If you’ve been shopping around for magnesium or zinc supplements, you might have noticed that they often appear together. In this article, we’ll break down the benefits of both of these essential minerals and explain why they go together so well…
What are magnesium and zinc?
Magnesium and zinc are both essential minerals you need for optimal health, and they’re each involved in hundreds of biochemical processes in the body. Some of zinc’s starring roles include:
- Blood clotting
- Wound healing
- Immune function
- Bone maintenance
- Enzyme production
- Macronutrient (fat, carbs, protein) metabolism
- Protein and DNA synthesis
- Cell growth and division
- Sense of taste and smell
Some of magnesium’s important jobs include:
- Bone synthesis (creation)
- Blood sugar control
- Blood pressure regulation
- Immune regulation
- Energy production
- DNA and RNA synthesis
- Protein synthesis
Magnesium is also known as an electrolyte as it helps to run and regulate the body’s electrical systems. That means it plays a major part in things like:
- Muscle movement
- Nerve function
- Heart rhythm
How much magnesium and zinc do you need?
The recommended magnesium dosage and intake vary depending on your age and sex. The tables below show the adequate intake (AI) and recommended dietary allowance (RDA) from the National Institute of Health.
|Birth to 6 months||30 mg*||30 mg*|
|7–12 months||75 mg*||75 mg*|
|1–3 years||80 mg||80 mg|
|4–8 years||130 mg||130 mg|
|9–13 years||240 mg||240 mg|
|14–18 years||410 mg||360 mg||400 mg||360 mg|
|19–30 years||400 mg||310 mg||350 mg||310 mg|
|31–50 years||420 mg||320 mg||360 mg||320 mg|
|51+ years||420 mg||320 mg|
|Birth to 6 months*||2 mg||2 mg|
|7–12 months||3 mg||3 mg|
|1–3 years||3 mg||3 mg|
|4–8 years||5 mg||5 mg|
|9–13 years||8 mg||8 mg|
|14–18 years||11 mg||9 mg||12 mg||13 mg|
|19+ years||11 mg||8 mg||11 mg||12 mg|
* Adequate Intake (AI)
What happens if you don’t get enough?
Your body can’t produce magnesium or zinc by itself, so you have to get both from your diet (or from supplements). Because magnesium and zinc are involved in so many critical processes in your body, not getting enough of either on a regular basis can have some serious consequences for your health and well-being.
Lots of people fall short of the recommended daily magnesium intake. Some people don’t eat enough magnesium-rich foods, and thanks to a major decline in food quality, others eat foods that should have lots of magnesium but don’t. And for some people, certain illnesses or medications can affect how much magnesium they absorb from their food, or how much they lose before the body has a chance to use it.
It’s hard to know if you have a magnesium deficiency, but telltale signs and symptoms include:
- Muscle cramps, stiffness, or spasms
- Eye twitches
- Headaches or migraines
- Numbness or tingling
- Irregular heartbeat or palpitations (a “fluttering” sensation in your chest)
- Anxiety, depression, or low mood
Zinc is a trace mineral, so you only need tiny amounts compared to magnesium. However, your body can’t store zinc, so it’s extra-important to consume it regularly and keep those levels topped up.
Just like magnesium, zinc deficiencies can be caused by low dietary intake and/or health conditions. These include:
- Vegetarian or vegan diets. Zinc found in plant-based foods has lower bioavailability than zinc found in meat and fish.
- Poor absorption. This can be caused by issues like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), chronic diarrhea, or recent gastrointestinal surgery.
- Pregnancy or breastfeeding. Zinc is critical for growth and development, so mum needs extra zinc to meet her baby’s needs too.
- Burns, ulcers, or serious infection. Zinc is essential for immune health and healing, particularly of the skin.
- Alcoholism or heavy drinking. Alcohol makes it harder for the body to absorb zinc.
Some of the biggest dangers of a zinc deficiency come from its effect on your immune system. You might find yourself more vulnerable to infections like pneumonia, and recovery might be slower and more difficult. It can also make wound healing slower, leaving you more vulnerable to infections that you might struggle to fight off.
Because zinc is important for development, deficiency can stunt growth in babies, children, and adolescents. And because of zinc’s role in digestion and metabolism, you might struggle to get proper nourishment from your diet.
Telltale signs and symptoms of zinc deficiency include:
- Loss of appetite
- Unintended weight loss
- Reduced sense of smell or taste
- Open sores or slow-healing wounds
- Frequent or long-lasting infections
- Hair loss
- Low mood
- Lack of alertness
How can I get more magnesium and zinc?
If you want to get more magnesium and zinc, the best place to start is your diet. Some of the most magnesium-rich foods also tend to be high in zinc, so try to put more of the following on your plate:
- Leafy greens
- Nuts and seeds
- Legumes (e.g. beans, peas, lentils)
- Meat, poultry, and seafood
- Whole grains
We’ve covered the magnesium content of all your favorite foods in our magnesium-rich foods article. If you’re trying to up your zinc intake too, keep in mind that whole grain sources contain nutrients called phytates that can reduce zinc absorption. Whole grains are super healthy and nutritious, so you should still try to get plenty! Just be aware that you may need to make an extra effort to incorporate more zinc-rich foods if you want to meet your requirements.
If you’re still struggling to get enough zinc or magnesium in your diet, you can also try supplements. You can buy them individually, but lots of brands pair them together in one supplement too.
Can I take magnesium and zinc together?
Yes! Whether you’re taking a combined supplement or taking magnesium and zinc separately, these minerals are the perfect pair.
Some vitamins and minerals compete with each other for absorption when you take them at the same time, lowering the bioavailability of your supplement. However, that’s not a concern with magnesium and zinc.
