Can magnesium help muscle cramps? Only on one condition
Background information

Can magnesium help muscle cramps? Only on one condition

Anna Sandner
Translation: Elicia Payne

Your metabolism, hormones, bones, muscles and heart all need magnesium. Find out here which foods contain high amounts of it and how to tell when you’re deficient in it.

Magnesium is the third most common element in the earth’s crust. It also plays an important role in the human body and is essential for many metabolic processes. Muscles, nerves and blood pressure wouldn’t function without the mineral. Hundreds of enzymes wouldn’t be able to do their job without magnesium.

Why your body needs magnesium

You’re probably already aware that magnesium is essential for our muscles. If you don’t have enough magnesium, the transmission of signals between your nerves and muscles can be disrupted. This makes it difficult or even impossible to control your muscles and it may lead to muscle cramps. They’re particularly unpleasant when they suddenly occur in the middle of the night and you’re woken up by a cramp in your calf, foot or abs.

Magnesium is also a crucial component for your energy metabolism. Enzymes that are responsible for converting food into energy are dependent on magnesium. This is particularly important for organs with a high energy requirement such as the heart and liver. Magnesium is also necessary for the activation of over 600 other enzymes. Without this mineral, pretty much nothing functions. This is because the reactions it triggers are instrumental for metabolism, energy production, cell regeneration and many other vital functions.

Magnesium also regulates our heart rhythm and blood pressure. It stabilises the electrical activity of the heart and thus reduces the risk of cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). Maintaining bone health is another important responsibility for magnesium. Together with calcium, magnesium strengthens the bones and reduces the risk of osteoporosis.

  • Background information

    Beyond milk: what else contains calcium and what do you need it for?

    by Anna Sandner

What happens when you have magnesium deficiency?

Let me just start by clarifying that if you usually eat a balanced diet, a magnesium deficiency is unlikely. Our food generally contains enough magnesium. However, if we’re deficient, this can lead to fatigue, lower productivity and – due to its crucial role in muscle contraction – muscle cramps.

That being said, not all muscle cramp is caused by a magnesium deficiency. Muscle cramps at sport often stem from incorrect or excessive strain during training. Drinking more during exercise washes minerals out of the body, including magnesium, which is important for the muscles. However, the use of magnesium as a medicinal treatment against calf cramps or muscle problems is not scientifically proven. If there’s no deficiency, a magnesium tablet won’t help against the cramp. The European Food Safety Authority therefore doesn’t officially allow magnesium to be advertised as a relief for cramps, they only allow the following health claim: «magnesium contributes to normal muscle function». Too much of the mineral, on the other hand, can cause diarrhoea.

Magnesium deficiency is more common in old age, as less is absorbed in the intestine and more is lost via the kidneys. In addition, an imbalance of magnesium can be caused by medication, an increased magnesium requirement due to age and chronic illnesses. A mild magnesium deficiency is difficult to detect. Chronic magnesium deficiency, on the other hand, can increase free radical formation, which is linked to the development of several age-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, muscle disorders and dementia. A balanced intake of magnesium from your diet, drinking water containing magnesium or taking food supplements can help a deficiency.

What contains high amounts of magnesium?

As is so often the case, a balanced diet is the key to magnesium. Whole grain products, pulses, seeds and nuts, green leafy vegetables, fish and seafood contain a lot of magnesium. But the smaller amounts of magnesium in potatoes, bananas, meat, milk and dairy products also ensure that you get enough magnesium.

What else there is to know about magnesium

Magnesium isn’t just essential for us humans, plants are also fundamentally dependent on the mineral. This is because it’s the central atom in chlorophyll (the green pigment in plants that’s responsible for photosynthesis). Without magnesium, the plant and animal world wouldn’t exist, as photosynthesis forms the basis of the food chain.

You may remember magnesium fires from school. The mineral is known for its bright and intense light when it burns. This is why it’s used for signal fires, flares and even as a fire starter in survival kits.

And yet, at the same time, it’s also a flame retardant. Thanks to its high reactivity, it can prevent the formation of flames when incorporated into certain materials such as plastics or textiles.

In medicine, magnesium is used to treat asthma, cardiac arrhythmia, migraines and pre-eclampsia. It can also be used as a laxative and as a remedy for heartburn and stomach complaints.

Header image: voronaman/Shutterstock

136 people like this article

User Avatar
User Avatar

Science editor and biologist. I love animals and am fascinated by plants, their abilities and everything you can do with them. That's why my favourite place is always outside - somewhere in nature, preferably in my wild garden.

Follow topics and stay updated on your areas of interest

These articles might also interest you