Magnesium is an essential mineral for human nutrition.
Magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It helps to maintain normal nerve and muscle function, supports a healthy immune system, keeps the heartbeat steady, and helps bones remain strong. It also helps adjust blood glucose levels. It aids in the production of energy and protein.
There is ongoing research into the role of magnesium in preventing and managing disorders such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. However, taking magnesium supplements is not currently advised. Diets high in protein, calcium, or vitamin D will increase the need for magnesium.
Most dietary magnesium comes from dark green, leafy vegetables. Other foods that are good sources of magnesium are:
- Fruits (such as bananas, dried apricots, and avocados)
- Nuts (such as almonds and cashews)
- Peas and beans (legumes), seeds
- Soy products (such as soy flour and tofu)
- Whole grains (such as brown rice and millet)
Side effects from high magnesium intake are not common. The body generally removes extra amounts. Magnesium excess most often occurs when a person is:
- Taking in too much of the mineral in supplement form
- Taking certain laxatives
Although you may not get enough magnesium from your diet, it is rare to be truly lacking in magnesium. The symptoms of such a shortage include:
- Muscle weakness
Lack of magnesium can occur in people who abuse alcohol or in those who absorb less magnesium including:
- People with gastrointestinal disease or surgery causing malabsorption
- Older adults
- People with type 2 diabetes
Symptoms due to a lack of magnesium have three categories.
- Loss of appetite
Moderate deficiency symptoms:
- Muscle contractions and cramps
- Personality changes
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Low blood calcium level (hypocalcemia)
- Low blood potassium level (hypokalemia)
Dosages for magnesium, as well as other nutrients, are provided in the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) developed by the Food and Nutrition Board at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. DRI is a term for a set of reference intakes that are used to plan and assess the nutrient intakes of healthy people. These values, which vary by age and sex, include:
- Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA): The average daily level of intake that is enough to meet the nutrient needs of nearly all (97% to 98%) healthy people. An RDA is an intake level based on scientific research evidence.
- Adequate Intake (AI): This level is established when there is not enough scientific research evidence to develop an RDA. It is set at a level that is thought to ensure enough nutrition.
Dietary Reference Intakes for magnesium:
- Birth to 6 months: 30 mg/day*
- 6 months to 1 year: 75 mg/day*
*AI or Adequate Intake
- 1 to 3 years old: 80 milligrams
- 4 to 8 years old: 130 milligrams
- 9 to 13 years old: 240 milligrams
- 14 to 18 years old (boys): 410 milligrams
- 14 to 18 years old (girls): 360 milligrams
- Adult males: 400 to 420 milligrams
- Adult females: 310 to 320 milligrams
- Pregnancy: 350 to 400 milligrams
- Breastfeeding women: 310 to 360 milligrams
Diet - magnesium
National Institutes of Health website. Magnesium: fact sheet for health professionals. ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/#h5. Updated August 11, 2021. Accessed August 24, 2021.
Yu ASL. Disorders of magnesium and phosphorus. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 111.
Review Date 3/11/2021
Updated by: Meagan Bridges, RD, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, VA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 09/29/2021.