The Benefits of Magnesium for Women’s Health

The multiple benefits of magnesium was something that I started to learn about recently during a fabulous talk given to our community by my nutritionist colleague Natalie Coghlan. You can watch the replay here.

Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a crucial role in our general health and it is particularly helpful for women. It has so many uses in the body!

How do we get Magnesium naturally in our diet?

Magnesium is found in plant foods like legumes, dark green leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach), nuts, seeds (e.g. pumpkin/chia), wholemeal bread and dark chocolate. It is also found in fish, poultry, and beef 1,2

According to the NHS 3, the recommended daily intake of magnesium is:

300mg per day for men (ages 19-64)

270mg per day for women (ages 19-64)

However the guidelines for recommended intakes are different depending on which source you refer to. 

This one from The Food and Nutrition Board in the US 4 recommended slightly different levels:

The issue is, many of us are not getting the right amount in our diets and this is leading to deficiencies. It isn’t a routine vitamin that is tested, so many people will be deficient and not realise it. 

“According to recent figures, 11 per cent of women and 16 per cent of men are magnesium-deficient.” – BBC Good Food 5 

What is magnesium’s function in the body?

Magnesium is found to be involved in more than 300 enzyme systems that regulate protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation. Magnesium is required for energy production within our cells.

We store it in our bones and it impacts on the function of the osteoclasts and osteoblasts (the cells that keep the balance in our bone health). 

Magnesium also plays a role in the active transport of calcium and potassium ions across cell membranes, a process that is important to nerve impulse conduction, muscle contraction, and normal heart rhythm 6.

How do I know if my magnesium level is low?

Blood Tests

The most obvious way to find out is to ask for a magnesium blood test. The trouble is, only 0.5% of the magnesium we have in the body is in the blood. The rest is locked up in our bones and body tissues, so the level could be normal in your blood, but the stores in your bones could be low, so it would be advisable to correlate this with symptoms too. Normal magnesium concentration in the blood ranges from 0.70 – 1.05 mmol/L 7. Some reference ranges quote levels in mg/dL. The level in this range would be 1.7 to 2.2 mg/dL 8.

Symptoms

Other clues may be in your symptoms. Magnesium deficiency due to low intake in the diet in otherwise-healthy people is uncommon because the kidneys work to limit it from leaving the body in the urine (the kidneys also help to get rid of excess magnesium). However,  low dietary intakes over a long period of time, or excessive losses of magnesium due to certain health conditions, alcoholism, and/or the use of certain medications can lead to magnesium deficiency.

Early signs of magnesium deficiency include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and weakness. As magnesium deficiency worsens, numbness, tingling, headaches/migraines, muscle contractions and cramps, seizures, mood changes such as depression, abnormal heart rhythms, and chest pain can occur. Severe magnesium deficiency can result in low calcium or low potassium 9.

For women, low magnesium can lead to worsening  period cramps, hot flushes, low quality sleep and insomnia and PMS (pre-menstrual)-symptoms 10.

How can magnesium supplements benefit women?

Bone health

Magnesium contributes to bone formation and density, making it vital for women, especially as they age and face a higher risk of osteoporosis. It works in conjunction with other minerals like calcium and vitamin D to maintain bone strength although there isn’t enough research yet to know if using supplements helps reduce fracture risk 11.

Benefits for periods

Many women experience menstrual-related symptoms such as cramps, bloating, and mood swings, which can be alleviated by magnesium supplements. Magnesium helps relax muscles and can reduce the severity and duration of menstrual cramps, providing relief during menstruation 12.

PMS Symptoms

Women are more prone to stress and anxiety due to hormonal fluctuations and societal pressures. Magnesium plays a crucial role in regulating neurotransmitters that control mood and stress responses. Supplementing with magnesium can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and promote a sense of calmness and relaxation 12.

Heart health

Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of mortality among women 13. Studies suggest that magnesium supports heart health by regulating blood pressure, maintaining normal heart rhythm, and reducing the risk of blood clots. It also helps prevent the calcification of arteries, which can lead to atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular complications 14

That being said, many of the foods high in natural magnesium are wholesome and unprocessed. Good heart health comes down to staying active and eating healthy, unprocessed foods, so while magnesium looks to play an important role in heart health, it’s simplistic to say that taking a supplement (and doing nothing else towards improving your health) will be the silver-bullet option. 

