Heart disease is one of the world’s leading causes of death, but many cases are preventable with healthy lifestyle measures. That’s why more and more people are taking an active interest in improving their heart health, especially with natural solutions like magnesium supplements. But is it all hype, or can magnesium supplements really improve your heart health? Research strongly suggests they can, so read on to find out how!
What is magnesium?
Magnesium is an essential mineral and an electrolyte, which means that it helps to control your body’s “electrical circuit”. Some of its most important jobs related to your cardiovascular system, such as:
- Heart rhythm
- Blood pressure control
- Nerve impulses
- Muscle contraction
To understand what this means for your heart and just how important magnesium is to your cardiovascular health, here’s a quick primer on how your heart beats…
Anatomy of a heartbeat
Although your heart seems to pump automatically, a lot of coordinated activity actually goes into each heartbeat.
It begins with electrical signals sent from the brain to the SA node, a bundle of specialized cells in the upper wall of your heart. The SA is your pacemaker, controlling your heartbeat based on these signals; the faster the signals, the faster your heartbeat.
In order to actually make your heart beat, the SA sends out electrical signals of its own. Starting at the upper chambers, the signals travel through the muscle tissue of your heart, causing it to contract, or shorten.
Before the signal reaches the lower chambers of your heart, it’s interrupted and delayed slightly by another node, the AV node. This ensures that the upper chambers have a chance to contract first, squeezing blood into the lower chambers, before they contract, squeezing blood out to your lungs and the rest of your body. When you listen to your heartbeat, that’s the 1-2 thump you’re hearing — the upper chambers, followed quickly by the lower chambers.
Magnesium and your heart
You can’t have electrical impulses without magnesium. The electrical impulses that control your heartbeat are generated when the inside of the node cells switch from a negative electrical charge to a positive one. Magnesium helps to make this temporary switch happen by helping certain chemicals to move in and out of the cells.
In response to these electrical signals, calcium causes your heart muscle to contract. Magnesium has another essential job here — helping the muscle tissue to relax again. This constant “back and forth” creates the squeezing action that keeps your blood pumping.
As the blood travels around your body, magnesium continues to play an important role. It helps the walls of your blood vessels to contract or widens as needed, which is important for things like:
- Increasing blood and oxygen circulation when you’re exercising.
- Controlling your body temperature.
- Reducing blood loss when you’re injured.
Magnesium for cardiovascular health
Now that you know just how big a role magnesium plays in your cardiovascular system, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that magnesium deficiency can have serious implications for your heart health.
Research suggests that, as your levels of magnesium drop, your risk of heart problems like coronary heart disease and hypertension (high blood pressure) rises. On the other hand, higher magnesium levels are associated with a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. Let’s look at the potential benefits in more detail…
- Blood pressure
Your blood pressure tells you two things: how forcefully your heart is pumping blood around your body, and how much resistance there is in your blood vessels. If your blood pressure is high (known as hypertension), it can be an indication of another health problem. It can also put a strain on your heart and blood vessels, increasing your risk of serious conditions like:
- Heart disease
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Kidney disease
Magnesium is heavily involved in regulating your blood pressure, and luckily there is a wealth of evidence showing its positive effects. Here are just a couple of samples:
- Study 1: A large review of 34 research trials found that magnesium supplementation significantly reduced blood pressure over three months. The researchers noted that positive effects had been seen in as little as one month with doses of 300mg a day.
- Study 2: Another analysis of 22 trials found a significant reduction in blood pressure with an average dose of 410mg of magnesium per day. Generally, the larger the dose, the greater the effect.
- Study 3: In this study of people with mild hypertension, some patients were given magnesium while others were offered lifestyle recommendations. The greatest effect on blood pressure was seen in the magnesium group.
- Study 4: When diabetic patients with high blood pressure were given magnesium chloride supplements containing 400mg of magnesium, researchers saw a significant decrease in blood pressure.
- Study 5: In this study, participants with high blood pressure took 300mg of magnesium oxide every day for a month. Not only did blood pressure improve significantly, but researchers also noted that other indicators of heart health were improved.
- Study 6: 60 people with high blood pressure were given magnesium oxide over eight weeks. Blood pressure was significantly decreased, with those with the highest blood pressure seeing the biggest benefit.
