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Magnesium and COVID-19: 5 Things To Know

Medically reviewed by Manuel Penton, M.D.
Posted on August 22, 2023

If you’ve heard about the health benefits of magnesium and you have or want to prevent COVID-19, you might wonder if this nutrient can help. Early research shows that lower magnesium levels in your body are associated with increased risk and severity of a COVID-19 infection. But links between two factors don’t mean that one causes the other.

Magnesium plays an intricate role in the body’s health, so researchers are looking into its complex relationship with COVID-19. We’ll break down what we know so far about this connection.

1. Magnesium Helps Your Body Function Properly

Magnesium is a mineral that’s naturally found in your body and many plant and animal products. This nutrient helps you stay healthy by playing an important role in several of your body’s processes, such as:

  • Muscle function
  • Nerve function
  • Blood sugar levels
  • Blood pressure regulation
  • Bone development
  • Manufacture of proteins
  • Immune response

Your body absorbs magnesium from certain foods and drinks. Most adults should get between 310 and 420 milligrams per day. Magnesium-rich foods include:

  • Legumes, such as beans, peas, and lentils
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole grains
  • Green leafy vegetables, like spinach and lettuce
  • Fortified foods, such as breakfast cereal
  • Dairy products, like milk, yogurt, and ice cream

Low Magnesium

If you don’t get enough magnesium in your diet, you may have low blood levels of magnesium — also known as hypomagnesemia or a magnesium deficiency. Some people have an increased risk of low magnesium, including people with digestion problems, type 2 diabetes, or alcohol use disorder, as well as older adults.

The amount of magnesium you should get each day is based on your weight — the more you weigh, the more you may need. Low magnesium levels might be associated with a higher risk of getting COVID-19, but having a higher body weight also is associated with decreased immune function and more severe COVID-19.

High Magnesium

If you have too much magnesium in your body, you may have hypermagnesemia. This can happen from getting too much magnesium from supplements or medication, usually not from foods or drinks.

Although low magnesium is more common, severe COVID-19 symptoms are also associated with high magnesium levels.

2. People With Low Magnesium May Be More Likely To Get COVID-19

There are few studies on magnesium and COVID-19, but the little research that does exist suggests that low magnesium might increase the risk of COVID-19. Researchers have reported that among people hospitalized for COVID-19, between 44 percent and 48 percent had low magnesium levels and about 13 percent had severely low magnesium.

A lack of magnesium may play a role in the likelihood of catching COVID-19 because the mineral helps regulate your immune system. Magnesium deficiency is linked to decreased activity of immune cells and increased inflammation. If you have too little magnesium, your immune system may not properly protect you against infections from viruses like SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.

3. People With Low Magnesium May Have Severe COVID-19 Symptoms and Complications

Having low magnesium might not only raise your risk of getting COVID-19 but also lead to more severe symptoms. Researchers weren’t surprised by this finding, since many consequences of magnesium deficiency mimic the risk factors for COVID-19.

People with low magnesium are more likely to be of older age or have the following medical conditions — which are also risk factors for more severe COVID-19:

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Cardiovascular disease (heart disease)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Asthma

Clinical trials have also linked low magnesium levels in people with COVID-19 to an increased risk of:

  • More severe COVID-19 symptoms
  • Increased length of stay in the critical care unit of the hospital
  • Death
  • Blood clots
  • Need for a ventilator

Compared with other types of research, studies in which participants report what they eat are less trusted because they’re more likely to be inaccurate. A few nutritional studies suggest that people who eat more foods with magnesium have a lower risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms.

How Does Magnesium Affect COVID-19 Symptoms?

Magnesium is important for regulating your immune system and inflammation. If you have a magnesium deficiency, your immune cells may release more inflammatory proteins called cytokines. This may raise your risk of a serious COVID-19 complication called cytokine release syndrome, also known as a cytokine storm. Cytokine resistance syndrome can lead to serious complications, including organ damage and Guillain-Barré syndrome.

When the symptoms of low magnesium overlap with those of COVID-19, they may become worse. Low magnesium may be linked to several COVID-19 symptoms, such as:

  • Memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Loss of taste, smell, and appetite
  • Poor coordination
  • Headaches

Some of these connections have barely been studied, so researchers don’t yet know if magnesium really plays a critical role in these symptoms.

