7 Signs and Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency
By Atli Arnarson BSc, PhD — Medically reviewed by Avi Varma, MD, MPH, AAHIVS, FAAFP — Updated on April 12, 2022
Magnesium deficiency, also known as hypomagnesemia, is an often-overlooked health problem.
While less than 2% of Americans have been estimated to experience magnesium deficiency, that percentage has been shown to be far greater in hospital and ICU patients and people with diabetes or alcohol use disorder (1Trusted Source).
In some cases, deficiency may be underdiagnosed since the obvious signs commonly don’t appear until your levels become severely low.
The causes of magnesium deficiency vary and can include (1Trusted Source):
certain medications, such as chemotherapy drugs and proton pump inhibitors
acute or chronic diarrhea
“hungry bone syndrome” after parathyroid or thyroid surgery
gastric bypass surgery
Health conditions such as diabetes, poor absorption, chronic diarrhea, and celiac disease are associated with magnesium loss. People with alcohol use disorder are also at an increased risk of deficiency (2Trusted Source).
This article lists 7 symptoms of magnesium deficiency.
- Muscle twitches and cramps
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Twitches, tremors, and muscle cramps are signs of magnesium deficiency. In worst-case scenarios, deficiency may even cause seizures or convulsions (1Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source).
Scientists believe these symptoms are caused by a greater flow of calcium into nerve cells, which overexcites or hyperstimulates the muscle nerves (4).
While supplements may help relieve muscle twitches and cramps in some people with a deficiency, one review concluded that magnesium supplements are not an effective treatment for muscle cramps in older adults. Further studies are needed in other groups (5Trusted Source).
Keep in mind that involuntary muscle twitches may have many other causes. For example, stress or excessive caffeine could also cause involuntary muscle spasms.
They may also be a side effect of some medications or a symptom of a neuromuscular disease such as muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, or myasthenia gravis.
While occasional twitches are common, you should see your doctor if your symptoms persist.
Common signs of magnesium deficiency include muscle twitches, tremors, and cramps. However, supplements are unlikely to reduce these symptoms in older adults or people who aren’t deficient in magnesium.
- Mental health conditions
Mental health conditions are another possible effect of magnesium deficiency.
One example is apathy, which is characterized by mental numbness or lack of emotion. Worsened deficiency may even lead to delirium and coma (3Trusted Source).
Additionally, observational studies have associated low magnesium levels with an increased risk of depression (6Trusted Source).
Scientists have also speculated that magnesium deficiency might promote anxiety, but direct evidence is lacking (7Trusted Source).
One review concluded that magnesium supplements might benefit a subset of people with anxiety disorders, but the quality of the evidence is poor. Higher quality studies are needed before any conclusions can be reached (8Trusted Source).
In short, it seems that a lack of magnesium may cause nerve dysfunction and promote mental health conditions in some people.
Magnesium deficiency may cause lack of emotion, delirium, and even coma. Scientists have suggested that deficiency may also cause anxiety, but no strong evidence supports this idea.
Osteoporosis is a disorder characterized by weak bones and an increased risk of bone fractures.
Numerous factors influence the risk of developing osteoporosis, including:
lack of exercise
poor dietary intake of vitamins D and K
Interestingly, magnesium deficiency is also a risk factor for osteoporosis. Deficiency might weaken bones directly, but it also lowers the blood levels of calcium, the main building block of bones (9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source).
Studies in rats confirm that dietary magnesium depletion results in reduced bone mass. Although no such studies have been carried out in humans, research has associated poor magnesium intake with lower bone mineral density (11Trusted Source, 12Trusted Source).
Magnesium deficiency may be one of the risk factors for osteoporosis and bone fractures, though many factors influence this risk.
- Fatigue and muscle weakness
Fatigue, a condition characterized by physical or mental exhaustion or weakness, is another symptom of magnesium deficiency.
Keep in mind that everyone becomes fatigued from time to time. Typically, it simply means you need to rest. However, severe or persistent fatigue may be a sign of a health problem.
Since 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 may be caused by myasthenia gravis (13Trusted Source).
Scientists believe the weakness is caused by the loss of potassium in muscle cells, a condition associated with magnesium deficiency (14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source).
Therefore, magnesium deficiency is one possible cause of fatigue or weakness.
Magnesium deficiency may cause fatigue or muscle weakness. However, these are not specific signs of a deficiency unless they are accompanied by other symptoms.
- High blood pressure
Animal studies show that magnesium deficiency may increase blood pressure and promote high blood pressure, which is a strong risk factor for heart disease (16Trusted Source, 17Trusted Source).
While direct evidence in humans is lacking, several observational studies suggest that low magnesium levels or poor dietary intake may raise blood pressure (18Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source, 20Trusted Source).
The strongest evidence for the benefits of magnesium comes from controlled studies.
Several reviews have concluded that magnesium supplements may lower blood pressure, especially in adults with high blood pressure (21Trusted Source, 22Trusted Source, 23Trusted Source).
