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Magnesium deficiency is a widespread problem and some estimates suggest that over 90% of us are deficient. I’ve been writing about magnesium for years, but am even more concerned about this problem lately.
Why Is Magnesium Such a Big Deal?
Magnesium is responsible for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body and impacts blood pressure, metabolism, immune function, and many other aspects of health.
Some experts claim that magnesium deficiency is the single largest health problem in our world today.
Why Is Magnesium Deficiency So Widespread?
There are many reasons that deficiency is so widespread in modern times (even though it wasn’t in the past).
Depleted soil conditions mean that plants (and meat from animals that feed on these plants) are lower in magnesium. Use of chemicals like fluoride and chlorine in the water supply make magnesium less available in water since these chemicals can bind to magnesium.
Common substances that many of us consume daily, like caffeine and sugar, also deplete the body’s magnesium levels…
In other words, the lucky (but small) percentage of the population that lives near the ocean (a good source of magnesium) and eats foods grown in magnesium-rich soil, drinks magnesium-rich water, and doesn’t suffer from stress or consume sugar or caffeine might be ok… but the rest of us might need some additional magnesium.
You Might Be Magnesium Deficient If…
Risk factors for low magnesium vary, but here are some clues that you might need more magnesium:
- You’re a sugar addict. (Quick, read this!…)
- You take calcium supplements.
- You drink soda and other sugary drinks.
- You suspect or have been diagnosed with celiac disease or other digestive disorders like Crohn’s disease.
- You consume a lot of processed foods and conventional dairy.
- You have a water softener or city water.
- You have Type 2 diabetes.
- You avoid green vegetables, leafy greens, and other magnesium-containing foods.
- You are an older adult, and/or take certain prescription medications.
- You eat food grown in depleted soils. (Uh, pretty much everyone!)
If you fall in any of these categories, read on!
Calcium = Fuel on the Fire
From my research, I’m convinced that excess calcium is a large part of this magnesium deficiency epidemic and that it contributes to so many health issues.
While we don’t get enough magnesium, many of us get too much calcium. Calcium is added to many processed foods, dairy or dairy alternatives, and even orange juice.
When calcium levels in the body become too high, calcification can occur. Common sense, but there’s one big reason why this happens…
- Each cell in the body has a sodium/potassium pump that regulates the balance of minerals inside and outside the cells.
- Magnesium deficiency keeps this pump from working correctly. With too much calcium, the ratios are skewed, and the pump allows too much calcium into the cells. When there is too little magnesium, even more calcium is allowed into the cells.
Many nutrients come into play in the calcification equation, like vitamins K and D, but the biggest factor for over-calcification is lack of magnesium.
Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms
Due to the importance of the proper calcium/magnesium ratio in the body and the function of the sodium/potassium pump, magnesium deficiency can lead to:
1. Calcification of the Arteries
Though this is not (hopefully) the first symptom of magnesium deficiency, it can be one of the most dangerous.
Calcification of arteries from low magnesium levels can lead to coronary problems like heart attack, heart failure, and heart disease. Magnesium’s ability to prevent over-calcification is one reason why the Framingham Health Study found that consuming enough magnesium correlated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease.
In fact, half of all heart attack patients receive injections of magnesium chloride to help stop the blood clotting and calcification.
2. Muscle Spasms and Cramps
This was my most noticeable symptoms of magnesium deficiency. Just as calcification causes stiffening of the arteries, it can cause stiffening of muscle tissue as well, leading to cramps and spasms.
I had horrible leg cramps during one of my pregnancies. Potassium didn’t help at all, but magnesium fixed the problem almost instantly (which makes sense in light of the sodium/potassium pump).
Interestingly, muscle weakness caused by low potassium levels is linked to low magnesium (as explained in this American Family Physicians report) and adequate levels of one helps the other.
3. Anxiety & Depression
There is a lot of research showing that magnesium deficiency can have a tremendous impact on mental health. Psychology Today explains one possible reason:
Magnesium hangs out in the synapse between two neurons along with calcium and glutamate. If you recall, calcium and glutamate are excitatory, and in excess, toxic (link is external). They activate the NMDA receptor. Magnesium can sit on the NMDA receptor without activating it, like a guard at the gate. Therefore, if we are deficient in magnesium, there’s no guard. Calcium and glutamate can activate the receptor like there is no tomorrow. In the long term, this damages the neurons, eventually leading to cell death. In the brain, that is not an easy situation to reverse or remedy.
For me, more magnesium means fewer “mommy is stressed” moments with my kids…
4. High Blood Pressure/Hypertension
This is perhaps one of the most well-studied areas of magnesium deficiency. A Harvard study of over 70,000 people found that those with the highest magnesium intake had the healthiest blood pressure numbers.
A follow-up meta-analysis of available studies showed a dose-dependent reduction of blood pressure with magnesium supplementation.
A University of Minnesota study showed that the risk for hypertension was 70% lower in women with adequate/high magnesium levels.
5. Hormone Problems
I personally saw the effects of low magnesium in my hormone levels. The higher the estrogen or progesterone levels in a woman’s body, the lower the magnesium (pregnancy anyone?)
This is also part of the reason why pregnant women experience more leg cramps and women notice more of these muscular type complaints and PMS in the second half of their cycles when progesterone/estrogen are tanking and magnesium is depleted.
Muscle cramps related to the menstrual cycle can also be related to magnesium levels. Dr. Carolyn Dean, author of the book The Magnesium Miracle, often recommends that women with bad PMS and cramps take magnesium early in their cycles before the symptoms begin.
6. Pregnancy Complaints
Related to the hormone problems above, magnesium levels can drastically affect pregnancy health and mood. I noticed this I had tremendously less morning sickness during pregnancy when I supplemented with transdermal magnesium.
Magnesium is also often used to help with pregnancy-related hypertension and muscle cramps, to help ward off preterm labor and to alleviate headaches.
I personally always stuck to transdermal magnesium during pregnancy since it didn’t cause digestive disturbances, at least until I found the brand of oral supplement I now take (see below for both).
7. Sleep Problems
With all of the above symptoms of deficiency, it makes sense that magnesium would have a drastic impact on sleep, but the impact is often immediately noticeable when a person starts taking magnesium.
Dr. Mark Hyman calls it the ultimate relaxation mineral. Magnesium helps relax the body and the mind, which both contribute to restful sleep.
Additionally, magnesium is needed for proper function of the GABA receptors in the brain, and GABA is the neurotransmitter that allows the brain to transition to a restful state.
8. Low Energy
Magnesium is required in the reactions that create ATP energy in the cells.
Let’s flashback to freshman biology for a minute. ATP or adenosine triphosphate is the main source of energy in the cells and it must bind to a magnesium ion in order to be active.
In other words, without magnesium, you literally won’t have energy on a cellular level. This shows up as fatigue, low energy, lack of drive, and other problems.
9. Bone Health
Calcium is always considered the most important mineral for bone health, but it turns out that magnesium is just as important (or even more so!)
In cases of magnesium deficiency, the bones suffer in multiple ways:
- Vitamin D Absorption: Magnesium is needed for vitamin D to turn on calcium absorption. This is why it is also important to get enough magnesium when taking vitamin D (or magnesium levels can become even more depleted.)
- Proper Calcium Use: Magnesium is needed to stimulate the hormone calcitonin which draws calcium out of the muscles and soft tissues and into the bones. This helps explain why magnesium helps lower the risk of heart attack, osteoporosis, arthritis, and kidney stones.
10. Other Mineral Deficiencies
Many vitamins and minerals work synergistically and magnesium is a workhorse on this list. It is needed for proper utilization of calcium, potassium, vitamin K, vitamin D, and many other nutrients.
By using magnesium externally, or transdermally (meaning “across the skin”) the body can absorb what is needed without absorbing to much. It is similar to soaking in an Epsom salt bath or in the ocean.
Magnesium Deficiency: The Solution
Though the symptoms seem ominous, magnesium deficiency is actually a relatively simple deficiency for the body to resolve with the right form of magnesium.
Many of the magnesium supplements on the market are pills or solutions taken internally. These can be effective, but can also cause digestive disturbances or stress the kidneys.
Also, experts estimate that magnesium absorption in the digestive system ranges from 20-55%, depending on the source, meaning that half or more of the magnesium leaves the body as waste.
Current research shows that a combination of oral magnesium (if the right form) and topical magnesium is best for boosting low levels.
Oral Magnesium Supplement
This magnesium supplement is one of my favorites and as it is clinically proven to have a high rate of absorption (85%) and a slow-release delivery. It’s formulated to minimize digestive upset and also contains B vitamins.
