The Warning Signs of Magnesium Deficiency
The Warning Signs of Magnesium Deficiency
In the crust of the earth, magnesium is the 7th most abundant element and the second most common intracellular cation, which is a fancy way of saying a positive mineral found within our cells that is necessary for an abundance of our bodies daily functional needs (second only to potassium).(1) So to say this mineral is important for the human body is somewhat of an understatement. The human body uses magnesium in over 300 enzymatic reactions and it hangs out and performs most of its magic in the muscles and the brain.(2,3) Magnesium acts as the conductor of an orchestra as it ‘orchestrates’ other minerals such as sodium, potassium and calcium as well as being involved in the production of energy and protein synthesis. These are only a select few of magnesium's many functions within the body.(4)
How much magnesium do we need and how much are we getting?
Our ‘hunter and gatherer’ ancestors hunted and gathered their way to a magnesium intake of a healthy 600mg of magnesium daily.(5) And while we can only dream of matching those levels through a modern diet without supplementation, our ancestors likely were consuming the healthiest levels needed to thrive. The Recommended Daily Allowance for adults is currently set between 300 and 420 mg/day for most people.(6) I say most people because many groups of individuals need more than that. For example, if you are taking diuretics, antacids, some antibiotics, heart medications, and some chemotherapeutic drugs your magnesium levels can quickly become depleted. Another common cause of depleting magnesium levels is ongoing gastrointestinal issues.(7)
What happens if you deplete your magnesium levels?
Because magnesium is involved in many functions within the body, it will not be surprising to learn that there are numerous symptoms of magnesium deficiency. Determining if magnesium deficiency is an issue can be tricky because you may only have one or two symptoms. Below are some of the common symptoms that could indicate a deficiency:
Muscular symptoms of magnesium deficiency
Tremors, muscle cramps and spasms. These symptoms are often seen with other mineral deficiencies (potassium and sodium) but magnesium deficiency is more common.
Seizures. Seizures can be caused by a neurological condition such as epilepsy, or even drug intake. However, low magnesium levels can cause the body to seize.
Vertical nystagmus. A tell tale sign of this is when the eyes move rapidly up and down. Again, there are numerous causes, but low magnesium could be one of them.
Psychological Symptoms of Deficiency
Apathy or depression. Sure, someone could be feeling lazy or tired however, magnesium is needed to make energy so a magnesium deficiency can also cause apathy which presents as a general lack of interest or enthusiasm for life. Apathy can also be a symptom of another mental health condition. Magnesium levels can also be lowered in the case of specific mental disorders such as depression.(8)
Delirium. Drugs are the most common cause of delirium, along with mental health conditions. However, if these are ruled out or not likely, magnesium levels should be checked.(9)
Cardiovascular Symptoms of Deficiency
High blood pressure. Magnesium is one of the best natural treatments for high blood pressure. Meta-analyses have found that dosages of magnesium around 300 mg per day can effectively reduce blood pressure.(10) This can also be caused by numerous other factors, but it could also be beneficial to consider magnesium.
Electrical problems with your heart. Improper heart rhythms or atrial fibrillation can be a sign of low magnesium levels.(9)
Other electrolyte or hormonal problems:
Low levels of either calcium or potassium can be caused by low magnesium. It is possible to be deficient in these minerals, but remember, magnesium conducts these minerals so a magnesium deficiency could also be considered. A specific example would be low parathyroid hormone (the hormone that regulates calcium), this can be caused by low magnesium levels.(9)
Testing for low magnesium levels
If you have any doubts, see your doctor about getting a magnesium test, but there is a catch. They are likely to order a blood test to detect your serum magnesium levels. The problem you may have with a serum magnesium test is that it does not provide a picture of the amount of magnesium that is actually insides your cells, just what is in your blood at that specific point in time.(11) Remember, it is in the cells where magnesium does its magic. This means that the test you may be getting has the potential to provide useless information. The stats tell us that around half of Westerners are magnesium deficient.(12) This high rate of magnesium deficiency can be partly attributed to a decline in cellular magnesium content in cultivated fruits and vegetables, a reflection of the observed depletion of magnesium in the soil over the past 100 years.(13) As the best sources of magnesium are foods such as green vegetables, spinach, beans, peas, nuts and seeds, these are still extremely important to consume regularly but it is possible that and the best foods to eat to enjoy healthy magnesium levels are green vegetables, such as spinach, beans, peas, nuts and seeds.(9)
The take home message
It is wise to eat a wide variety of green vegetables anyway, regardless of your magnesium status as magnesium rich foods are great for your general health. The best sources of magnesium are foods such as green vegetables, spinach, beans, peas, nuts and seeds, even with declining magnesium levels in produce these are still extremely important to consume regularly for maintaining levels.(9) Supplementing daily with magnesium to assist with maintaining healthy levels could also be an option for many people. Daily supplementation of approximately 300mg of elemental magnesium is a good insurance policy against a deficiency.(10,14) If you feel you are deficient in magnesium (for example you have one or more of the symptoms above), see your doctor for an intracellular magnesium blood test. And if you are deficient like around half the population, speak to your health care professional about a magnesium supplement and method of ingestion to correct this vital nutrient deficiency.
