Every single day, it’s important that we provide our body with adequate nutrients and vitamins to keep it well-nourished. When our body fails to get its necessary amount of such nutrients, our health suffers, whether that’s in the short term or long term.
At first, we may not recognize symptoms of deficiency, but the longer our body is deficient in a particular nutrient, the more we will see side effects grow. Just like with other nutrient deficiencies, such would be the case for magnesium deficiency, one of our body’s most important nutrients.
Before we dive into magnesium deficiency, let’s first talk about what magnesium is and why it is important for our body.
Magnesium is one of the most important minerals for our body. This is because magnesium plays a vital role in many of our health processes, including blood pressure regulation, support for nerve and muscle function, production and formation of our DNA, support for our immune system, and even playing a role in our mood.
That being said, magnesium is certainly one of the nutrients that we should strive to get enough of. Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in our body. Despite that, whopping statistics show us that around 68% of American adults don’t actually get the recommended daily intake of magnesium! Therefore, getting enough magnesium should be one of our priorities so that, aside from avoiding the negative effects of magnesium deficiency, we also get the amazing health benefits of magnesium.
If you think you have a magnesium deficiency, now is a good time to learn about what a magnesium deficiency is, what causes it, signs that you are deficient in magnesium, and other important things that we should know about.
What is a Magnesium Deficiency?
Magnesium deficiency, also called hypomagnesemia, is a condition where the body is low in magnesium levels. It is important to note that just because you have low levels of magnesium (relative to your recommended daily intake) does not necessarily mean that you are suffering from magnesium deficiency. Unfortunately, magnesium deficiency is an overlooked problem. In fact, in some cases, one would only know about his or her magnesium deficiency once he or she is severely low in it.
Some of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency include loss of appetite, muscle spasms, and fatigue. If magnesium deficiency is left untreated, it could lead to health problems such as chronic digestive health issues, cardiovascular disease, and even diabetes.
Therefore, it is important to address magnesium deficiency before it leads to serious health problems. But first, let’s talk about some of the causes of magnesium deficiency.
Causes of Magnesium Deficiency
Magnesium deficiency can be caused by a variety of causes, with the more obvious being lack of consumption of magnesium. But some things can decrease magnesium in your body as well, ranging from stress, too much alcohol, and even coffee.
When it comes to health, caffeine is both praised and avoided. While caffeine undeniably has negative effects, it also has some positive effects (which goes beyond just giving you the energy boost for the day). Unfortunately, just as it helps us to start our day (or evening work), caffeine also causes our kidneys to expel more magnesium than necessary.
Normally, our kidneys would expel excess magnesium and other minerals in excess. However, caffeine makes our kidneys expel even more magnesium regardless of our magnesium levels and overall body status.
That being said, caffeine alone will not cause magnesium deficiency. However, it does increase your risk of magnesium deficiency since you’re expelling more magnesium than you should. Over time, if left unmanaged, caffeine (possibly among other causes) could lead to magnesium.
You don’t need to ditch your coffee right away, though. Just be mindful of your magnesium intake and when it comes to caffeine consumption, moderation is probably simply the best answer.
Aside from its physiological benefits such as DNA creation and support of muscle and nerve function, magnesium is also known to have therapeutic benefits. It is one of the go-to supplements for mood improvement and to simply feel more relaxed and less stressed. But you may wonder, how?
On a physiological level, our body uses more magnesium whenever we are in a stressful situation to help us cope with the stress. This means that stress depletes our body’s magnesium. But that’s not yet the real problem; the real problem is when we put ourselves into chronic stress.
When we put ourselves into chronic stress, not only do we use more of our body’s magnesium, but the more we get stressed, the further we will deplete our body’s magnesium level. Eventually, this will become a downward cycle that can ultimately lead to a magnesium deficiency unless the cycle is stopped.
Therefore, aside from replenishing your body with magnesium, it is also very important to manage your stress properly with lifestyle choices.