Dietary Sources of Magnesium
Other real-food dietary sources of magnesium include:
- dark chocolate (this is one reason we women often crave it)
- nuts and seeds, especially pumpkin seeds and almonds (soak first if possible)
- bananas (hmm, I’ll pass)
- leafy greens such as spinach and chard
- see below for more ideas!
Topical Magnesium Oil
My other secret weapon is topical magnesium. (I share what it did for me in this podcast episode.)
A solution of magnesium can be sprayed on the skin and the body can absorb what is needed at a much faster rate. The magnesium moves directly into the blood and tissues, replenishing the body’s needed magnesium stores more quickly and bypassing the kidneys.
I’ve shared my recipe for homemade magnesium oil (topical magnesium) and you can also try this Magnesium Lotion.
What I Do
I now use this transdermal magnesium each day and use it on my children. Dr. Mark Hyman of the Cleveland Clinic recommends up to 1,000 mg/day for adults and 4-500 mg/day for kids. We get this amount using the magnesium spray all over our bodies each night before bed.
In addition, I take some type of oral magnesium (Jigsaw Health is also a great option here) and try to consume magnesium-rich foods from organic sources with good soil quality.
For additional information, I shared this short podcast episode on magnesium with additional information.
Do you have any of these signs of low magnesium? Do you think these tips will help?
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Terry Wahls, a clinical professor of medicine and clinical research and has published over 60 peer-reviewed scientific abstracts, posters, and papers. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Do you ever struggle with any of these symptoms? Ever tried magnesium to help it out?
Discussion (145 Comments)
Is it safe to rub in a toddlers feet, the concentrated magnesium oil? If so, how much. Thank you
Katie - Wellness Mama
I use it on my toddler since the skin will only absorb what is needed.
Can a toddler have too much magnesium? I do t know if mine is deficient but would like to spray him too see if it’ll help with sleep but want to be careful not to give him too much if he’s not deficient.
It is possible to get too much but it is extremely difficult with topical magnesium. I’ve always personally felt safe using it topically on my kids daily.
In the beginning of my last pregnancy I was so weak that I couldn’t stand up during church and spent many evenings sitting on the couch. My mother in law reminded me of magnesium supplements I had been taking after I started a gluten free diet. I started taking my magnesium again and never had muscle weakness again!
Do you recommend Natural Calm?
I clicked on the link to see which brand of transdermal magnesium that you posted but it didn’t bring up anything except an exserpt from a volume of some study. Which brand do you use?
Katie - Wellness Mama
Thanks for catching that… I accidentally linked to the study there instead of the magnesium. Here is the correct link wellnessmama.com/go/magnesium/
Katie - Wellness Mama
Thanks for catching that… I accidentally linked to the study there instead of the magnesium. Here is the correct link https://wellnessmama.com/go/magnesium/
When I click on this link it takes me to an Amazon.ca site that lists a lot of different products. Can you state which product you use transdermally please? Thank you.
Try this one…
I have been using the Schuessler Cell Salts for years, especially the Magnesium (number 7 in Europe and number 8 in the US). It helped me with my pneumonia, anxiety attacks and my husband’s asthma as the “hot 7”: dilute 10 pellets in hot water and sip. Cell Salts are incredible little helpers.
I have been struggling with anxiety attacks for years and I have yet to find a natural remedy. Needless to say, I am still searching with hope. So, where can I buy these cell salts and what are they exactly, please.
I particularly have a lot of anxiety driving in traffic especially on highway because I feel trapped.
Any suggestions would greatly help me.
Thanks and blessings
I am 12 weeks pregnant and still dealing with nausea…I read your post on magnesium and made some topical oil and was using that the last couple weeks but it didn’t seem to do much good. Just a couple days ago I also started taking extra B vitamins (at first just a little bit with chews, but that didn’t help either, so I got some high-powered ones with 25 mg B6 each and I’ve taken two of those so far….no improvement yet though). I restarted the magnesium application as well since I read that B6 aids in magnesium absorption, but I get the tingly/itchy sensation and it makes it difficult for me to fall asleep if I put it on too close to bedtime :(. I also can’t use it right after shaving or it BURNS. I may try an epsom salt bath since that has been more gentle, but I’m concerned this combo isn’t working for me, and I had heard so many good things from other pregnant women dealing with nausea. After losing half my breakfast again this morning I’m getting a little desperate – I really don’t want to go on any drugs, and I know it might fade in the next couple weeks but work has been really difficult smell-wise. Should I just keep pressing on with the supplements and see what happens in a couple days?
