Magnesium for Kids: Are Supplements Necessary? - Dr. Michael Ruscio, DC

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Magnesium for Kids: Are Supplements Necessary?

Subheading in sentence case.

Key Takeaways:

  • Magnesium is an important mineral for bones, muscles, and the nervous system.
  • Adults and children often lack magnesium. In kids, deficiency has been linked with hyperactivity and autism.
  • Though there’s an association with low magnesium, we don’t know if supplementing kids with magnesium helps these conditions.
  • Eating magnesium-rich foods such as nuts, legumes, and greens is the best and safest way to increase intake.
  • Magnesium supplements can be used as a top-up for kids with restrictive diets, a magnesium deficiency, or behavioral issues — as long as safe intakes are adhered to.

Magnesium is a popular mineral with adults, who often take it for issues such as muscle cramps, restless legs, and constipation, or to help moderate blood sugar and high blood pressure. 

While the evidence for use of magnesium in these conditions is mixed, the potential health benefits generally outweigh any known downsides in adults. While children (just like adults) are prone to low magnesium levels, it pays to be more cautious in the case of magnesium for kids. 

In most cases, increasing dietary intake of magnesium-rich foods is enough to replete this essential mineral in children. Nonetheless, magnesium supplements for kids can make sense for those with a restricted diet, or certain mental health / behavioral concerns. 

Keep in mind that mega-doses are not appropriate, and supplements should never be a substitute for dietary improvements. Read on to find out how to safely increase magnesium levels in kids, and who may benefit from more magnesium.

Magnesium Recommendations for Children

According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, the Recommended Daily Amount (RDA) of magnesium for infants, kids, and teens in the USA varies between 30mg and 410mg a day, dependent on age and sex [1]:

Recommended Daily Amounts of Magnesium For Kids

AgeMaleFemale
Birth to 6 months30 mg30 mg
7–12 months75 mg75 mg
1–3 years80 mg80 mg
4–8 years130 mg130 mg
9–13 years240 mg240 mg
14–18 years410 mg360 mg

Low Intakes Are Common

Magnesium is one of the micronutrients that is commonly under-consumed. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 2007-2010), which included over 16,000 of the US population four years and older estimated that 52.2% did not even meet the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR), which is set lower than the RDA.

The likely reason that people don’t get enough magnesium is that western diets tend to be high in magnesium-depleted refined grains and processed food and insufficient in the nuts, seeds, leafy green vegetables, and whole grains that are good sources of the mineral.

Why Magnesium is Important in Young People

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body (after calcium, phosphorus, and potassium). It is required for energy production, balanced blood glucose, the immune system, correct nerve and muscle function, and healthy bones [2, 3]. 

Low magnesium levels may have more impact during the early years when children are growing, their nervous system is maturing, and new bone is being laid down.

While symptoms of magnesium deficiency may not be very obvious, a lack of this mineral can lead to weakness, fatigue, nausea, and loss of appetite [1]. However, it may subtly affect more than just physical health and has also been linked with nerve function, mental health, and development.

Magnesium For Kids’ Mental Health

More specifically, there is speculation that a lack of magnesium may be a factor in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and ADHD (attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder) in kids. 

For example:

  • One meta-analysis found significantly lower blood serum magnesium levels in children with attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder compared to those without [4]. 
  • Similarly a 2019 review of several studies observed lower levels of magnesium in kids with ADHD, this time in plasma, serum, whole blood, and hair [5].
  • Another review found lower serum levels of magnesium, copper, and zinc in children with autism [6] 
  • Lower magnesium levels also correlated with poorer behavioral and communication skills in those with ASD [6

It’s been suggested that lower magnesium levels can impair communication between certain neurotransmitters (e.g. GABA), which could contribute to the development of ASD [7].

That said, any evidence suggesting that magnesium supplementation can help to ease symptoms of autism and ADHD is weak or doesn’t exist.

In one study magnesium and vitamin D3 were tested together in kids with ADHD and appeared to improve emotional and behavioral function. However, the study design meant it was impossible to determine if it was the magnesium or the vitamin D that was responsible for the beneficial effects [8].

