Magnesium is one of the most abundant essential minerals in your body. It is stored primarily in the bones of the body, and a very small amount of magnesium circulates in the bloodstream. However, many people suffer from magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium plays an important role in maintaining nerve and muscle function, immune health, and blood sugar levels. It also keeps your heart beating steadily and keeps your bones strong. Some research also suggests that magnesium may play a role in preventing or managing health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
However, the reality is that nearly half of all adults get less than the recommended daily intake of magnesium. But not reaching the recommended amount and being deficient in magnesium are not the same thing. Actual deficiency is not that common, but cases still exist.
The only way to know for sure if we have a magnesium deficiency is with a blood test. That said, low magnesium levels can cause noticeable symptoms, some of which are serious.
At first, low magnesium levels may not cause any symptoms. But in some cases you can start to notice side effects when the deficiency is greater.
nausea or vomiting
A lack of magnesium could make us feel dizzy or even throw up. That’s because the mineral is involved in the function of the nervous system. Our gastrointestinal nerves may not be working properly, leading to nausea. Vomiting is often a side effect of nausea, which of course causes us to lose even more magnesium.
On the other hand, low magnesium can prevent you from having an appetite. That could be a direct effect of nausea: It’s hard to eat when your stomach isn’t right. A lack of magnesium could also cause the nerves that signal hunger to work less effectively.
Magnesium plays an integral role in cellular metabolism, the process in which nutrients are converted into energy. If our magnesium level is low, we become less effective and efficient at this conversion. That can lead to feelings of weakness, sluggishness, and fatigue.
Fatigue, a condition characterized by physical or mental exhaustion or weakness, is another symptom of magnesium deficiency. Keep in mind that everyone gets tired from time to time. Usually it just means we need to rest. However, severe or persistent fatigue can be a sign of a health problem.
Because fatigue is a nonspecific symptom, its cause is impossible to identify unless it is accompanied by other symptoms. Another more specific sign of magnesium deficiency is muscle weakness, which can be caused by myasthenia gravis.
Scientists believe the weakness is caused by a loss of potassium from muscle cells, a condition associated with magnesium deficiency. Therefore, magnesium deficiency is a possible cause of fatigue or weakness.
numbness and seizures
Problems experiencing sensations in the hands or feet, or noticing a tingling sensation, may be due to very low levels of magnesium. Again, it has to do with the effect of magnesium on the response of the nervous system.
Seizures related to magnesium deficiency are likely related to electrolyte imbalances, which may be caused by poor overall diet quality or the nervous system effects of low magnesium levels.
Cramps can occur from imbalances in electrolyte minerals such as magnesium (as well as sodium, potassium, or calcium). Cramps can also occur when low magnesium causes nerves in the body to fail, causing muscles to contract and cause cramps.
Scientists believe that these symptoms are caused by an increased flow of calcium into the nerve cells, which overexcites or hyperstimulates the muscle nerves.
Although supplements may help relieve muscle contractions and cramps in some people with deficiency, one review concluded that magnesium supplementation is not an effective treatment for muscle cramps in older adults.
Keep in mind that involuntary muscle contractions can have many other causes. For example, stress or too much caffeine could also cause involuntary muscle spasms. They can also be a side effect of some medications or a symptom of a neuromuscular disease such as muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, or myasthenia gravis.
Abnormal or uncharacteristic behavior is another problem that can stem from malfunctioning of the nervous system, which can occur when a person’s magnesium deficiency becomes severe.
An example is apathy, which is characterized by mental numbness or lack of emotion. Worsened deficiency can even lead to delirium and coma. Additionally, observational studies have associated low magnesium levels with an increased risk of depression.
Scientists have also speculated that magnesium deficiency might promote anxiety, but direct evidence is lacking. One review concluded that magnesium supplementation might benefit a subset of people with anxiety disorders, but the quality of the evidence is poor.
If magnesium deficiency is related to alcohol consumption (alcohol abuse can lead to magnesium deficiency), alcohol consumption may also be affecting the behavior of the individual.
Osteoporosis is a disorder characterized by weak bones and an increased risk of bone fractures. There are factors that increase the risk of developing osteoporosis, including aging, lack of exercise, and poor dietary intake of vitamins D and K.
Interestingly, magnesium deficiency is also a risk factor for osteoporosis. Deficiency can directly weaken bones, but it also lowers blood levels of calcium, the main component of bones.
Rodent studies confirm that dietary magnesium depletion results in reduced bone mass. Although no such studies have been conducted in humans, research has associated poor magnesium intake with lower bone mineral density.
Magnesium deficiency is sometimes seen in people with severe asthma. Also, magnesium levels tend to be lower in people with asthma than in people without the condition.
Researchers believe that a lack of magnesium can cause calcium to build up in the muscles that line the airways of the lungs. This causes the airways to constrict, making it difficult to breathe.
Interestingly, a magnesium sulfate inhaler is sometimes given to people with severe asthma to help relax and expand the airways. For those with life-threatening symptoms, injections are the preferred method of administration.
Low magnesium is usually due to decreased absorption of magnesium from the intestine or increased excretion of magnesium in the urine. Magnesium deficiency in healthy people is rare. This is because magnesium levels are largely controlled by the kidneys. The kidneys increase or decrease the excretion (waste) of magnesium depending on what the body needs.
Continually low dietary intake of magnesium, excessive magnesium loss, or the presence of other chronic conditions can lead to hypomagnesemia . Hypomagnesemia is also more common in hospitalized people. This may be due to your illness, having certain surgeries, or taking certain types of medicine. Very low levels of magnesium have been observed to be linked to worse outcomes in critically ill hospitalized patients.
Conditions that increase the risk of magnesium deficiency include:
- Gastrointestinal diseases . Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and chronic diarrhea can affect magnesium absorption or result in increased magnesium loss.
- Type 2 diabetes . Higher concentrations of glucose in the blood can cause the kidneys to excrete more urine. This also causes a greater loss of magnesium.
- Alcohol dependence . Alcohol dependence can lead to poor dietary intake of magnesium, increased urination and greasy stools, liver disease, vomiting, kidney failure, or pancreatitis.
- older adults . Intestinal absorption of magnesium tends to decrease with age. Urinary magnesium production tends to increase with age. Older adults tend to eat less magnesium-rich foods. They are also more likely to take medications that can affect magnesium (such as diuretics). These factors can lead to hypomagnesemia in older adults.
- Use of diuretics . The use of loop diuretics (such as Lasix) can sometimes lead to loss of electrolytes such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium.
Is there treatment?
Hypomagnesemia is usually treated with oral magnesium supplementation and increased dietary magnesium intake. It’s best to get your magnesium from food, unless otherwise directed by a doctor.
Examples of foods rich in magnesium include: spinach, almonds, cashews, whole grain cereal, soy milk, black beans, whole wheat bread, banana, salmon, baked potato with skin, or chocolate.
If the hypomagnesemia is severe and includes symptoms such as seizures, we may receive magnesium intravenously.