A surprise reason up to 75% of us struggle to lose weight and sleep soundly: “We need more of the mineral magnesium,” reveals Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, author of The Magnesium Miracle and Magnesium: The Missing Link to Total Health. Turns out, the mineral is required to help active enzymes that ignite over 600 body functions, with a huge impact from head to toe. Of concern: At least half of Americans aren’t getting enough magnesium.
Dr. Dean says deeper sleep and effortless weight loss follow once a deficiency is reversed, especially for women over the age of 50. That was certainly the case for Las Vegas retiree Emily Piaseczny, 72, who credits magnesium-rich foods and magnesium powder with ending her sleeplessness and helping her drop 97 pounds. Keep reading to learn about the connection between magnesium and weight loss and find out how much the mineral can help you.
Why magnesium is important to total health
Magnesium is an “essential” mineral, which means our bodies require it for survival but can’t produce the stuff on their own. Magnesium is also an electrolyte, notes Dr. Dean. That means it helps ferry nutrients into our cells, helping our hearts beat, our muscles contract and our nerves function. On top of that, electrolytes are key to helping maintain a proper balance of fluid in the body. Translation: If you want to feel your best, you need magnesium.
The good news is that magnesium is richly supplied by many common foods, especially greens, nuts, seeds, dry beans, whole grains, wheat germ, wheat and oat bran. The bad news: It’s often missing from processed foods. “Much of our current food supply is monumentally depleted of magnesium,” says Dr. Dean, noting it’s a big reason hundreds of millions of us fail to get the recommended daily allowance of 310-320 milligrams for most women, 350-360 milligrams for anyone pregnant or nursing and 400-420 mg for men.
But low magnesium is an easy problem to fix. A mountain of research has demonstrated that when we use food or supplements to correct a deficiency, a lot of great things can happen. For example, magnesium helps get calcium into bones, slashing risk of fractures up to 62%, say Italian scientists. Other research has demonstrated that adequate magnesium can cut migraines 50%, ease restless legs syndrome 59% and lower kidney stone risk 80%. What’s more, magnesium can even cure back pain caused by constipation.
The sleep-slim connection
A 2021 analysis conducted by Italian scientists found that folks with a magnesium deficiency are far more likely to struggle with obesity than those who get enough magnesium. One possible reason for this? As Emily read, magnesium calms the nervous system and is proven to help lower stress hormones, ease anxiety and boost deep sleep by three hours a night — factors that can help increase fat loss by up to 97%. (Click through to our sister site to discover how magnesium can help end restless leg syndrome.)
Magnesium’s impact on blood sugar
The hormone insulin needs magnesium “to move blood sugar into cells to be turned into energy,” says Dr. Dean. So if you’re low in magnesium, you’ll pick up extra pounds, feel drained and set yourself up to develop diabetes. The good news: Recent testing found folks who get 300 milligrams magnesium a day slash diabetes risk and carry about 25 fewer pounds of fat than those who get less.
“Improved blood sugar control also gives you more energy,” Dr. Dean notes. “So you’re sleeping better at night and feeling more energetic during the day.” That means you’re more likely to be active and make healthy choices — basically setting of a healing, slimming domino effect. (Click through to learn more about supplements that reverse diabetes.)
How magnesium eases stress to boost weight loss
“Magnesium helps the adrenal glands deal with stress. And if we’re dealing with prolonged stress, our stress hormones will deplete magnesium,” says Dr. Dean. As magnesium in the body is used up, stress hormones stay elevated, which shows on our midsections. “The stress hormone cortisol acts to increase belly fat,” says the doc.
Fortunately, growing research suggests that magnesium may be a natural, inexpensive treatment for stress and anxiety. During a scientific review from 2017, British researchers found that magnesium supplements had a positive effect on participants with mild anxiety, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), postpartum mental health issues and hypertension (high blood pressure). And a six-week study of 126 middle-aged adults with mild to moderate depression found that magnesium supplements improved or even eliminated symptoms within two weeks. (Click through to learn more about two common types of magnesium: magnesium glycinate and citrate)
This not only makes you feel better, “if you take enough magnesium, you decrease those stress hormones and you’ll have less belly fat,” says Dr. Dean. (Click through for more on improving anxiety and stress with magnesium.)
Adds Dr. Dean: “Magnesium can make a huge difference in weight loss, and it’s part of the bigger picture of better sleep, more energy, less anxiety, and general feeling of well-being. She recommends at 300 to 600 milligrams of magnesium a day from food and supplements. She personally takes between 450 and 600 milligrams of magnesium every day. “Because of it, I feel better in my 70s than I did in my 30s.” Learn more about the magnesium supplements she developed at RNAreset.com.
“My body shrank and my spirit grew!”
For months, fiery pain would jolt Emily Piaseczny awake in the night. Here we go again, she would think. Her bad hip woke her constantly. “And as I tried to get comfortable, I’d inevitably wake my husband, Fred. Which wasn’t healthy for either of us,” shares the Las Vegas retiree.
Yet at age 69 and 248 pounds, doctors warned hip replacement was risky. So she’d put it off, her world growing ever smaller. She could no longer hike with Fred, kayak with friends or go on adventures with her grandkids. “But finally it hit me: I could live another 25 years and I didn’t want to be housebound. I had to get healthy enough for surgery.”
