Complementary Corner: Magnesium

Managing Your Magnesium By Norma G. Cuellar, PhD, RN, FAAN This is an excerpt from the spring 2016 edition of NightWalkers, the F...

Managing Your Magnesium

By Norma G. Cuellar, PhD, RN, FAAN

This is an excerpt from the spring 2016 edition of NightWalkers, the Foundation's quarterly magazine. To get your subscription to NightWalkers and to enjoy other benefits, become a member of the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation today!

Individuals suspecting they may have RLS should consult a qualified healthcare provider. Literature posted by the RLS Foundation, including this blog post, is offered for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for the advice of a healthcare provider. Prior to making any changes to your treatment plan, please discuss treatment options with your healthcare provider.

Many persons with RLS ask about the use of magnesium (Mg) to help with symptoms. While research in this area is scant, magnesium can certainly affect other health conditions, thereby affecting RLS symptoms.

What is magnesium?

Magnesium is an element found throughout the body in blood, bones and soft tissues. Magnesium works with over 300 enzymes that regulate protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control and blood pressure. It plays an important role in hydration, muscle relaxation, energy production and, crucially, the deactivation of adrenaline. In addition, magnesium plays a role in the transport of calcium and potassium across cell membranes, which is imperative in nerve impulse conduction, muscle contraction and normal heart conduction.

What are the symptoms of low magnesium?

Deficiency of magnesium can cause a variety of health issues. Early signs may include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue or weakness. As hypomagnesemia (low magnesium levels in the blood) worsens, signs include numbness, tingling, muscle twitching, cramps and muscle soreness. More serious symptoms include abnormal heart rhythms, coronary spasms (remember, the heart is a muscle) and seizures. Magnesium has a direct effect on calcium and potassium levels, so people who take magnesium should have these electrolytes monitored by a healthcare provider through blood testing.

Low magnesium can result from a variety of causes, including chronic diseases, medication use, poor nutrition, lifestyle choices and pregnancy. Older adults are at added risk because of decreased absorption of magnesium with age and renal insufficiency.

How does magnesium affect sleep?

Magnesium is essential for every stage of sleep because of its neuroprotective effect of slowing the metabolic process, lowering brain temperature, and regulating hormones responsible for sleep onset. Magnesium is also known to cause muscular relaxation, which may help with falling asleep.

There are two hormones that are affected by magnesium levels: cortisol (known as the stress hormone) and melatonin (which helps regulate sleep patterns). Magnesium has been reported to decrease cortisol, thereby promoting relaxation and sleep. Magnesium is vital for the function of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain, which initiate sleep. Sufficient magnesium is required to regulate all hormones in the body. With age, the natural decline of these hormones worsens if there is not enough magnesium.

Where can I find magnesium?

You can find magnesium in foods, some bottled water, dietary supplements and medications (antacids and laxatives). Green leafy vegetables, cereals and fortified foods are good sources of magnesium.

Foods containing fiber usually have some magnesium. Keep in mind that food processing removes magnesium. Many foods drain the body of magnesium and should be avoided, especially by people who have low magnesium levels. These foods include carbonated beverages, sugar, high-carb foods, caffeine and alcohol. Also, some medications will deplete the body of magnesium including diuretics, cardiac medications, asthma medications, birth control medications and estrogen. Calcium and magnesium have an inverse relationship, so if you take calcium supplements, then your magnesium level could be low.

An interesting study was published in 2015 on balneotherapy in older adults. Balneotherapy is the use of mineral water baths to improve health and is usually practiced at spas. After a 12-day balneotherapy program, 52 older adults from Spain showed significant improvement in sleep, mood and depression. The water at Balneario San Andrés was hypothermic (at or above 20 C, or 60 F) hard water of medium mineralization with bicarbonate, sulfate, sodium and magnesium as the dominant ions (Latorre-Román et al., 2015).

How much magnesium should I take?

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for magnesium varies by age. Dosing also depends on gender and whether a person is pregnant or breastfeeding. For adults, 400 mg daily is usually safe. If you are using magnesium to help with sleep, you may want to take this before bedtime. For some people, magnesium may be stimulating rather than calming. In this case, you should take magnesium in the morning.

Magnesium can be purchased over the counter. Make sure your healthcare provider knows you are taking magnesium, as it may affect other medications you take. If you take magnesium supplements, you should have your magnesium level checked routinely through blood tests. Magnesium can have significant impact on health outcomes and should be carefully monitored.



Latorre-Román PÁ, Rentero-Blanco M, Laredo-Aguilera JA, García-Pinillos F. 2015. “Effect of a 12-day balneotherapy programme on pain, mood, sleep, and depression in healthy elderly people.” Psychogeriatrics (15): 14–19.

Magnesium Fact Sheet:

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