As physicians, patients often ask us what various vitamins and supplements are safe and useful for them to take. We often find ourselves talking about the importance of magnesium in helping people feel better and improve their health. So you may ask, what is the deal with magnesium? Do I need it? Why? How much?

Magnesium is a very important nutrient. Technically it is a mineral and electrolyte that is essential to every aspect of our body’s functioning. It helps regulate our cell’s functions, especially those in the muscles (that includes muscles that you work on in the gym but also muscles in places like your heart, blood vessels and GI tract). Pretty important stuff.

It turns out that many of us are deficient in magnesium. Even traditional blood testing isn’t always accurate about our magnesium levels because this electrolyte tends to shift in our blood stream all the time. We can consume magnesium in foods such as bananas, green veggies, nuts and whole grains, yet many of us are deficient.  We lose magnesium through sweat, urine and through our GI tract and some people have trouble absorbing it well from their diets. For this reason, many people benefit from a magnesium supplement. People who are deficient in magnesium are also often deficient in potassium since the kidney relies on magnesium to help it absorb potassium. 

Of course, we are not all created equally. How much magnesium you should take and in what form varies, depending on your diet, lifestyle and health concerns. You can often determine how much magnesium to take via a vitamin quiz that helps you create a custom vitamin.  

People who take magnesium often find that its benefits are great. Because it helps muscles and nerves function optimally it can play an important role in helping with sleep, muscle strength, muscle aches, migraine, irritable bowel and more. People who have kidney failure should be cautious in taking with magnesium and consult with their doctor. 

Is there a role for magnesium in other aspects of preventive health? It appears that magnesium can play a role in helping those with high blood pressure, osteoporosis and diabetes but conclusive data is not yet final. Taking a custom vitamin is a great way to get an array of nutrients (including magnesium) that may help better your health and allow you to feel better.

Can magnesium do harm? Typically taking too much magnesium causes side effects such as diarrhea and nausea, but it can be very harmful in extreme doses, especially in those with kidney disease. Thus, taking safe and medically sound doses is key (typically no more than 400mg daily).  

When our patients ask us about taking magnesium, we usually recommend they consider a low dose magnesium supplement to help with various problems from migraines to insomnia, irritable bowel, muscle aches and more.  Many people are deficient in this key electrolyte and replenishing it can help all of your muscles (not just the ones you use to lift weights) function at their best. Your GI health, heart and cardiovascular health may all benefit from additional magnesium, but more is not always better. Take a vitamin quiz to determine your needs for vitamins and supplements and to get safe and healthy amounts. 

Arielle Levitan M.D.

Co-founder Vous Vitamin LLC

Author of The Vitamin Solution:Two Doctors Clear the Confusion About Vitamins and Your Health