Magnesium & Metabolism

This guide looks at how all major phases of metabolism need magnesium, and why prolonged or severe magnesium deficiency can lead to low energy and pre-diabetic symptoms.

  1. Fuel absorption – glucose and fatty acids. (VIDEO)
  2. Fuel preparation – includes converting body fat.
  3. Fuel to energy coversion – includes burning fat.
  4. Protection from metabolic damage and disease.

The solutions section then looks at measures we can take to restore and maintain healthy magnesium levels that support a healthier metabolism.

1. Absorbing fuel requires magnesium:

The cells that make up our body generate energy from the carbs and fats we eat: 

Our intestine breaks down carbs and fats into glucose and fatty acids. These fuel sources then pass into our bloodstream and travel to our cells. Only there can they be converted into energy molecules called ATP: Adenosine Triphosphate[1] What’s critical, is that our cells need magnesium in order to absorb the glucose and fatty acids from our blood stream:


Magnesium & insulin: Absorbing glucose

When our pancreas senses that dietary glucose has entered our bloodstream, it releases the hormone insulin into our bloodstream. Insulin interacts with our cells to let them absorb the glucose from our bloodstream.  Magnesium is needed for insulin function in two ways:

1. Insulin production requires magnesium:

Insulin is a protein made in our pancreas’ beta cells[2] via the process of protein synthesis, whose two steps need magnesium: copying the insulin gene, [3-5] and then using the copy to assemble the insulin protein [6,7]. This helps explain why magnesium-chloride supplementation boosts the function of beta cells.[8]

2. Insulin function requires magnesium:

The less magnesium our cells have, the less effective insulin may be [9-11] because magnesium fuels overall cellular function,[12,13] and because it’s critical in the function of the insulin receptor: 

Insulin lets glucose into our cells by binding to their tyrosine kinase receptors.[14] These receptors need magnesium[10,15-17] which explains why magnesium supplements boost insulin function.[18] Once activated, these receptors bring glucose transporters to the cell’s surface, which allow the glucose to enter inside.[19-22] 

Magnesium also supports insulin function by converting cholesterol into the youth hormone DHEA,[23-25] which improves problems of insulin resistance.[26] Simply put, magnesium is critical to energy levels because it helps our cells absorb glucose via its role in insulin production, and insulin receptor function. 


Magnesium releases fat for fat-burning

For us to burn body fat, our fat cells must release fat into our blood stream so it can travel to our muscle and organ cells where it is converted to energy. This mobilization of fat requires magnesium:

When we have low blood sugar, our pancreas makes the hormone glucagon which helps our liver release more glucose into our blood, and makes our fat cells release fatty acids into the blood.[27-29] We make glucagon via the magnesium-dependent process of protein synthesis.[3-7]

This release of fat is called lipolysis [30] and human growth hormone is another magnesium-made hormone that triggers it. [31,32] (Fasting and high intensity interval training also stimulate growth hormone production.)

When we look at human energy production, the first step is for our cells to get access to their glucose and fatty acid fuel sources. Magnesium is fundamental to this step because of its role in the critical hormones insulin, glucagon, and human growth hormone.

1. Summary

We have energy only if our cells do.  Magnesium lets our cells absorb fuel sources from carbs and fats because:

1. It creates the hormone insulin which facilitates cellular carb absorption. The cells’ insulin receptors also depend on magnesium.

2. Magnesium creates growth hormone and glucagon which force our fat cells to release stored fat for other cells to use as energy.

