4 Signs You’re Suffering from a Magnesium Deficiency

Written by Sue Mosebar, Editor-in-Chief

Magnesium Deficiency Signs & Symptoms

If you have ever dealt with muscle cramps, you probably know two things: 1. They can downright stop you in your tracks; and 2. A magnesium deficiency was a likely culprit. And if you’ve ever had any trouble with occasional heartburn or constipation, you may have also noticed that magnesium is a common ingredient in over-the-counter antacids and laxatives. Besides those fairly extreme cases, it’s probably not a mineral you’ve heard much about or that you really think about. That’s too bad, as every cell in the body requires magnesium, which is involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions and biological processes. Magnesium is an essential nutrient that’s critical to many functions in the body including:

  • Energy production
  • Maintaining healthy blood pressure
  • Building strong, healthy bones
  • Maintaining a steady heart rhythm
  • A healthy metabolic rate
  • Maintaining healthy blood sugar regulation
  • Creating new proteins
  • And more!

Not surprisingly, a magnesium deficiency can lead to health consequences you definitely want to avoid.

While it’s estimated that only 2% of Americans are severely magnesium deficient, studies suggest that between 50% and 75% of us do not meet the daily recommended intake (DRI) for magnesium, which is 320mg to 350mg for adult women and 420 mg for adult men. On one hand, we’re not eating enough of the foods high in magnesium, and on the other hand, agricultural studies show many plants are being grown in soil that has been depleted of vital nutrients, including magnesium. In other words, even foods that we’d expect to be magnesium-rich aren’t the robust source they once may have been.1 People who already have health issues like diabetes, chronic diarrhea, celiac disease, older adults, and those suffering from chronic alcoholism are also more likely to be deficient in magnesium.2,3

Simply put, magnesium deficiency can be a serious threat to your health, and it can lead to or increase the risk for:

  • Unhealthy levels of inflammation
  • Osteoporosis
  • Irregular heart rhythm
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Eclampsia during pregnancy
  • Asthma attacks
  • Migraines
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Fatigue or sleepiness
  • Insomnia
  • Poor appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakness

4 Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency

Magnesium deficiency is often overlooked because the common side effects may be subtle, come on gradually over time, be joined by other complaints, and be common among other health issues. Be that as it may, here are a few symptoms of magnesium deficiency to watch for.

1) Muscle Cramps
Because of the greater flow of calcium into nerve cells when magnesium levels are low, the muscle nerves may be overstimulated, leading to muscle cramps, twitches, and even convulsions.4 Of course, magnesium deficiency isn’t the only cause of muscle cramps—stress, certain medications, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, poor posture, overuse, and caffeine are also associated with cramping—so increased magnesium intake may or may not help depending on whether or not you are actually deficient.

2) Apathy or Depression
Are you feeling apathetic or depressed? Some observational studies have shown that magnesium deficiency may lead to or amplify mental numbness, depression, apathy, and a lack of emotion.5, 6

3) Weakened Bones
You likely already know about the importance of calcium and vitamin D for strong, healthy bones, especially as you age. Osteoporosis, characterized by a lack of strength in the bones leading to an increased risk of fractures, may be prevented with weight-bearing exercises and ensuring an adequate intake of vitamins D and K and calcium. Magnesium deficiency is also a risk factor. While it doesn’t directly weaken bones, magnesium deficiency lowers levels of calcium in the blood, which is necessary for strong bones.7, 8, 9

4) Heart Palpitations
One highly alarming symptom of magnesium deficiency is when the heart pauses between beats (i.e., heart palpitations or irregular heartbeats).10 These can range from being so mild that they’re barely noticeable to being severe and accompanied by feelings of lightheadedness, chest tightness, or shortness of breath. Even more, heart palpitations may increase the risk of heart attacks or strokes.11,12

How to Avoid Magnesium Deficiency

Some of the best food sources of magnesium are:

  • Dark green leafy veggies (such as spinach, Swiss chard, turnip greens, beet greens, mustard greens, and kale)
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Whole grains
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For example, a serving of almonds contains 270 mg, pumpkin seeds provide 262 mg per serving, an ounce of dark chocolate provides 176 mg, and peanuts contain 168 mg per serving. You can also supplement with magnesium; yet, consuming too much magnesium (over 400 mg) may lead to:

  • Nausea
  • Cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Low blood pressure
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue

The type of magnesium supplements you choose can also affect the absorption of magnesium. For example, those that dissolve well in liquid, such as ascorbate, citrate, lactate, and chloride forms, are more completely absorbed than magnesium oxide or sulfate.13

Unless you are severely magnesium deficient, you may have only subtle symptoms or even none at all. So, if you suspect you are deficient, the simplest way to find out is to speak with your healthcare professional and obtain a blood test. In the meantime, ensure you’re consuming plenty of magnesium-rich whole foods and perhaps supplement with a quality multivitamin. After all, the odds are good that you’re among the 75% of Americans who simply isn’t getting enough magnesium. Not only will these types of mineral-rich, healthy, whole foods help protect you from a magnesium deficiency, you may just take another step toward optimal health.

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