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11 Warning Signs Of Magnesium Deficiency

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I have seen firsthand the crucial role that magnesium plays in maintaining overall health and well-being. This essential mineral is involved in hundreds of biochemical reactions in the body, from energy production and muscle function to bone health and mood regulation. Unfortunately, magnesium deficiency is becoming increasingly common, with estimates suggesting that over 50% of the U.S. population is not getting enough of this vital nutrient.

In this article, I will discuss the 11 warning signs of magnesium deficiency, helping you to identify if you may be at risk. I will also provide information on the causes and risk factors for magnesium deficiency, as well as tips on how to increase your magnesium intake through diet and supplementation.

Key Facts

Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a critical role in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body.
More than 50% of the U.S. population is estimated to be deficient in magnesium, largely due to factors such as soil depletion, processed food consumption, and the use of certain medications.
Magnesium deficiency can lead to a wide range of symptoms, including muscle cramps, fatigue, anxiety, and irregular heartbeat.
Certain groups, such as older adults, individuals with gastrointestinal disorders, and those taking specific medications, are at a higher risk for magnesium deficiency.
Increasing magnesium intake through a balanced diet rich in whole foods, such as leafy greens, nuts, and seeds, can help prevent deficiency. In some cases, magnesium supplements may be necessary.

Main Causes Of Magnesium Deficiency

Causes Of Magnesium Deficiency

The main causes of magnesium deficiency include chronic diarrhea, vomiting, or malabsorption disorders like inflammatory bowel disease that impair magnesium absorption. Certain medications, such as proton pump inhibitors, diuretics, antibiotics, and some diabetes drugs, can also deplete magnesium levels. Alcohol use disorder and related liver problems can lead to magnesium deficiency by reducing absorption and increasing urinary excretion.

Uncontrolled diabetes and excessive urination can result in magnesium loss, while kidney disorders may impair magnesium reabsorption[Refered by Medline Plus]. Severe burns affecting a large body area can cause significant magnesium loss. Although a diet low in magnesium-rich foods can contribute to deficiency, it is rarely the sole cause.

Magnesium deficiency is more often due to health conditions or medications that affect the mineral’s absorption, retention, or excretion. Identifying and treating the underlying cause is crucial for correcting magnesium deficiency.

Symptoms Of Magnesium Deficiency

Magnesium plays crucial roles in the body’s biochemical processes, acting as a cofactor for over 300 enzymes involved in energy metabolism, protein synthesis, and muscle and nerve function. Its presence is vital for maintaining proper heart rhythm, bone health, blood pressure regulation, and overall physiological balance.

Muscle cramps and spasms

One of the most common signs of magnesium deficiency is muscle cramps and spasms. Magnesium plays a crucial role in muscle relaxation, and low levels can lead to involuntary contractions and twitches.

Fatigue and weakness

Magnesium is essential for energy production in the body. A deficiency can lead to persistent fatigue and weakness, even after getting enough sleep.

Anxiety and depression

Magnesium plays a role in regulating neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine. Low levels of magnesium have been linked to an increased risk of anxiety and depression.

Irregular heartbeat

Magnesium helps maintain a normal heart rhythm. A deficiency can lead to irregular heartbeats, palpitations, and even an increased risk of heart disease.

High blood pressure

Magnesium helps relax blood vessels and regulate blood pressure. Low levels of magnesium have been associated with an increased risk of hypertension.


Magnesium plays a role in the production of the sleep hormone melatonin[Source: WebMD]. A deficiency can lead to difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.

Headaches and migraines

Low levels of magnesium have been linked to an increased frequency and severity of headaches and migraines.


Magnesium is essential for bone health, as it helps regulate calcium absorption and metabolism. A deficiency can increase the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.


Magnesium helps relax the bronchial muscles and reduce inflammation in the airways. Low levels of magnesium have been associated with an increased risk of asthma attacks.

PMS and menstrual cramps

Magnesium can help alleviate symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and menstrual cramps by reducing inflammation and regulating hormones.


Magnesium helps relax the muscles in the digestive tract and promotes regular bowel movements. A deficiency can lead to constipation and other digestive issues.

Risk Factors For Magnesium Deficiency

Several factors can increase the risk of magnesium deficiency, including:

1. Poor diet

Consuming a diet high in processed foods and low in whole foods, such as leafy greens, nuts, and seeds, can lead to magnesium deficiency.

2. Gastrointestinal disorders

Conditions such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and chronic diarrhea can impair magnesium absorption in the gut.