3) Refined Sugar
Refined sugar tends to hurt our body, and this alone is a reason to limit it. But aside from the long-term side effects on our body, refined sugar can also cause magnesium deficiency.
To begin with, refined sugar such as those in sweet foods are what nutritionists call “anti-nutrients.” This means that, aside from bringing in zero nutritional value to your body, it also depletes the nutrients in your body including magnesium. The result is two-fold: you don’t receive any nutrients from these foods and these foods take more nutrients from your body.
Aside from magnesium, refined sugar can also cause you to be deficient in other vital nutrients. Also, like caffeine, refined sugar causes our kidneys to excrete magnesium. While we probably cannot stop eating those sweet foods, the key here is to eat less of them and more whole, nutritious foods.
4) Vitamin D
Our body uses up magnesium when we take vitamin D since it needs magnesium to metabolize said vitamin. While vitamin D is important, we should be careful not to get too much vitamin D since the more vitamin D we get, the more our body will use magnesium until our magnesium level is depleted.
On the other hand, when we are low in magnesium levels, we will not be able to use our vitamin D properly, leaving it inactive inside our body. When it comes to vitamins and minerals in the body, there is a delicate balance between each. The key here is to simply ensure that you take adequate magnesium, either through foods or dietary supplements when you are taking vitamin D. This is especially more important if you are under vitamin D therapy.
Like caffeine and refined sugar, alcohol has the negative effect of forcing your kidney to excrete more magnesium out from your body. The result is depleted magnesium levels and, eventually, magnesium deficiency.
Aside from causing your kidney to excrete more magnesium, alcohol can also decrease the efficiency of your digestive system, which can further contribute to your body’s low magnesium levels.
6 Common Signs That You Are Deficient in Magnesium
If you are low or severely low in magnesium levels, there are many different signs to look for and symptoms that you may experience. If you experience one or more of these signs, consider taking a magnesium level test to check your magnesium level and see if magnesium is the cause of these signs or not.
So, how can you tell if you are low or deficient in magnesium? Here are the 6 most common signs that you are low or deficient in magnesium.
Fatigue can be a normal experience and something we can experience from time to time.
The best way to deal with fatigue is simply by experiencing enough rest. However, if you still feel fatigued despite resting, then your fatigue could be caused by an underlying health problem such as low magnesium levels.
That being said, fatigue alone cannot tell you which condition you have since many different health problems can cause fatigue. That’s why you should also take notice of other symptoms to see what potential health problem you have. In the case of magnesium deficiency, here are more signs and symptoms that suggest that you are deficient in magnesium.
2) Muscle problems (weakness, cramps, and twitches)
One of the main roles of magnesium is to support our muscle and nerve function. Therefore, if we are too low in magnesium, our muscles and nerves can suffer.
One of the noticeable symptoms of magnesium deficiency is muscle weakness. This is because muscle weakness is mainly characterized by lack or loss of potassium in our muscle cells, and such a condition can often be associated with magnesium deficiency.
Also, muscle cramps and twitches are attributed to magnesium deficiency. In worse cases, one could even experience convulsions or seizures.
Keep in mind, though, that there are other causes for muscle twitching. One of the common reasons for muscle twitching is when you have too much caffeine. Sometimes, chronic stress could also cause your muscles to twitch. Muscle twitching in itself is normal, but if it happens more than you normally experience it, consult your doctor to find out if you have an underlying health problem such as magnesium deficiency.
3) Mental health disorders
We have mentioned that magnesium plays a role in our mood. In fact, magnesium plays a vital role in our overall mental and cognitive function. Therefore, according to research studies, low levels of magnesium can cause mental health problems.
If we are low in magnesium, we can initially experience problems with our mood. We can also feel more stressed as we have just mentioned earlier. However, the more we are depleted with magnesium, the more mental health problems we can experience.