4. More Research Is Needed on Magnesium for COVID-19 Symptoms

Both inhaling magnesium and receiving it intravenously (directly into a vein) have been used to improve asthma symptoms. Researchers are investigating whether magnesium could also improve the respiratory symptoms caused by COVID-19.

Inhaled Magnesium

Magnesium can be inhaled directly into the lungs in the form of magnesium sulfate, using a nebulizer to make a fine mist. Inhaling magnesium may help reduce inflammation of the lung tissue and prevent constriction (narrowing) of the airways by relaxing the surrounding muscles.

Although inhaled magnesium can sometimes be used to ease asthma symptoms, it’s currently unknown how well it might help people with COVID-19. Results from clinical trials are being evaluated to help reveal how useful this treatment might be.

Intravenous Magnesium

Intravenous (IV) magnesium (given as magnesium sulfate) has also been used to treat severe asthma symptoms. Due to its positive effects in people with asthma, researchers have suggested that it may also make breathing easier for people with COVID-19. However, studies need to be conducted and show a benefit before IV magnesium can be recommended for more people.

Magnesium Supplements

Magnesium supplements, which come as tablets and liquid, may be taken by people with a magnesium deficiency. A small observational study found that older adults hospitalized for COVID-19 who received a combination of magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 supplements were less likely to need oxygen therapy or intensive care. However, the researchers emphasized the need for a bigger study to better understand the benefit of supplementation.

While magnesium supplements may be helpful for people with low magnesium, their usefulness for people with normal levels remains unclear. According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, possible side effects from taking magnesium include diarrhea, stomach cramps, and nausea. Additionally, getting too much of the mineral may be harmful. More research is needed to show how increased magnesium levels can affect people with COVID-19.

5. Magnesium May Affect How COVID-19 Treatments Work

Because magnesium is involved in so many processes in the body, it can have an effect on medications used to treat COVID-19.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved or authorized several antiviral drugs that target the virus that causes COVID-19:

  • Nirmatrelvir and ritonavir (Paxlovid)
  • Remdesivir (Veklury)
  • Molnupiravir (Lagevrio)

Researchers need to investigate how these and other COVID-19 treatments interact with magnesium, including whether magnesium either improves or hinders how well a medication works, as well as whether the mineral can reduce the severity of the drug’s side effects.

Talk to your health care provider about all the prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, and supplements you take before you start a treatment for COVID-19.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On myCOVIDteam, the online social network for people with COVID-19 and their loved ones, more than 8,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with COVID-19.

Have you had your magnesium level checked? Have you ever noticed symptoms of magnesium deficiency? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

References
  1. Magnesium and Your Health — Healthdirect
  2. Magnesium: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals — National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements
  3. Magnesium: Fact Sheet for Consumers — National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements
  4. The Significance of Low Magnesium Levels in COVID-19 Patients — Medicina
  5. Magnesium Deficiency — Healthdirect
  6. Importance of Magnesium Status in COVID-19 — Biology
  7. Obesity, Race/Ethnicity, and COVID-19 — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  8. Effects of Social Approval Bias on Self-Reported Fruit and Vegetable Consumption: A Randomized Controlled Trial — Nutrition Journal
  9. Can Maintaining Optimal Magnesium Balance Reduce the Disease Severity of COVID-19 Patients? — Frontiers in Endocrinology
  10. People With Certain Medical Conditions — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  11. Higher Intake of Dietary Magnesium Is Inversely Associated With COVID-19 Severity and Symptoms in Hospitalized Patients: A Cross-Sectional Study — Frontiers in Nutrition
  12. Cytokine Release Syndrome (CRS) — Cleveland Clinic
  13. The Role of Oral Magnesium Supplements for the Management of Stable Bronchial Asthma: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis — NPJ Primary Care Respiratory Medicine
  14. Inhaled Magnesium Sulfate in the Treatment of Acute Asthma — The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
  15. Cohort Study To Evaluate the Effect of Vitamin D, Magnesium, and Vitamin B12 in Combination on Progression to Severe Outcomes in Older Patients With Coronavirus (COVID-19) — Nutrition
  16. COVID-19 Treatments and Medications — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Posted on August 22, 2023
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Manuel Penton, M.D. is a medical editor at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about him 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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