Many people who live with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) search for ways to feel better and improve their quality of life. When one myRAteam member asked about supplements that might help, another responded with, “I take a magnesium supplement in my cereal and am also now taking a liquid supplement daily.” In fact, a number of people across myRAteam say they include magnesium in their daily diet.
Magnesium is a mineral that can be found in a variety of foods, as well as in supplements and some medications, like antacids. It contributes to more than 300 chemical reactions in the body and is necessary for a wide variety of physical processes. Some people feel better when they take magnesium as a supplement or make an effort to consume more of it.
It’s important to research supplements and talk to your doctor before you start them. That way, you can be sure that what you’re taking will help benefit your health. Here’s what you need to know about magnesium.
Magnesium has a wide variety of health benefits. It can help keep your bones strong, the cartilage in your joints healthy, and your heart’s rhythm regular. It can also improve both muscle and nerve function. Some people also find that it helps with migraine headaches.
Magnesium occurs naturally in a wide variety of foods, including pumpkin seeds, leafy green vegetables, nuts, salmon, and black beans. People who want to increase their intake without supplementation should try to eat more of these foods.
Magnesium is also available in supplement form. This includes gummies, powders that can be mixed with water, liquids, and more. Sometimes, taking supplements can be more efficient than changing your diet for one mineral, especially if you want to change your intake significantly. There’s no indication that it’s better to eat magnesium through food versus a supplement.
Several forms of magnesium are available as supplements or as active ingredients in laxatives and antacids. Examples include:
According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, the daily recommended dietary allowance of magnesium for adults is 400 to 420 milligrams for males and 310 to 320 milligrams for females.
Although there’s some basic research on the connection between RA and magnesium, there aren’t a lot of studies available on this topic. Some research is ongoing, and more is needed before scientists can draw any strong conclusions about whether or not magnesium can help people with RA and what the role of the mineral might be in helping with rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
One study that used a national health survey of American women with and without RA found that a moderate intake of magnesium (between 181 and 446 milligrams per day) may have a protective role in preventing RA in women. (Women are two to three times more likely than men to develop RA, according to Women’s Health.) Although the study — published in BMJ Open — suggests a correlation, it doesn’t mean that only increasing one’s magnesium intake can prevent them from developing RA. It’s also important to note that this study included only women and that it looked only at dietary magnesium intake, not magnesium taken as a supplement.
Another study, this one done on rats, showed that taking magnesium supplements seemed to reduce the severity of autoimmune arthritis conditions, including RA. Specifically, magnesium supplementation seemed to affect immune system cells in the joint tissue, which led to reduced levels of inflammation and pain in these kinds of inflammatory arthritis. While these results need to be replicated in humans, they show that there may be potential for magnesium supplements to help with joint pain and mobility for RA.
A small study of 35 people in the European Journal of Translational Myology looked at magnesium’s role in helping prevent type 2 diabetes in people living with RA. This study found that people with RA who took magnesium supplements had less indications of type 2 diabetes, like overall fasting blood sugar levels and insulin resistance. However, the study needs to be replicated in a larger population to understand how magnesium supplements work in a more diverse group of people.
Researchers have found a connection between magnesium and both improved immune function and lower levels of inflammation. Since rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory and an autoimmune disease, it makes sense that getting the daily recommended amount of magnesium may help people with RA to feel better. However, more research on the effects of magnesium in people living with RA is needed. Research findings could help inform recommendations for how much magnesium people with RA should consume, whether they should use supplements, and what kinds of anti-inflammatory effects they can expect.
As long as your kidneys are healthy, your body will get rid of any extra magnesium that you consume. While you don’t want to take more than the daily recommended amount, you shouldn’t need to worry about getting too much magnesium. If you do have kidney problems, talk to your doctor before taking magnesium or any supplement.
Even if your kidneys are working well, abdominal cramping and diarrhea are common side effects of high magnesium levels. This happens because magnesium promotes increased bowel function before it gets absorbed and sent to the kidneys.
Extremely high doses of magnesium — usually 5,000 milligrams or more a day — may cause toxicity and in some cases, even death. It’s very difficult to consume such high levels of magnesium through food alone. With supplements, pay attention to the dosage and stick to the daily recommended levels or your doctor’s recommendations.
Magnesium shouldn’t interfere with medications you take for RA. It can, however, interfere with some laxatives, antacids, antibiotics, and diuretics. If you take any of these medications, you’ll want to be wary of taking magnesium. You should talk to your rheumatology team before starting supplements to make sure that they won’t interact with your current medication regimen.
Magnesium deficiency (extremely low levels of magnesium) is also rare, because the kidneys will hold on to magnesium if it’s needed. People who are older, have gastrointestinal issues, or live with type 2 diabetes may have trouble getting enough magnesium.
You should talk to your rheumatologist or another health care provider before you start supplementing your diet with magnesium or with any other medications, natural or otherwise. That way, they can give you their expert medical advice when it comes to whether you should take it, how much you should take, and what you need to watch out for while taking it. Follow their instructions to get the most out of your magnesium supplement.
Your doctor may be able to help you get high-quality magnesium, too. While you can purchase the supplement in the form of pills, powder, gummies, or liquids at most stores that have a pharmacy or health food stores, your doctor may have a brand they recommend. Their brand recommendation may undergo additional testing to ensure its purity or to verify the amount of magnesium it contains.
On myRAteam — the social network for people with RA and their loved ones — more than 203,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with rheumatoid arthritis.
Are you considering magnesium to help with RA? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.