Magnesium is a biologically active mineral that is essential for our body to function.22 It is involved in energy production, protein synthesis, and gene repair, among other physiological functions.11 Sufficient magnesium consumption has been linked to numerous health benefits, including bone health, brain function, and mood regulation.1,23,26 Previous studies have reported that magnesium deficiency was associated with atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), metabolic syndrome, and various cardiovascular issues, such as cardiovascular disease (CVD).11,22
Researchers have extensively studied the link between magnesium and cardiovascular health for nearly nine decades.22 In this article, we will look at what current research says about the connection between magnesium and cardiovascular health. We will talk about how magnesium supports cardiovascular health, the signs and causes of magnesium deficiency, and how you can naturally boost your magnesium levels.
Is magnesium good for cardiovascular health?
Over the last decade, numerous studies have evaluated the relationship between magnesium and heart health. In addition, many studies have focused on the effects of magnesium supplementation in people with high blood pressure. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a significant public health challenge due to its prevalence and association with cardiovascular conditions and death.
Research suggests that there is an inverse relationship between magnesium levels and hypertension, whereby higher magnesium levels were associated with a reduced risk of hypertension. These findings indicate that magnesium supplementation could have blood pressure-lowering effects.
Interestingly, various cardiovascular conditions and magnesium serum levels have a similar relationship. Much literature showed that low serum magnesium levels in healthy and affected individuals were associated with an increased risk of atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, arrhythmia, and heart failure.4,14,24
For instance, one study has found serum magnesium levels to be inversely associated with the risk of heart failure and atrial fibrillation in patients with type 2 diabetes.19 An inverse relationship means higher magnesium serum levels were associated with a lower risk of heart failure and atrial fibrillation.
Similar findings have been reported in studies with healthy individuals. Magnesium also was found to play a role in cardiomyopathy, a disease affecting the heart muscles. Cardiomyopathy and magnesium deficiency are frequently observed in people with high alcohol consumption. Furthermore, researchers reported that people with magnesium-deficient diets spontaneously develop endomyocardial fibrosis, a form of cardiomyopathy.4
Such findings lead to the question of whether increasing our magnesium could improve our heart health. Indeed, magnesium supplementation can be beneficial in people who are at risk or have already developed various cardiovascular conditions. Studies showed that increased magnesium consumption was associated with reduced incidence of CVD, diabetes, and all-cause mortality.6 An adequate magnesium intake was also associated with reduced mortality risk in patients who experienced myocardial infarction.5
The utility of magnesium supplementation has also been emphasized in the emergency department. Several studies showed that magnesium infusions were an effective treatment for patients who presented with atrial fibrillation in the emergency department.10
As you can see, there is a definite link between normal magnesium intake and serum levels, and heart health. However, you might wonder what the potential mechanisms underlie this link. Despite the scientific advances and increased amount of literature on this topic, the exact relation between the two still needs to be established.
However, numerous potential mechanisms could explain how magnesium supports cardiovascular health. Let’s have a look at them in the next section.
How magnesium supports cardiovascular health?
Magnesium is a positively charged (Mg2+) ion that is abundant inside the cells. It is essential for maintaining cell function and energy production. When it comes to the heart, magnesium takes part in regulating the physiological functions of the heart. Magnesium does so by inducing vasodilation and reducing vascular resistance, improving blood circulation, and acting as an anti-inflammatory agent.16
Let’s break down the potential mechanisms of how magnesium supports cardiovascular health include:
Magnesium has been shown to affect vascular stiffness positively. Vascular stiffness is the loss of elasticity of blood vessels. Our blood vessels can stiffen due to aging or underlying health conditions. Multiple studies reported that magnesium supplementation reduces vascular stiffness and has beneficial effects on cardiovascular health.13
Magnesium can reduce and even prevent vascular calcification, abnormal deposition of calcium in the walls of blood vessels. High magnesium intake was identified as protective against calcium deposition by improving vascular stiffness and suppressing the pathway (Wnt/b-catenin) shown to be activated during calcification.21
Magnesium plays a role in vasodilation, which is the widening of blood vessels.3,13, Magnesium acts as a calcium antagonist, meaning it interferes with and hinders calcium function. It does so by blocking calcium channels and not allowing calcium to enter the cell. Once magnesium is in the cell, it can decrease calcium concentration inside the cell, causing vasodilation.13
Furthermore, magnesium stimulates the release of prostacyclin, an effective vasodilator with anti-thrombotic and anti-inflammatory properties.9 Vasodilation leads to improved circulation and decreases blood pressure.
