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Magnesium chemical element, illustration.

Illustration: Marta Pucci

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Magnesium and the menstrual cycle

Does magnesium help with menstrual-related issues?

As a clinician with more than twenty years’ experience, I regularly prescribe magnesium for Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), and perimenopause symptoms. I’ve come to rely on magnesium as one of my favorite natural treatments for reducing stress, improving insulin resistance, and relieving symptoms like dysmenorrhea (painful periods) and hot flashes. 

The effectiveness of magnesium has been demonstrated in a few studies and clinical trials, which are compiled into a 2017 literature review called Magnesium in the gynecological practice (1). In that review, the authors conclude that there is “an important role for magnesium for the prevention and the treatment of several conditions relevant to women’s health” (1).

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I hope that with even more research, magnesium will one day make its way into every health practitioner’s office as standard care.

Here are some of magnesium’s potential benefits for menstrual health.

Magnesium can reduce stress

Magnesium calms the nervous system and reduces the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis (2). The result is less anxiety and lower levels of the stress hormone known as cortisol. Reducing stress can positively affect your menstrual cycle, health and well-being.

Magnesium may improve insulin resistance and help with PCOS

Magnesium supplementation has been demonstrated to improve insulin resistance, a metabolic condition of chronically elevated insulin often associated with PCOS (3). However, the research on the overall benefits of magnesium for PCOS is less clear (4).

If magnesium does help insulin resistance, then it could be a useful supplement for many of the long-term negative health consequences associated with the condition. The benefits of magnesium for people with PCOS were demonstrated in one study where magnesium-zinc-calcium-vitamin D co-supplementation improved the insulin metabolism of 30 PCOS patients over 12 weeks (5).

Magnesium and premenstrual syndrome (PMS)

According to a recent literature review, magnesium is an evidence-based treatment for PMS (1). Some researchers propose that it may work by calming the nervous system and by “normalizing the actions of different hormones (mainly progesterone) on the central nervous system” (6).

Tip: Magnesium works best in combination with vitamin B6 (7) and it can be used to prevent premenstrual migraines (1)

Magnesium may help to prevent period pain

Taken daily, magnesium may prevent dysmenorrhea (menstrual cramps) in some people (1). It works by relaxing the smooth muscle of the uterus and by reducing the prostaglandins that cause period pain (1,8).

Magnesium can relieve symptoms of perimenopause and menopause

Magnesium can ease symptoms of the menopause transition (1). For example, in one study, magnesium reduced the menopausal hot flashes of women who were undergoing breast cancer treatment and could not take hormone replacement (11).

Should you test for magnesium deficiency?

Unfortunately, the standard “serum magnesium” blood test cannot detect magnesium deficiency, and a normal reading might mislead you and your healthcare practitioner. Instead, you could consider the test “red blood cell magnesium,” which is slightly more accurate but may still fail to detect a whole-body magnesium deficiency.

Magnesium deficiency is common; approximately two-thirds of Americans do not consume enough magnesium (12). One way to know if you might be deficient in magnesium is to try taking a supplement and see how you feel. Unless you have chronic kidney disease, magnesium is safe for short and long-term use. Some forms (such as magnesium chloride) can cause diarrhea, but gentler forms (such as magnesium glycinate) are usually fine.

I recommend 300 mg daily taken directly after food.

The best type of magnesium supplement

You can get some magnesium from foods such as green leafy vegetables, chocolate, and nuts. Still, you may need to supplement it because magnesium is depleted by stress (13).

I recommend magnesium glycinate or bisglycinate (the mineral joined to the amino acid glycine). It’s the type of magnesium that is most absorbable and the least likely to cause diarrhea. Magnesium bisglycinate has the added benefit of glycine, which calms the nervous system and improves insulin sensitivity (14,15). Most magnesium supplements can be purchased over-the-counter without a prescription at your local pharmacy or grocery store. Before starting any new dietary supplement, it is important to talk with your healthcare provider. 

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