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Magnesium Supplements for Asthma: Can They Help?

Medically reviewed by Kelsey Stalvey, PharmD
Posted on August 15, 2023

Reports about the health benefits of magnesium supplements have prompted some people with asthma to wonder whether getting more of this mineral might help them breathe easier. “Magnesium seems to help me,” one MyAsthmaTeam member wrote. “I think it relaxes my lungs.”

Researchers are still learning how magnesium is involved in the processes of several diseases, including asthma. Continue reading to learn more about magnesium supplements for people with asthma.

What Is Magnesium?

Magnesium is a mineral naturally found in your body that helps it work properly. Not having enough magnesium can lead to health problems like heart attacks, stroke, and diabetes.

Magnesium is needed for many functions, including:

  • Protein synthesis
  • Muscle and nerve function
  • Glucose (blood sugar) control
  • Blood pressure regulation
  • Bone development
  • Heart rhythm regulation

You can find magnesium in many different plant-based and animal-based foods and drinks. The recommended dietary allowance for magnesium in adults is between 310 milligrams and 420 milligrams per day to stay healthy. Foods that are rich in magnesium include:

  • Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and lettuce
  • Legumes, like black beans, edamame, and kidney beans
  • Nuts and seeds, such as pumpkin seeds, peanut butter, and almonds
  • Whole grains, including oatmeal, whole wheat bread, and brown rice

Types of Magnesium Supplements

Magnesium supplements are available in a few different forms, including:

  • Magnesium citrate
  • Magnesium oxide
  • Magnesium chloride
  • Magnesium glycinate

Magnesium in the form of magnesium hydroxide, found in products like milk of magnesia, is used as a stomach remedy to treat constipation, heartburn, and upset stomach.

Why Do People Take Magnesium Supplements?

Some people take magnesium supplements because they have low magnesium levels (which your doctor may refer to as a magnesium deficiency). About 50 percent of Americans may not get enough magnesium in their diets to stay healthy. Some groups of people may have an increased risk of a magnesium deficiency, including:

  • People with digestive problems — They may not be able to absorb enough magnesium from food.
  • Older adults and people with alcohol dependency — Individuals in these populations are more likely to not get enough dietary magnesium.
  • People with type 2 diabetes — These individuals may lose more magnesium in their urine.

Your doctor can measure your magnesium levels using a blood test or urine test. Magnesium deficiency is linked to several conditions, such as:

  • Osteoporosis (low bone density)
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Heart disease
  • Migraine headaches
  • Type 2 diabetes

Is Magnesium Involved in Asthma?

Studies have found an association between developing asthma and having low blood levels of magnesium or low dietary intake of magnesium. Additionally, researchers have found that people with asthma have lower blood magnesium levels than individuals without asthma. This finding is especially common among people who arrive at the emergency department with an asthma exacerbation (also referred to as an asthma attack).

However, researchers don’t fully understand the role of magnesium in asthma. Some think magnesium’s ability to relax smooth muscles and its anti-inflammatory effects may benefit people with asthma, but more studies are needed to confirm this theory.

Magnesium and Smooth Muscle

Researchers have found that people with low magnesium levels could have more asthma exacerbations. This may be because magnesium can relax smooth muscle, allowing your airways to open.

Smooth muscles are responsible for regulating body functions that you don’t voluntarily control. They’re located throughout your body, including in your airways, blood vessels, and intestines.

Magnesium’s Anti-Inflammatory Effects

Magnesium may also have an anti-inflammatory effect. Researchers have found that magnesium blocks the release of acetylcholine and histamine, two chemicals in your body that are known to cause bronchoconstriction (constricted airways) and airway inflammation.

Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter — a chemical messenger for your nerves. When acetylcholine binds to receptors in your lungs, it can cause your smooth muscles to contract and trigger mucus production.

Histamine is a chemical released by your immune system. When histamine binds to receptors in your lungs, it can cause smooth muscle contractions, swelling, and mucus production.

Magnesium may help prevent bronchoconstriction by stopping the release of these chemicals.

Magnesium Supplements and Stable Asthma

The role that magnesium supplements could have in asthma treatment is uncertain. A 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis of past studies looked at how magnesium supplements affected people with stable asthma. Researchers didn’t find magnesium supplements to offer a significant improvement in lung function or asthma symptoms.

Currently, there isn’t any information about how magnesium supplements may affect your quality of life or risk of death. Clinical trials specifically evaluating people with asthma are needed to learn about how magnesium supplements may affect asthma symptoms.

Magnesium and Acute Asthma Exacerbations

Several studies have evaluated the potential effect of inhaled or intravenous magnesium on people with acute asthma exacerbations.

Intravenous Magnesium

The 2022 Global Initiative for Asthma guidelines recommend that doctors may consider using intravenous magnesium sulfate in people with severe asthma attacks who don’t respond to the first treatments given. Intravenous magnesium is not recommended for use in all people, and it hasn’t been studied in children younger than five years old.

Inhaled Magnesium

Magnesium can be delivered to the lungs using a nebulizer. Doctors may consider using nebulized magnesium sulfate in adults and children with severe asthma symptoms who don’t respond to other treatments.

A 2017 review found evidence that inhaled magnesium might improve lung function and reduce the risk of hospital admission for some people during an asthma attack. Inhaled magnesium may not be effective on its own and should be combined with other asthma medications, such as bronchodilators and ipratropium (Atrovent).

Risks With Taking Magnesium Supplements

As with all medications, taking a magnesium supplement comes with possible risks. Talk to your doctor before you start taking any new medication or supplement.

While dietary magnesium is usually safe for most people, magnesium supplements can have side effects, including:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps

Notably, health experts recognize magnesium glycinate as being the most gentle form of magnesium on the gastrointestinal tract.

Magnesium may also interact with other medications, such as:

  • Osteoporosis medications
  • Antibiotics
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Heartburn medications

There isn’t any information about how magnesium supplements may interact with common asthma treatments, such as corticosteroid inhalers. To check for possible drug interactions, talk to your doctor about all medications you take, including those you buy over the counter, as well as supplements.

Can Magnesium Supplements Help With Asthma?

Although there may be a link between low magnesium levels and the development of asthma, it’s unknown if using magnesium supplements can help control asthma. If you’re worried about your magnesium level, talk to your doctor about getting a blood test to check your magnesium. You can also discuss ways to increase your magnesium intake through your diet.

Like all medications and supplements, there are possible risks with taking a magnesium supplement. Talk to your doctor about how magnesium might affect your asthma action plan before you take any new supplement or medication to treat asthma.

Find Your Team

On MyAsthmaTeam, the social network for people with asthma and their loved ones, more than 10,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with asthma.

Have you taken magnesium supplements? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on August 15, 2023
All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

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Kelsey Stalvey, PharmD received her Doctor of Pharmacy from Pacific University School of Pharmacy in Portland, Oregon, and went on to complete a one-year postgraduate residency at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, Florida. Learn more about her here
Amanda Jacot, PharmD earned a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of Texas at Austin in 2009 and a Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Texas College of Pharmacy in 2014. Learn more about her here

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