Kerry loves to write about gardening, nutrition, sustainability, and entertainment.
Magnesium is an extremely important nutrient in the body that is involved in more than 300 known interactions. Among the many health problems magnesium plays a role in curing are menstrual cramps and certain other symptoms of PMS.
Unfortunately, magnesium deficiency is extremely common in the United States. Studies by the National Institutes of Health have indicated that at least 68% of adults may be magnesium deficient, while other experts believe the level may be as high as 80%. Although the symptoms of magnesium deficiency remain rare, the concern is that few Americans consume enough dietary magnesium to maintain optimal levels of magnesium in the bones and teeth, which are used as magnesium reservoirs in case of insufficient dietary intake.
How Magnesium Helps Women
Studies have shown significant reductions in a number of common menstrual complaints in women who increased dietary magnesium consumption or were given magnesium supplements. Low levels of magnesium are also common in women who experience menstrual problems.
One of magnesium's many roles is as a muscle relaxant. This is especially important for women who suffer from menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea) because cramps are caused by excessively strong contractions of the uterus. Magnesium helps the powerful uterine muscles relax, reducing cramping.
Magnesium's muscle-relaxing powers also help relieve the PMS or menstrual headaches many women experience.
Menstrual fatigue is another common complaint of women that magnesium can help relieve, though the exact mechanism is uncertain.
Magnesium also reduces other symptoms of PMS, including constipation, water retention and bloating, breast tenderness, and many mood problems, including depression, irritability, and anxiety.
Other Benefits of Magnesium
Magnesium is also is or is suspected to be beneficial to people who have or at high risk for: diabetes, heart disease, chronic fatique syndrome, ADHD, preeclampsia, kidney stones, arthritis, osteoporosis, depression, anxiety disorders, restless leg syndrome, fibromyalgia, migraines, muscle cramps, constipation, high blood pressure, and more.
Dietary Sources of Magnesium
The best sources of magnesium include:
- whole grains
- nuts and seeds, including almonds, peanuts, cashews,and pumpkin seeds
- leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and swiss chard
- beans and legumes, such as black beans
- sea vegetables, such as kelp
- herbs, such as basil
- certain types of fish, especially halibut
- "hard" water
Soy products contain high levels of magnesium. However, phytic acids in some actually block magnesium absorption, so consume soy in limited or moderate quantities, and use primarily traditional, fermented varieties such as miso, which have lower lovels of phytic acids.
Avoiding Magnesium Deficiency
Magnesium is absorbed through the intestines. Only about one third to one half of dietary magnesium is typically absorbed. It is absorbed best in slightly acidic conditions, with healthy gut flora. Fermented foods such as yogurt and kefir with live cultures and sourdough bread can help with this.
Magnesium levels are highest in foods grown in soils rich in organic matter. There must be magnesium in the soil for there to be magnesium in the food. Unfortunately, many conventional crops are grown on depleted soil, and chemical fertilizers do not typically include magnesium. Organic or conventional farms that use compost as fertilizer are a better bet for magnesium rich foods, or you can grow your own!
A balanced and varied diet of healthful foods, low in processed foods, is the best way to ensure sufficient dietary magnesium intake. Processing may strip magnesium content entirely, as happens with white flours, or introduce other nutrients that interfere with normal magnesium absorption and functioning. For example, magnesium is an important factor in regulating insulin levels, so consuming foods high in sugar reduces the ability of the body to use magnesium in other ways.
Another interesting interaction is calcium. Magnesium is required for the body to utilize calcium, but excessive levels of calcium in the body can lead to magnesium deficiency and poor utilization of calcium. The ideal ratio of calcium to magnesium consumption is about 2:1. The ratio in an average glass of milk is about 8:1, so high dairy consumption can worsen magnesium deficiency and, contrary to dairy industry propaganda, actually decrease calcium levels in the body. Moderate to low dairy consumption, in combination with plenty of magnesium-rich plant foods, is a better way to ensure adequate levels of both magnesium and calcium in the body.
Magnesium levels may also be low in people who regularly drink coffee or alcohol. A number of common medications interefere with its absorption, as can certain gastrointensinal diseases such as Crohn's Disease or chronic diarrhea.
What About Supplements?
