Unlocking the Power of Minerals: Understanding Magnesium and Zinc for Optimum Health

Written by: Christine VanDoren, nutritionist

Fact checked by: Kelsey Butler, RDN

woman drinking water after running

It is not out of place to associate good health with vitamins, carbohydrates, and proteins while leaving out minerals, which are a major part of our health and the body’s ability to function optimally. Minerals are simple elements obtained from rocks and soil that the body needs in small amounts to function properly.

Minerals are the silent heroes present in every body cell. These elements play a vital role in everything that concerns the body, from energy production to immune function. Hence, not getting enough of them causes problems.

Although the body needs several minerals to function properly, magnesium and zinc are unique. Magnesium is involved in over 300 enzymatic activities in the body. It supports muscle and function, healthy blood sugar, and contributes to building strong bones and teeth.

On the other hand, zinc plays a crucial role in the immune system and supporting cell growth. Inadequate levels of these minerals are not palatable with human body functioning. So, knowing how the minerals work in the body is important. 

Hence, this article delves into the nature and functions of magnesium and zinc and equips you with the requisite knowledge to take charge of your health with issues concerning these minerals. It is time to dive in. 

The Role of Magnesium

Magnesium, also known as the relaxation mineral, is stored in the bones and muscles. It activates several enzymatic activities and even works in DNA synthesis. 

More importantly, magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body. Its functions in the human body include the following: 

  • Energy production: Magnesium is a major component in converting ingested food into energy that can be used for daily activities. It works by activating adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is an important form of energy in our cells and body. Note that it might be challenging to convert ingested food to usable energy without sufficient magnesium. 
  • Nerve function and muscle relaxation: Magnesium plays a crucial role in nerve conduction and transmission. It regulates nerve excitations and contraction and relaxation of smooth muscles at neuromuscular junctions. Additionally, magnesium plays a protective role as it prevents excessive excitation of nerves. 
  • Blood sugar maintenance: Magnesium helps blood sugar by promoting insulin function, which keeps the blood sugar stable. Hence, you need enough of it to keep your blood sugar levels healthy. 
  • Bone health: Magnesium helps in building strong and healthy bones. It is necessary for bone formation and mineralization.

These functions of magnesium produce several health benefits, and some of them include the following: 

  • Healthy immune system responses: Since magnesium plays a vital role in continuous functions like blood sugar, nerve transmission, and DNA synthesis, research indicates that magnesium will help you age gracefully by keeping your heart and cells happy.
  • Improved mood by regulating neurotransmitters: Magnesium regulates neurotransmitter release, which promotes cognitive function and helps to balance mood. 
  • Enhanced sleep quality: Magnesium helps to improve sleep quality by regulating neurotransmitters, which calm the body.

The Role of Zinc

Zinc is the second most abundant mineral in the body. It is called the body's defender. It is found in every body cell as it works with over 300 enzymatic activities to regulate several functions, including DNA synthesis.

The functions of zinc in the body include the following:

  • Immune system: Zinc supports the immune system by aiding the development and function of white blood cells. 
  • Taste and smell: Zinc interacts with the taste buds and olfactory receptors. So, it plays a role in taste and smell perception. 
  • Growth and development in children: Zinc is important in the growth and development of children as it regulates the hormones and cell division that support growth. 
  • Reproductive function regulator: Zinc regulates the production of sex hormones in males and females, thereby regulating the sexual functionality of the body. 

The above functions of zinc produces the following health benefits:

  • Improved cognitive function: Zinc can help improve memory, learning, and other neural functions when present in adequate amounts.
  • Enhanced skin health: Zinc aids collagen production, thereby promoting healthy skin. 
  • Immune system function: This is evident as there are well-developed and functional white blood cells.
  • Support reproductive health in males and females: Zinc plays a role in healthy sperm function in men and an efficient reproductive system in females.

Spotting Inadequacies

Minerals have multiple functions in the human body. Therefore, an insufficient amount will cause disturbances, mostly to the systems on which they have more impact. In any scenario, catching it early is crucial for improving overall well-being. 

Here are the symptoms you may notice if you're not getting enough zinc and magnesium. 

Symptoms of Magnesium Inadequacy

Over time, insufficient amounts of magnesium have been found to be normal in persons of advanced age, people with long-term illnesses, or those who adopt low-quality diets. However, these symptoms should be observed to identify magnesium inadequacies.

  • Muscular system symptoms: Muscle twitches, cramps, spasms, muscle weakness, and fatigue.
  • Nervous system symptoms: Tremors, sleeping irregularities, stress, irritability, and headaches.

Symptoms of Zinc Inadequacy

Zinc inadequacy is not as common as magnesium. It can be seen in people with medical conditions that affect the extraction of zinc from the ingested food and, in turn, its availability to the body. It is also seen in individuals lacking diverse diet options. 

Skin and hair symptoms: Loss of hair and dry and flaking skin.

Immune system symptoms: Weakened immune system

Taste and smell symptoms: Loss of sense of taste and smell.

Other symptoms: Diarrhea (especially in children), poor eating habits accompanied by weight loss, night blindness and other vision problems, delayed growth and development in children, delayed sexual maturation in adolescents, low mood state and irritability, and fatigue.