One of the mental health problems that we can experience is apathy or the lack of emotion. If magnesium continues to be low, this can lead to more anxiety or depression. On the other side of things, if someone deals with depression, clinical studies have shown that magnesium can play a key role in helping them heal.
4) High blood pressure
According to some animal studies, magnesium deficiency can cause high blood pressure. However, studies on the relationship between magnesium and high blood
pressures are lacking in human studies. Despite that, what we do know is that magnesium can help lower your blood pressure, even with adults that have high blood pressure.
That being said, while we are yet to confirm if magnesium deficiency can cause high
blood pressure to humans just as it does to animals, getting enough magnesium is still
beneficial to our heart health since it helps in lowering our blood pressure.
Osteoporosis and other bone problems could also be a sign of magnesium problems. To begin with, magnesium deficiency can directly weaken your bones which results in bone problems such as osteoporosis. But aside from that, magnesium deficiency also lowers the blood levels of calcium, which means that your bones will receive less calcium.
Aside from magnesium deficiency, osteoporosis and other bone problems are commonly caused by lack of exercise or physical activity, aging, and low intake of vitamins D and K.
Magnesium deficiency can have an impact on asthma, according to a variety of research studies. People with severe asthma tend to be deficient in magnesium. In mild cases, people with asthma tend to have lower magnesium levels in their system compared to people who do not have asthma. But that being said, what’s the relationship between magnesium deficiency and asthma?
According to some experts, magnesium deficiency can cause an excess buildup of calcium in the muscle lining of our lung’s airways. Once that happens, breathing will become more difficult as air passage is narrowed. This sometimes leads to asthma. However, more research is needed to understand the relationship between magnesium deficiency and asthma.
How to Test Your Magnesium Levels
While signs and symptoms can give us a clue on whether or not we are low or deficient in magnesium, it is still best to get tested to see your exact magnesium level and accurately determine whether or not you are magnesium-deficient. So, how to get tested for magnesium levels?
The most common and popular way to test for your magnesium level is via blood testing. It works like any other blood test: a nurse will clear your skin, insert a needle into the vein in either your arm or hand and get some samples of your blood to have it examined.
After taking your blood sample, it will take a few days before you get your results. If you are low in magnesium, it could either be because your body expels more magnesium than it should or you simply don’t get enough magnesium from your diet and you need to take extra effort into getting more magnesium.
However, blood testing is not the only way to get tested for your magnesium levels. In fact, some experts believe that blood testing is not only not the best way to test for magnesium level, but that blood testing has some errs. For one, magnesium is stored in our bones and other parts of our body rather than in the blood.
When we are stressed, magnesium enters the bloodstream. This can skew the results and think that we have enough or more magnesium in our body when in reality, we could be that we are simply more stressed at the time.
Here are other ways on how to get tested for your magnesium levels:
Check the levels of magnesium in your red blood cells.
Test your magnesium level by checking how much magnesium you would
excrete from your urine.
6 Foods That Are Rich in Magnesium
Now that you know what magnesium deficiency is, its causes, symptoms, and effects, it’s important to keep your magnesium level intact. One of the ways to get enough magnesium is to simply get it from your diet.
Here are the 6 foods that are rich in magnesium. Of course, these are not the only foods that are rich in magnesium, but they should give you a good idea of what to buy the next time you visit the grocery. Check out our Magnesium Foods Ranked article.
Bananas are one of the most common fruits in the world. This easy-to-eat fruit — just peel it and eat it — is actually packed with nutrients!
Bananas are mainly known for being rich in potassium. However, do you know that they are also rich in magnesium? One large banana contains around 37mg which is 9% of the RDI. Aside from potassium and magnesium, bananas can also provide us with vitamin B6, vitamin C, fiber, and manganese.
2) Fatty fish
Fatty fish are mostly known for their omega-3 fatty acids, which are very beneficial for heart and brain health. But some fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel are also rich in magnesium. Aside from omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium, many fish are also high in B vitamins, potassium, and other nutrients.