In another study, magnesium supplements appeared to create clinical improvements in ADHD symptoms, but the study was in adults, not children, and only involved 15 subjects [9].

A further issue with studies that measure magnesium levels in kids and adults is that correctly identifying a deficiency is notoriously difficult [3]. Typically, magnesium levels are measured in blood serum, which only contains less than 1% of the total magnesium in the body [3]. Having a normal reading of magnesium in blood serum may not accurately rule out magnesium deficiency [3].

The bottom line is that more relevant studies and larger sample sizes are needed to establish what role the intake of magnesium supplements may have in kids’ health.

But just because the research behind it is lacking, doesn’t mean that magnesium intake isn’t beneficial for children’s health — especially when it comes to increasing intake of magnesium-containing foods.

Food Sources of Magnesium for Kids

It’s always better to get nutrients through a healthy, balanced diet. Children specifically need a full panoply of nutrients for growth and development.

Some of the top magnesium-rich foods to include in a child’s diet are listed below [10]:

Magnesium for Kids: Are Supplements Necessary? - Food%20Sources%20of%20Magnesium L

Don’t Miss Out on Breakfast

Research suggests that the first meal of the day is a key opportunity to get more magnesium into a child’s diet.

One review found that kids and teens who normally ate breakfast consumed more vitamins and minerals than habitual breakfast-skippers [11]. 

The systematic review and meta-analysis included over 12,000 youngsters and found that those who ate breakfast, including fortified ready-to-eat cereals, had better magnesium intake than the breakfast skippers.

Some great magnesium-rich and kid-friendly breakfasts are:

  • Cashew butter and raisins on whole grain toast
  • Egg and spinach scramble
  • Mini shredded wheats with yogurt, almond flakes, and strawberries

Magnesium Supplements for Kids

There is not too much information to go on when it comes to recommending magnesium supplements for children. However, the Office of Dietary Supplements has reviewed safe upper levels of this essential mineral for children, and these are listed in the table below. If you think your child needs extra magnesium in supplement form (for example, if they are a picky eater or avoid whole foods), it’s advisable not to go above this dosage [1].

AgeUpper Limit for Magnesium in Supplements or Medications
birth to 6 monthsUnknown (do not give)
7–12 monthsUnknown (do not give)
1–3 years65 mg
4–8 years110 mg
9–13 years350 mg
14–18 years350 mg

Too much magnesium in supplements can cause diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal pain [1]. Extremely high levels of magnesium (say, delivered intravenously) can cause abnormal heart rhythms and heart attack [1]. 

Fortunately, side effects of any kind are extremely unlikely to happen with magnesium supplements when given in the appropriate dosage. Though it’s best for kids to meet their daily magnesium requirements through food, supplements may be the right choice in some situations (particularly in older children who can tolerate it better). 

If your child has a highly restrictive diet, a magnesium deficiency, or behavioral issues, talk to your kid’s pediatrician about the best course of action.

What’s the Best Form of Magnesium?

For both kids and adults, the following forms of magnesium supplement appear to be those that are more optimally absorbed, and therefore less likely to cause digestive upset [1]: 

  • Magnesium aspartate
  • Magnesium citrate
  • Magnesium lactate
  • Magnesium chloride

Other options are magnesium glycinate, magnesium threonate, and magnesium malate — it may just take some experimenting to see which one is best tolerated by your child. As a general rule, supplements taken with food will also be better absorbed and tolerated. To avoid gastric side effects, it’s advisable to give them with a meal [12].

A-Z style multivitamins for kids will usually contain some magnesium, but the amount may be small. To obtain a meaningful level, individual supplements will usually be needed.

It’s also possible to absorb magnesium through the skin using magnesium oil. This may be a good option for a child with a sensitive gut.

Magnesium Isn’t a Panacea for Kids

Though you may have seen many claims for magnesium supplements in children, there’s still very little available evidence to support their use in conditions like hyperactivity and autism.