(1) Kielstein JT, David S. Magnesium: the ‘earth cure’ of AKI? Nephrol Dial Transplant 2013;28:785–7. 10.1093/ndt/gfs347
(2) Martyka Z, Kotela I, Blady-Kotela A. [Clinical use of magnesium]. Przegl Lek 1996;53:155–8.
(3) Vormann J. Magnesium: nutrition and metabolism. Mol Aspects Med 2003;24:27–37. 10.1016/S0098-2997(02)00089-4
(4) Wacker WE, Parisi AF. Magnesium metabolism. N Engl J Med 1968;278:658–63. 10.1056/NEJM196803212781205
(5) Vormann J. Magnesium: nutrition and metabolism. Mol Aspects Med 2003;24:27–37. 10.1016/S0098-2997(02)00089-4
(6) DiNicolantonio JJ, O'Keefe JH, Wilson W. Subclinical magnesium deficiency: a principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis [published correction appears in Open Heart. 2018 Apr 5;5(1):e000668corr1]. Open Heart. 2018;5(1):e000668. Published 2018 Jan 13. doi:10.1136/openhrt-2017-000668
(7) Gragossian A, Bashir K, Friede R. Hypomagnesemia. [Updated 2022 May 15]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK500003/
(8) Botturi A, Ciappolino V, Delvecchio G, Boscutti A, Viscardi B, Brambilla P. The Role and the Effect of Magnesium in Mental Disorders: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2020 Jun 3;12(6):1661. doi: 10.3390/nu12061661. PMID: 32503201; PMCID: PMC7352515.
(9) Gragossian A, Bashir K, Friede R. Hypomagnesemia. [Updated 2022 May 15]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK500003/
(10) Zhang X, Li Y, Del Gobbo LC, Rosanoff A, Wang J, Zhang W, Song Y. Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Blood Pressure: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trials. Hypertension. 2016 Aug;68(2):324-33. doi: 10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.116.07664. Epub 2016 Jul 11. PMID: 27402922.
(11) DiNicolantonio JJ, O’Keefe JH, Wilson W Subclinical magnesium deficiency: a principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisisOpen Heart 2018;5:e000668. doi: 10.1136/openhrt-2017-000668
(12) Costello R.B., Elin R.J., Rosanoff A., Wallace T.C., Guerrero-Romero F., Hruby A., Lutsey P.L., Nielsen F.H., Rodriguez-Moran M., Song Y., et al. Perspective: The Case for an Evidence-Based Reference Interval for Serum Magnesium: The Time Has Come12345. Adv. Nutr. 2016;7:977–993. doi: 10.3945/an.116.012765.
(13) Fulgoni V.L., Keast D.R., Bailey R.L., Dwyer J. Foods, Fortificants, and Supplements: Where Do Americans Get Their Nutrients? J. Nutr. 2011;141:1847–1854. doi: 10.3945/jn.111.142257.
(14) Schwalfenberg GK, Genuis SJ. The Importance of Magnesium in Clinical Healthcare. Scientifica (Cairo). 2017;2017:4179326. doi: 10.1155/2017/4179326. Epub 2017 Sep 28. PMID: 29093983; PMCID: PMC5637834.