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Magnesium is brilliant for sleep and cramps - here's how to get enough of it

Amid wellness trends like sea moss and custard apples, there's one classic yet oh-so-important nutrient dominating the industry: magnesium. Magnesium-rich foods are continuously trending on google as people take to the search engine to find the simplest ways to top up on this nutrient - but do you know exactly why it's so important?

'Magnesium is an essential mineral that is involved in over 600 cellular reactions in the body, from supporting brain function to maintaining a healthy heartbeat and making DNA,' says nutritionist Eli Brecher. Sounds important, right? Yet, up to 30% of people are at risk of low magnesium levels.

What are the benefits of magnesium?

As Brecher said, magnesium is associated with many, many processes in the body. But getting enough of it comes with certain benefits, including:

Magnesium helps fuel exercise performance

A study from the University of East Anglia looked at 2,570 women aged 18 to 79 years old and found that those who had the highest intake of magnesium had more muscle mass and power. It was even shown to be more important than protein intake when it came to improving fat-free mass. 

Magnesium helps PMS reduction

A report from the Magnesium Research journal found that magnesium supplementation can prevent or reduce symptoms of dysmenorrhea, PMS and menstrual migraines.

Magnesium supports muscles

Magnesium is thought to be effective at reduce muscle cramping, with a 2021 Nutrition Journal study reporting that magnesium improved night time leg cramping in sufferers. Meanwhile, the reduction in PMS pain includes stomach cramps, as it's thought to reduce uterus cramping.

Magnesium helps to improves sleep

Magnesium is a popular pre-bed supplement and, according to The Sleep Foundation, magnesium may relax the central nervous system and cause chemical reactions in the body that increase sleepiness. A 2021 paper reported that older adults with insomnia who took 500 milligrams of magnesium a day for eight weeks fell asleep fast, stayed asleep longer, reduced nighttime awakenings and increased their levels of naturally circulating melatonin.


Foods high in magnesium

According to Brecher, the best foods for magnesium include:

  • Green leafy vegetables like spinach (around 12mg of magnesium per 100g) and kale (44g of magnesium per 100g)
  • Pumpkin seeds (262mg per 100g) and flax seeds (392mg per 100g)
  • Almonds (285mg per 100g) and cashews (292mg per 100g)
  • Avocado (58mg per medium fruit)
  • Dark chocolate (232mg per 100g)
  • Wholemeal bread (82mg per 100g)

But did you know you can get extra magnesium by absorbing it through the skin? 'Adding some Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) to a bath is a great way to soothe sore muscles and aid recovery after exercise while winding down in the evening,' says Brecher.


How to make sure you get enough magnesium

Before you start adding more magnesium to your diet, check if you're already getting enough. 'The UK recommended daily allowance for magnesium is 300mg for men and 270mg for woman,' says Brecher.

'In theory, you can get all the magnesium you need from a healthy, balanced diet. However, so many of us don’t eat a balanced diet – at least not consistently, day in, day out – and many of us are not meeting our daily requirements for magnesium.' 

There are a couple of ways you can help your body make the most of your magnesium intake:

  • Pair it with vitamin B6: 'The amount of vitamin B6 in the body determines how much magnesium will be absorbed, so if you take a multivitamin containing B vitamins or a B-vitamin complex, take this alongside eating your magnesium-rich foods to optimise absorption,' says Brecher.
  • Time your other minerals: 'Taking zinc supplements and eating calcium-rich foods at the same time as magnesium-rich foods both reduce how much magnesium you absorb, so it’s a good idea to have these at different times,' Brecher adds.
  • Get the right supplement: there are many types of magnesium, so if you think it's time to test a supplement, make sure you choose the right one. 'For example, magnesium glycinate may be helpful for sleep and anxiety, magnesium threonate may support brain function, magnesium malate may help support energy levels, while magnesium citrate can have a slight laxative effect, so maybe helpful for constipation,' says Brecher.

There are some people who need to be more cautious than others when it comes to their magnesium intake. 'People following a restricted diet (low in vegetables and nuts) may not be getting enough magnesium in their diet, and low magnesium levels are more common in older adults, as magnesium absorption from the gut decreases with age. 


'Certain gastrointestinal conditions such as Crohn’s and coeliac disease have been associated with magnesium deficiency, and various medications may deplete magnesium or make it harder to absorb, including blood pressure medications, antibiotics or diuretics,' explains Brecher.

And before anyone starts changing their diet or adding supplements, it's always best to check in with your GP. Overdoing the magnesium can cause diarrhoea, according to the NHS, so it's important not to eat too much. 'Magnesium can also interact with common medications, so always speak to a healthcare professional before taking supplements,' advises Brecher. 

Story by Chloe Gray: Womens Health UK 

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