While once upon a time it was perceived as a good old run of the mill, bog standard, workhorse mineral, these days magnesium gets bottled up and touted as a miracle cure for everything from sleepless nights, to diabetes, depression, high blood pressure, muscle performance and? Yep, you guessed it: infertility and stress.
No doubt about it, magnesium is an absolutely critical mineral used by every organ in the body. It is involved in literally hundreds of broad and varied biochemical reactions required for normal functioning, including regulating body temperature, protein synthesis, building DNA, cell energy, insulin release and muscle contractions,to name a few. Low levels of magnesium also make Vitamin D ineffective.
But is there actually any evidence to back up the claims that magnesium can boost fertility, and help manage the anxiety that often accompanies trying to conceive, or planning for future fertility?
Let's take a look at what the science says...
What You Need to Know
Magnesium is used by every organ in your body
Magnesium deficiency has been linked to infertility, and to complications during pregnancy
There is also evidence to suggest magnesium plays a key role in mood disorders like anxiety and depression, and supplementation may help alleviate symptoms
Over 15% of people with suffer from an anxiety disorder in their lifetime; your chance of experiencing this is even higher if you undergo fertility treatment
Magnesium deficiency is consistently found to be common in those eating Western diets, especially among women and those living in low-income areas
Signs of magnesium deficiency include: photosensitive headaches, muscle cramps, fatigue, abnormal heart rhythms, spasms, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome. However, it is fairly uncommon for low magnesium intake to cause symptoms in healthy people
Although a diet filled with magnesium rich foods should give adequate amounts to healthy people, supplementation can fill the gap in those who are deficient
Magnesium and Fertility
Although the exact mechanism is still unclear, researchers believe there is a link between magnesium deficiency and infertility, particularly in women. In a number of studies, women with infertility have been found to have low levels of magnesium in their blood, and in a small study infertile women who were supplemented with magnesium and selenium all became pregnant within 8 months.
Although the effects on the eggs themselves are unclear, it's known that magnesium helps maintain a good blood supply to the womb and is vital for the production of progesterone, "the pregnancy hormone." Low magnesium intake is also linked to chronic inflammation, which is one of the drivers of aging and associated with poor egg quality and poor fertility outcomes.
That isn't to say taking a magnesium pill will work miracles for every woman who struggles to conceive - there are a whole host of factors that contribute to infertility, many of them structural or genetic. However, it's worth ensuring you are getting the recommended levels of this essential mineral (and others).
Magnesium is not just important whilst trying to optimize fertility and get pregnant, but during pregnancy itself, too. Magnesium deficiency in pregnancy has been associated with a higher risk of problems with the placenta, miscarriage and premature birth.
Magnesium and Stress
Over 15% of people will be affected by an anxiety related condition in their lifetime - it's the most common affective disorder. And undergoing fertility treatment, or having concerns about your fertility, makes the likelihood of experiencing anxiety even bigger.
Studies have shown that magnesium-deficient diets are associated with depression and even suicide.That's because magnesium plays a central role in the activity of psychoneuroendocrine systems and biological and transduction pathways associated with depression.
A Vicious Circle
The science is clear that magnesium plays an important part in mood disorders, like anxiety and depression (which often go hand in hand).
But what's less commonly known is that both stress and magnesium deficiency increase each other’s negative effects - they're trapped in a vicious circle.
Magnesium and Stress Hormones
Magnesium is involved in modulating activity of a system in your body called the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis (HPA axis) which is part of its stress response system. When the HPA axis is activated, it triggers a whole host of hormonal and behavioral responses, including increasing anxiety. Studies have shown that even exposure to stressors like noise and exam stress moderates magnesium levels in the body. When the pee of people who are facing stressful exam conditions is tested, it shows increased magnesium excretion.
What's the Case for Supplementation?
The common case made against taking supplements is that people should be able to get enough magnesium from their diets.
However, the reality is that in Western populations, there is often inadequate intake of magnesium containing foods. Studies have shown that 68% of Americans and 72% of middle aged French adults get less than the recommended dietary levels.
Women and people living in low-income regions are more prone to magnesium deficiency. You are also more likely to be deficient in magnesium if you have a gastrointestinal disorder, suffer from alcoholism or have type 2 diabetes.
Some researchers now even posit that low magnesium content of modern food may cause many cases of depression and anxiety. Soil depletion means that the food grown today doesn't necessarily have the same nutritional value as food grown in, say, the 1950s.
Signs of Magnesium Deficiency
The US National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements says that although "dietary surveys of people in the United States consistently show that intakes of magnesium are lower than recommended amounts" it is relatively uncommon for low dietary intake of magnesium to actually cause symptoms in otherwise healthy people.
However, these may include:
Insomnia: That's because thought magnesium is crucial for GABA function, which calms the brain and promotes relaxation.
Migraines: Photosensitive headaches are linked to deficiency, thanks to the role magnesium plays balancing neurotransmitters
Fatigue: Tiredness, low energy and weakness
High Blood Pressure
Cramps or Spasms
While the clinical form of testing for magnesium deficiency is a blood test, that can't tell you how much magnesium is in the rest of your body, such as in your muscles and bones. However, it's the best indicator there is.
A normal blood magnesium level is 1.8 to 2.2 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), and below 1.8 mg/dL is considered low.
Effect of supplements
Research has shown that magnesium supplementation during pregnancy is likely to decrease the likelihood of many complications, such as stillbirth and preeclampsia.
Although the US Office of Dietary Supplements recommendation is that women over 31 years old consume 320 mg of magnesium/day, though that recommendation increases to 360 mg daily during pregnancy. Women under 30 years old should take 310mg, increasing to 350mg during pregnancy. If you are deficient, it's likely your doctor will prescribe a higher dose to correct the deficiency.
Taking magnesium supplements has been shown to reduce the activity of the HPA axis, including lowering stress hormones.
In addition to reducing anxiety, studies have shown that magnesium supplements can effectively treat depression. In fact, taking 450mg for 12 weeks has been shown to be as effective in reducing depression symptoms as a common antidepressant. However, note that this study involved depressed elderly patients with type II diabetes with magnesium deficiencies. It's not clear the same response would be found in healthy, young people with adequate magnesium levels. Although there is further evidence from studies (here's one) that also suggests magnesium is a useful extra tool for treating depression, the effectiveness of using magnesium alone for treating depression has not been consistently reported.
What's useful to know from a perspective of preparing for fertility treatment, a time associated with high levels of anxiety, is that magnesium intake has been modestly associated with reduced anxiety in a large sample sized study.
Where to Find Magnesium in Foods
Foods high in magnesium include:
Green leafy vegetables
Nuts & seeds: almonds, cashews, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds,
Beans, soybeans (and tofu)
Wholegrains: oatmeal, brown rice,
Dairy: milk, egg yolk
What to Look For in a Magnesium Supplement
See the ELANZA independent checklist guide to choosing the best supplements.
Deficiency and fertility:
Deficiency and mood:
Magnesium and Vitamin D:
Likelihood of deficiency: