Health

Do I need to take magnesium? What you need to know as sales of the supplement soar

P86C74 Assortment of food containing magnesium
P86C74 Assortment of food containing magnesium P86C74 Assortment of food containing magnesium

Sales of magnesium supplements have gone up 44% this year, according to Waitrose.

The food retailer recently published their 2023-24 Food and Drink report, with the hike in magnesium products among the stand-out findings – and it’s fair to say there’s been growing buzz around this particular supplement in recent times.

So, what exactly is it, what does it do, and do we need to be taking magnesium supplements?

What is magnesium and why is it important?

“We’ve all heard of magnesium, however few of us realise just how important it truly is. It is an essential mineral for healthy bones, nerves, muscles and blood sugar levels, and is involved in over 300 chemical reactions throughout the body, playing an integral role in everything from brain function to exercise performance,” says Shona Wilkinson, lead nutritionist at DR.VEGAN.

Dr Zulqarnain Shah, medical director and GP at SSP Health, adds: “Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a vital role in many bodily processes, including energy production, bone and teeth structure, muscle function and nerve function.”

Magnesium is often associated with things like aiding sleep and stress, and supporting hormone balance, which perhaps explains some of the growing interest in supplements.

How much magnesium do you need?

According to the NHS, for adults aged 19-64, men generally need 300mg, while women need 270mg of magnesium a day.

With any supplements, it’s important to take note of any usage guidance on the packaging, and check with your doctor or pharmacist if you’re unsure. NHS advice says taking high dosages of magnesium (over 400mg a day) for a short time may cause diarrhoea, while the longer-term impact is unclear.

How do you know if you have magnesium deficiency?

Low magnesium levels can affect people in different ways. In some cases this can be serious, however when this happens, there’ll usually be other factors involved. Your doctor can arrange a blood test if concerned.

“Early signs of magnesium deficiency include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, and weakness,” explains Shah. “As deficiency progresses, people may experience lower calcium and potassium levels in the blood, numbness and tingling in the extremities, cramps and muscle contractions, seizures, personality changes, abnormal heart rhythms, and coronary spasms.

“However, a true magnesium deficiency is rare, and symptoms usually indicate an underlying health condition,” Shah adds. “Certain factors can increase a person’s risk, including continually eating a low-magnesium diet, gastrointestinal disorders such as Crohn’s disease or Coeliac disease, losing excessive amounts of magnesium through urine and sweat, resulting from genetic disorders or drinking too much alcohol, being pregnant and lactating, being hospitalised, having parathyroid disorders and hyperaldosteronism, type 2 diabetes, being older, and taking certain medications, such as proton pump inhibitors, diuretics, bisphosphonates, and antibiotics.”

What are the benefits of magnesium supplements?

Whether all of us need them is often subject to debate, but many people take supplements to support their health and wellbeing, with clinical trials backing up the evidence.

“Some people could benefit from supplements, because magnesium is essential to pretty much every process in the body,” says Wilkinson. “When taken at bedtime, magnesium helps relax our muscles and prepare us for a good night’s rest, as well as helping to regulate levels of melatonin that control your sleep cycle.

“Energy is produced in our body’s cells and magnesium is essential to support the function of the enzymes involved in this process. Therefore, the right magnesium intake will help your body’s recovery from stress and exercise, as well as boosting energy production.

“Magnesium also plays a role in improving specific health problems,” she adds. “For example, US researchers analysing the results of 34 clinical trials, involving over 2,000 people, found a link between magnesium intake and reduced blood pressure. This is because magnesium helps the body release prostacyclin, a compound that reduces tension in blood vessel walls.

“Magnesium also influences the health of our bones and teeth. It was found that low amounts of magnesium is associated with low bone density and higher risks of bone fractures.”

Can you get magnesium through your diet?

Lots of foods are naturally good sources of magnesium – including leafy greens like spinach, and nuts, avocado, tofu, edamame, and whole grains such as oats and barley. Plus dark chocolate, bananas and some oily fish such as salmon and mackerel. And there’s good reason why experts always recommend starting with a balanced diet when it comes to health.

As nutritionist and health coach Yasmeen Alsumait (healthylivingbyyasmeen.com) explains: “Consuming magnesium-rich foods offers more than just magnesium itself. Foods such as nuts, legumes, seeds and leafy greens also come bundled with essential dietary fibre and other nutrients crucial for overall health.

“For example, the high source of fibre found in such foods aids digestion, promotes a healthy gut microbiome, and supports regular bowel movements. Additionally, many magnesium-rich foods provide a spectrum of vitamins and minerals that work synergistically to boost immunity, enhance nutrient absorption, and maintain various bodily functions.”