If you think your child might be low on magnesium or they have a condition that could potentially benefit from the mineral, consider introducing more magnesium-rich healthy food as the main priority. 

Magnesium supplements can have their place, but more isn’t necessarily better. It pays to always follow the upper safe guidelines and to take forms of the mineral that are optimally absorbed and least likely to cause digestive upset.

If you’d like more personalized advice on magnesium for kids (or wider issues around kid’s physical and mental health) contact the Ruscio Institute for Functional Medicine for a consultation.

The Ruscio Institute has developed a range of high-quality formulations to help our patients and audience. If you’re interested in learning more about these products, please click here. Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.

➕ References
  1. Magnesium – Consumer [Internet]. [cited 2021 Jun 28]. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-Consumer/
  2. Morris AL, Mohiuddin SS. Biochemistry, Nutrients. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022. PMID: 32119432.
  3. Razzaque MS. Magnesium: are we consuming enough? Nutrients. 2018 Dec 2;10(12). DOI: 10.3390/nu10121863. PMID: 30513803. PMCID: PMC6316205.
  4. Effatpanah M, Rezaei M, Effatpanah H, Effatpanah Z, Varkaneh HK, Mousavi SM, et al. Magnesium status and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Res. 2019 Apr;274:228–34. DOI: 10.1016/j.psychres.2019.02.043. PMID: 30807974.
  5. Huang Y-H, Zeng B-Y, Li D-J, Cheng Y-S, Chen T-Y, Liang H-Y, et al. Significantly lower serum and hair magnesium levels in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder than controls: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2019 Mar 2;90:134–41. DOI: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2018.11.012. PMID: 30496768.
  6. Zhang X-H, Yang T, Chen J, Chen L, Dai Y, Jia F-Y, et al. [Association between serum trace elements and core symptoms in children with autism spectrum disorder: a national multicenter survey]. Zhongguo Dang Dai Er Ke Za Zhi. 2021 May;23(5):445–50. DOI: 10.7499/j.issn.1008-8830.2101163. PMID: 34020731. PMCID: PMC8140341.
  7. Saghazadeh A, Ahangari N, Hendi K, Saleh F, Rezaei N. Status of essential elements in autism spectrum disorder: systematic review and meta-analysis. Rev Neurosci. 2017 Oct 26;28(7):783–809. DOI: 10.1515/revneuro-2017-0015. PMID: 28665792.
  8. Hemamy M, Pahlavani N, Amanollahi A, Islam SMS, McVicar J, Askari G, et al. The effect of vitamin D and magnesium supplementation on the mental health status of attention-deficit hyperactive children: a randomized controlled trial. BMC Pediatr. 2021 Apr 17;21(1):178. DOI: 10.1186/s12887-021-02631-1. PMID: 33865361. PMCID: PMC8052751.
  9. Surman C, Vaudreuil C, Boland H, Rhodewalt L, DiSalvo M, Biederman J. L-Threonic Acid Magnesium Salt Supplementation in ADHD: An Open-Label Pilot Study. J Diet Suppl. 2021;18(2):119–31. DOI: 10.1080/19390211.2020.1731044. PMID: 32162987.
  10. FoodData Central [Internet]. [cited 2021 Oct 14]. Available from: https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/ndb/nutrients/report?nutsort=608&max=25&offset=0&nutrient1=610&nutrient2=609&nutrient3=608&measureby=g&subset=0&sort=c&totCount=6323
  11. Giménez-Legarre N, Miguel-Berges ML, Flores-Barrantes P, Santaliestra-Pasías AM, Moreno LA. Breakfast Characteristics and Its Association with Daily Micronutrients Intake in Children and Adolescents-A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2020 Oct 20;12(10). DOI: 10.3390/nu12103201. PMID: 33092061. PMCID: PMC7589686.
  12. Magnesium – Health Encyclopedia – University of Rochester Medical Center [Internet]. [cited 2022 Sep 12]. Available from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=19&contentid=Magnesium

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