You’ve no doubt heard of cholesterol and how important it is for your heart health. “Cholesterol levels” refers to the levels of three particular lipids (fatty substances) in your blood: HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides (fatty acids).
HDL is known as “good cholesterol” because it has various positive health benefits, but LDL and triglycerides? Not so much. They can build up on the walls of your arteries over time and cause them to harden and narrow (known as atherosclerosis), reducing blood flow to your organs.
Fatty plaques, as they’re called, can also cause blood clots on the walls of the arteries. If a plaque or a clot breaks off, it can travel through the blood vessels and cause a blockage. A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to the heart is blocked, while an ischemic stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is blocked.
Magnesium is believed to have a positive influence on your lipid profile, although it’s not known exactly how yet. One study found that taking a magnesium supplement increased HDL levels and decreased LDL and triglycerides. Another study that was testing magnesium’s effect on blood pressure also found that the participants’ HDL levels improved.
3. Heart rhythm
An arrhythmia is an irregularity of the heart’s rhythm, a serious condition that can increase the risk of heart attack, heart failure, or stroke. It might occur due to a disturbance in the electrical signals coming from the brain to the SA node, or from the SA node to the heart muscle. It can also happen if the AV node fails to delay the electrical signal into the lower chambers of the heart.
As you may remember, magnesium is an essential ingredient in maintaining a regular heart rhythm. It’s no surprise, then, that one study found that 38% of arrhythmia patients admitted to the hospital had a clinical magnesium deficiency and 72% were losing too much magnesium. Luckily, magnesium supplementation has been shown to help improve arrhythmia and stabilize heart rhythm.
What’s the best type of magnesium for heart health?
All magnesium supplements can contribute to heart health, but a few types, in particular, are known for their cardiovascular benefits.
Magnesium oxide is among the most well-studied for its heart health benefits, particularly in reducing blood pressure. However, we will point out that it’s not the best type of magnesium in terms of bioavailability, or how much magnesium is absorbed. It’s also not as well-tolerated as some other types of magnesium, so it can be quite harsh on the stomach.
Magnesium orotate (magnesium and orotic acid) has some very promising evidence behind it and has been shown to repair injured cardiac muscle tissue and improve survival rates in those with congestive heart failure. That said, it is one of the more expensive types of magnesium and is not as widely available.
Magnesium taurate features taurine, an amino acid that has been shown to reduce blood pressure and protect cardiac tissue in animal studies. It’s essential for human heart health, too; just like magnesium, it’s involved in cardiovascular regulation, blood pressure regulation, and blood lipid control. It also has an antiplatelet effect, helping to reduce the risk of blood clotting, and has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects in the blood vessels.
Magnesium glycinate features glycine, another amino acid known for keeping your heart and blood vessels functioning at their best. Various studies show that glycine regulates heart disease risk factors like cholesterol and inflammation. It also helps your body to use nitric oxide, a chemical that relaxes and widens the blood vessels. These are possibly among the reasons why glycine has been linked to a lower risk of a heart attack.
Magnesium glycinate and magnesium taurate are both very well-tolerated, highly bioavailable types of magnesium supplements. That means you get the maximum well-being benefits for your buck, with a far lower chance of experiencing uncomfortable side effects. Speaking of which…
Are magnesium supplements safe for your heart?
Magnesium supplements are safe for the majority of healthy people. As we mentioned, certain types like magnesium oxide can be harsh on the stomach, so you might experience digestive side effects like stomach ache, nausea, bloating, or diarrhea with these types. That’s why we recommend gentler supplements like magnesium taurate. We also recommend sticking to a daily dose of no more than 400mg of magnesium, as this keeps the risk of side effects low.
Aside from these mild side effects, you should also keep in mind that magnesium supplements may interact with some medications, including those you might be taking for a heart condition. These might include blood pressure medications, cholesterol medications, beta-blockers, and blood thinners.
If you’re taking any of these medications, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t take a magnesium supplement. However, because magnesium may make your medication more or less effective, your doctor may need to adjust your medication dose or give you additional advice on how to take magnesium safely. It’s best to check in first to be on the safe side!