2. Preparing fuel requires magnesium:

More ATP means greater health, while low ATP is associated with most major diseases. So we know that our cells convert the fatty acids and glucose we eat into this ATP energy. But where does this happen? Inside our cells’ energy factories , called mitochondria. Mitochondria use the oxygen we breathe to convert glucose and fatty acids into ATP.  However glucose and fatty acids must first be converted into smaller molecules called Acetyl-CoA, in order for our mitochondria to convert them into ATP energy molecules. This preparation of Acetyl Coa requires magnesium:


Glucose preparation for mitochondria

Each glucose molecule can be converted into two Acetyl CoA molecules. This ten-step conversion process is called Glycolysis, [33] and it requires magnesium[34]:

No step can occur unless the prior step happens first: In each step, an enzyme slightly changes the glucose molecule until by the last step it has become 2 Acetyl Coa molecules. Seven of the ten enzymes in glycolysis depend on magnesium,[35] making it impossible to prepare glucose for energy production in our mitochondria, without magnesium.


Fat preparation for mitochondria

Fatty acids are converted into Acetyl CoA molecules by a process called Beta-Oxidation.[36] Beta Oxidation can’t happen without magnesium because the enzyme Acyl Coa-Synthetase which allows fatty acids to enter the Beta Oxidation cycle, requires magnesium to work.[35]

Simply put, magnesium is essential in converting our carbs and fats into the Acetyl CoA molecules that our mitochondria use to make ATP energy.

2. Summary

Once inside our cells, fats and carbs are converted into Acetyl CoA molecules.

Only then can they enter our cells’ energy factories called mitochondria, where they’re turned into usable energy.

Our cells need magnesium to convert fats & carbs into Acetyl CoA molecules.

3. Burning fat & carbs requires magnesium:

Our cells’ mitochondria carry out a sequence of two phases that convert Acetyl CoA molecules into ATP. In each of the two phases; no step can happen without the prior step happening first. The two phases that generate our ATP are:


Phase 1: Citric Acid Cycle.[37] Four of the seven steps need magnesium enzymes.[12,35]

Phase 2: Cellular Respiration (oxidative phosphorylation) – 5 steps.[38] The fourth step requires the critical magnesium-dependent enzyme cytochrome C oxidase,[12,35,39,40] and in the fifth step magnesium works with the ATP synthase enzyme.[41]

Have you ever wondered why we eat and breathe? It’s to supply oxygen, glucose, fatty acids and vitamins & minerals to our mitochondria so they can make our ATP energy molecules. Simply put, mitochondrial ATP production keeps every system in our body alive, and magnesium deficiency leads to decreaased mitochondrial function.[42]


Magnesium is also a part of each ATP molecule.

We now know how our body converts food and oxygen into ATP energy which keeps us alive. This process occurs non-stop in all the trillions of cells that make up our body. We make many trillions of ATP energy molecules each second we’re alive! Now think about this:

Every single ATP energy molecule we make, must be attached to magnesium in order to be of any use. In fact, the true scientific term for ATP is Mg-ATP. [43] Simply put, magnesium makes, and is a physical component of the ATP molecules that give us energy for life. 

3. Summary

Now inside our mitochondria, Acetyl CoA molecules undergo two consecutive phases to become usable energy:

These two phases are called the Citric Acid Cycle & Cellular Respiration. Neither are possible without magnesium.

Magnesium is also a physical component of each newly made energy molecule, called ATP (adenosine triphosphate).

Magnesium produces, and is a physical part of our body’s energy currency.

4. Magnesium protects mitochondria & prevents disease:

Besides helping our mitochondria make ATP, magnesium also protects them from calcification, inflammation and oxidative stress. Its protective effects on our energy factories help explain why magnesium deficiency is often found in people with chronic fatigue. [44-48]


Magnesium prevents calcification

The majority of our calcium should be in bone. While we do also need it for our mitochondria to work[49,50], it’s only in modest amounts.[51] In fact, mitochondrial use of calcium walks such a fine line[52,53], that even a bit too much calcium slows down mitochondrial energy production.[54] Not only do our energy levels drop, but our mitochondria suffer calcification and begin to produce excess harmful molecules called reactive oxygen species.[55,56]

Through various mechanisms such as regulating calcium-controlling hormones[57], magnesium protects our cells and their mitochondria from excess calcium buildup[58] which otherwise lead to dysfunctional mitochondria that produce these reactive oxygen species.[59] These harmful molecules cause cellular and organ inflammation, and if these conditions persist long enough, it can lead to various forms of disease, including metabolic disorders.[60-68]


