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What Is the Difference between Magnesium and Manganese?

By Christian Petersen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Magnesium and manganese are two metallic elements. Many differences exist between the two, but because of the similarity of their names, they are sometimes confused. All of the differences between magnesium and manganese stem from their separate identities as elements and the physical and chemical properties they possess as a result of their differing atomic numbers — 12 for magnesium and 25 for manganese. Both are essential nutrients, but magnesium is more important. Magnesium is also much more naturally abundant than manganese.

The appearance of the two elements is similar and, in fact, is similar to many other metallic elements. In terms of physical properties, however, there are many differences between magnesium and manganese. Magnesium is a relatively light metal that is less dense than aluminum. Manganese is approximately four and a half times as dense as magnesium and has a much higher melting point Unlike magnesium, manganese is occasionally found as a free element in nature.

Chemically, the two elements are very different. Magnesium and manganese are both metals, but belong to different groups. Magnesium is an alkali metal and is highly reactive, which means that it is never found as a free element in nature. It tarnishes in the air and reacts chemically with water in a manner similar to other alkali metals such as calcium, though much less violently. Manganese is chemically more similar to iron than to magnesium. It oxidizes readily, and it is usually found in the earth's crust as manganese dioxide, a mineral that is also called pyrolusite.

Both elements are important nutrients but serve different functions. Magnesium, although present in the human body in small amounts, is still extremely important. It is used by every major organ and metabolic system, especially in bone formation and in the heart and musculature function. Magnesium plays a role in hundreds of metabolic functions, and without it, we could not live. The human body uses magnesium to modulate levels of other minerals in the body, and it is the trigger for many enzymes which the body requires to convert food to energy. Magnesium also plays an important role in the entire ecology of the earth, as it is one of the central elements in the chlorophyll molecule, which fuels all photosynthesis in green plants.

Manganese is also an important micronutrient but in other ways than magnesium. The human body uses much less manganese than magnesium, and it has a narrower range of functions, most of which are related to metabolic functions involving carbohydrates, fats, and cholesterol, among others. It is also one component of an important enzyme that helps the body convert certain molecules to glucose, or blood sugar. Manganese is an important component in many other enzymes as well and is a component of the human body's most important natural antioxidant, which helps protect our cells from damage due to oxidation by harmful ions and free radicals.

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Discussion Comments
By ddljohn — On Aug 13, 2014

Ah, so the only common thing between these minerals is that they have similar names. Otherwise, in structure, function and amount found in the body, they are not similar at all.

By discographer — On Aug 13, 2014

@burcinc-- That's why I'm against the use of supplements, unless of course there is a diagnosed severe deficiency that cannot be treated through food alone. Otherwise, we can get all of the essential vitamins and minerals from foods. And nature is so amazing and intelligent that these foods give us exactly the amount we need. I've never heard of anyone experiencing vitamin or mineral poisoning from food. It doesn't happen, that's why!

So whether one wants more magnesium or manganese, the best way to get it is by adding more whole, natural foods to the diet.

By burcinc — On Aug 12, 2014

The article has done a great job of explaining the difference between these two elements. Both of these are minerals and our body cannot make them so we need to get both through foods. But we need much more magnesium than we do manganese.

The danger in mixing up these elements is that if one takes manganese supplements instead of magnesium supplements, it can result in toxicity. Although water soluble minerals are not stored in the body and the excess removed through urine, this doesn't mean that they can't lead to toxicity. Too much of magnesium and manganese can both lead to toxicity and symptoms like nausea, headaches, tremors, etc. So it's important to make sure that one has purchased the right supplement and in the right doses. A doctor should be consulted before using either.

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