The essentiality of magnesium and why you most likely need more

Magnesium is a macromineral, which we require quite a large amount of daily. Everyone seems to know the importance of this mineral, yet so many people are deficient.

Mg is involved in numerous processes in the body, which includes:

  • heart rhythm
  • vascular tone
  • nerve function
  • muscle contraction and relaxation
  • bone formation
  • energy metabolism – adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production
  • DNA and RNA synthesis
  • reproduction
  • protein synthesis
  • blood pressure (lowers high blood pressure by antagonizing calcium and also increasing endothelial nitric oxide synthesis)
  • insulin metabolism (3)
  • metabolism of Ca, K, P, Zn, Cu, Fe, Na, Pb, Cd, HCl, acetylcholine, and nitric oxide (NO)
  • the intracellular homeostasis and the activation of thiamine (4)
  • activation of vitamin D
  • synthesis of the most important intracellular antioxidant, glutathione (67891011)
  • Methylation


Magnesium deficiency

Many people have a deficiency, yet might not even show symptoms of it. The best would be to use an Mg supplement (discussed below) and if you feel a difference from it, you were most likely deficient. You might even have a deficiency even though you eat Mg rich foods and take a supplement for it. Mg absorption, utilization and excretion are dependent on various factors (discussed below).

An Mg deficiency is staggering: hypertension (cardiovascular disease, kidney and liver damage, etc.), peroxynitrite damage (migraine, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s disease, ADHD, etc.), recurrent bacterial infection due to low levels of nitric oxide in the cavities (sinuses, middle ear, lungs, throat, etc.), fungal infections due to a depressed immune system, thiamine deactivation (low gastric acid, behavioral disorders, etc.), causes a calcium deficiency (osteoporosis, hypertension, mood swings, etc.), tooth cavities, hearing loss, diabetes type II, cramps, muscle weakness, impotence (lack of NO), aggression (lack of NO), fibromas, contributes to a vitamin K deficiency (arrhythmia, hypertension, some forms of cancer), iron accumulation, malignant tumors, kidney stones, alteration in blood lipids, psychiatric disorders, atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction, etc. (37, 4)

An Mg deficiency also increases angiotensin II-mediated aldosterone synthesis and the production of thromboxane and vasoconstrictor prostaglandins. (12) This leads to increased estrogen, sodium excretion, inflammation, hypertension etc… A lack of Mg increases lipid peroxidation, which further leads to inflammation.

Here I have included some of Magnesium’s main benefits that a natural bodybuilder would be interested in…


Magnesium is essential for muscle function & building muscle

Mg affects muscle and exercise performance in various ways.

Firstly, Mg increases the cells’ efficiency at using oxygen, through increasing oxygen uptake in a cell. Hence, decreasing total oxygen requirement, and increasing endurance performance and the amount of work that can be done.

Secondly, Mg increases lactate clearance during exercise, which decreases fatigue. (13) This allows you to do more work, more effortlessly. (14).

Mg is essential for ATP production, as ATP is bound to an Mg ion in order to be biologically active. Mg also increases glucose utilization by increasing insulin sensitivity and also by increasing GLUT4 and GLUT3 transporters, which can then supply the muscles and nervous system with more glucose.

Muscle protein synthesis is inhibited in an Mg deficiency, as it decreases leucine incorporation into muscles. It also decreases insulin sensitivity which inhibits other essential amino acids from entering the muscle. Individuals who are looking for a more anabolic edge/or who want to do everything possible for the best growth, need much more Mg than just the recommended daily value of 400mg.

Mg also increases total and free testosterone and IGF-1 which further stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

Magnesium is required for DNA replication, transcription into RNA and translation into protein, which is essential for muscle growth. (14)

Resistance exercise combined with Mg supplementation for a seven-week period (8g/kg/day) showed an increase in muscular strength compared to the non-supplemental group. (the study used untrained men). (15)


Magnesium is androgenic and lowers estrogen

Mg-ATP acts to increase cholesterol uptake in the testes to produce testosterone.

Mg stimulates adenylase cyclase, which is an enzyme that catalyzes the formation of cyclic AMP. (3) cAMP acts as a secondary messenger in the body and signals to increase testosterone production. It also increases StAR and CYP450scc, which is the rate limited enzyme which transports cholesterol into the mitochondria of the testes where it is then converted to pregnenolone and ultimately testosterone.

