What does magnesium do?

Magnesium is an essential macromineral, meaning we need to absorb relatively high levels of it. Magnesium is the 11th most abundant element in the human body. It’s involved in over 600 enzymatic processes (1), and is used by all cells.

  • It’s crucial for healthy bone formation, as it helps the absorption of calcium and the activation of vitamin D
  • It assists the body in creating protein from amino acids, and is necessary for healthy muscles
  • It plays a key role in regulating blood sugar, so can help with type 2 diabetes (2)
  • It can reduce inflammation (3)
  • It can help regulate blood pressure (4)
  • It’s essential to healthy brain function and can help relieve depression (5)
  • It may help relieve migraines (6), insomnia (7) and PMS (8)
  • It’s long been used to relieve heartburn and constipation (e.g. as Milk of Magnesia)

Home-Made Peanut Butter

Sources of magnesium

Sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews, almonds and peanuts are all rich in magnesium, so these are great vegan sources. Brown rice, spinach and black beans also score highly.

Below are the 12 best plant-based gluten-free sources…

Sources of magnesium for vegans

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Magnesium deficiency

As most magnesium in the body is locked up in the skeleton or cells, and only 2% can be measured in the blood, it’s actually pretty difficult to detect a magnesium deficiency. There’s thus wide disagreement about the level of magnesium deficiency in the Western world. Some studies indicate it’s rare, and others that it affects around 3/4 of the population. A number of factors could be to blame. A 2012 study focusing particularly on migraines observed:

“Migraine sufferers may develop magnesium deficiency due to genetic inability to absorb magnesium, inherited renal magnesium wasting, excretion of excessive amounts of magnesium due to stress, low nutritional intake, and several other reasons. There is strong evidence that magnesium deficiency is much more prevalent in migraine sufferers than in healthy controls.”
Journal of Neural Transmission

Other possible symptoms of low magnesium include:

  • Muscle twitches & cramps
  • Depression
  • Osteoporosis
  • Fatigue & weakness
  • High blood pressure
  • Asthma
  • Irregular Heartbeat

Naturally occurring minerals in food are more easily absorbed than isolated supplements. But in some cases where the body struggles to assimilate enough of a certain nutrient, it may be worth supporting the diet with supplements.

It’s unlikely you’ll get too much magnesium from dietary sources, as long as you’re eating a range of nutrient-rich foods. If you’re taking supplements as well, make sure you check the label and allow for the magnesium in your diet (and/or external treatments).

Side-effects from taking too much are usually diarrhoea and nausea. Those with kidney disorders should avoid magnesium supplements unless advised by a health practitioner.

Can magnesium be absorbed through the skin?

A bath of Epsom Salts has long been a home remedy for sore muscles, indicating that magnesium could be absorbed through the skin.

Various scientific studies have been carried out, but have been fairly inconclusive up until now. Research by Hertfordshire University in 2017 was actually carried out on humans – rather than pigs, as had previously been the case – and it showed levels in the blood were significantly higher after applying magnesium to the skin in the form of a cream.

According to a slightly later German study, the jury’s still out.

According to some practitioners, such as Dr Zach Bush MD, the human body is absolutely designed to absorb magnesium transdermally. He recommends swimming in natural water sources, or using magnesium flakes at home.

So Magnesium lotion could be a good way to soothe muscles or to boost general levels in the body. Magnesium flakes are widely available for the bath or a foot soak. These can also be mixed with water to make an oil spray – 1 cup of flakes to 1 or more cups of water.

Epsom Salt & its use in the garden

In 1618 there was a drought in Britain. As a cowherd crossed Epsom Common he noticed his cattle avoiding a pool of water because of its bitter taste. He also noticed wounds healing faster on the legs of cows that waded through this pool.

The water came from a naturally occurring spring, rich in magnesium and sulphur. So called Epsom Salts have been used ever since – externally to relieve sore muscles, and internally for constipation relief.

Studies have shown that this combination of minerals may help plants grow greener, with higher yields. Also that it makes fertilisers more effective.

“Magnesium helps seeds to germinate, increasing chlorophyll production and improving phosphorus and nitrogen uptake. Sulphur is also a key element in plant growth, helping produce vitamins.”
The Epsom Salt Council

Got any tips or questions of your own about magnesium? Leave us a comment below, we’d love to hear from you.


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