Last modified on June 14th, 2023
Deficiency Symptoms of Magnesium
The deficiency symptoms of magnesium can range from mild to severe. Magnesium deficiency is more common than many people might think, but the symptoms are reversible.
Understanding when you could be experiencing these symptoms is important because untreated magnesium deficiency can lead to complications, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and migraines.
What Are the Deficiency Symptoms of Magnesium?
The following are some symptoms that could indicate your magnesium level is low due to dietary intake or other health conditions that impact your absorption of magnesium.
Muscle Cramps, Muscle Contractions, and Twitching
When it comes to magnesium deficiency symptoms, one of the most common is cramping.
Along with cramps, similar symptoms can include twitches, muscle spasms, and tremors. In very severe cases, a lack of magnesium can cause convulsions or seizures.
Researchers think cramps and muscle twitches might happen when more calcium flows into your nerve cells. That flow can hyper-stimulate your muscle nerves or overexcite them.
Magnesium deficiency is only one cause of involuntary muscle twitching though, so be aware of this. For example, experiencing stress or anxiety or having too much caffeine can cause similar symptoms.
Tingling or Numbness
Magnesium plays a role in nerve impulses. When you’re deficient because of this role, it can lead to tingling or numbness.
Primarily people will experience tingling or numbness in their fingers or toes. It can feel similar to your limbs falling asleep.
Unfortunately, one of the earliest signs of magnesium deficiency can also occur with so many other conditions—fatigue. You may also feel muscle weakness.
Everyone experiences fatigue sometimes, but if you’re experiencing it more often than you think might be normal, it could be a vitamin or mineral deficiency or a serious health problem.
Muscle weakness is known as myasthenia. Muscle weakness related to low magnesium levels might be caused by potassium in muscle cells.
High Blood Pressure
In animal studies, researchers have found low magnesium levels can lead to increased blood pressure and promote high blood pressure. There are also observational studies showing something similar in humans.
Reviews find taking a supplement with magnesium may lower blood pressure, particularly if your levels are high.
If you have high blood pressure, it’s important to figure out the source of the problem and correct it. Untreated high blood pressure can increase your risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases.
Sometimes there are links between magnesium deficiency and severe asthma. Magnesium levels are also often lower in people with asthma compared to people who don’t have it. There may be a reason for it, according to researchers.
It’s possible that a lack of magnesium can cause calcium to build up in the muscles that line the airways of your lungs. This leads to constriction of the airways, so it’s harder to breathe as a result.
Some people with severe asthma are given an inhaler with magnesium sulfate, which can help relax and then expand their airways.
Abnormal Heart Rhythms
An irregular heartbeat is also known as heart arrhythmia. This can be one of the most serious symptoms of low magnesium.
Some people may experience no symptoms of arrhythmia, but others may have heart palpitations, which are pauses between their heart beats.
Other symptoms of arrhythmia for people who experience them include chest pain, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, and fainting.
The imbalance of potassium levels inside and outside the heart’s muscle cells may cause this irregularity. People with congestive heart failure and arrhythmia are often shown to have lower magnesium levels than people who don’t have the condition.
Magnesium injections significantly improved their heart function in some people with congestive heart failure. Magnesium supplements may also help the symptoms in people with arrhythmia.
Headaches and Migraines
Very often, deficiency symptoms of magnesium can involve headaches and migraines. As a result, magnesium and especially magnesium oxide, may be a helpful treatment or prevention method for migraines.
Research shows people with migraines tend to have lower magnesium levels than people who don’t have them.
Loss of Appetite
A loss of appetite can be a sign that you don’t have enough of this mineral, but it can also be a reason for a deficiency.
Nausea can also be a symptom that you should pay attention to as it relates to a deficiency of this mineral.
Mood and Mental Health Disorders
Mental health disorders can be an effect of not getting enough of the mineral. For example, some people feel apathy. Apathy includes a lack of emotion or mental numbness. There may be an increased risk of depression that comes with deficiency, and it may contribute to anxiety.
