If you have a deficiency, it’s likely that you'll experience muscle cramps or even an irregular heartbeat, he says.
Chances are, you’re not getting enough.
What aids with muscle function, has anti-inflammatory properties, makes your skin gorgeous AF, and is available in your grocery store? Magnesium, that's what. Though you may not be familiar with the oft-overlooked element, missing out on it could be why you’re not feeling your best during those hardcore sweat sessions or why your skin is looking dull and damaged.
In fact, John Cullen, M.D., a practicing family physician in Valdez, Alaska, says magnesium is one of the main electrolytes governing muscle function. So if you have a deficiency, it’s likely that you'll experience muscle cramps or even an irregular heartbeat, he says.
But that's not all magnesium helps with. Here's why the nutrient should play an important part of your daily nutrition game, and ways you can load up to reap the health and beauty benefits.
Here's a fun fact: dietary surveys of people in the U.S. consistently show that both men and women are not getting enough magnesium, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). In fact, an analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that most Americans, regardless of age, ingest less than the recommended amount. For example, women between the ages of 19 and 30 have a daily recommendation of 310 mg, and those between 31 and 50 are supposed to swallow 320 mg. But the survey showed that the average intake among female adults was 267 mg. So, clearly, we’re falling short.
That's a problem, says Arno Rotgans, M.D., an endovascular surgeon at NYC Surgical Associates. A lot of enzymes in the body rely on magnesium in order to transfer and store energy, he says, so if there's not enough of it then other electrolytes, like calcium and potassium, will be affected.
The upside is that most healthy people probably won't feel that terrible if they're missing the magnesium mark via their diet, according to the NIH. Still, super low intakes or excessive loss of the mineral due to certain health conditions (like Crohn’s disease or cystic fibrosis), alcoholism, or even the use of some medications can lead to a magnesium deficiency. When that happens, it’s common to experience nausea, loss of appetite, or vomiting.
If it continues, symptoms can escalate to numbness and tingling, muscle contractions and cramps, seizures, abnormal heart rhythms, and even personality changes. Seriously. So getting enough magnesium into your system is key.
Other than improving your muscle function and energy levels (and avoiding all of the negative side effects mentioned above), magnesium keeps your skin looking glowy, says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “Magnesium is necessary for maintenance of a healthy skin barrier, and has been shown to help fight off dry, damaged skin.”
That’s why Julia Tzu, M.D., founder and medical director of Wall Street Dermatology, suggests using it in a topical application, too. “Topical magnesium is thought to be anti-inflammatory, and it helps in synthesizing the necessary oils that our skin produces for protection,” she says. Facial powders and mineral makeup usually contain various magnesium compounds, she adds, but don’t rely on it as a main source. Cullen says there’s not a lot of science proving the benefits of topical application, so it’s better to actually ingest it.
Since 30 to 40 percent of dietary magnesium you consume gets absorbed into your body, the best way top get your fill of the skin-and workout-boosting nutrient is through green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and Swiss chard, says Cullen. Nuts, legumes, seeds, and whole grains are also good sources, and the NIH says that, in general, if a food has a lot of fiber, it likely has a decent amount of magnesium in it too. Lastly, Cullen says dark chocolate and avocado are solid sources. Guac, here we come.
Though it's pretty freaking tough to get too much of the mineral through food (since your kidneys flush out excess amounts when you pee), if you take a magnesium supplement you can ingest more than you should, says Rotgans. And that can create unwanted gastrointestinal side effects—err, diarrhea—and, in extreme cases, magnesium toxicity, which could be fatal.
To prevent ODing on the nutrient, Rotgans recommends looking for a multivitamin that has magnesium, iron, vitamin D3, and calcium, so you get a good balance of elements into your system without any overkill. Cullen also suggests looking for a slow-released vitamin. If it’s quickly released your kidneys will likely expel most of what you ingest, he says.