Manganese vs. Magnesium: What’s the Difference?

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More than 30 vitamins and minerals are considered essential nutrients in the human diet. Your body can’t make these nutrients on its own, so you need to get enough of them from food. Essential vitamins and minerals are often present in high amounts in fruits, vegetables, and animal products like […]

More than 30 vitamins and minerals are considered essential nutrients in the human diet.

Your body can’t make these nutrients on its own, so you need to get enough of them from food. Essential vitamins and minerals are often present in high amounts in fruits, vegetables, and animal products like meat, milk, and eggs.

Manganese and magnesium are two of the essential minerals. You need to consume enough of each on a regular basis to keep your body working properly.

Though their names sound similar, manganese and magnesium have distinct roles in the body.

This article compares and contrasts the functions, benefits, and safety considerations for the two minerals. It also includes some of the best food sources of each.

One of the main practical differences between manganese and magnesium is the amount of each that you need to consume each day.

Manganese is considered a trace element or a micromineral — you only need it in small amounts (1).

Magnesium is a macromineral. On a daily basis, your body needs hundreds of times more magnesium than manganese (1).

Still, the two minerals have similarities. For example, they’re both found in nuts, legumes, leafy vegetables, and whole grains (2, 3).

What’s more, manganese and magnesium both have the chemical structure of metals.

Both can also have toxic effects in large amounts. Thus, it’s important to use caution if you’re taking supplements or have direct exposure to either (2, 3).

Fortunately, it’s hard to get too much of the minerals from diet alone. When people take too much of these, it’s usually from supplements or over-the-counter drugs like antacids or laxatives in the case of magnesium (2, 3).

The chart below compares a few more properties of manganese and magnesium (2, 3, 4, 5).

Summary

Manganese and magnesium are essential minerals, meaning you need to consume them in your diet. The two have a wide range of functions, yet they share some similar roles, such as supporting bone health and enzyme activity.

Though manganese is a trace mineral your body needs only in small amounts, its functions are widespread and important.

Manganese is essential for many of the small reactions that take place inside your cells, such as helping enzymes carry out bodily activities, including digestion, metabolism, growth, reproduction, and energy production (6, 7, 8, 9).

It also plays a part in antioxidant activity throughout your body (7, 8, 10).

In fact, manganese is a key component of a chemical compound known as manganese superoxide dismutase (MnSOD). This antioxidant is responsible for protecting your cellular machinery from getting damaged by a chemical process called oxidation (8, 11, 12, 13).

Scientists are still working to uncover the exact ways it does so. MnSOD’s ability to prevent damage to cells means it likely plays an important role in the prevention of cancer and other chronic diseases (8, 11, 14, 15).

Benefits

As an antioxidant, manganese discourages cellular oxidation and may help prevent chronic disease. Getting enough manganese on a regular basis has also been linked to a number of other health benefits, including:

  • Supports bone development. In childhood, manganese supports bone growth. It may help prevent bone loss in older adults (16, 17).
  • May be therapeutic for diabetes. Multiple human studies have found associations between higher levels of dietary manganese intake and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes among adults (18, 19, 20, 21).
  • Influences blood pressure. Though more research is needed to understand the exact relationship, some recent studies have observed relationships between blood pressure and levels of manganese in the blood and urine (22, 23).
  • Plays a role in brain health. Not only does manganese play a role in brain development, but maintaining normal blood levels of the mineral may prevent neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy (24, 25, 26, 27).

Safety concerns

Manganese is an essential nutrient that humans need to survive and thrive. It’s also clear that maintaining normal blood levels of the nutrient is important. Too much or too little can have detrimental side effects (26, 28, 29).

Because manganese can be toxic in large amounts, it’s important to be especially careful with supplements. Only use manganese supplements under the supervision of a healthcare professional (29).

Getting too much

Being exposed to large amounts of manganese in the environment, such as from welding fumes or contaminated water, can be extremely dangerous. It might even have negative side effects on brain function, motor skills, memory, and mood (30, 31, 32, 33).