Magnesium fights inflammation

Our mitochondria are especially vulnerable to inflammation, and magnesium protects them via its key roles in two of our cells’ most powerful anti-inflammatory molecules: glutathione and melatonin.[69-73] This helps explain why low magnesium intake is linked with inflammation as well as the most common health conditions caused by unhealthy mitochondria and poor metabolism: obesity and diabetes.[74,75]


Magnesium prevents cellular RUST

Iron deficiency is rare and often confused with iron misplacement which is very common [76]: Iron is meant to circulate in our blood, not to build up in our cells. Ceruloplasmin is the enzyme that loads iron from cells onto transport molecules in our blood. [77-79] Without enough ceruloplasmin, iron builds up in our cells and causes oxidative stress,[80] which is another way of saying our cells and their mitochondria begin to rust. 

The resulting low iron in our blood (and thus blood tests) misleads many health practitioners who then prescribe iron supplements, making things worse. The key is having enough ceruloplasmin, and magnesium is needed for ceruloplasmin production and recycling.[81] Thus, without enough magnesium our cellular energy factories suffer damage from toxic iron buildup, which is linked to obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes.[82-89] Simply put, magnesium’s role in preventing cellular iron toxicity is critical to maintain healthy energy levels and metabolism.


Magnesium deficiency & metabolic disease

As we look at how deeply rooted magnesium is in the function and protection of our carb and fat energy metabolism, it makes sense why low magnesium is associated with metabolic and inflammatory diseases like diabates and fibromyalgia.[74,75,90-93]

And when we realize that healthy energy production is required for every major bodily system, it’s no surprise that magnesium deficiency is associated with most forms of major disease such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases,[94-97] and why magnesium restoration is essential in treating and preventing disease.[98,99]

4. Summary

Magnesium protects our cells and their mitochondrial energy factories from:

Calcification: It regulates “calciotropic” hormones in a way that keeps calcium in bones instead of organ cells.

Inflammation: Magnesium fuels the production of anti-inflammatory helpers like glutathione and melatonin which protect our mitochondria.

RUST: Magnesium keeps iron flowing in our blood instead of building up to toxic levels in our cells, where it can damage and rust our mitochondria.

Magnesium deficiency is linked with obesity, diabetes and all major metabolic diseases.


All major aspects of human energy production depend on magnesium:

  1. Absorption of glucose and fatty acids into our cells.
  2. Preparation of these building blocks into fuel sources for our mitochondria.
  3. Mitochondrial conversion of fuel sources into cellular energy.
  4. Protection, maintenance and regulation of our mitochondrial energy factories.

A healthy and fast metabolism is simply not possible if the body is deficient in magnesium. Magnesium is essential for burning carbs and fat to make energy. Severe and prolonged magnesium deficiency can lead to low energy levels, accelerated aging, and even metabolic diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

Furthermore, due to lower levels of magnesium in the food supply, and higher levels of environmental stress that depletes the body’s magnesium, scientists now agree that diet alone is not enough to restore and maintain healthy magnesium levels.  A more well-rounded approach is needed.

Solutions to restore magnesium:

While restoring and maintaining healthy magnesium levels may not resolve your metabolic issues on its own, based on magnesium’s essential roles in human metabolism, it is still a major requirement for healthy weight, energy levels and overall metabolism.  A complete magnesium restoration protocol can include:

  • Eating a magnesium-smart dietLearn more
  • Reducing the environmental, psychological and physical stressors that deplete magnesium from your body. Learn more
  • Using a quality trans-dermal magnesium supplement to restore whole-body magnesium levels. Also, consider combining this with an oral magnesium-taurate, magnesium orotate  or magnesium glycinate supplement for added mental, cardiovascular and cellular support. Learn more

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Video References:

v1. Digital animation for insulin video created by the great team at Sanofi.

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