Put simply, magnesium deficiency may increase blood pressure, which, in turn, increases the risk of heart disease. Nevertheless, more studies are needed before its role can be fully understood.
Evidence suggests magnesium deficiency may raise blood pressure. Additionally, supplements may benefit people with high blood pressure.
Magnesium deficiency is sometimes seen in people with severe asthma (24Trusted Source, 25Trusted Source).
Additionally, magnesium levels tend to be lower in individuals with asthma than in people who do not have this condition (26Trusted Source, 27Trusted Source).
Researchers believe a lack of magnesium may cause the buildup of calcium in the muscles lining the airways of the lungs. This causes the airways to constrict, making breathing more difficult (28Trusted Source).
Interestingly, an inhaler with magnesium sulfate 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 delivery (29Trusted Source, 30Trusted Source).
However, evidence for the effectiveness of dietary magnesium supplements in individuals with asthma is inconsistent (31Trusted Source, 32Trusted Source, 33Trusted Source).
In short, scientists believe severe asthma may be linked to magnesium deficiency in some people, but further studies are needed to investigate its role.
Magnesium deficiency has been associated with severe asthma. However, its role in the development of asthma is not entirely understood.
- Irregular heartbeat
Heart arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, is among the most serious possible effects of magnesium deficiency (34Trusted Source).
Arrhythmia can range from causing no symptoms to causing very serious symptoms. In some people, it may cause heart palpitations, which are pauses between heartbeats.
Other possible symptoms of arrhythmia include:
shortness of breath
In the most severe cases, arrhythmia may increase the risk of stroke or heart failure.
Scientists believe that an imbalance of potassium levels inside and outside of heart muscle cells — a condition associated with magnesium deficiency — may be to blame (35Trusted Source, 36Trusted Source).
Some people with congestive heart failure and arrhythmia have been shown to have lower magnesium levels than people who don’t have heart failure.
In a small study in 68 people with heart failure, magnesium injections significantly improved participants’ heart function (37Trusted Source).
Magnesium supplements may also help reduce symptoms in some people with arrhythmia (38Trusted Source).
Magnesium deficiency can cause or worsen arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, which may increase the risk of more serious complications, such as a stroke or heart failure.
How to get enough magnesium
The table below shows the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) or adequate intake (AI) of magnesium for males and females in the United States (39Trusted Source).
Age Male Female Pregnancy Lactation
Birth to 6 months 30 mg* 30 mg*
7–12 months 75 mg* 75 mg*
1–3 years 80 mg 80 mg
4–8 years 130 mg 130 mg
9–13 years 240 mg 240 mg
14–18 years 410 mg 360 mg 400 mg 360 mg
19–30 years 400 mg 310 mg 350 mg 310 mg
31–50 years 420 mg 320 mg 360 mg 320 mg
51+ years 420 mg 320 mg
Although many people don’t reach the RDA for magnesium, there are plenty of magnesium-rich foods to choose from.
Magnesium is widely found in both plant- and animal-based foods. The richest sources are seeds and nuts, but whole grains, beans, and leafy green vegetables are also relatively good sources.
Below is the magnesium content in 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of some of the best sources (40Trusted Source, 41Trusted Source, 42Trusted Source, 43Trusted Source, 44Trusted Source):
almonds: 279 mg
pumpkin seeds: 550 mg
dark chocolate: 228 mg
peanuts: 176 mg
popcorn: 144 mg
For example, just 1 ounce (28.4 grams) of almonds provides 19% of the RDA for magnesium.
Other great sources of magnesium include:
Magnesium is also added to many breakfast cereals and other processed foods.
If you have a health condition that causes your body to lose magnesium, such as diabetes, it’s important to eat plenty of magnesium-rich foods or take supplements.
Talk with your doctor about creating a plan to increase your magnesium intake that works well for your needs.
Seeds, nuts, cocoa, beans, and whole grains are great sources of magnesium. For optimal health, try to eat magnesium-rich foods every day.
The bottom line
While some older research suggests that 48% of Americans are not getting enough magnesium, true magnesium deficiency is not very common — less than 2%, according to one estimate (45).
The symptoms of magnesium deficiency are usually subtle unless your levels become severely low.
Deficiency may cause:
mental health conditions
If you believe you may have a magnesium deficiency, you should speak with your doctor.
Testing for magnesium levels can be challenging because magnesium tends to collect in tissue and bone, not blood.
An RBC blood test, which measures magnesium levels in the red blood cells themselves, is more sensitive and accurate than the more commonly ordered serum magnesium blood test (39Trusted Source, 46Trusted Source).
Whatever the outcome, try to regularly eat plenty of magnesium-rich whole foods, such as nuts, seeds, grains, and beans.
These foods are also high in other healthy nutrients. Including them in your diet not only lowers your risk for magnesium deficiency but also supports your overall health.
Last medically reviewed on April 12, 2022
Link to original article below.