Manganese vs Magnesium: The Differences Explained

by Dr. Nick Zyrowski June 01, 2021

Manganese and magnesium have a lot of similarities, and not just their names! Both magnesium and manganese are metals, as well as vital minerals for bodily health.

But they both play different roles in several bodily systems, are crucial for different functions, and are totally different elements. Let’s take a look at manganese vs magnesium and break down why they’re important, what deficiencies in either mineral can look like, and what supplements you should target and when.

What is Manganese?

Manganese is one of the most important minerals for your body, but your body can’t make it by itself. As a result, you have to get manganese from either food or supplements. Manganese is a metal that can oxidize quickly when exposed to oxygen and is usually found in nature as manganese dioxide. It's closer to iron on a chemical level than it is to magnesium.

What's the role of manganese? In short, it’s a cofactor that allows numerous enzymes to catalyze properly, which in turn are necessary for many key bodily functions. Your body normally has between 10 and 20 mg of manganese at any one time; the mineral is mostly located in your bones and several organs like your liver, kidneys, and brain.

In addition to the cofactor function mentioned above, manganese is important for immune system health, reproductive system health, and the formation of bones. Furthermore, it’s necessary for protein metabolism and the metabolism of both carbohydrates and cholesterol. It also plays a key role in blood clotting alongside vitamin K, preventing anemia.

The recommended dietary allowance for an adult 19 or older is 2.3 mg and 1.8 mg of manganese if male or female, respectively. It's technically a kind of trace mineral since your body requires so little of it!

What is Magnesium?

Magnesium is another of several essential nutrients that your body needs for energy metabolism, which is produced when your body metabolizes fats or carbohydrates. It’s a type of alkali metal, which means that magnesium is very reactive; it’s a “free” element and is never found by itself in nature.

Indeed, when exposed to the open air, magnesium tarnishes and can violently react chemically with water, just like other alkali metals including calcium.

Similar to manganese, magnesium is also necessary for bone formation and maintenance, alongside healthy nerve transmission and muscle control. Without magnesium, many bodily functions will simply stop working properly!

In addition to these aspects, your body needs magnesium to transport nutrients like calcium and potassium, to regulate its blood sugar levels, and maintain healthy blood pressure levels.

Magnesium may even play a role in treating depressive symptoms or treatment of migraines. Like manganese, your body can’t produce magnesium by itself, so you have to get it from your diet or from dedicated supplementation.

An adult human body between the ages of 19 and 30 needs 400 or 310 mg of magnesium for males and females, respectively.

magnesium

Manganese vs Magnesium Deficiency

If your body doesn’t have enough manganese or magnesium, you might experience the symptoms of manganese deficiency or magnesium deficiency depending on which mineral you need.

Fortunately, low levels of manganese are pretty rare. This is largely because your body doesn’t need as much manganese as it does magnesium and other key minerals like calcium or potassium.

However, there is some evidence that low levels of manganese can cause a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Skin rashes or ages
  • Bone demineralization as your body can't maintain its bone structure as well
  • Hair depigmentation, which can lead to premature graying
  • Lower production of serum cholesterol, which can lead to heart health problems
  • If a child is manganese deficient, growth may be stunted or other side effects may occur

Because our bodies need proportionately more magnesium than they do manganese, magnesium deficiencies are more common. There’s some evidence to suggest that many more adults than expected are at least a little magnesium deficient, especially in the winter.

Furthermore, magnesium deficiencies are more common in those that suffer from certain chronic medical conditions or those using certain medications. The symptoms of magnesium deficiency can include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • General weakness and fatigue, especially in the muscles
  • Vomiting or general nausea
  • Seizures in rare circumstances, which is related to poor nerve transmission
  • Numbness, tingling, or muscle cramps and contractions
  • Coronary spasms and other abnormal heart rhythms
  • And more

Both types of deficiency can be deadly and quite serious. However, magnesium deficiencies are usually more serious than manganese deficiencies, simply because the symptoms associated with magnesium deficiency are more severe.

Furthermore, because your body needs more magnesium than it does manganese, treating magnesium deficiency can take longer unless you have a potent supplement on hand.

Magnesium vs Manganese Toxicity

While it’s possible for your body to have too little magnesium and manganese, you can also have too much.

For example, manganese is a very potent toxicant (a compound that can cause toxic side effects if ingested or absorbed in high amounts). However, you can only achieve manganese toxicity by inhaling manganese dust, not from eating manganese-rich foods.

For these reasons, only individuals that work in potentially dangerous occupations like welding or mining are at a real risk of manganese toxicity. Sometimes, manganese toxicity can result if you drink too much water that has high levels of manganese.

Manganese toxicity symptoms primarily affect the central nervous system and may include:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Weakness or muscle unsteadiness
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Tinnitus or hearing loss
  • Mood swings or impaired memory

If toxicity progresses for too long, it may eventually cause neuromotor disorders, which may lead to symptoms similar to those of Parkinson’s disease (i.e. tremors or imbalance).

