A heartbroken person elbows deep in a chocolate binge isn’t just a movie trope. It’s a thing—people who are depressed eat about 55 percent more chocolate than their perkier counterparts. But maybe it’s more than emotional eating. The chocolate-eating may actually help them feel better and improve overall mood thanks to the magnesium in dark chocolate.
We’ll get to the mood-boosting benefits of magnesium in second, but the mineral is a powerhouse for more than a few reasons. Sure, it’s probably not one of the first vitamins you’d think of when asked to rank the most essential nutrients. But magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral found in our bodies—which makes it pretty dang important, and definitely gives the vitamins A, B, C, D, and E a run for their money.
Not only is it important for building strong bones, but it’s also related to hundreds of other enzymatic processes in the body. You might be short on magnesium if you have trouble sleeping, a slow metabolism, headaches, anxiety, or depression. Basically, everyone can benefit from adding a little more of this miraculous mineral into their daily routine. Here’s everything you need to know about magnesium and where to find it.
What does magnesium do?
Magnesium is found in literally every cell in your body, where it acts as a helper molecule called a cofactor. Because it aids in biochemical reactions performed by enzymes, magnesium is intrinsically linked to our energy levels. It converts food into energy for our cells, which impacts how energetic we feel overall. It’s also key in creating protein, repairing DNA and RNA, and regulating messages from the brain to muscles.
Inflammation may be one of the leading causes of chronic disease, obesity, and premature aging—and low magnesium levels are linked to increased inflammation in the body. Taking a magnesium supplement is an easy way to remedy the situation. Supplementing with magnesium can generally help alleviate inflammation whether it’s caused by environmental factors (eating allergenic foods, exposure to chemicals) or exhaustion. It’s also been shown to reduce blood levels of C-reactive proteins, a common marker of inflammation.
Relieves symptoms of PMS
Ladies, that week (or two weeks, if you’re really lucky) leading up to, or during, a menstrual cycle can be brutal. Water retention, weight gain, cramps, irritability, lower back pain—it ain’t pretty, and it definitely isn’t fun. Good news: That chocolate craving that also tends to strike around this time might actually ease symptoms.
Improves metabolic function
One of magnesium’s most important jobs is transforming food into energy for cells—and a deficiency can spell big problems for the metabolism. When blood sugar levels are stable, sugar is converted into energy; but when blood sugar spikes, the body begins to store sugar as belly fat. Magnesium seems to help insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar, function optimally, and it’s worth noting that nearly half of diabetics have lower-than-normal amounts of magnesium.
In a small study of 47 metabolically obese normal weight people (individuals who aren’t technically obese but have prediabetic indicators like high cholesterol, a high percentage of body fat, and high blood pressure), those who took a magnesium supplement daily for four months significantly improved overall metabolic function.
Helps with migraines
Anyone who has ever suffered from one of these brain-splitting headaches knows there’s no remedy too crazy to try. Researchers from the New York Headache Center believe that almost all migraine sufferers should be treated with magnesium supplementation, and that the onset of headaches could stem from a deficiency. A few studies have even shown positive outcomes for magnesium supplementation in children who get migraines as well as adults with two to five episodes a month.
Taking magnesium can influence mood for the better. In a meta-analysis of more than 8,000 people, those with the lowest magnesium intake were 22 percent more likely to be clinically depressed. While it seems to be effective at treating depression, more research on the topic is needed before doctors can responsibly recommend magnesium over an antidepressant medication.
Forms of magnesium
Magnesium is abundantly available in foods, especially leafy greens, nuts, legumes, and whole grains. Mineral and tap water can also be a pretty decent sources. Unfortunately, whether you get it from food or water, only about 30 to 40 percent of dietary magnesium can be absorbed by the body.
When it comes to supplements, magnesium oxide, citrate, and chloride are the most popular forms; citrate and chloride are more easily absorbed by the body. There’s also evidence that forms of magnesium that absorb well in liquid (like Natural Calm) are more bioavailable than capsules.
Do you need to supplement with magnesium?
Here’s the real bummer—nearly 50 percent of people don’t get enough magnesium on a daily basis. There’s a lot of speculation as to why this might be the case. Some experts believe that the soil we grow our food in is deficient in magnesium, which means that crops don’t absorb enough to begin with. And then, of course, there’s the Standard American Diet, which has become less reliant on fresh, whole foods (the kind that are rich in magnesium) and more dependent on processed foods.
If you think you might be deficient, it might be time to try magnesium supplement. As always, check with a doctor before starting any supplement regimen, and focus on getting as many nutrients from food as possible. But if all else fails, products like Natural Calm (a quick-absorbing form of magnesium) can make a huge difference in daily health.
Illustration by Foley Wu