Mg is also shown to significantly enhance the steroidogenic enzymes, namely, delta(5)3beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3 beta HSD) and 17beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (17 beta HSD), activities at moderate and high dose of magnesium, resulting in increased serum testosterone levels. (16)

3 beta HSD is responsible for the conversion of various hormones to their more potent form in the adrenal gland, namely:

  • pregnenolone ⇒ progesterone
  • 17α-hydroxypregnenolone ⇒ 17α-hydroxyprogesterone
  • dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) ⇒ androstenedione

17β-HSDs have been known to catalyze the following redox reactions of sex steroids:

  • 20α-Hydroxyprogesterone ↔ Progesterone
  • DHEA ↔ Androstenediol
  • Androstenedione ↔ Testosterone
  • Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) ↔ 5α-Androstanedione / 3α-Androstanediol / 3β-Androstanediol

Mg increases free testosterone as well, by binding to SHBG in a nonspecific way, leading to a noncompetitive inhibition with T in binding SHBG and to a subsequent enhancement of Bio-T availability. (17).

Total and free testosterone and IGF-1 are also increased with Mg supplementation in sedentary and trained men. The testosterone increase is showed to be amplified by exercise. (1819)

Mg also stimulates the osteoblast, which aids in increasing bone mineral density and also aids in androgen production. The osteoblast releases undercarboxylated osteocalcin, which in turn stimulate testosterone production. (A)

Mg increases estrogen detoxification by increasing catechol O-methyltransferase (COMT), which is one of the prominent methyltransferases that detox estrogen out of the liver. (20)

Topical Mg (MgCl lotion) twice daily is shown to increase Mg levels in the body as well as DHEAS. This indicates the effectiveness of transdermal Mg application and that it effectively increases the storage levels of DHEA. (49)

Furthermore, Mg increases the conversion of vitamin D into its hormonally active form, which also significantly increases total and free testosterone, lowers cortisol and estrogen, inhibits the aromatase, increases muscle protein synthesis, etc… (More on vitamin D here)

As Mg is essential for ATP production as well as thyroid function, Mg supplementation will lower prolactin by increasing ATP and improving thyroid function (lowering TSH).


Magnesium knocks inflammation down & enhance immunity

An Mg deficiency resulted in an increase in substance P, TNFalpha and IL1beta, which are all markers of inflammation. (21)

Mg seems to be fundamental in maintaining the threshold of antioxidant capacity and the control of oxidative stress (22). Inadequate intracellular Mg may reduce the mitochondrial efficiency and increase the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which then damages proteins  and DNA (23, 24)

Mg increases glutathione, which is an antioxidant defense system in the body, which aids in detoxification, lowers inflammation, etc…


Magnesium improves Thyroid function

Mg-ATP acts on iodine uptake and high doses of Mg increases the activity of the thyroid to produce more thyroid hormones. (25)

There is also a positive correlation between Mg and T4 and T3 levels. Thyroid hormones are responsible for Mg entry into cells.

Mg supplementation, 10mg/kg increased thyroid hormones, free T4 and T3. (26)

Mg mimics/works in synergy with thyroid hormones and deficiencies of both can have similar effects, and that high levels of both also have similar effects.

The chloride from Mg chloride competes with bromide (a toxin which displaces iodine from the thyroid and damages thyroid) at the kidney level and increases the kidney clearance of bromide. Bromine slows the thyroid down, thus Mg can increase thyroid function, and also successfully decrease goiter size.


Magnesium for sleep

Magnesium supplementation brings about statistically significant increases in sleep time, sleep efficiency, concentration of serum renin, and melatonin, and also resulted in a significant decrease in sleep onset latency and serum cortisol concentration. Supplementation also decreased interrupted sleep, which could be due to lower estrogen (A). (27)

I can attest to its improving sleeping “powers”. I suspected I had a long time deficiency in Mg which caused restlessness at night, prolonged sleep onset, interrupted sleep, etc. So I got myself some quality Mg flakes (Mg chloride), and took 5g (290 elemental Mg) before bed. (On top of that I already consumed 600mg dietary Mg daily) It tasted pretty bad alright. It didn’t do anything for my sleep. The next day I took 5g three times throughout the day. Low and behold, my sleep improved pretty remarkably. Now I just continue with 5g before bed. Sometimes it’s needed for much higher doses just to replenish a deficiency.


Magnesium is magic against anxiety & lowers cortisol

Magnesium has been demonstrated to suppress hippocampal kindling (2829), attenuate the release of, and affect adrenocortical sensitivity to, adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) (30). Mg also influences the access of corticosteroids to the brain at the level of the blood-brain barrier via its action on p-glycoprotein (31).

