and twitches, magnesium may also quickly ameliorate these issues. This is the magic of the magnesium salt bath: fast-acting muscle soothing.
Not to say that magnesium deficiency is the root of all these issues, but it’s the first place you should look if you’re feeling twitchy and anxious and generally on edge at all times.
Magnesium for Sleep
One of the reasons for taking electrolytes is that magnesium is an electrolyte. That’s right, it’s all about magnesium today.
And magnesium helps with sleep, as already discussed.
Much in the way that our magnesium levels are on the decline, so is our sleep quality. A huge reason for this is the rise in late-night exposure to blue light (from our phones, TVs, tablets, etc.), which impairs natural melatonin secretion. However, controlling for those factors (and they are major factors), magnesium deficiency also impairs sleep quality by failing to counteract excitatory brain activity, promoting sleep-disruptive muscle twitches, and impacting natural circulation of melatonin. Along with melatonin, magnesium is a powerful nutrient for combatting insomnia and other sleep disorders.
Researchers Have Suggested Magnesium Might:
Improve Subjective Measures of Anxiety And Stress
In a systematic review on the effects of magnesium on subjective anxiety and stress, a group of researchers reviewed 18 studies on magnesium (both standalone and in combination with other ingredients) to see if supplementing the mineral may attenuate anxiety symptoms. Altogether, the studies covered magnesium’s effects on existing vulnerabilities to anxiety: mildly anxious, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), postpartum, and hypertension
- In the review’s conclusion, the researchers declared that “existing evidence is suggestive of a beneficial effect of Mg on subjective anxiety in anxiety vulnerable symptoms.” Granted, the researchers also claimed that the existing evidence was “poor,” calling for more better designed studies for greater confirmation.
Enhance Learning And Memory Function
Animal research alert. Granted, humans are not mice, but… this animal study on the effects of magnesium L-threonate administration in rats (including “aged rats”) did demonstrate an enhancement of learning abilities, working memory, and both short- and long-term memory. What the researchers observed was that the mineral improved several measures of synaptic plasticity.
- By the end of the study, the researchers concluded that “an increase in brain magnesium enhances both short-term synaptic facilitation and long-term potentiation and improves learning and memory functions.”
Improve Cognitive Function With Vitamin D
Many Twitter health nuts have pointed out the importance of magnesium to vitamin D status, given the mineral’s role in vitamin D synthesis. And they’re right to point this out. This study on the association of magnesium and vitamin D with cognitive function in older adults seems to also note a relationship between healthy magnesium levels and cognitive performance in relation to vitamin D status.
- In the study’s conclusion, the researchers noted that “high magnesium intake alone may improve cognitive function in older adults, and the association may be stronger among subjects with sufficient vitamin D status.” The researchers also called for further studies to confirm these findings.
How to Take Magnesium
Take magnesium during the daytime for mood management (most notably for managing anxiety) and at nighttime for better sleep. For nootropic purposes, magnesium dosages range anywhere from 125-400mg per dose. A common recommended amount is 200-1,000mg magnesium L-threonate (I take 1,000mg for sleep). Start low (200mg) and build from there to gauge what you need, lest you incur the wrath of the magnesium mudbutt (see “Magnesium Side Effects” below).
Magnesium comes in various forms:
- Magnesium L-Threonate (Magtein). The ideal nootropic form, demonstrated in animal research to improve memory and learning.
- Magnesium Oxide. The cheap, common form, less effective than magtein… but still pretty effective.
- Magnesium Amino Acid Chelate. A combo of Mg and amino acid, believed to improve magnesium absorption.
- Magnesium Citrate. More potent than oxide and chelate, magnesium citrate is highly bioavailable.
- Magnesium Orotate. Bound to orotic acid for (supposedly) better absorption.
- Magnesium Sulfate. Otherwise known as Epsom salt, Mg sulfate is preferred for muscle relaxation.
- Magnesium Chloride. Typically used in lotions and oils, not necessarily for consumption.
- Magnesium Glycinate. A chelated form of magnesium bound to glycine, a sleep-supportive amino; take this at night for better sleep.