In some small studies, magnesium studies were found to have potential benefits for some people with anxiety disorders.
Sleep disturbances can be one of the deficiency symptoms of magnesium as well.
The links between the mineral and mental health and mood disorders may come from the fact that a deficiency causes nerve dysfunction.
Brittle, weak bones can occur when you don’t get enough of certain nutrients. Along with magnesium deficiency being a risk factor for the development of osteoporosis, so are a lack of vitamins D and K.
Symptoms of magnesium deficiency can potentially directly weaken the bones, but it also lowers your blood levels of calcium. Calcium is a key building block of your bones.
Animal studies prove dietary depletion of magnesium can lead to reductions in bone mass.
In younger people with a deficiency, it can prevent bone growth. During childhood, it’s extremely important to get enough of this nutrient.
The Importance of Magnesium
Magnesium is both a mineral and an electrolyte. It plays a role in processes including:
- Nerve and muscle function
- DNA replication
- Energy production
- Teeth and bone structure
- RNA and protein synthesis
Risk factors that make it more likely you could experience a deficiency in this important nutrient include:
- Not getting enough magnesium from food
- Having a GI disorder like celiac disease or Crohn’s disease can impact the absorption
- Losing a lot through sweat or urine, which often comes from drinking a lot of alcohol or certain genetic disorders
- Being hospitalized
- Having parathyroid disorders
- Being pregnant and lactating
- Having type 2 diabetes
- Older age
- Taking medications like diuretics, proton pump inhibitors, bisphosphonates, and antibiotics
- Pancreatitis can cause malabsorption and depletion of nutrients
- Kidney disease
What Should You Do If You Notice Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms?
If you think you might have a deficiency, talk to your doctor. So many of the symptoms are nonspecific and can be related to other issues, so your healthcare provider may want to rule out other possible reasons for what you’re experiencing.
You should aim to get 310 mg of magnesium a day if you’re a female between the ages of 19 and 30. For males, it’s 400 mg.
If you’re 31 or older, females should try to get 320 mg daily, and males should try 420 mg.
Requirements tend to be higher for young people between the ages of 14 and 18 and for pregnant people.
Raising Your Magnesium Levels
There are different things you can do to correct a deficiency, which is also known as hypomagnesemia.
One of the simplest options is to have foods that are rich in the nutrient so you get your recommended dietary allowance. Plant and animal foods have magnesium. The best sources include nuts and seeds.
Levels of the nutrient are also high in beans, leafy green vegetables, and whole grains.
Specific sources of magnesium include:
- Dark chocolate
- Pumpkin seeds
- Chia seeds
- Kidney beans
- Black beans
You also want to ensure you’re optimizing your magnesium absorption. A few ways to do this include:
- Calcium can impair absorption, so try to avoid foods that are high in calcium two hours before or after you’re having magnesium.
- Don’t take high-dose zinc supplements.
- If you have a vitamin D deficiency, work on reversing it at the same time.
- Eat your vegetables raw rather than cooking them, which can take nutrients out.
Should You Take a Dietary Supplement?
If you simply don’t get enough magnesium per day from your diet or have a condition that impairs your absorption, you might think about a supplement.
Often doctors recommend that people over 60 also take a supplement because our absorption declines as we age, raising the risk of a severe deficiency and reducing our ability to get enough from magnesium-rich foods alone.
There are different types of oral supplement options, including magnesium oxide, magnesium citrate, and chloride.
Your body will likely absorb the formulations with chloride and citrate more efficiently than oxide.
Don’t go overboard if you do supplement. Magnesium toxicity can occur, and symptoms can include cramping, nausea, and diarrhea.
Older adults and people with decreased renal function are at an increased risk of toxicity and shouldn’t take high-dose supplements or get amounts of magnesium that are well above the recommended intake.
If you are concerned about your magnesium status or the risk of magnesium deficiency, a simple blood test can help you learn more. Making small dietary changes can also help you feel better and reduce your symptoms and the risk of complications such as low bone mineral density.