Some studies have even linked manganese exposure to an increased risk of osteoporosis in women and intellectual impairment in children (33, 34).

Getting too little

On the other hand, some people don’t get enough manganese due to congenital disorders or because they don’t consume enough of the mineral in their diet.

Manganese deficiency can contribute to seizures, bone deformities, developmental delays, and disruptions to the menstrual cycle, among other side effects (35, 36, 37, 38).

Summary

Manganese is a trace mineral and antioxidant that your body needs in small amounts. Too little manganese may increase the risk of seizures and developmental delays, while too much can have side effects on the brain and nervous system.

Magnesium is one of the most common elements to make up planet Earth, and it’s also widespread in the human body (39).

The mineral is an important part of cellular activities that trigger enzymes, produce energy, and keep your muscles, including your heart, contracting and relaxing properly. It’s similar to manganese in that they both play a significant role in cellular processes (40).

On the other hand, the body needs magnesium in much larger amounts, and some people don’t get quite enough of it. The mineral is present in many foods, and it’s possible to get enough of it from a healthy diet rich in beans, nuts, and whole grains (41, 42, 43).

Nevertheless, some groups of people may be more likely to have a magnesium deficiency. These include older people, those with type 2 diabetes or gastrointestinal conditions, and people with alcohol dependency (3).

It’s very hard to get too much magnesium from food, but it’s more common to see signs of a magnesium overdose from supplements or medications.

For example, magnesium is used as an ingredient in medications like laxatives and antacids, so you might take too much of it if you take those medications in large amounts or alongside magnesium supplements (44).

Benefits

Magnesium not only plays an important role on the cellular level, but having enough of the mineral in your body may also have the following health benefits (42, 45):

  • May help prevent migraine. Studies have found people who get severe headaches tend to have lower magnesium levels. Adequate levels of magnesium might prevent severe headaches, and some studies show that supplemental magnesium may reduce migraine severity (46, 47, 48, 49).
  • Could protect against depression. Magnesium influences brain biochemistry and neural pathways. As such, it has been studied for its role in mental health. Multiple studies have found correlations between low magnesium intake and depression (50, 51, 52, 53).
  • Might reduce the risk of heart disease. Magnesium also plays a role in inflammation, which affects the cardiovascular system. Magnesium deficiency could contribute to high blood pressure, artery issues, and an increased risk of heart disease (54, 55, 56, 57).
  • Might reduce the risk of diabetes. Magnesium deficiencies are often present in people with type 2 diabetes. A few studies also found that higher magnesium intake improves insulin resistance, reduces the risk of diabetes, and may lower markers of inflammation in those with prediabetes (58, 59, 60, 61).

Safety concerns

As with manganese, consuming too much or too little magnesium can have significant side effects.

Getting too much

Hypermagnesemia occurs when there is too much magnesium in the bloodstream. It’s usually a toxic result of too much magnesium from supplements or medications in people with impaired kidney function (62, 63, 64).

If not quickly addressed, hypermagnesemia could cause issues with the cardiovascular and nervous systems and can even be deadly in severe cases (65, 66).

Getting too little

Hypomagnesemia — too little magnesium in the blood — is most common among people with health conditions that cause excessive magnesium excretion.

It can also happen in people who have an extremely low intake of magnesium-rich foods for an extended period of time (3, 42).

The side effects may be mild and include nausea, a decreased appetite, and fatigue. However, they could also be as severe as seizures, numbness in the limbs, and an abnormal heart rhythm (3, 62, 67).

Summary

Your body uses magnesium to produce energy and keep your heart working properly. To avoid side effects on the cardiovascular system, it’s important to keep your magnesium blood levels within a normal range.

Manganese and magnesium may sound similar, but they are distinct.

Your body needs both essential minerals, but they have different functions. Your body also needs more magnesium than it does manganese on a daily basis.

One similarity between the two is that they’re both found in nutrient-dense foods like nuts, legumes, whole grains, and vegetables.

Having too little or too much manganese or magnesium in your body can have side effects that range from mild to severe. Therefore, it’s important to consume a nutrient-rich diet and avoid overexposure from supplements and medications.

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