Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in your body.
It’s involved in over 600 cellular reactions, from making DNA to helping your muscles contract (1).
Despite its importance, up to 68% of American adults don’t meet the recommended daily intake (2).
Low magnesium levels have been linked to many negative health outcomes, including weakness, depression, high blood pressure and heart disease.
This article explains what magnesium does for your body, its health benefits, how to increase your intake and the consequences of getting too little.
Maintains Healthy Brain Function
Magnesium plays an important role in relaying signals between your brain and body.
It acts as the gatekeeper for the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, which are found on your nerve cells and aid brain development, memory and learning (3).
In healthy adults, magnesium sits inside the NMDA receptors, preventing them from being triggered by weak signals that may stimulate your nerve cells unnecessarily.
When your magnesium levels are low, fewer NMDA receptors are blocked. This means they are prone to being stimulated more often than necessary.
This kind of overstimulation can kill nerve cells and may cause brain damage (4).
Maintains a Healthy Heartbeat
Magnesium is important for maintaining a healthy heartbeat.
It naturally competes with calcium, which is essential for generating heart contractions.
When calcium enters your heart muscle cells, it stimulates the muscle fibers to contract. Magnesium counters this effect, helping these cells relax (5, 6).
This movement of calcium and magnesium across your heart cells maintains a healthy heartbeat.
When your magnesium levels are low, calcium may overstimulate your heart muscle cells. One common symptom of this is a rapid and/or irregular heartbeat, which may be life-threatening (7).
What’s more, the sodium-potassium pump, an enzyme that generates electrical impulses, requires magnesium for proper function. Certain electrical impulses can affect your heartbeat (8).