Magnesium deficiency has been linked to inflammation. Hypomagnesemia leads to oxidative stress, which activates inflammatory events that could eventually result in atherosclerosis, thrombosis, and vascular calcification.13,24
Magnesium supplementation can have positive effects on insulin resistance. A high magnesium intake could improve insulin sensitivity and reduce insulin resistance, thereby stabilizing insulin levels in diabetic patients. Reducing insulin resistance is essential to prevent the development of CVD.15,18
Signs of magnesium deficiency
Magnesium deficiency, also referred to as hypomagnesemia (less than 1.46 mg/dL), is widespread in the general population and hospitalized patients. Magnesium deficiency has been reported in healthy individuals and those with underlying health conditions.11 Hypomagnesemia occurs when some trigger alters the normal magnesium levels in the body. Medications, disease, or diet can cause this.
In Western countries, magnesium intake is inadequate due to decreased presence of the mineral in the diet, primarily characterized by processed foods and demineralized water.7,22 Furthermore, people in Western countries eat food that is grown on initially magnesium-deficient soil. Epidemiological studies report that people living in Western countries and consuming a Western diet have insufficient micronutrient consumption, with magnesium intake making only 30-50% of the required daily intake.22 Apart from an inadequate diet, hypomagnesemia can be a result of decreased magnesium intake (e.g., starvation, chronic alcohol use, cancer, terminally ill patients), medication (e.g., chemotherapy drugs, pentamidine, aminoglycosides), and gastrointestinal and renal conditions (e.g., ulcerative colitis, pancreatitis, Bartter syndrome).2,12,25
Sings of magnesium deficiency can vary from vague and non-specific to very serious, causing or adding to underlying health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Patients with hypomagnesemia can initially present with fatigue, weakness, nausea, and vomiting.12 Later and more severe symptoms can include: 8,17
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Atrial fibrillation
- Cardiac ischemia
- Anxiety and depression
- Muscle spasms/cramps
- Increased urination
- Electrolyte/hormone abnormalities (e.g., hypocalcemia)
Magnesium deficiency can be treated depending on the severity of the symptoms and the patient’s kidney function. Administering magnesium sulfate can replenish magnesium levels. The dose depends on the initial magnesium levels, a patient’s medical history, and age. The dose is reduced by 50% for patients with abnormal kidney function, and the individuals are closely monitored as they are at risk of hypermagnesemia. Asymptomatic patients can be treated with commercially-available magnesium supplements. However, individuals with hypomagnesemia should also consider dietary magnesium, natural food sources rich in magnesium.
Natural food sources of magnesium
Magnesium is a mineral that can be found in a variety of natural food sources:7,11,20,22
- Whole grain bread
- Grains (e.g., buckwheat)
- Fish (e.g., halibut)
- Green leafy vegetables (e.g., spinach, seaweed)
- Seeds (e.g., pumpkin, sunflower)
- Nuts (e.g., cashews, almonds)
- Legumes (e.g., chickpeas, lentils, beans)
- Dried banana
However, magnesium in these foods largely depends on factors such as soil content, irrigation procedures, use of fertilizers, and food processing, among others.7 Therefore, the amount of magnesium in a chosen food product can drastically change based on food processing techniques. For instance, refining white rice can lead to losing up to 83% of initially available magnesium. Furthermore, only 30-40% of dietary magnesium is actually absorbed by our body, making the end magnesium concentration very low. Therefore, although it is possible to get adequate amounts of magnesium from your diet, it can be challenging.
There are multiple ways to increase your magnesium levels. Firstly, by maximizing the magnesium content from your natural food sources. To do that, you can:7
- Avoid food refinement and processing
- Take vitamin D: which increases magnesium absorption
- Take vitamin B6: engages with magnesium and increases the accumulation of magnesium inside the cells
- Drink magnesium-rich water
- Decrease calcium intake: high calcium intake can reduce magnesium absorption by our bodies
- Avoid alcohol, coffee, and soft drinks: these beverages decrease magnesium levels
Secondly, by taking magnesium supplements. This could be an excellent option for people who have difficulty meeting their required daily magnesium intake through diet.
Side effects and other concerns
There are potential side effects and risks associated with magnesium consumption. For instance, magnesium supplements can lead to nausea and diarrhoea. Furthermore, magnesium can potentially interact with your other medications if you are taking any. This is particularly important to people taking antibiotics or heart medicine. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has published a list of magnesium interactions. However, it is highly recommended to consult your doctor before you start taking magnesium supplements. It is especially important if you are taking medication that could potentially overlap with magnesium or if you have any concerns.
As with everything, magnesium is only good in moderation. There is a risk of overdose if you consume too much magnesium, leading to abnormally high levels of this mineral in your blood, also referred to as hypermagnesemia.7 The symptoms of overdose usually depend on the magnesium serum levels:
- Mild hypermagnesemia (<7 mg/dL): usually no symptoms, but sometimes people can experience stomach cramps, weakness, nausea, and diarrhoea.
- Moderate hypermagnesemia (7-12 mg/dL): reduced blood pressure, blurred vision, confusion, sleepiness, headache, and constipation.
- Severe hypermagnesemia (>12 mg/dL): difficulty breathing, decreased breathing rate, hypotension.
- Extreme hypermagnesemia (>15 mg/dL): coma and cardiac arrest.
Therefore, it is essential to be mindful of your magnesium consumption as it can be potentially dangerous.
Magnesium is an essential mineral in our body responsible for numerous physiological functions. Its role has been extensively studied in heart health. Recent research shows a link between magnesium and heart health but the exact mechanisms that underlie it remain to be established.
Adequate magnesium consumption and serum levels are associated with normal blood pressure and reduced risks of CVD, atherosclerosis, atrial fibrillation, and heart failure. Abnormally low magnesium levels, and hypomagnesemia, is widespread in the general population, and the symptoms can vary from very mild to very serious.
Therefore, magnesium should be neither underestimated nor ignored. We can increase our magnesium consumption by increasing the intake of magnesium-rich foods, such as grains, seeds, nuts, and fish. An alternative way to increase magnesium levels is through taking supplements. It is essential to be cautious when increasing your magnesium consumption and be aware of the potential side effects of hypermagnesemia.
- Abbasi B, Kimiagar M, Sadeghniiat K, Shirazi MM, Hedayati M, Rashidkhani B. The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Res Med Sci. 2012 Dec;17(12):1161–9.
- Ayuk J, Gittoes NJL. How should hypomagnesemia be investigated and treated?: How should hypomagnesemia be investigated and treated? Clinical Endocrinology. 2011 Dec;75(6):743–6.
- Chang J, Armonda R, Goyal N, Arthur A. Magnesium: Pathophysiological mechanisms and potential therapeutic roles in intracerebral hemorrhage. Neural Regen Res. 2019;14(7):1116.
- DiNicolantonio JJ, Liu J, O’Keefe JH. Magnesium for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease. Open Heart. 2018;5(2):e000775.
- Evers I, Cruijsen E, Kornaat I, Winkels RM, Busstra MC, Geleijnse JM. Dietary magnesium and risk of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality after myocardial infarction: A prospective analysis in the Alpha Omega Cohort. Front Cardiovasc Med. 2022 Aug 12;9:936772.
- Fang X, Wang K, Han D, He X, Wei J, Zhao L, et al. Dietary magnesium intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and all-cause mortality: a dose–response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. BMC Med. 2016 Dec;14(1):210.
- Fiorentini D, Cappadone C, Farruggia G, Prata C. Magnesium: Biochemistry, Nutrition, Detection, and Social Impact of Diseases Linked to Its Deficiency. Nutrients. 2021 Mar 30;13(4):1136.
- Gilardi E, Marsiliani D, Nicolò R, Petrucci M, Torelli E, Racco S, et al. Magnesium sulphate in the Emergency Department: an old, new friend. European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences. 2019 May;23(9):4052–63.
