Can Magnesium Cause Leg Cramps? (Explained!)

Can Magnesium Cause Leg Cramps? (Explained!)

Muscle contractions cause leg cramps, and magnesium is crucial in neuromuscular transmission and muscle contraction. So, a magnesium deficiency could cause leg cramps, and improving low magnesium levels can help treat painful cramping.

Do you often suffer leg cramps that cause severe pain or sleep disturbances? One reason could be that your body needs more magnesium.

This detailed guide will look at the relationship between leg cramps and magnesium. Specifically, we’ll look at the cause of leg cramps, the role of magnesium in the body, and how magnesium supplements can help. 

At the end of this article, you’ll be one step closer to enjoying overall good health.

Can magnesium supplements cause leg cramps?

Magnesium supplements do not cause leg cramps. In fact, they are widely used to treat leg cramps because magnesium deficiency may cause leg cramps, and these supplements help you get all the magnesium needed for health.

The link between leg cramps and magnesium supplements is clearer when you understand what leg cramps are and what role magnesium plays in the process.

What are leg cramps?

Leg cramps are sudden involuntary muscle pain in the calf, foot, or thigh caused by sudden sustained contraction of skeletal muscle fibers.

So, leg cramps are neuromuscular disorders caused by painful muscle contraction in the leg area.

What does magnesium do?

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body. It is needed for more than 300 of your body’s biochemical processes. One of the many body functions that magnesium influences is muscle contraction and neuromuscular transmission.

As the concentration of magnesium increases within a cell, the amount of calcium decreases. Since an increase in intracellular calcium gives the signal to trigger muscle contraction, a decrease in the amount of calcium promotes muscle relaxation.

Thus, magnesium supplements give you enough magnesium when your magnesium levels are too low, and this mineral influences the process of muscle contraction/ relaxation by reducing the rate of intercellular calcium.

Therefore, amongst other things, magnesium helps in the regulation of muscle contraction.

Connecting the dots between leg cramps and magnesium

Since leg cramps are caused by involuntary muscle contraction and magnesium helps regulate muscle contraction, it is hypothesized that magnesium deficiency predisposes one to leg cramps.

That is, your leg cramps may be because your body is not getting all the magnesium it needs for health.

Several scientific studies have investigated the connection between low magnesium levels and leg cramps, and many of these studies agree that one exists.

One study investigating the relationship between muscle cramps and magnesium deficiency reported that magnesium deficiency should always be added to the differential diagnosis of patients with persistent or severe muscle pain.

Another study investigating the therapy of magnesium deficiency in pregnancy also linked magnesium deficiency to muscle cramps

The study reported that pregnant women complaining of muscle cramps had significantly lower serum magnesium levels. Importantly, it concluded that nightly pregnancy-induced leg cramps might be a symptom of a latent magnesium deficiency. 

Can magnesium supplements prevent leg cramps?

Since magnesium deficiency may cause leg cramps and magnesium supplements provide the body with all the magnesium it needs for health, magnesium supplementation may help treat leg cramps.

Various studies investigating the contribution of dietary supplements to nutritional adequacy have shown that dietary supplements are associated with an increased micronutrient intake

Thus, magnesium supplements help you get adequate amounts of magnesium if you don’t get enough from your diet.

Interestingly, getting more magnesium from a supplement or from a diet seems to work for many people with painful leg cramps, helping relieve the pain. 

For this reason, magnesium supplements are widely used as a remedy for leg cramps, particularly in Europe and Latin America.

While the quality of evidence linking magnesium-based therapy to a reduction in muscle/ leg cramps is limited, some studies support using magnesium for cramps.

For example, consider the study investigating the therapy of magnesium deficiency in pregnancy. It reported that administering magnesium to pregnant women with low magnesium levels was associated with a significant rise in serum magnesium levels, leading to a reduction in complaints of muscle camps.

The study concluded that magnesium deficiency (which may cause nocturnal leg cramps during pregnancy) can be influenced by oral magnesium.

In one systematic review of randomized controlled trials that investigated the effectiveness of magnesium in treating nocturnal leg cramps (NLC), it was found that magnesium therapy does not seem to be effective in alleviating nocturnal leg cramps in the general population but may have a small effect in pregnant women.