In general, increasing dietary magnesium is preferable, because it is much harder to overdose. The signs of excess magnesium include diarrhea, confusion, and nausea.
However, supplements are often recommended for the following groups:
- people with chronic malabsorptive problems such as Crohn's disease, gluten sensitive enteropathy, and regional enteritis
- people taking certain medications, including diuretics and antibiotics
Consult your doctor before starting any supplements.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Steph on November 20, 2013:
It better to take it threw your skin (transdermally) because you can't over dose and it won't give you diarrhea if you take too much. Plus your body absorbs it better and more quickly. And your body needs more than the stomach can handle. Look for magnisium oil - you can even make your own!
GirlsGenration on April 19, 2012:
I feel so bitter that I didn't know about this until about 2 years ago. I'm now 41 and my periods are going away, but I've suffered major menstrual cramps since age 24 or 25. Not knowing about it, the only releif I could get was from heavy drinking. Also, I had Crohn's disease for many years, and although my gastroenterologist was good and managed to finally wean me off of steroids, not once did he ever mention magnesium supplementation! I'm upset that he didn't.
Not knowing about magnesium's benefits for menstrual cramps all those years, I turned into a problem drinker/alcoholic. I'm mad that nobody told me about it long ago, so I could've enjoyed my youth while I still had it and not suffered so much through my workdays.
But when I do get my periods, ever since taking the supplement, they sometimes just 'sneak up' on me because I get little to no cramping most times now. Fewer cramps means less pain and less need to drink. There's definitely less of an urge to imbibe regardless of my menstrual cycle, so I agree that it's good for alcoholism too.
And the most obvious benefit is for constipation!
Thelma Alberts from Germany and Philippines on September 01, 2011:
This is a very informative hub. I did not know that magnesium eases menstrual pains. I only know that magnesium is a muscle relaxant, so I take magnesium when I have done a lot of massaging to relax my body and it helps me sleep well after taking the supplement. Thanks for sharing. Voted up.
Cindy A Johnson from Sevierville, TN on May 15, 2011:
My boss had researched this topic for her own menstrual troubles and told me about it. I'm going to have to try magnesium supplements for my menstrual migraines. Thanks for the detailed and informative hub.
k on April 14, 2011:
I started taking 400 mg magnesium citrate (more easily digestible than magnesium oxide) daily because my menstrual cramps were so severe they rendered me dysfunctional. One month in the cramps were 95% eliminated. I was amazed. Not everyone must take it with calcium because of ratios in deficiency, so not everyone is also deficient in calcium. A bloodtest is the easiest way to determine it all, but when in doubt a small amount of supplemented magnesium is worth trying. No need to worry about overdose either, if you take too much you will know because you will be running to the bathroom!
seebasic from Germany on December 22, 2010:
I agree. However, I would add, magnesium does not help alone. The organism also urgently needed twice as much calcium, in order to work with the magnesium. Fortunately, almost every fruit gives this ratio.
North-London from North London, England on June 28, 2010:
Informative hub - I am a big advocate for eating more green food because they contain a large range of minerals and vitamins that our body needs.
Nicole on February 19, 2010:
I have PMDD and I get kidney stones constantly so I started taking magnesium tablets for it. I don't have the depression symptoms that as bad anymore, but my cramps are no better and I seem much more tired. (And if anyone cares, the kidney stones seem to be much less frequent.)
I highly suggest that anyone who seems to have problems because of their period to at least try out the magnesium. It does take a month or two to kick in, but most people don't get enough anyways. Be sure to eat food with it if you are taking a supplement or else you will get stomachaches.
Michel Jayne on January 23, 2010:
I strongly suggest anyone who has problems with their periods to take on this information wisely. A friend of mine told me the same thing about 6 months ago - I began adding magnesium rich foods to my diet and by my next period the problem was a lot better. By the second month it was even better.
Thanks Kerry for spreading the news!
kerryg (author) from USA on December 08, 2008:
I don't know very much about epilepsy, but when I was researching this article, I did notice that epilepsy is often associated with unusually low levels of magnesium and that some doctors have noticed relief of some symptoms in epilptics treated with magnesium supplements due to its relaxing and calming effect on the muscles and nervous system. I would definitely consider asking your doctor about it.
Lgali on December 08, 2008:
nice info.Is this good for epilepsy too?