This all in all decreases 1) adrenal gland activity, 2) sensitivity to ACTH, and 3) cortisol access to the brain. Cortisol is known cause anger, irritability, anxiety, poor sleep, fatigue etc… (More on cortisol here and how to lower it.) Mg makes you much more resilient against stress.

Mg also blocks the N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor. (3) NMDA is stimulated by the excitatory neurotransmitters, glutamate and aspartate. Acute and chronic stimulation leads to anxiety, restlessness, feeling wired, etc and can even lead to neurotoxicity.

Mg may additionally modulate anxiety via increasing GABAergic availability by decreasing presynaptic glutamate release. (32).

Mg is also shown to increase the sensitivity of dopamine and serotonin receptors. (33) Further, Mg increases dopamine, by inhibiting the synthesis of noradrenaline from dopamine.


Magnesium improves Glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity

Free Mg(2+) is the primary regulator of glycolysis and the Krebs cycle. Its involved in the conversion of glucose to glucose-6-phosphate via the enzyme hexokinase and fructose-6-phosphate to fructose-1,6- bisphosphate via phosphofructokinase (PFK). These are two very important key regulatory step in the glycolytic pathway. It’s also involved in a-oxoglutarate and a-ketoglutarate oxidation, which is intermediates in the Kreb cycle.

As Mg is responsible for the activation of thiamine, it’s also indirectly involved in glucose oxidation. Thiamine is needed for pyruvate to enter the Kreb cycle to be oxidized for energy. Without thiamine, pyruvate forms lactate and this leads to various acidosis and many other ailments. (A)

Mg also significantly increases insulin sensitivity.


Important Extras

a) Mg improves memory in AD patients. Probably by increasing brain ATP and dopamine and inhibiting NMDA, while lowering serotonin and estrogen. (3)

b) Mg supplementation (1.2g) had a significant positive effect on asthma patients who did not respond to beta-agonists. (3) This is from enhanced muscular relaxation, by antagonizing glutamate and calcium.

c) Mg is referred to as a natural ‘calcium antagonist’. (4) Mg antagonizes calcium-dependent release of acetylcholine at motor endplates in neurons, leading to an inhibitory effect on the excitatory neurotransmitter, which makes it quite effective in preventing strokes. (6)

d) 142mg/day of zinc sulfate inhibits Mg absorption and a large dose Mg will interfere with zinc absorption. (34) However, this is a pretty large dose, which most people don’t take, or need to take at all.

e) Magnesium deficiency can influence selenium bio-availability and tissue distribution and can even cause a deficiency (35).

f) Low Mg intake retards cartilage and bone differentiation as well as matrix calcification. (36) Increased Mg intake increased bone density and collagen formation.


How to ensure maximal absorption

A few conditions/situations increase magnesium excretion namely, diabetes mellitus, renal tubular disorders, hypercalcemia, hyperthyroidism or aldosteronism, profuse sweating and by intense, prolonged stress (adrenaline and cortisol flush Mg out of the body).

The use of the following can also lead to an Mg deficiency, namely diuretics, proton pump inhibitors, excess alcohol, water/fluid consumption, high potassium intake, salt (although salt lower aldosterone and increase Mg retention), phosphoric acid (sodas), coffee and fiber intake. (35) Fiber is known to interfere with macro- and micronutrient absorption and dietary fiber decrease Mg absorption.

Other Mg antagonists (high dose supplements) to avoid when taking Mg: iron, selenium, copper, lithium, silicon / silica, manganese, Vitamin A, Vitamin B1, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, niacin / niacinamide, PABA, Vitamin K, folate, choline, uric acid, alcohol, omega 6. (S)


The following increases Mg absorption and utilization:

