Magnesium is one of the most abundant (and important!) minerals in the human body, yet it's estimated that up to 60% of Americans don't meet their daily magnesium needs. How do you know if you're getting enough? I've got you covered! We’re talking everything you need to know about magnesium and its role in gut health.
Magnesium’s Role in the Body
Magnesium is a mineral that's essential for the healthy function of every organ in your body. It's involved in more than 300 enzyme reactions and helps regulate everything from brain function and blood pressure to DNA synthesis.
Magnesium and the Gut
Sufficient magnesium stores are a must-have for maintaining healthy gastrointestinal function and motility (the movement of food through your digestive system). A magnesium deficiency can lead to constipation, which over time can have a negative impact on gut health and increase your risk for conditions such as diverticulosis.
Magnesium also impacts the gut microbiome (the population of good bacteria in your colon). Animal studies have linked magnesium deficiency to changes to the microbiome, which suggests that magnesium may also be essential for keeping gut bacteria healthy.
Some also find relief by taking magnesium for constipation, which can increase the amount of water in your intestines and lead to softer stools.
Experts estimate that 2-15% of the population suffers from a magnesium deficiency. Chronically low magnesium can increase your risk for a range of health problems, including (but not limited to):
Muscle spasms or weakness
Type 2 Diabetes
Those with Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Celiac Disease, or frequent diarrhea are at increased risk for magnesium deficiency. This is because food is not adequately digested and absorbed and the body is unable to use most of the magnesium that is consumed.
How Much Magnesium Do I Need?
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of magnesium ranges from 410-420 mg per day for males, and 310-360 mg per day for females, depending on age. Women who are pregnant or lactating have higher magnesium needs of up to 400 mg per day depending on age.
High Magnesium Foods
Because the body itself can't make magnesium, eating plenty of magnesium-rich foods is an absolute must for preventing chronic disease and maintaining a healthy gut!
Magnesium is found in a whole range of good-for-you foods such as leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and beans. Keep in mind that usually only 30-40% of the magnesium in your food is actually absorbed, so it’s a good idea to aim high! And you don’t have to worry about “overdosing” on magnesium; your body easily excretes any unneeded magnesium you may consume.
Examples of high magnesium foods are:
Roasted pumpkin seeds (1oz): 156 mg
Spinach (1 cup cooked): 156 mg
Swiss chard (1 cup cooked): 150 mg
Dry roasted almonds (1oz): 80 mg
Dry roasted cashews (1 oz): 74 mg
Roasted peanuts (1/4 cup): 63 mg
Soymilk (1 cup): 61 mg
Black beans (1 cup cooked): 60 mg
Endamame (1 cup cooked): 60 mg
Peanut butter (2 tablespoons): 49 mg
Chia seeds (2 tablespoons): 47 mg
Other Sources of Magnesium
Supplements are another way to boost magnesium intake*. Magnesium supplements are available in a variety of forms, which can be confusing! Magnesium citrate, gluconate, orotate, or aspartate are better choices than magnesium oxide because they’re more easily absorbed by the body. Also, if you take multiple magnesium capsules per day spread them out for maximal absorption.
You may have heard that water is a source of magnesium. Tap and bottled water do contain a tiny amount of magnesium, but it’s almost negligible (1-5 mg per cup of water). Some mineral waters have higher levels of magnesium, but make sure to check the label because different brands have different mineral compositions.
How Can I Maximize my Gut Health with Magnesium?
Make sure you’re meeting your daily magnesium needs for your age and gender. If you’re unsure how much you’re actually getting from food, use a food tracker website or app (such as MyFitnessPal) to get a sample total.
Eat at LEAST one high-magnesium food at every meal.
If you have a history of gastrointestinal illness with diarrhea or you have a restricted diet for another reason, consider a magnesium supplement*.
If you do take a supplement, choose a product with magnesium citrate rather than magnesium oxide.
If you suffer from constipation consider upping your magnesium intake for gentle relief.
*It’s always a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider before starting a new supplement, even if it is available over-the-counter.
Ayuk, et al. Contemporary view of the clinical relevance of magnesium homeostasis. Ann Clin Biochem. 2014;51(pt 2):179-88.
de Baaij, et al. Magnesium in man: implications for health and disease. Physiol Rev. 2015;95(1):1-46.
Grober, et al. Magnesium in prevention and therapy. Nutrients. 2015;7(9):8199-8226.Lloyd-Price, et al. The healthy human microbiome. Genome Med. 2016;8:51.
National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: “Magnesium: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals”Pyndt et al. Dietary magnesium deficiency affects gut microbiota and anxiety-like behavior in C57BL/6N mice.
Acta Neuropsychiatr. 2015;27(5):307-11. Schuchardt, et al. Intestinal absorption and factors influencing bioavailability of magnesium- an update.
Curr Nutr Food Sci. 2017;13(4):260-278. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Composition Databases