3. Alcohol abuse

Excessive alcohol consumption can increase magnesium excretion through the urine and lead to deficiency.

4. Certain medications

Some medications, such as diuretics, proton pump inhibitors, and antibiotics, can interfere with magnesium absorption or increase its excretion.

5. Age

Older adults are at a higher risk for magnesium deficiency due to decreased absorption and increased excretion of the mineral.

6. Diabetes

Individuals with type 2 diabetes may have lower levels of magnesium due to increased urinary excretion of the mineral.

Diagnosis Of Magnesium Deficiency

Diagnosing magnesium deficiency can be challenging, as symptoms are often nonspecific and blood tests may not always reflect total body magnesium status. A serum magnesium test is the most common method, but it only measures extracellular magnesium, which accounts for less than 1% of total body magnesium.

In some cases, a 24-hour urine test or magnesium loading test[Sourced by NCBI] may be used to assess magnesium status more accurately. Red blood cell magnesium levels can also provide a better indication of long-term magnesium status.

How Is Magnesium Deficiency Treated?

Magnesium deficiency is typically treated with magnesium supplements, which come in various forms such as magnesium oxide, magnesium citrate, and magnesium glycinate. The choice of supplement depends on the underlying cause of the deficiency, individual tolerance, and absorption rates. In some cases, high doses of magnesium supplements can cause diarrhea, so doctors may need to adjust the dosage accordingly.

For severe cases of magnesium deficiency, intravenous (IV) magnesium administration in a hospital setting may be necessary. This allows for rapid correction of the deficiency under close medical supervision.

It’s crucial to consult with a doctor or pharmacist before starting magnesium supplementation to ensure the right form and dosage and to avoid potential interactions with other medications or health conditions.

While magnesium supplements are generally safe, excessive intake can lead to magnesium toxicity, causing symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and in extreme cases, irregular heartbeat and cardiac arrest. Following the recommended dosage and medical guidance can prevent these complications.

How To Increase My Magnesium Intake?

The best way to prevent magnesium deficiency is to consume a balanced diet rich in whole foods that are naturally high in magnesium. Some of the best dietary sources of magnesium include:

Leafy greens: Spinach, Swiss chard, and kale are excellent sources of magnesium.

Nuts and seeds: Almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds are rich in magnesium.

Whole grains: Quinoa, brown rice, and oats contain significant amounts of magnesium.

Legumes: Beans, lentils, and chickpeas are good sources of magnesium.

Dark chocolate: High-quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa or higher) is a tasty way to boost magnesium intake.

In some cases, magnesium supplements may be necessary to correct a deficiency or maintain adequate levels. However, it is essential to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any supplement regimen, as excessive magnesium intake can lead to adverse effects such as diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal cramping.

To wrap up

Magnesium deficiency is a common yet often overlooked health issue that can lead to a wide range of symptoms and health problems. By being aware of the 11 warning signs of magnesium deficiency and taking steps to increase your intake of this essential mineral through a balanced diet and, if necessary, supplementation, you can support optimal health and well-being.


1. How much magnesium do I need per day?

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for magnesium varies by age and gender. For adults, the RDA ranges from 310-420 mg per day.

2. Can I get enough magnesium from my diet alone?

Yes, it is possible to meet your magnesium needs through a balanced diet rich in whole foods, such as leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. However, some individuals may require supplements due to various factors such as poor diet, medical conditions, or medication use.

3. What are the best magnesium supplements?

The best magnesium supplement depends on individual needs and preferences. Some well-absorbed forms include magnesium citrate, magnesium glycinate, and magnesium malate. It is important to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any supplement regimen.

4. Can too much magnesium be harmful?

Yes, excessive magnesium intake can lead to adverse effects such as diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal cramping. It is important to follow the recommended dosage on supplement labels and consult with a healthcare provider before exceeding the recommended amount.

5. How can I test for magnesium deficiency?

A blood test can measure serum magnesium levels, but it may not always reflect the body’s total magnesium status. Other tests, such as a 24-hour urine test or a red blood cell magnesium test, may provide a more accurate assessment of magnesium status. It is important to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate testing method based on individual circumstances.


Medline Plus(n.d) Magnesium deficiency Available online at: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000315.htm

NCBI(n.d) The magnesium loading test: reference values in healthy subjects Available online at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8171268/

David Mercer

Dr. David Mercer is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and general practice. He has over 20 years of experience working in hospital settings, clinics, and private practice providing comprehensive care to patients.

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