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Why Magnesium May Help Your Heart Palpitations

Too little magnesium can make your heartbeat go off beat

Person with heart flutter with foods rich in magnesium in the background.

If you’re prone to heart palpitations, you know what it’s like. The fluttering. The pounding. The racing. The skipped beats.

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While heart palpitations don’t always mean you need to make a mad dash to the emergency room, you should seek care quick if your heart rate is elevated, if you feel faint or if you’re in pain.

Otherwise, a skipped beat here and there may be a sign you drank too much caffeine. Or maybe you’re dehydrated after over-indulging at that party last night.

Or maybe you, like 48% of U.S. adults, should consider getting more magnesium in your life.

“Magnesium is an electrolyte that helps to regulate your heart rate,” says cardiologist Tamanna Singh, MD. “When you have a deficiency of electrolytes, it can make your heart speed up.”

We talked with Dr. Singh about the role of magnesium in your heart health and how you can get more magnesium in your diet.

How magnesium is good for your heart

In order for your heart to keep a steady rhythm, there are a number of factors at play. Put simply, your heartbeat is the result of a precisely choreographed electrical system.

It goes a little something like this:

  1. Your sinus node sends an electrical signal to the top chambers of your heart (the atria), causing it to contract.
  2. The electrical impulse then moves toward the center of your heart, where it meets with a cluster of cells called the atrioventricular, or AV node. Those cells act like gatekeepers. They slow down the electrical current for a split second. That gives your top chambers a chance to pump before the bottom chambers fire off.
  3. The impulse then moves on to the bottom chambers of your heart (the ventricles). They contract, sending blood all around your body.
  4. Then, the whole thing starts over again. And again. And again. All day every day.

Magnesium comes into play during that slow-down phase in step two. When it comes to your heart health, magnesium’s job is to properly time the gates in your AV node.

Too much magnesium, and the gates move slowly, which can mean your heart will beat more slowly. Too little magnesium and the gates open and close quicker. So, your heart speeds up.

And, then — voila: heart palpitations.

“Essentially, magnesium affects how and when electricity moves through your heart,” Dr. Singh says. “So having a magnesium deficiency, which is very common, can cause you to feel like your heart is beating out of sync at times.”

In addition to its important role in keeping your heart pumping on schedule, magnesium is important for a number of processes throughout your body, like:

  • Regulating your blood sugar.
  • Making protein, bone and DNA.
  • Keeping your muscles and nerves functioning in tip-top shape.

How much magnesium do you need?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests the following recommended dietary allowances for magnesium in adults. Note that recommendations for people who are pregnant will vary from these numbers.

Age 
14 to 18 years 
Men and people assigned male at birth 
410 mg
Women and people assigned female at birth 
360 mg 
19 to 30 years 
Men and people assigned male at birth 
400 mg
Women and people assigned female at birth 
310 mg 
31+ years 
Men and people assigned male at birth 
420 mg 
Women and people assigned female at birth 
320 mg 

In addition to heart palpitations, people who have insufficient magnesium levels may notice other symptoms, like:

  • Fatigue.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Muscle spasms, numbness or tingling.
  • Nausea.
  • Stiffness.
  • Weakness.

Or you may not have any symptoms at all.

How to get more magnesium

First things first: It’s always best to talk to a healthcare provider before making any big changes to your diet or starting a new supplement. If you think you may have a magnesium deficiency, a simple blood test can determine if adding more magnesium is right for you.

If you do have a low level of magnesium, a magnesium supplement can be a quick and easy go-to, but popping supplements isn’t always the best answer, Dr. Singh cautions.

“Oftentimes, it’s in your better interest to change the quality of what you’re eating and try to get nutrients in your foods, rather than supplements,” she says. “There are a lot of common foods that have high levels of magnesium, and they offer other heart-healthy advantages, too, in addition to magnesium.”

The NIH suggests these magnesium-rich foods (in order from higher to lower):

  • Pumpkin seeds.
  • Chia seeds.
  • Almonds.
  • Spinach.
  • Cashews.
  • Peanuts.
  • Shredded wheat cereal.
  • Soy milk.
  • Black beans.
  • Edamame.
  • Peanut butter.
  • Baked potatoes (with skins).
  • Brown rice.
  • Low-fat yogurt.
  • Fortified breakfast cereals.
  • Oatmeal.
  • Kidney beans.
  • Bananas.

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Don’t overdo it

Another reason food is a more reliable source for your magnesium needs is that supplements make it easy to overdo it. And there is such a thing as too much magnesium.

Research shows that if you get too much magnesium in your diet, it’s excreted by your kidneys and you wind up with magnesium-rich urine. No biggie.

Too-high levels of magnesium as a result of supplements or medications, however, aren’t as easily removed from your body. And it can have some ugly side effects, like:

  • Cramping.
  • Depression.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Impaired kidney function.
  • Lethargy.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Nausea and vomiting.

If you and your healthcare provider think a magnesium supplement is the better option for you, just make sure to not exceed the recommended dosage.

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