So Emily tried to figure out how to help herself. The truth was, she had dieted for years and burned out. It was only when the unthinkable happened — her son died of heart failure — that Emily read books on grief and realized she had a habit of eating to numb herself. “Any time I felt sad, scared or overstimulated, I ate myself into a food coma,” she shares. Was there any hope she could change?
“I believe the universe has a way of helping us find the solutions we need, she says. “I told myself to pay attention.”
Emily’s slim down journey begins
Later, when a weight-loss ad popped up on Facebook, Emily didn’t automatically scroll past. Instead, she skimmed the little box. Weight loss isn’t just about what you eat, but why you eat., it read. Our goal is to help you develop sustainable habits you’ll keep for a lifetime.
Emily hesitated, then took a quiz they offered. Did she want to just lose fat or also build muscle? Had yo-yo dieting been an issue for her? Did she want to focus on nutrition or new habits first? It was so different from anything else she’d done. She decided to try it.
Emily read through basic guidelines and tips from the app, called Noom. Her first big goal: To gently adjust the way she ate until she felt full and content on about 1,400 calories a day. One suggestion was to eat slowly, savoring each bite; another was to choose foods rich in protein, fiber and other filling nutrients.
She had a family dinner planned, and Emily made the beef goulash and brownies her kids and grandkids loved. She calculated how much she could eat, served herself that amount — and that was it. She enjoyed her food and loved ones. Later, as everyone helped clean up, she could barely suppress a smile. “I felt hope,” she recalls.
The app sent daily ‘lessons,’ and Emily learned coping skills for times when difficult memories made her want to eat mindlessly. One suggestion was to let herself to feel her feelings as she took a walk or talked to a friend. As a few weeks passed and new behaviors felt more and more like new habits, Emily was already down 22 pounds.
How magnesium helped with weight loss
As her journey continued, Emily read something that resonated: Too little sleep can throw off hormones, leading to hunger and fat storage. Even though her hip was better, she still had trouble sleeping. Reading that magnesium could help, she began taking a multi-vitamin with magnesium and favoring magnesium-rich foods like almonds, avocado, dark chocolate, whole grains. She’d even serve things like chili and pasta over magnesium-packed spinach.
Did it help? “The twitchiness I used to feel in bed was going away,” she reveals. Her sleep and energy better, she experimented to find more and more everyday foods that satisfied her, many offering bonus doses of magnesium — things like pork chops, sweet potatoes, even Honey Nut Cheerios. Pounds disappeared all the while. “Did you get a new haircut?” Fred asked one day. Emily laughed and hugged him. “Sweetheart, I lost 50 pounds!”
Eventually, Emily added a nightly wind-down ritual that included powdered magnesium she got at Walmart. She found it helps her sleep like a baby—and burn fat like a teen. In 18 months, she shed 97 pounds. “At a checkup, my doctor threw her arms around me, and said, ‘You’ve changed the course of the rest of your life!’” recalls the 72-year-old, who is in far less pain and cleared for hip surgery.
She and Fred are already taking advantage. “We go to restaurants and travel more. Chairs fit me better. The world just fits better. My body shrank and my spirit grew!”
Which foods have the most magnesium?
To up your magnesium and boost weight loss, here are the best food bets, according to the National Institutes of Health:
- Pumpkin seeds (156 mg in 1 ounce)
- Chia seeds (111 mg in 1 ounce)
- Dry, roasted almonds (80 mg in 1 ounce)
- Boiled spinach (78 mg in ½ cup)
- Dry, roasted cashews (74 mg in one ounce)
- Peanuts, roasted in oil, (63 mg in ¼ cup)
- Soymilk, plain or vanilla (61 mg in 1 cup)
- Cooked black beans (60 mg in ½ cup)
- Shelled, cooked edamame (50 mg in ½ cup)
- Peanut butter, smooth (49 mg in 2 tablespoons)
Magnesium-rich recipes to get you started
To optimize weight loss like Emily did, aim for a serving of magnesium-rich foods at every sitting. Emily also added an evening dose of Natural Vitality Calm magnesium powder (buy it on Amazon for $27.49 for 16 oz.). Click through for recipes that incorporate magnesium powder in drinks.
Dark Chocolate-Nut Bark
Mega-magnesium dark chocolate and nuts pair perfectly in this delish recipe.
- 2 (3.5 oz) dark chocolate bars
- ⅓ cup dry roasted nuts
- Microwave chocolate in 20-second intervals, stirring until mostly melted.
- With rubber spatula, spread on a lined sheet. Top with nuts, pressing lightly into chocolate.
- Chill until firm. Break in pieces.
Creamy Avocado-Egg Toast
Toast a slice or two whole-wheat or almond-flour bread; top with mashed avocado, 1-2 cooked eggs and seasonings to taste.
Loaded Black Bean Soup
Heat 2 cups reduced-sodium black bean soup with a serving fresh or frozen spinach; stir until greens ‘melt’ into soup. Top with Greek yogurt and avocado.
Easy Supper Salad
Top a large salad with chunks of seasoned cooked salmon or tofu and cooked quinoa; drizzle with olive oil vinaigrette.
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This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.
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