Life is busier and more stressful than ever, so it’s not uncommon to find yourself feeling worn out from time to time. However, if you’re suffering from fatigue, you’ll know that this is no ordinary tiredness. But can magnesium help with fatigue? In many cases, it just might! Read on to find out how…
What is fatigue?
Fatigue is a near-constant state of exhaustion, lethargy, and general weakness. Those who suffer from fatigue often say that no matter how much rest they get, they rarely ever feel refreshed or energized. It can affect their ability to take care of themselves and their families, enjoy social activities or hobbies, or perform their work duties properly. And not surprisingly, that can have a serious impact on their physical and mental well-being.
It’s not always easy to pinpoint the cause of fatigue, but it’s commonly linked to situations like:
- Serious illness, e.g. cancer
- Chronic illness or pain, e.g. fibromyalgia
- Extreme stress
- Mood disorders, e.g. depression
- Chronic sleep deprivation
- Poor dietary habits
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Drug or alcohol abuse
What is magnesium?
Magnesium is an essential mineral that your body needs for optimal health. It plays a part in hundreds of processes in the body, including:
- Muscle movement
- Nerve function
- Bone synthesis (creation)
- Energy metabolism
- Blood sugar control
- Blood pressure regulation
- Immune regulation
- Energy production
- DNA and RNA synthesis
- Protein synthesis
How can magnesium help fatigue?
Fatigue is often a symptom of another condition or problem. Luckily, in many cases, there is evidence to suggest that magnesium can help with the underlying causes. Let’s take a look at the most common ones…
1. Magnesium deficiency
Magnesium deficiency itself is a possible cause of low energy levels and fatigue. That’s because magnesium is an essential part of your body’s energy-making process. Here’s a (very simplified!) overview of how that works…
Your cells run primarily on energy from glucose. To extract that energy, glucose goes through a series of chemical reactions called the Krebs cycle. As the energy is released, it’s captured by a little molecule called ATP, which ferries the energy around the body and into your cells.
Here’s where magnesium comes in: your cells can’t actually use the energy unless it’s bound to magnesium. So if you’re not getting enough magnesium in your diet (or from supplements), your cells are essentially being starved of energy. That can translate to general feelings of fatigue and weakness.
In theory, we should be able to get all the magnesium we need from a diet featuring magnesium-rich foods. However, as we explain in this article, magnesium deficiency is a widespread problem, even in people who eat a healthy, balanced diet. If you suspect you might be one of them, a magnesium supplement is a great way to boost your levels and may help you to feel more energized.
Learn more about magnesium deficiency here in our article signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency.
2. Magnesium and sleep
Sleep deprivation is, not surprisingly, a common cause of fatigue. If you struggle to drift off, stay asleep, or get enough sleep, there is evidence to suggest that taking a magnesium supplement can be helpful in various ways:
- Magnesium regulates your body clock, which tells you when to sleep and when to wake up. When your body clock is out of sync, you may find yourself alert at night and sleepy during the day.
- Magnesium is needed to make serotonin, and serotonin is needed to make melatonin. This is the hormone that makes you feel sleepy at night, without which you’ll struggle to doze off.
- Magnesium activates your parasympathetic nervous system. The opposite of your “stressed out” state, this is the calm, relaxed state you need to be in to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Magnesium mimics the action of a neurotransmitter called GABA in the brain, calming the body and mind in preparation for sleep. (Lots of anxiety and sleep medications work in the same way.)
Think sleep issues may be causing your fatigue? Learn more in our article can magnesium help you sleep?
3. Magnesium and mental health
Mood disorders like depression are well-known causes of fatigue. They can drain you of both physical and mental energy, making even the most basic tasks feel exhausting. To make matters worse, they’re also associated with poor sleep.
Magnesium supplements for depression have been studied extensively and there’s a lot of evidence showing that they can help in certain cases (see examples here, here, here, here and here). Here are some possible explanations for magnesium’s mood-boosting effects:
- Serotonin — AKA the “happy hormone” — plays a big part in regulating mood, and low serotonin is associated with mood disorders like depression. Improving magnesium levels can make more serotonin available in the brain, which is also how many common antidepressants work.
- Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that stimulates neurons or brain cells. Overstimulation by glutamate can damage the cells and is believed to contribute to depression. Magnesium actually prevents this overstimulation, potentially having a protective effect.
- GABA has the opposite effect of glutamate, calming instead of exciting neurons. This is not just beneficial for sleep, but also for preventing the overstimulation and cellular damage that could contribute to mood disorders. By mimicking GABA, magnesium can theoretically promote this.
If you’re experiencing mood-related fatigue, learn more in our article Magnesium for depression: can it help?
4. Magnesium and chronic pain
Fatigue often goes hand-in-hand with chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia. It’s not clear exactly why, but one likely explanation is that the constant reaction to pain is simply exhausting for the body to deal with. It doesn’t help that pain can make it harder to sleep, too.
We know that magnesium can help with sleep, but what about the pain itself? Extreme sensitivity to pain is a primary symptom of fibromyalgia, and it’s thought to be the result of an exaggerated response by certain pain receptors. Magnesium is known to block those receptors and has been shown to calm the pain response as a result. It’s also known to block the release of a chemical called acetylcholine, too much of which can cause the painful knots and trigger points associated with fibromyalgia.
There’s evidence that magnesium can help muscle pain associated with fibromyalgia, too.
Magnesium malate has been shown in various studies to significantly improve fibro pain symptoms and muscle pain, with patients reporting fewer tender spots around the body. Magnesium chloride has also been shown to reduce fibro muscle pain.
Struggling with fibro fatigue? Learn more in our article can magnesium help with fibromyalgia?
Which is the best magnesium for fatigue?
If you’re deficient in magnesium, you’ll want to go for a magnesium type with high bioavailability, or absorption, to ensure you get the maximum benefits (and value) from your magnesium supplement.
To keep that energy flowing throughout the day, magnesium malate may be a good option. It contains malic acid, which is actually a key ingredient in that energy creation process we spoke about earlier. It acts as a catalyst to increase the efficiency of the energy production cycle. It’s also one of the better-studied types of magnesium for chronic pain.
If you think insomnia or mood difficulties are causing your fatigue, magnesium glycinate is an especially good choice. It combines magnesium with glycine, an amino acid known for its very own calming and sleep-boosting properties. As part of a magnesium glycinate supplement, it may improve:
- Sleep time.
- Sleep onset latency (how quickly you fall asleep).
- Sleep efficiency (the proportion of your time in bed that you spend asleep).
- Levels of melatonin and cortisol, are the two key hormones controlling the sleep-wake cycle.
How much magnesium should I take for fatigue?
The recommended magnesium dosage and intake vary depending on your age and sex. The table below shows 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|
|19–30 years||400 mg||310 mg|
|31–50 years||420 mg||320 mg|
|51+ years||420 mg||320 mg|
*Adequate Intake (AI)
Does taking magnesium for fatigue have side effects?
Magnesium supplements are generally very safe and well-tolerated for most people, although if you take a lot more than 400mg you might experience nausea, bloating, or diarrhea. Don’t worry — you can usually fix this by dropping your dose down to the recommended amount or lower.
If you have any health conditions or take medications, make sure to run them by your doctor before you take magnesium supplements. They may not be suitable for people with some conditions, and they can also interact with medications and affect how well they work. Best to be on the safe side and double-check first!