Another common “form” of magnesium is the sports nutritional ZMA, which technically stands for Zinc + Magnesium Aspartate but typically includes some admixture of zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B6. ZMA is a classic of sports nutrition supplement of somewhat disputable efficacy, though I can certainly vouch for its health benefits.
Magnesium Side Effects
You ever had a colonoscopy? (Don’t answer that.) As prep for procedures such as colonoscopy where they have to get all up in your business, they’ll hook you up with a big bottle of magnesium citrate to flush out your system. Essentially, when you consume too much magnesium, you get a bad case of the runs.
In the case of a colonoscopy, this is good and intended. In the case of health supplements, this is a sign you’re ingesting too much magnesium.
In most cases, magnesium overdose results in nausea, cramps, and diarrhea. Supplementing magnesium may also interfere with certain medications, such as diuretics, heart and blood pressure medicines, and antibiotics. (You’ll hopefully know if this is the case, if your doctor is on top of it.) However, for the most part, magnesium is safe to supplement.
My Experience with Magnesium
It’s hard to believe that supplementing magnesium, number 12 on the Periodic Table of Elements, works as quickly and effectively as it does. You’d think that it’d take a complex formula, with a whole slew of ingredients, to achieve the benefits of magnesium.
But no: magnesium goes hard all on its own.
Reliably, if I take magnesium (either in the form of Magnesium L-Threonate or the Magnesium+ (NutriGenesis®) found in Performance Lab Sleep) before heading to bed, I get good sleep. At nighttime, it’s like an off-switch, though not necessarily in any drowsy way.
Magnesium doesn’t work like melatonin. It calms the mind and body, but it doesn’t leave you drooling all over yourself or struggling to wake up in the morning.
This is what makes magnesium also a decent daytime nootropic for alleviating my anxiety and irritability. Try it: take, say, 400mg magnesium oxide in the morning, and you’ll certainly notice a quick improvement on your outlook for the day. You’ll be able to think more calmly and efficiently — or at least that has been my experience.
I’m not a big-time smart drug user (Adderall, Vyvanse, etc.), but I have dabbled — and I did go through a period of fairly heavy modafinil use. In both cases, magnesium felt like a godsend at the end of the day, when my nerves were fried but still firing. Magnesium certainly helped me return to a state of equilibrium for a (relatively) decent night of sleep after firing on all cylinders throughout the day.
Needless to say, magnesium is one of my favorite supplements and a daily must-have in my nootropic regimen.
Is Magnesium a Good Nootropic?
Yes, magnesium is a good nootropic. Typically, I wouldn’t qualify an essential nutrient like magnesium as a “nootropic,” as their benefits are more like replenishments — meaning they just fill in the gaps of our nutrient-poor diets. The “benefits” are more a return to normal.
However, magnesium is unique in how reliable and fast-acting its effects are.
Magnesium does have a noticeable effect on cognition, so it’s a nootropic in my book.
Real nootropic heads can vouch for magnesium. Virtually all health enthusiasts of all stripes are enthusiastic for magnesium, and for good reason(s). If you often feel over-stressed, anxious, and (big red flag) unable to sleep, try adding magnesium to your daily diet. You’ll certainly notice an improvement in your cognitive performance, mental wellbeing, and just general wellbeing.
- Magnesium: Nutrtion and Homeostasis
- The Importance of Magnesium in Clinical Healthcare
- Magnesium ions block an N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor-mediated component of synaptic transmission in rat hippocampus
- Metabotropic glutamate receptors: physiology, pharmacology, and disease
- Benzodiazepine/GABA(A) receptors are involved in magnesium-induced anxiolytic-like behavior in mice
- The Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress—A Systematic Review
- Enhancement of learning and memory by elevating brain magnesium
- Association of magnesium intake and vitamin D status with cognitive function in older adults: an analysis of US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2011 to 2014
- Effects of Zinc Magnesium Aspartate (ZMA) Supplementation on Training Adaptations and Markers of Anabolism and Catabolism