  1. Parathyroid hormone. PTH release enhances calcium & magnesium reabsorption in the kidney, absorption in the gut and release from the bone (37). However, hypercalcemia antagonizes this effect. This makes it crucial to have a proper Ca/Mg ratio of about 1:2 or 1:3. You surely don’t want PTH chronically elevated as then positive bone turnover cannot occur, but only bone loss.
  2. Vit D increases Mg absorption, however, the enzyme that converts vitamin D to its active form requires Mg as a cofactor.
  3. Higher protein diet (93g vs 43g) increase Mg absorption. (5)
  4. MCT oil (in infants) (38)
  5. Progesterone helps to retain Mg in the body, but you need Mg to increase progesterone
  6. Licorice root extract inhibits the P450 enzyme in the liver to excrete Mg. However, this is bad if you need to detox other toxins too.
  7. Insulin is necessary for Mg uptake in those tissues that require insulin. (1) So improving insulin sensitivity is a must.
  8. Taurine helps to keep Mg in the cells. (39)
  9. Vitamin E (low dose) increases intracellular Mg. (40) It also potently increases androgens, lowers prolactin and increases glutathione. (More on vitamin E here…)
  10. Vitamin B6 increases Mg retention (41)
  11. Glutathione, the master anti-oxidant system in the body, significantly increases intracellular Mg. (42) Factors that increase glutathione will also have a positive effect on absorption then, such as glycine, glutamine, methionine/cysteine, selenium, niacinamide, riboflavin, anti-oxidants (such as vitamin E), etc…
  12. IGF-1 translocates Mg from the extracellular space to intracellular space. (43)
  13. Exercise will increase the storage need for Mg, although excess exercise can increase Mg loss. (1)
  14. Sodium/potassium bicarbonate. (44) An alkaline cell takes up Mg much more effectively than an acidic cell. The more acidic a mitochondrion is, the less effective it is.
  15. Boron. (45) Get 3mg a day.
  16. Glucagon. (42) A high fat, low carb diet might be advantageous here.
  17. Anti-diuretic hormone (4) a.k.a. vasopressin. This hormones increases in a state of dehydration. Dehydrating is definitely not advised.
  18. Lower estrogen. High estrogen prevents absorption and increases excretion of Mg. (3)
  19. Vitamin B2. (S) Aids in Mg absorption.
  20. Lower homocysteine. (47) Homocysteine increases Mg excretion.


Best magnesium supplement to take

Mg oxide is the most common and also the cheapest, but is by far the worst. Only 4% is absorbed by the body. My wife and I once ingested 4g of Mg oxide and felt absolutely nothing of it. Not even stomach upset.

The following would be the best to get:

Oral: Mg glycinate, Mg citrate, Mg taurate, and Mg orotate (46).

Topical: Mg chloride (MgCl), Mg L-pidolate (magnoil), MgSO4 (Epsom salt)

Just beware of MgCl and MgSO4 (Epsom salt) if you plan of taking these orally, as the magnesium absorption is about 30% whereas the acid, Cl and SO4 absorb approx. 90%, thus putting an acid load on the body. Over time the acid will build up and your kidneys will have to work harder to excrete it, and might even put the body in an unfavorable pH balance. It would be best to take these forms only topically and not every day.

My top two recommendations:

  • Magnoil – 333mg Mg L-pidolate per serving, 30 serving. Close to 100% absorption topically. Can be used both topically or orally.
  • Mg glycinate – 200mg per cap, 180 cap


How to prevent stomach upset

Most people usually experience stomach upset when ingesting Mg. Here are a few ways to bypass that.

Option 1:

Mg bicarbonate: Although you won’t find this in the store you can easily make it yourself, and it’s been extremely well-tolerated by even people that are really sensitive to Mg supplementation.

Recipe: 1L carbonated water + 3tbsp Mg hydroxide. If you still get stomach upset from this rather use 1 tbsp Mg carbonate instead of the Mg hydroxide. Both these concoctions will give you 1500mg elemental Mg a day. You can ingest the whole liter in one day if you like.

Option 2:

Baths: Lots of people feel a relieve when taking MgCl or MgSO4 (Epsom salt) bath. Throw in a generous amount of Mg into the bath and soak away for 30 minutes. This will also help to excrete toxins from your body and increase circulation. For a foot bath, use 1/2 cup to a full cup, and for a whole body bath, throw in 1 pound. Always add equal parts sodium bicarbonate.

Option 3:

Topicals: Topicals absorb pretty well. Use MgCl oil or make your own by dissolving some in water. Spray on yourself and go out in the sun and give it time to absorb. The sun will open your pores and increase absorption. An hour or so would be good. This will help you get some vitamin D as well.

Another good source of transdermal Mg would be Mg acetate, which is metabolized into Mg bicarbonate once it gets inside the body. I make my own lotion with MgCl as mentioned in the androgens section above. You can make your Mg acetate, by using Mg hydroxide mixed with vinegar till it’s dissolved.

Option 4: 

Use smaller doses spread throughout the day. My three top recommendations is Mg pidolate, Mg glycinate and Mg bicarbonate. Try about 200mg at a time, 2-4 times a day.

Option 5:

Coconut oil is antifungal and three heaping tablespoons though the day seems more effective than anything else in preventing diarrhea from excess (therapeutic) doses of magnesium. (1)

Option 6:

Consume with food. If I take MgCl on an empty stomach I get loose stool, but when I take it with a cup of milk I get no problems what so ever.

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