How much magnesium oil do you use every day, and where on the body do you apply it?
Katie - Wellness Mama
I spray on my whole body before bed each night.
Question: the bottle says to spray it on let sit 20 minutes and then rinse off…..do you
HAVE to rinse it off? Seems a bit of a waste to me…
Do you rinse it off before going to bed?
No, you don’t have to rinse it, but you can. Some people find that magnesium leaves a fine film on the skin (although this brand did not for me). After 20 minutes your skin has absorbed all that it will, so it’s ok to rinse off if you wish.
Do you spray and take the oral also?
I currently use both. I have the topical spray and also take MagSRt
i was wondering if my kids could have the issue, they have a really hard time sleeping at night. I take magnesium twice a day and all my symptoms went away. Is it safe to give kids magnesium?
We rub magnesium body butter on our kids’ feet to help them sleep and put magnesium flakes in their baths.
We don’t have bathtubs so only showers for us. My question is can I use this particular spray on my kids my youngest one is 2 years. Thank you for all the info you are awesome!!
Katie - Wellness Mama
I use it on all of mine after about six months, but check with a doc if you aren’t sure.
I’m sorry but I’m not seeing it listed in the article – where do you get the magnesium ‘butter’ ?
Katie - Wellness Mama
I make my own: https://wellnessmama.com/8586/magnesium-body-butter/
Is magnesium flakes also the same as Epsom salts?? Is it safe for my very young kids to have Epsom salts in their baths?? How much??
Flakes and epsom salt are not exactly the same: magnesium flakes are magnesium chloride, and epsom salts are magnesium sulfate. If you are concerned about your kids, you could ask your doctor.
Hello Sara. I am new as of today on this site. Please share with me what your symptoms were. I want mine gone !!! Too. I have zinging, pinging, itchy sensation in skin (no rash), and PMS related night sweats. Have been applying MO twice a day, sometimes 3 times. I only started last week. I only learned of MO last week.
I want to be patient with the MO. I need to give it time to work.
I am very happy with how it treats a painful shoulder when I need to lift arm high. MO is very effective for that sore shoulder. Would be great to hear from you. Cheers. Ellie
Is it necessary to take the supplements and use the oil? It sounds like your body will absorb all it needs from the oil?
There is one reason your children are finding it hard to get to sleep; spending a lot of time on a laptop, tablet or mobile phone at night.
Doing that is what makes it hard to get to sleep. I used to do that and found I couldn’t get to sleep easily. Once I stopped spending time on my phone towards bedtime, my body and eyes were more relaxed and sleep came easily.
Hope this helps.
Thanks for the info! Since magnesium helps you sleep, do you generally apply transdermal magnesium at night? Has anyone had experience with using it in lotion during the day? I’m sure sensitivity varies from person to person, but I’m wondering if it is strong enough to make me woozy while I’m trying to stay awake or if it would be fine.
This transdermal stuff is very powerful, so yes, I put it on before bed as it can make me very sleepy.
Can you out the straight oil on toddlers or do you prefer the rub that is less concentrate
I don’t like how the oil feels on my skin so I only put it on the soles of my feet. It’s a really weird sensation. If I would put it on my kids, it would only be on the soles of the feet. I rather put some Epsom salts in their bath, then moisturise after. I have been taking magnesium regularly for years.
Katie, I have had bad insomnia for years. I wanted to try this new magnesium that you now use and see if it would help me get off drugs for insomnia. I bought some and the first night I used it, it actually made me fill an energy that didn’t help with my sleep. I noticed you mentioned it does give energy. I really wanted this to work for my sleep. Do you experience an energy feeling using before bed? Just want to understand what’s going on with me.
Katie - Wellness Mama
I don’t have that reaction, but apparently some people do. From what I’ve read, it has to do with how you metabolize it and your body’s level of magnesium. I’d try in the morning or early afternoon so that you’ll have it in your body for restful sleep but so the energy passes.
