June 12, 2024

Health Supplements

Health Supplements make us strong and powerful

Everything you need to know about magnesium

3 min read

Sleep

“Magnesium is involved in various processes that could impact sleep,” says Dr Guy Meadows, co-founder and clinical lead of Sleep School. “It plays a role in regulating neurotransmitters and hormones related to sleep, such as melatonin. Additionally, magnesium has a calming effect on the nervous system, potentially reducing stress and promoting relaxation, which are conducive to better sleep.”

A note of caution, however. The research on magnesium’s impact on sleep is “not entirely conclusive”, he says, noting that individual responses can vary. While some studies do suggest a link between magnesium supplementation and improved sleep, more rigorous, large-scale clinical trials are needed to establish conclusive evidence. 

Might it be that magnesium’s influence on sleep stems from its power to reduce anxiety? “I think that’s a powerful factor in it,” says Mullan, who takes magnesium glycinate every evening. “If I’ve been ‘on it’ all day, I just know I’m going to have a much better quality sleep as a result [of taking it].” 

He has witnessed the effect on others too. “Earlier this year, we worked with a CrossFit athlete, helping to optimise his performance. Because athletes train and work hard, they often have higher cortisol or stress levels and so struggle to get to sleep.” This particular athlete, like many others, also wore a device to monitor key aspects of his health. Over the course of two weeks, it tracked dramatic improvements in his sleep. “The only thing that he had changed was adding magnesium glycinate into his routine,” says Mullan. 

Earlier this year, a systematic review concluded that observational studies did suggest an association between magnesium levels and sleep quality. Randomised control tests, on the other hand, were less conclusive. So the jury is still out. But if your insomnia is rooted in mild anxiety, magnesium is worth a shot. 

Muscles and cramping

On social media, however, magnesium’s benefits are lauded for another reason: its supposed effects on fitness and sporting performance. The science of this is largely down to the fact that magnesium counters the effects of calcium. Inside your muscles, calcium binds to proteins, changing their shape and making them contract. Magnesium reverses this work, relaxing your muscles, so if your levels are low you may get cramps, spasms or restless leg syndrome at night.

“Anecdotally, a lot of people say it reduces their cramping and there have been studies on athletes showing it helps with muscle strength, power and endurance,” says Mullan. That said: “There have been a few contradictory studies on muscles and cramping,” says Mullan. Some indicate benefits, others none at all.  

Menopause

There is evidence that magnesium has a positive effect on some symptoms of the menopause too, says Mullan. Progesterone has a taming influence over cortisol, a stress hormone. As progesterone levels drop during the menopause, cortisol increases. Magnesium, says Mullan, seems to help to counteract that. Some also claim that magnesium can help with hot flushes but, says Mullan, “I’ve not seen compelling evidence on that.”

Immune system

As well as giving us that “fight or flight” feeling, cortisol also suppresses the immune system, so magnesium has an indirect, positive impact simply by suppressing cortisol release, says Mullan. But there’s more. 

Our immune systems are bolstered by an antioxidant called glutathione, and magnesium is vital in managing its production, he explains. It also plays an important role in the growth of immune cells like lymphocytes, and in making the proteins that fight infection in the body, explains Mullan. 

B and T cells help the immune system to identify and fight threats. Their activation relies, in part, on an enzyme called phospholipase C, which in turn needs magnesium in order to function. A 2023 review in the Journal of Health Population and Nutrition concluded that magnesium is “essential for optimal immune function and regulating inflammation” and that, under appropriate medical supervision, “enhancing [magnesium] intake could potentially serve as a cost-effective and economically viable strategy for immune regulation and preventing cancer”.

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