One detailed study investigated interventions for leg cramps in pregnancy and showed that magnesium may have benefits in reducing pregnancy-associated leg cramps

Though it concluded that evidence about whether magnesium supplements reduced the intensity of pain was inconclusive, its findings included two studies showing that magnesium may slightly reduce pain and only one showing no difference.

A narrative review investigating the effect of magnesium in reducing muscle cramp frequency found that supplementation will raise serum magnesium concentrations and may reduce the frequency and severity of muscle cramps.

Another scoping review found that magnesium is among the critical micronutrients people can obtain from dietary supplements to improve musculoskeletal health.

What is the best form of magnesium for leg cramps?

Magnesium glycinate, magnesium citrate, magnesium chloride, and magnesium lactate are more easily absorbed by the body, making them some of the best forms of magnesium for leg cramp nightmares.

Magnesium in dietary supplements is available in many forms. When considering magnesium supplements, you should be concerned about the form of the mineral in the supplement. 

This is because your body absorbs some forms of magnesium more easily, while some forms help support specific health issues.

Here are some popular forms of magnesium in dietary supplements and their effects:

Magnesium glycinate

Magnesium glycinate contains elemental magnesium and the amino acid glycine. It is one of the most easily absorbed forms of magnesium.

In addition to being the best-absorbed magnesium form, it promotes a sense of calm and gives you deep, quality sleep. 

So, in addition to helping relieve leg cramps, magnesium glycinate provides a calming and restful effect that may help reduce anxiety, depression, stress, and insomnia.

Magnesium citrate

Magnesium citrate contains elemental magnesium and citric acid. It’s the most common form of magnesium in magnesium supplements and is more affordable.

Magnesium citrate is one of the best forms of magnesium for leg cramps because it is one of the most easily absorbed forms of magnesium supplement formulations.

It gives a calming effect, but not as much as magnesium glycinate. However, it has natural laxative effects, making it helpful in treating constipation. 

So, in addition to relieving painful skeletal muscle cramps, magnesium citrate can help loosen your stool and improve your bowel movements.

Magnesium chloride

Magnesium chloride consists of elemental magnesium and chlorine and is typically used topically in lotions or sprays. The digestive tract can absorb magnesium chloride, making it a decent oral magnesium supplementation for leg cramps and other magnesium deficiency problems.

However, this form is not ideal for long-term supplementation, as it can cause digestive upset. 

Magnesium lactate

Magnesium lactate is a salt formed from magnesium and lactic acid. It is easily absorbed by the digestive system, making it a fine mineral supplement for treating magnesium deficiency.

However, it’s less common as a food additive than as an over-the-counter dietary supplement.

Studies show that people have reported fewer digestive side effects with magnesium lactate. This means magnesium lactate may be gentler on your digestive system than other forms, making it suitable if you need to take magnesium regularly.

Magnesium malate

Magnesium malate consists of magnesium and malic acid, which occur naturally in fruits.

Studies investigating the bioavailability of magnesium compounds have found that the body more easily absorbs magnesium malate than commonly prescribed magnesium supplementation formulations like magnesium citrate and magnesium oxide.

Magnesium malate not only reduces cramping, but it is also popularly recommended for treating fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms.

Magnesium taurate

Magnesium taurate consists of magnesium and the amino acid taurine. It is easily absorbed, making it a good option for improving magnesium intake.

Magnesium taurate relieves muscle cramping and plays a crucial role in regulating blood sugar and supporting healthy blood pressure.

Thus, magnesium taurate is excellent if you want magnesium supplementation for cramps (including exercise-associated muscle cramps) and is also effective for managing high blood sugar and high blood pressure.

Magnesium oxide

Magnesium oxide consists of magnesium and oxygen. It is the most common form of magnesium and the most affordable. 

However, it has poor bioavailability - the body does not easily absorb it. This makes magnesium oxide supplementation unsuitable if you want to raise your magnesium levels. It’s more commonly used to treat heartburn.

Because of its poor absorption, you’ll need to increase your dose of magnesium oxide supplements to see results, which may increase the likelihood of negative digestive side effects.

What is the role of magnesium in the body? 

Magnesium plays important roles in many body processes. Some of the top roles of the nutrient include:

Helps muscle and nerve function

Magnesium functions as a natural calcium blocker to help muscles relax. Within muscle cells, calcium binds with certain proteins to trigger muscle contraction, which causes cramps.

However, magnesium and calcium compete for the same binding spots, so as the amount of magnesium increases within the cell, the amount of calcium decreases. 

This reduces muscle contraction, helping muscles relax better.

As the concentration of magnesium increases within a cell, the amount of calcium decreases. Since an increase in intracellular calcium gives the signal to trigger muscle contraction, a decrease in the amount of calcium promotes muscle relaxation.

Magnesium supplements give you enough magnesium when your magnesium levels are too low, and this mineral influences the process of muscle contraction/ relaxation by reducing the rate of intercellular calcium.

Protects the heart

There are various ways magnesium protects the heart. One way is working with potassium to stabilize the heart cells, preventing irregular heart rhythm.

Magnesium also reduces coronary artery calcification - the buildup of calcium in your heart and arteries. This reduces the risk of heart problems like hypertension and myotonic dystrophy.

Reduces high blood pressure

Magnesium’s role in blocking calcium to help muscles relax makes it effective in reducing high blood pressure.

Calcium can cause spasms in the heart and blood vessels, which can result in high blood pressure. When magnesium replaces calcium in its binding spots, calcium levels in the cells drop, allowing the heart and blood vessels to relax and reducing blood pressure. 

One randomized clinical trial found an inverse relationship between magnesium intake and hypertension, meaning that magnesium reduces the risk of high blood pressure.

Helps fight asthma

Magnesium’s role in relaxing muscles also makes it excellent at fighting asthma. Spasms of your bronchial muscles will narrow the windpipe carrying air to your lungs, causing shortness of breath, chest tightness, and other asthma symptoms.

Magnesium relaxes the bronchial muscles, helping your lungs breathe easier.

Improves digestion

It’s impossible to digest food without magnesium. Magnesium is needed to produce hydrochloric acids in the stomach, which aids digestion.

Magnesium also helps make digestive enzymes that break food down in the small intestine so it can be absorbed as nutrients. Digestive organs (like the esophagus, stomach, pancreas, etc.) also need magnesium to stay healthy.

Low magnesium levels come with digestive problems like heartburn, constipation, and more. It also reduces your ability to absorb nutrients from food properly, leading to other health issues.

Protects against diabetes

Magnesium helps the pancreas release insulin, which is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels by moving sugar out of the blood and into the cells for storage.

When magnesium levels are low, the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to move sugar out of the blood, and blood sugar levels will increase, resulting in diabetes. 

For this reason, magnesium supplementation can create a more positive health outcome for people with insulin-dependent diabetes.

Supports bone health

Magnesium is found in bones to keep them strong and malleable and reduce the rate at which they degrade.

An adult’s body contains approximately 25g of magnesium. 50 - 60% of the total magnesium is in the bones, and this level is kept under tight control.

A study investigating the relationship between magnesium and osteoporosis reported that a tight control of magnesium homeostasis is crucial for bone health

Low magnesium levels can result in fragile bones, increasing the risk of bone fracture and osteoporosis. Conversely, people with adequate amounts of magnesium have a higher bone mineral density.

Relieves insomnia

Magnesium helps you sleep better, making it a good weapon to fight insomnia. Because it relaxes muscles, magnesium helps your body and mind relax. 

This helps you fall asleep faster and improves sleep quality. Also, magnesium improves the production of melatonin - the hormone that regulates the body’s sleep-wake cycles).

A study investigating the effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in the elderly found a significant difference between the magnesium and placebo groups in sleep time and sleep efficiency

Reduces symptoms of depression

Magnesium affects brain chemistry through neurotransmitters, helping to improve depressive symptoms. For example, magnesium enhances the production of serotonin, the “feel good” hormone that can lift you when you feel down. 

Magnesium also directly activates gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a neurotransmitter that slows down brain activity. So, when stressed or anxious, magnesium can activate GABA receptors to slow down your overactive brain. 

Studies have found that magnesium deficiency can cause major depression and related mental health problems. This is why magnesium treatment is often used for major depression.

Read also: 5 Science-Based Reasons Why You Should Take Nutritional Supplements

What are the recommended levels of magnesium?

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), how much magnesium you need depends on your age and sex.

The average recommended daily amounts of magnesium in milligrams (mg) are as follows:

Stage of life

Daily recommended amount

Birth to 6 months

30 mg

Infants (7 - 12 months)

75 mg

Children of 1 - 3 years

80 mg

Children of 4 - 8 years 

130 mg

Children of 9 - 13 years

240 mg

Teen girls (14 - 18 years)

360 mg

Teen boys (14 - 18 years)

410 mg

Women 

310 - 320 mg

Men

400 - 420 mg

Pregnant teens

400 mg

Pregnant women

350 - 360 mg

Breastfeeding teens

360 mg

Breastfeeding women

310 - 320 mg


Keep in mind that aging reduces magnesium absorption from diet, and the elderly population (especially men) is at risk of magnesium deficiency. 

Read also: Best Supplements for Breastfeeding Mothers

What are the signs of magnesium deficiency?

Magnesium deficiency (also known as hypomagnesemia) affects two-thirds of the population in the Western world, making it a very common health problem.

Magnesium deficiencies may be underdiagnosed because the obvious signs do not appear until one’s magnesium levels are severely low. The signs of magnesium deficiency can be both physical and mental.

Physical signs of magnesium deficiencies 

Some physical signs of magnesium deficiencies include: 

  • Muscle spasms
  • Tremors
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Headache
  • Heart palpitations

Low magnesium levels increase the amounts of intracellular calcium, which hyperstimulates the muscle nerves, causing involuntary muscle spasms. 

The involuntary muscle contractions cause muscle twitches, cramps, and tremors. In worst cases, they could also include seizures or convulsions.

Magnesium deficiency can also affect nerve signaling and potassium levels in muscle cells to cause specific muscle weakness or general fatigue.

Magnesium plays crucial roles in the digestive system, including facilitating the production of digestive acids. Without magnesium, you’ll have digestion problems, and one of the most common problems of poor digestion is constipation. 

Frequently having constipation could be a sign of low magnesium levels.

The mineral deficiency can also cause changes in the heart’s rhythm, which can increase the risk of more serious complications like heart failure or stroke. 

Because magnesium is a key cardiovascular regulator, low blood magnesium could elevate the risk of cardiovascular disease and atrial fibrillation (irregular heart rhythm).

Mental signs of magnesium deficiency 

Some mental signs of magnesium deficiency include:

  • Low emotions
  • Poor attention
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Magnesium is needed to activate calming receptors in the brain to help us relax. It’s why the magnesium is called “the original chill pill” or “nature’s valium.”

With low levels of magnesium, you cannot benefit properly from its calming effect, making you more vulnerable to stress. 

Studies show that magnesium deficiency increases susceptibility to neurologic and psychological stressors in healthy humans. This reduces attention and can lead to more serious mental issues like a lack of emotions, anxiety, and depression. 

What are the recommended sources of magnesium?

sources of magnesium

The recommended sources of magnesium are:

Food

Magnesium is available in many plant and animal foods and beverages.

Green leaf vegetables (like spinach) and food containing dietary fiber (like seeds, nuts, and whole grains) are good sources of magnesium.

Foods that have been fortified with magnesium (like many breakfast cereals) are also good sources of the micronutrient.

Know that many types of food processing lower magnesium content substantially. So, processed foods have lower levels of magnesium.

The amount of magnesium present in some selected foods is as follows: 

Food type

Amount of magnesium per serving (mg)

Pumpkin seeds

156 mg

Chia seeds

111 mg

Dry roasted almonds

80 mg

Spinach 

78 mg

Cashew

74 mg

Peanuts

63 mg

Cereal

61 mg

Soymilk (plain or vanilla)

61 mg

Cooked black beans

60 mg

Edamame

50 mg

Peanut butter

49 mg

Potato

43 mg

Cooked brown rice 

42 mg

Plain, low-fat yogurt

42 mg

Fortified breakfast cereals

42 mg

Oatmeal

36 mg

Kidney beans

35 mg

Banana

32 mg

Salmon

26 mg

Milk

24 - 27 mg


Dietary supplements

Magnesium supplements, like the Why Not Natural Quadramag, are produced specifically to provide you with magnesium if you are not getting enough from your diet.

Dietary supplements

With the rise of processed food, it’s increasingly difficult to meet recommended magnesium needs from diet. Also, the body absorbs only about 30 - 40% of dietary magnesium consumed.

Thus, one of the best ways to meet daily magnesium needs is to take a magnesium supplement regularly.

Medicines

Magnesium is a major ingredient in many medicines, such as laxatives and remedies for heartburn and upset stomach due to acid indigestion.

However, medicines are not taken simply to raise magnesium levels. You should consult your doctor before taking any medicine.

What are the benefits of magnesium supplements for overall health?

Magnesium supplements help you meet your daily magnesium requirement if you cannot meet this need from your diet. The micronutrient regulates diverse biochemical processes of the body, including:

  • Increasing energy levels
  • Helping nerve impulse conduction and muscle function
  • Helping normal heart rhythm and protecting the heart
  • Reducing blood pressure 
  • Controlling blood glucose to help fight diabetes
  • Improving digestion
  • Contributing to the structural development of bones
  • Improving sleep

Are there side effects to taking magnesium supplements?

Taking magnesium from food has no side effects because the kidneys remove the excess amount from the body. However, taking too much magnesium from supplements can pose health risks as the kidneys cannot keep up with removing the excess amounts.

High doses of magnesium from supplements often result in diarrhea accompanied by nausea and abdominal cramping. Very large doses of magnesium can also cause magnesium toxicity.

Magnesium toxicity develops if serum magnesium concentration exceeds 1.74 - 2.61 mol/L. Magnesium toxicity can cause the following:

  • Hypotension (low blood pressure) 
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Facial flushing 
  • Ileus
  • Lethargy and muscle weakness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Death

Are there other supplements to prevent leg cramps?

Besides magnesium deficiency, there is evidence that some other vitamin and mineral deficiencies can cause leg cramps. These include vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B12 (Cobalamin), Vitamin D, and potassium.

If low levels of potassium and vitamins B1, B12, and D can cause leg cramps, supplements that raise their levels can help prevent leg cramps. Thus, besides magnesium supplements, other supplements that can help prevent cramping of leg muscles include:

magnesium supplement

Read also: Vitamin B12: The Ultimate Guide to Understanding its Importance and Sources

Takeaway: Meet your daily magnesium requirement and fight leg cramps

Leg cramps are pains in the leg muscles caused by involuntary muscle contractions.

Magnesium helps in the regulation of muscle contraction, and a deficiency predisposes one to leg cramps. So, improving low levels of magnesium can help with leg cramps.

Clinical studies of magnesium treatment for cramps are not conclusive that the mineral has a significant beneficial effect on the problem. However, magnesium seems to help some people with leg cramps, making it widely used to treat the problem.

While magnesium is available in different food types, one of the best ways to meet daily magnesium requirements is by taking dietary supplements. This is where Why Not Natural comes in!

Why Not Natural provides clean supplements that work. Our supplements contain no preservatives or fillers that have no health benefits to you. They’re also GMO-free, diabetic-friendly, and free of all common allergens.

Our magnesium complex supplement provides all the magnesium you need for overall health.

The supplement is supercharged with four forms of magnesium - glycinate, taurate, malate, and orotate. These are some of the most readily available forms of magnesium, making the supplement excellent for raising magnesium levels. 

In addition to reducing cramping, it is calming, promotes quality sleep, and improves fatigue symptoms.

Ensure you meet your daily magnesium requirement to treat cramps and improve your overall health. Order the 100% natural 4-in-1 magnesium complex supplement today!
Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.