- Gomberg-Maitland M, Olschewski H. Prostacyclin therapies for the treatment of pulmonary arterial hypertension. European Respiratory Journal. 2008 Apr 1;31(4):891–901.
- Hoffer M, Tran QK, Hodgson R, Atwater M, Pourmand A. Utility of magnesium sulfate in the treatment of rapid atrial fibrillation in the emergency department: a systematic review and meta-analysis. European Journal of Emergency Medicine. 2022 Aug;29(4):253–61.
- Ismail AA, Ismail NA. Magnesium: A Mineral Essential for Health Yet Generally Underestimated or Even Ignored. J Nutr Food Sci [Internet]. 2016 [cited 2022 Dec 28];6(4). Available from: https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/magnesium-a-mineral-essential-for-health-yet-generally-underestimatedor-even-ignored-2155-9600-1000523.php?aid=75451
- Jahnen-Dechent W, Ketteler M. Magnesium basics. Clinical Kidney Journal. 2012 Feb 1;5(Suppl 1):i3–14.
- Joris PJ, Plat J, Bakker SJ, Mensink RP. Long-term magnesium supplementation improves arterial stiffness in overweight and obese adults: results of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled intervention trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 May;103(5):1260–6.
- Kieboom BCT, Niemeijer MN, Leening MJG, van den Berg ME, Franco OH, Deckers JW, et al. Serum Magnesium and the Risk of Death From Coronary Heart Disease and Sudden Cardiac Death. JAHA. 2016 Jan 13;5(1):e002707.
- Liu H, Li N, Jin M, Miao X, Zhang X, Zhong W. Magnesium supplementation enhances insulin sensitivity and decreases insulin resistance in diabetic rats. Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences [Internet]. 2020 Aug [cited 2022 Dec 28];23(8). Available from: https://doi.org/10.22038/ijbms.2020.40859.9650
- Mathew AA, Panonnummal R. ‘Magnesium’-the master cation-as a drug—possibilities and evidences. Biometals. 2021 Oct;34(5):955–86.
- Moe SM. Disorders Involving Calcium, Phosphorus, and Magnesium. Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice. 2008 Jun;35(2):215–37.
- Morais JBS, Severo JS, de Alencar GRR, de Oliveira ARS, Cruz KJC, Marreiro D do N, et al. Effect of magnesium supplementation on insulin resistance in humans: A systematic review. Nutrition. 2017 Jun;38:54–60.
- Oost LJ, van der Heijden AAWA, Vermeulen EA, Bos C, Elders PJM, Slieker RC, et al. Serum Magnesium Is Inversely Associated With Heart Failure, Atrial Fibrillation, and Microvascular Complications in Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2021 Aug 1;44(8):1757–65.
- Razzaque M. Magnesium: Are We Consuming Enough? Nutrients. 2018 Dec 2;10(12):1863.
- Schutten JC, Joosten MM, de Borst MH, Bakker SJL. Magnesium and Blood Pressure: A Physiology-Based Approach. Advances in Chronic Kidney Disease. 2018 May;25(3):244–50.
- Song Y, Liu S. Magnesium for cardiovascular health: time for intervention. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2012 Feb 1;95(2):269–70.
- Sun C, Wang R, Li Z, Zhang D. Dietary magnesium intake and risk of depression. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2019 Mar;246:627–32.
- Tangvoraphonkchai K, Davenport A. Magnesium and Cardiovascular Disease. Advances in Chronic Kidney Disease. 2018 May;25(3):251–60.
- Viering DHHM, de Baaij JHF, Walsh SB, Kleta R, Bockenhauer D. Genetic causes of hypomagnesemia, a clinical overview. Pediatr Nephrol. 2017 Jul;32(7):1123–35.
- Yamanaka R, Shindo Y, Oka K. Magnesium Is a Key Player in Neuronal Maturation and Neuropathology. IJMS. 2019 Jul 12;20(14):3439.
- Zhang X, Li Y, Del Gobbo LC, Rosanoff A, Wang J, Zhang W, et al. Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Blood Pressure: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trials. Hypertension. 2016 Aug;68(2):324–33.