Fortunately, the odds of getting excess manganese from food intake are quite low. It’s more likely that individuals suffering from magnesium toxicity take too many supplements. Magnesium toxicity symptoms can include:

  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Hypotension
  • Facial flushing
  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Cardiac arrest or irregular heartbeat
  • Urine retention
  • Depression

In very rare cases, antacids and laxatives taken in doses with more than 5000 mg of magnesium per day can lead to fatal hypermagnesemia: a very rare condition.

Food Sources for Manganese vs Magnesium

As mentioned above, you can get plenty of magnesium or manganese from food sources and supplements.

Fortunately, there are lots of excellent manganese and magnesium-rich foods to choose from, regardless of which diet plan you follow. If you want to boost your manganese intake, you'll want to target foods like:

  • Mussels
  • Wheat germ
  • Certain types of tofu
  • Pine nuts
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Chickpeas
  • Brown rice and similar whole grains
  • Lima beans

But keep in mind that your body normally only absorbs between 1 and 5% of its dietary manganese from food sources.

What about magnesium? There are plenty of excellent magnesium food sources as well, including:

  • Leafy vegetables like spinach
  • Hemp seeds
  • Lima beans and other legumes
  • Quinoa
  • Tuna fish and other types of fatty fish
  • Baking chocolate
  • Avocados
  • Brazil nuts

Most people get between 30 and 40% of their dietary magnesium from food products rather than supplements.

Manganese Supplements – Are They Right for You?

As noted in the above section, you can’t always get all the manganese or magnesium you need from food sources alone. That’s where supplements come in.

The right manganese or magnesium supplements can help to ensure adequate intake of both minerals throughout the day. Furthermore, many supplements are easy to take every day or add to an existing diet regimen. Therefore, you don’t have to significantly alter your diet to make sure you don’t suffer from the symptoms of manganese or magnesium deficiency.

You can get manganese supplements in several forms, such as amino acid chelates, manganese picolinate, manganese sulfate, manganese chloride, manganese citrate, and manganese gluconate. Additionally, you can find manganese in a wide variety of vitamin-mineral supplements, such as daily multivitamins.

In fact, a daily multivitamin may be the smartest way to ensure that you get enough manganese each day; you only need a little bit, so the multivitamin can provide your entire daily dose with little to no risk of toxicity.

Any dietary manganese only supplements will only contain between 5 and 20 mg of manganese per dose. Your doctor may prescribe a manganese supplement to treat various bone conditions like osteoporosis or osteoarthritis, but it depends on what your doctor recommends for your unique situation.

In addition to treating manganese deficiency (if applicable), manganese supplements may also be able to help with:

  • Improving bone health, including both bone maintenance and development. This can be helpful both for children in need of assistance and older adults whose bones may be weakening over time
  • Boosting antioxidant content in the blood. Antioxidants capture free radical oxygen molecules and prevent them from damaging cells in the body
  • Reducing inflammation throughout the body, especially when combined with glucosamine, which can also help with wound healing
  • Helping to regulate your regular blood sugar levels
  • Lowering the likelihood of epileptic seizures
  • And more

Magnesium Supplements – Do You Need Them?

Magnesium supplements are much more common than manganese supplements because our bodies need more of this mineral. Furthermore, it’s often easier to take a supplement than it is to target specific foods.

Luckily, you can get magnesium supplements in many different forms, including tablets, capsules or supplements that dissolve in liquid. In most cases, it's recommended that you take liquid-dissolving magnesium supplements, as this makes magnesium more readily absorbable by your body.

Magnesium supplements come in several major types, including magnesium citrate, magnesium lactate, magnesium chloride, and magnesium aspartate. When taking a magnesium supplement, be sure not to take it with a zinc supplement at the same time; zinc can interfere with your body’s absorption of magnesium.

Also, note that magnesium is often found in various laxatives or antacids (remedies for stomach upset or heartburn). If you are taking such medications regularly, be careful not to overdose on magnesium by taking a supplement simultaneously.

As always, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor or healthcare professional before starting a new supplement regimen; they’ll be able to tell you whether it’s a good idea and recommend various supplement forms depending on your unique physiological requirements. As with manganese supplements, magnesium supplements are sometimes prescribed by doctors to patients who suffer from bone disorders like osteoporosis.

Summary

Ultimately, manganese and magnesium are similar in some ways and quite different in others. But the bottom line is this: your body needs both minerals for optimal health and wellness and you shouldn’t ignore either of them.

Neither is necessarily more important than the other. While it’s true that you need more magnesium than you do manganese, it’s equally easy to accidentally experience either manganese or magnesium deficiency if you don’t maintain a well-rounded diet.

For the best results and long-term wellness, take a look at your diet and see where you can make improvements. Try to figure out how much magnesium and manganese you get every day and either adjust your diet to compensate or take a helpful supplement instead.

Dr. Nick Zyrowski
Dr. Nick Zyrowski



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