Sources of Magnesium and Zinc

There are natural and supplementary sources of minerals in the body. Natural sources are usually plants and animals. Adults need a daily dose of 300 to 400 milligrams of magnesium. This can be obtained from natural foods as well as magnesium supplements. 

Here is a list of foods that are high in magnesium:

  • Avocados - They contain 84 mg of magnesium each.
  • Leafy greens - A cup of boiled spinach has 157 mg of magnesium.
  • Nuts such as almonds, cashews, and groundnuts.
  • Seeds.
  • Dark chocolate - There is 64 mg of magnesium in one ounce.
  • Whole wheat - It contains 160mg of magnesium per cup.
  • Black beans - It contains 120 mg per cup. 
  • Edamame - These are soybeans boiled in their pods. Half a cup of these beans contains 50 mg of magnesium.
  • Cultured yogurt - A cup of cultured yogurt contains 30 mg of magnesium
  • Quinoa - This seed is cooked similarly to rice. A cup of boiled quinoa has 118 mg of magnesium.
  • Tofu - Half a cup contains about 37 mg of magnesium. 

However, be careful not to eat foods rich in phytic acids every time you eat magnesium-rich foods. Phytic acids bind to magnesium in the gastrointestinal tract, making it less available for the body to use. Phytic acids are seen in legumes, seeds, nuts, beans, and grains. 

Meanwhile, zinc is one of the minerals that cannot be stored in the body. This implies that you must eat it often for adequate body functioning. The recommended amount of daily intake of zinc is as follows:

  • Males of 19 years and older - 11 mg per day. 
  • Females of 19 years and older - 8 mg per day.
  • Pregnant women - 11 mg per day.
  • Breastfeeding women - 12 mg per day.

Adequate zinc intake can be obtained from natural foods and supplements. Here is a list of foods that are high in zinc:

  • Meat (especially red meat) - A 100 gram of beef contains 4.79 mg of zinc.
  • Shellfish - 33 mg of zinc in six medium shellfish.
  • Diary products.
  • Nuts. 
  • Seeds.
  • Legumes.
  • Dark chocolate - A 3-ounce serving contains 3.1 mg of zinc.
  • Whole grains such as wheat, rice, quinoa, and oats.
  • Eggs.

Supplementing Magnesium and Zinc

Although these minerals are readily available from natural foods, there are cases where they can be taken as supplements to solve specific needs. These situations where mineral supplements might be necessary include:

  • Dietary patterns: Given that some natural sources of magnesium and zinc are meat, vegetarians and vegans might not easily access these minerals. On this note, it is imperative to seek a doctor's advice on magnesium and zinc supplementation.
  • Increased demands: In pregnant women, athletes, and lactating mothers there is more demand for these minerals. If these demands cannot be satisfied via natural sources alone, supplementation is an effective solution to fill in nutritional gaps.

  • Considerations in choosing magnesium or zinc supplements

    Before commencing supplementation, you must consider certain factors in choosing the supplements to ensure optimal results. Some of these factors include the following:

  • Form: The form to pick depends on the bioavailability and side effects. For example, magnesium citrate and glycinate are highly absorbable forms of magnesium supplements. Then zinc citrate and picolinate have good bioavailability after ingestion. 
  • Dosage: Ensure the dosage of the supplements is not above the recommended daily intake (RDI). It must be within the RDI to be a standard supplement.
  • Drug interaction: This is necessary as these minerals can interact badly with other classes of drugs. Magnesium interacts poorly with diuretics, and some antibiotics and zinc interfere with the absorption of antibiotics. 
      • Supplement quality: Ensure that you choose quality, reputable brands that have third-party laboratory certifications for the purity and potency of the supplement.
  • Seek your doctor's advice: Always discuss your choice of supplements with your doctor, especially in cases of underlying medical conditions.

  • Frequently Asked Questions

    Q: What are the health benefits of magnesium and zinc?

    A: Magnesium helps with nervous transmission and coordination, blood sugar, bone building and mineralization, and cognitive function. Meanwhile, zinc helps regulate taste and smell, improves skin and cognitive function, supports the immune system, supports growth hormones, and improves reproductive health.

    Q: How much magnesium and zinc do I need daily?

    A: While you need 300 to 400 mg of magnesium daily, you need about 80 mg of zinc. However, needs do vary based on age and gender.

    Q: What are the best natural sources of magnesium and zinc?

    A: While the best natural sources of magnesium are dark chocolate, legumes, leafy greens, avocados, whole grains, and yogurt, the best natural sources of zinc include eggs, meat, dairy products, beans, lentils, and poultry.

    Q: Can I take magnesium and zinc supplements?

    A: Yes. However, take magnesium and zinc supplements under supervision by medical personnel. If taken above the required dosage, there may be unfavorable conditions. 

    Q: Can I take magnesium and zinc together?

    A: Yes. You should also do this under the supervision of health personnel, as taking high doses of one could affect the absorption of the other. 


    Magnesium and zinc are important minerals that the body needs to fulfill its daily functions effectively. Although magnesium can be stored in the bones and muscles of the body, zinc cannot and must be ingested daily. 

    This implies that not taking the appropriate daily requirement can lead to an inadequacy of either mineral. These inadequacies majorly affect the systems that these minerals manage. However, this can be prevented by eating natural sources and taking supplements of these minerals.


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