I have just tried your Magnesium Oil Recipe 5 days ago and am shocked at the results. I had previously tried taking a capsule for sleep at night and it kept me awake instead. I applied the magnesium oil in the AM after getting out of the shower figuring not to use the oil as a sleep aid but to have it help regulate out of sync processes in my body which would then help me sleep better. I have not slept though the night in years, but since using the oil I have slept through every night and wake feeling so rested. I also noticed that I am so much calmer throughout the day vs anxious and jumpy. I have early osteoporosis so will be interested to see if any changes for the better at next screening. Thank you Wellness Mama for the information and recipe.
I’m glad it worked for you!
Can Ease be diluted or is it best to just put it on a small part of the body, like in the deoderant?
Glass is not just esthetic, but very important when it comes to transdermal magnesium. Obesogens are found in ALL plastics, especially the green alternative plastics (due to increased additives). Always get glass for health’s sake. Subtle hormonal changes create the obese American world, and also sterility. Dont be fooled by the reasons most brands use plastic.
Where can I get transdermal magnesium?
I linked to it in the article…
This must be why I sleep so solidly on the nights I take an epsom salt bath before bed!
I find magnesium calms jittery/crampy legs, and I take it daily in two forms: a capsule of magnesium (citrate I think, though not sure) and Natural Calm. I also have a transdermal spray, but I’m worried about overdosing on mag. How can you tell when you’ve had enough? I want to use the spray on my kids, but same thing, I have no idea when to stop. Their vitamin has 20mg of magnesium oxide, but I have no idea if that’s enough. How can you tell??
tnx for any advice!
ps. I also use magnesium carbonate chalk on my hands in the gym, but I don’t think that counts 😉
If you notice in the article she said when you use Magnesium as a spray on the skin your body will only use what it needs so no need to worry about over dosing when using it this way.
I also am 40 yrs old expecting and this scared me I have all the signs I will consult my doctor about it
I don’t know specifically about magnesium absorption through the skin but one can definitely overdose on drugs transdermaly…so I would double check this statement. If you take too much magnesium internally you will get diarrhea since it is a muscle relaxant- maybe that is one way to know if you are taking too much…
I am a recently certified midwife, and throughout my apprenticeship I noticed midwives recommending calcium/magnesium combo (500mg/1000mg I think) for muscle cramps, sleep issues, and constipation to their pregnant clients. I’m curious whether you think midwives should just recommend magnesium without the calcium? What are cases where someone should take the combo? Is it possible to take too much magnesium and throw off one’s calcium balance?
Katie - Wellness Mama
I recently wrote about calcium here: https://wellnessmama.com/53674/calcium-supplements/
Would you know if magnesium would help prevent calcifications on the placenta (as it would for the arteries)?
I was using mag body butter, Natural Calm, and had soaked in epsom salts and ended up AWAKE THE WHOLE NIGHT with heart palpitations. My natural health chiropractor said I OD’d on Magnesium!!
Maybe you have a cbs mutation
I used to take 250 mg from CVS or Rite Aid at night before sleeping but that gave me horrible nightmares. So, I did some research and it was true that some people who took magnesium at night experienced nightmares.
So, since then I have stopped but I am going to try again with low dosage and in the day time not at night.
My foolproof way for anything is NEVER ever start with the full dosage written on the bottle but start as a low dosage like if it says take 1 tablet – then break it in half then move up to the full slowly.
Hope this information helps.
Transdermal is the best way to get your magnesium the body will take in only what it needs and you don’t have to worry about getting other minerals out of balance by doing it that way , orally many other things can get out of balance and you would never know unless you have a doctor doing the needed blood work which those doctors are hard to find or expensive:)
Thank you so much for this information!
Melissa, I encourage you to read the following article. Particularly the article in the right side panel of the page. It is a “story piece” about a boy who had overdosed trans dermally. Make up your own mind, but I know first had that you can overdose on anything trans dermally. My husband has worked in hospitals for 12 years can confirm this also.
Your body doesn’t not monitor what it needs. I doesn’t only take the amounts it needs. This is completely untrue.
Vitamins and minerals can be just as dangerous when taken improperly. While I advocate for natural treatments as much as possible, I do not dismiss hundreds of years of medical research.
Melissa – you say your husband worked in hospitals for 12 years. Is he a doctor? Or a nurse? The link to the article you included is about a child who overdosed on a Fentanyl patch that he INGESTED!! Not only that, Fentanyl is a narcotic – a controlled substance. And yes, certain vitamins, unused by the body, are excreted in the urine. Do your research before fear mongering!!!