Avocados are one of the most very nutritious fruits available to us —with B vitamins, vitamin K, potassium, and, of course, magnesium. In fact, one medium-sized avocado contains 58mg of magnesium — that is 15% of the RDI already!
Unlike other fruits, avocados are rich in fats, making them an ideal fruit for the ketogenic diet. But the fats the avocado provides are heart-friendly, so you don’t need to worry about it. Aside from their nutritional value, avocados are also rich in fiber.
4) Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate is high in minerals such as iron, manganese, copper, and magnesium. In fact, a 1-ounce or 28-gram of dark chocolate can provide you with 64mg of magnesium — this is 16% of the RDI.
Aside from being rich in certain minerals, dark chocolate is also a potent antioxidant, which protects your body from the damage caused by free radicals and oxidative stress. Dark chocolate also contains prebiotics, which is a fiber that your “good” gut bacteria feeds on.
5) Whole Grains
If you are fond of oats and wheat, then you’re in for a treat because these whole grains are high in magnesium. Aside from being rich in magnesium, whole grains are also rich in B vitamins, manganese, and selenium. They are also an excellent source of fiber.
Some studies show that whole grains are good for the heart as they aid in reducing inflammation and reducing our risk of heart disease as well.
6) Leafy Greens
If you love leafy green vegetables such as spinach, mustard greens, and kale, then you’re in luck. As you can expect, leafy greens are also loaded with magnesium. In fact, a 1-cup serving of cooked spinach contains 157mg of magnesium — that’s a whopping 39% of the RDI.
Aside from magnesium, leafy greens are also rich in nutrients such as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, and manganese.
Should You Take Magnesium Supplements?
Aside from getting magnesium through your diet, you can also take magnesium through supplements such as powdered magnesium to maintain healthy magnesium levels.
Generally, magnesium supplements are considered safe. However, be sure not to take too many magnesium supplements as this can cause any side effects such as nausea, digestive issues, and abdominal cramping.
Lastly, while magnesium is generally considered safe, consult your doctor first before taking a magnesium supplement if you are pregnant, currently taking any medication, or if you’re simply concerned or have questions about taking magnesium supplements.
Magnesium deficiency is extremely hard to diagnose. Symptoms are generally non-specific, there are numerous contributing factors, and there is no simple method for diagnosing magnesium deficiency.
Signs of Magnesium Deficiency Roundup
The following are signs compiled from an extensive review of the literature published in the journal, Open Heart in 2018.
Less Severe Clinical Signs of Magnesium Deficiency
- Chvostek sign (twitching of the facial muscles in response to tapping over the area of the facial nerve)
- Cramps (spontaneous carpopedal spasm or painful cramps of the muscles in your hands and feet)
- Fasciculations (‘a brief, spontaneous contraction affecting a small number of muscle fibres, often causing a flicker of movement under the skin. It can be a symptom of disease of the motor neurons’)
- Muscular weakness
- Neuromuscular irritability
- Pain or hyperalgesia
- Tetany (involuntary muscle spasms)
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Trousseau sign
- Vitamin D resistance
Severe Clinical Signs of Magnesium Deficiency
- Arrhythmias (caused by over-excitation of the heart due to enhanced depolarisation susceptibility, especially torsades de pointes or ventricular tachycardia with a prolonged QT interval)
- Coronary artery disease
- Depressed immune response
- Hearing loss
- Heart failure
- Mitral valve prolapse
- Parathyroid hormone resistance and impaired parathyroid hormone release/function
- Psychotic behaviour
- Seizures(overexcitation of the nervous system (nerve cells), which are more likely to fire due to a reduced electric potential difference between the outer and inner surfaces of the membrane)
- Sudden cardiac death
DiNicolantonio, j et al. Subclinical magnesium deficiency: a principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis. Open Heart. Jan 13, 2018. Accessed at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5786912/