Taking magnesium alongside zinc actually helps to regulate your body’s zinc levels. Research has found that zinc can interfere with magnesium absorption if you take around 142mg a day, but this is an extremely high dose. Most supplements contain around 15-25mg of zinc, so if you stick to the recommended dosage, it won’t affect your magnesium levels.
What are the benefits of taking magnesium and zinc?
Magnesium and zinc supplements are usually marketed mainly as a way to fight tiredness and fatigue, as they both contribute to healthy energy-yielding metabolism. That’s just the start, though! Here are just some of the many well-being benefits these two minerals have in common…
- Immune health
Zinc is crucial for the normal development and function of lots of different immune cells, so it makes sense that getting enough zinc can help your immune system stay strong and effective. One review found that zinc supplements could reduce the duration of a cold by a third, and another study found that zinc supplements significantly reduced the risk of infections in older adults and promoted a healthy immune response.
Interestingly, some of the immune cells involved in a healthy immune response can’t function with low magnesium levels. Researchers have shown that immune T cells can only eliminate infections and abnormal cells in a magnesium-rich environment.
By taking magnesium and zinc together then, you’re giving your immune system the tools and the environment it needs for maximum protection.
Inflammation is a healthy and normal part of the immune response — in small doses. When inflammation is chronic and long-lasting, it can contribute to serious conditions like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis and autoimmune disease. It also contributes to premature ageing and age-related conditions like Alzheimer’s.
Deficiencies of magnesium and zinc are both associated with this type of inflammation, but supplements may help to fight it. Zinc decreases production of inflammatory chemicals and activates antioxidant enzymes that fight free radicals, or molecules that cause oxidative damage to your cells.
Magnesium also boosts your body’s antioxidant abilities, decreases markers of inflammation in people with pre-diabetes or sleep deprivation. It even fights inflammation at a genetic level, positively changing the expression of genes involved with inflammation.
- Visual health
Zinc is becoming a go-to mineral for preventing or treating common visual conditions, particularly age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The macula, or the central part of the retina, contains high levels of zinc, so it makes sense that supplementing with zinc can promote macular health. There’s evidence that zinc can slow down the progression of the disease by reducing oxidative stress and increasing cellular “clean-up”, and that it can improve vision, sensitivity and other markers of visual health in AMD sufferers.
Magnesium is also essential for good visual health, improving blood flow to the eyes, protecting against oxidative stress and cellular loss, and helping to keep the ocular nerves healthy. This means it can potentially make eye conditions like glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy easier to manage with fewer complications. (For best results, choose magnesium taurate. Taurine is found in high concentrations in the eyes and can offer synergistic benefits as part of a magnesium supplement.)
- Heart health and blood pressure
Zinc plays a part in healthy lipid (fat) and glucose metabolism in the body. Combined with its antioxidant abilities, this means it can potentially reduce or prevent a number of key risk factors for heart disease: insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, poor cholesterol profile, and obesity.
As an electrolyte, magnesium is essential for healthy heart function. Higher magnesium levels are associated with lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. It’s been shown to promote higher levels of “good” cholesterol and lower levels of “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides, and it’s been shown in countless studies to reduce blood pressure (see here, here, here, here, here and here). Magnesium orotate specifically has been shown to repair injured cardiac muscle tissue and improve survival rates in those with congestive heart failure. Meanwhile, magnesium taurate has been shown to reduce blood pressure and protect cardiac tissue in animal studies.
- Blood sugar control
Zinc helps to metabolise glucose and regulates the expression of insulin, the hormone that helps to drive glucose into your cells. That may be why zinc supplementation has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, blood glucose levels, and beta cell function (the cells that produce insulin) in pre-diabetic patients, potentially reducing the risk of them progressing to diabetes. It also appears to help diabetic patients to gain better control of their blood glucose and reduce their insulin resistance, lowering the risk of diabetic complications.
Adequate magnesium is also known to reduce the risk of developing diabetes by as much as 47%, and can reduce the risk of pre-diabetes progressing to diabetes. This is partly thanks to its very well-documented positive effect on blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity (see here, here, here, here and here).
- Bone health
Zinc is essential for normal bone growth and homeostasis, or balance. Your bone cells are constantly being broken down and “regenerated”, but when the breakdown rate outruns the renewal rate, you start to lose bone mass and density. This eventually leads to osteoporosis, but it appears that zinc might help to prevent this by stimulating bone regeneration.
Around half of your body’s magnesium is found in the bones, where it contributes to their strength and stability. For best results, choose either magnesium glycinate or magnesium L-threonate. The former contains glycine, an amino acid that’s essential for collagen production and bone health. The latter contains threonic acid, which also helps to produce collagen and supports bone homeostasis.
Are there any side effects from taking magnesium and zinc supplements?
Both magnesium and zinc supplements are safe for the majority of people, but as always, check with your doctor first if you have a health condition or take medications.
Higher doses of either supplement (375mg+ for magnesium and 25mg+ for zinc) increase the risk of digestive side effects like nausea and diarrhea, but these can be quickly resolved by lowering your dose. Side effects are less likely with better-absorbed types of magnesium, like glycinate, taurate, and malate.
Zinc competes for absorption with iron and calcium, and unfortunately, it doesn’t fare well against either! If you take iron or calcium supplements, be aware that they can reduce the absorption of your zinc supplements, so it’s a good idea to take them at different times of the day.
Zinc also competes with copper, and this time zinc comes out on top. You shouldn’t experience a copper deficiency unless you’re taking excessive amounts of zinc, so stick to the recommended dosage on your supplement and you should be ok.