Muscle strength and function

Magnesium is essential for muscle function and relaxation. It helps prevent muscle cramps and spasms (including restless less or cramps expereinced at night), making it beneficial for active women or those prone to muscle tightness or injuries.  Adequate magnesium levels can improve exercise performance and recovery by supporting muscle function and reducing fatigue 15.

Fatigue and energy

Magnesium plays a key role in the production of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the primary energy currency of the body. Supplementing with magnesium could help to combat fatigue and boost energy levels, which is especially beneficial for women with hectic lifestyles or those experiencing fatigue due to nutrient deficiencies or stress 16.

Blood sugar regulation

Women with conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or insulin resistance may benefit from magnesium supplementation to help regulate blood sugar levels. Magnesium enhances insulin sensitivity and improves glucose metabolism, which can help prevent complications associated with diabetes and metabolic syndrome 17

Migraine relief

Magnesium deficiency has been linked to an increased risk of migraines in women. Supplementing with magnesium can help reduce the frequency and severity of migraines by relaxing blood vessels and reducing inflammation in the brain 18.

Are there any downsides to taking magnesium?

While magnesium supplements offer various health benefits, they also carry potential downsides. Overconsumption can lead to diarrhoea, as magnesium draws water into the intestines. This may exacerbate gastrointestinal issues or cause discomfort. 

Additionally, excessive magnesium intake can interfere with certain medications, like antibiotics or diuretics, affecting their absorption or efficacy. Individuals with kidney problems should be cautious, as their kidneys might struggle to excrete excess magnesium, leading to toxicity 19

Furthermore, some people may experience allergic reactions to magnesium supplements, manifesting as skin rashes or respiratory difficulties. It’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any supplement regimen.

Who shouldn’t take magnesium?

Individuals with certain health conditions or circumstances should exercise caution or avoid magnesium supplements altogether. Those with kidney problems, such as kidney disease or renal failure, may struggle to eliminate excess magnesium from their bodies, potentially leading to toxicity. 

People with heart block, myasthenia gravis, or bowel obstruction should also avoid magnesium supplements, as they can exacerbate these conditions 20

Additionally, individuals taking certain medications, such as antibiotics, diuretics, or medications for osteoporosis (such as alendronate), should consult a healthcare provider before supplementing with magnesium, as it may interfere with drug absorption or efficacy. 

Pregnant or breastfeeding women should also seek medical advice before taking magnesium supplements.

What do I need to look for when buying a magnesium supplement?

The first thing to say is that a healthy, balanced diet should be enough to ensure you keep your magnesium levels topped up. That veing said, if you want to supplement as well, then it is important that you know what to look for. Several types of magnesium supplements are available for purchase, each with unique characteristics and benefits, so make sure you buy the right one for what you are aiming to achieve! 21

Magnesium citrate

Magnesium citrate is commonly used for constipation relief due to its laxative effect. I’ve seen hilarious stories from people online who have purchased this type incorrectly, with unfortunate consequences!

Magnesium Glycinate

Magnesium glycinate is gentle on the stomach and well-absorbed, making it suitable for individuals with digestive sensitivities. It’s also a common type (sometimes seen as Magnesium Bisglycinate) used for the symptoms discussed in this article. 

Magnesium Oxide

Magnesium oxide has a higher magnesium content but is often used for treating heartburn or acid indigestion. 

Magnesium Chloride

Magnesium chloride is easily absorbed through the skin in the form of oil or lotion, beneficial for muscle relaxation and stress relief. 

Magnesium Sulphate

Magnesium sulphate, commonly known as Epsom salt, is used topically or orally for muscle relaxation and detoxification.

How do I know a magnesium supplement is good quality?

To ensure you’re purchasing a high-quality magnesium supplement in the UK, look for products that adhere to regulatory standards. Opt for supplements with a “GMP” (Good Manufacturing Practice) or “MHRA” (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) seal, indicating compliance with quality manufacturing processes 22

Check for third-party certification from organisations like USP (United States Pharmacopeia) or NSF International, which verify product purity and potency. Review the supplement label for the type of magnesium compound used and its bioavailability. Consider brands with a reputation for transparency, quality sourcing, and good manufacturing practices.

Remember that the term ‘natural’ doesn’t always mean safe. Some ‘natural’ botanical products can do more harm than good and damage the liver. The safety of a supplement depends on a number of factors, including how it is prepared, how it works in the body and how much of it you consume. Reputable sources should be open and transparent about their production methods23.

If you’re not sure, consult a healthcare professional to help you.

Final thoughts and next steps

As you’ve seen, magnesium supplements have the potential to offer numerous benefits for women’s health, including improved bone health, menstrual symptom relief, stress management, heart health, muscle function, energy management, blood sugar regulation, and migraine relief. It’s got my attention and I will certainly be trying this myself to help with perimenopause related sleep disturbances. If you want to ask me about how I get on, join my facebook group!

It can be beneficial to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen to determine the appropriate dosage and ensure it is safe and suitable for your individual needs and health conditions. 

And one final thought, if you didn’t know, I offer private women’s health appointments so you can get answers and support for your symptoms quickly. Click here to book your appointment today.

Sources

  1. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/magnesium/ 
  2. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/#:~:text=Table%202%3A%20Magnesium%20Content%20of%20Selected%20Foods%20%5B10%5D 
  3. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/others/#:~:text=How%20much%20magnesium%20do%20I,women%20(19%20to%2064%20years) 
  4. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/#:~:text=Table%201%3A%20Recommended%20Dietary%20Allowances%20(RDAs)%20for%20Magnesium 
  5. https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/what-magnesium 
  6. Rude RK. Magnesium. In: Ross AC, Caballero B, Cousins RJ, Tucker KL, Ziegler TR, eds. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. 11th ed. Baltimore, Mass: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2012:159-75.
  7. https://www.gloshospitals.nhs.uk/our-services/services-we-offer/pathology/tests-and-investigations/magnesium-mg/ 
  8. https://www.ucsfhealth.org/medical-tests/magnesium-blood-test 
  9. https://lloydspharmacy.com/blogs/vitamins-and-supplement-advice/magnesium-deficiency-symptoms 
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6910806/#:~:text=One%20of%20the%20more%20recently,sleep%20and%20insomnia%20%5B17%5D
  11. https://theros.org.uk/information-and-support/bone-health/nutrition-for-bones/vitamins-minerals-and-nutrients/minerals/ 
  12. Evaluating the effect of magnesium and magnesium plus vitamin B6 supplement on the severity of premenstrual syndrome, Nahid Fathizadeh, MSc, Elham Ebrahimi, Mahboube Valiani, MSc, Naser Tavakoli, PhD, and Manizhe Hojat Yar, BS https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3208934/ 
  13. BHS January 2024: https://www.bhf.org.uk/-/media/files/for-professionals/research/heart-statistics/bhf-cvd-statistics-uk-factsheet.pdf 
  14. Dietary Magnesium and Cardiovascular Disease: A Review with Emphasis in Epidemiological Studies, Nuria Rosique-Esteban, Marta Guasch-Ferré, Pablo Hernández-Alonso, and Jordi Salas-Salvadó https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5852744/ 
  15. Impact of Magnesium Supplementation in Muscle Damage of Professional Cyclists Competing in a Stage Race, Alfredo Córdova, Juan Mielgo-Ayuso, Enrique Roche, Alberto Caballero-García, and Diego Fernandez-Lázaro https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6723322/ 
  16. Red blood cell magnesium and chronic fatigue syndrome, I M Cox, M J Campbell, D Dowson https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1672392/ 
  17. Effect of magnesium supplementation in improving hyperandrogenism, hirsutism, and sleep quality in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: A randomized, placebo‐controlled clinical trial, Mahsa Gholizadeh‐Moghaddam, Hatav Ghasemi‐Tehrani, Gholamreza Askari, Mahsima Jaripur, Cain C. T. Clark, and Mohammad Hossein Rouhani https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9798963/ 
  18. https://migrainetrust.org/live-with-migraine/healthcare/treatments/supplements/ 
  19. Drug interactions and magnesium – BNF: https://bnf.nice.org.uk/interactions/magnesium/ 
  20. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/ 
  21. https://www.hollandandbarrett.com/the-health-hub/vitamins-and-supplements/minerals/magnesium/the-best-forms-of-magnesium/ 
  22. https://cms.mhra.gov.uk/mhra 
  23. https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/supplements.html 
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