Magnesium Deficiency: Signs, Causes, & What To Do

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I'm a Certified Health Coach, longtime blogger, and host of Elizabeth Eats on YouTube. In addition to writing recipes (I love to eat!), I'm a strong believer that life is too short to settle for anything less than living your best life.


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Magnesium is an important mineral that’s behind many of your body’s essential functions. On the other hand, a magnesium deficiency can cause far-reaching issues with your health.

Getting enough magnesium gives you energy, keeps your bones strong, and allows your body to absorb a whole host of essential vitamins and minerals that keep you healthy.

In most cases, you’re likely not getting enough magnesium, even though it’s found in so many delicious foods already part of a healthy diet.

What happens if your magnesium is low? Low magnesium can leave you feeling tired, weaken your bones, and give you nasty headaches.

A magnesium deficiency can also cause lower levels of other essential vitamins and minerals, like potassium, vitamin D, and calcium, because it works to absorb nutrients your body needs to stay strong and healthy.

What are the symptoms of magnesium deficiency in adults? Fatigue, appetite loss, even nausea are all symptoms of magnesium deficiency in adults. Muscle aches and pains, even spasms, are also pretty common for those dealing with a low magnesium intake.

Let’s look at the facts about magnesium deficiency, how to spot it, and what to do if it happens to you.

Is Magnesium Deficiency Common?

Most people aren’t diagnosed with a magnesium deficiency, or hypomagnesemia, even if they’re not getting enough magnesium. Still, the symptoms can become serious down the line.

What is the recommended daily intake for magnesium? The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for magnesium in most healthy adults is 400 mg for men and 310 mg for women between 19-30. It’s 420 mg for men and 320 mg for women 31 years of age and older.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), it’s estimated that about half of all Americans aren’t meeting that daily recommended intake of magnesium.

But if you’re in that 50% of Americans, how can you tell if your magnesium levels are low?

Signs of Low Magnesium

You may not even know your magnesium levels are low because the milder signs of magnesium deficiency aren’t always so obvious.

What are the signs of low magnesium in the body? The first signs most people notice for low magnesium in the body are loss of appetite and fatigue. Those muscle spasms I mentioned also come fairly early on if you’re dealing with a magnesium deficiency.

It’s always best to talk to your doctor or healthcare professional if you think you may need more magnesium in your body.

They’ll be able to give you a blood test to identify the problem and offer additional medical advice to boost your magnesium absorption and intake through your diet or supplements.

11 Early Signs of Magnesium Deficiency

Generally, there are 11 early signs of low magnesium:

  • Brain fog/memory problems: Low magnesium has been linked to cognition problems like confusion or a general brain fog where you’re just not feeling like yourself.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Nausea, vomiting, and stomach problems are one of the first signs of a magnesium deficiency.
  • Decreased appetite: Those stomach problems can lead to a decreased appetite, making it difficult to up your magnesium through diet alone.
  • Fatigue: You may just be tired and in need of a break, or you may be dealing with magnesium deficiency.
  • Muscle weakness: Low magnesium paired with low electrolytes—magnesium is actually a natural electrolyte—can lead to weakened muscles.
  • Headaches: Severe headaches, even migraines, are commonly reported along with fatigue in people dealing with a magnesium deficiency.
  • Leg cramps: You may think those leg cramps are linked to dehydration, even low potassium, but it could be that your magnesium is low.
  • Muscle spasms/eye twitches: Magnesium is linked to processes in your body’s nervous system. Occasional twitches are normal, but it’s important to rule out more serious causes if you find yourself dealing with regular muscle contractions and twitches.
  • Anxiety/panic attacks: There has been some limited evidence of an increase in anxiety and anxiety-related symptoms, particularly in women, with low levels of magnesium.
  • Abnormal heart rhythms/arrhythmias: Irregular heartbeat and related heart issues like chest pain and lightheadedness have been reported in people with low magnesium.
  • High blood pressure: Some studies have found a positive link between increasing serum magnesium (the magnesium in your blood) and lowering high blood pressure. Inversely, it seems like magnesium deficiency is associated with high blood pressure.

What are the risks of magnesium deficiency? Apart from those early signs of magnesium deficiency, the loss of appetite, nausea, and muscle spasms, low magnesium can lead to more serious problems.

6 Symptoms of Long-Term or Severe Low Magnesium

Seizures, changes to your personality, and heart problems are all possible in people as symptoms worsen. In addition, magnesium deficiency is often found in people suffering from other, more serious health conditions:

  • Personality changes: On top of potential anxiety-related symptoms, some people suffering from low magnesium have reported changes in their personality, even brain chemistry, like depression and becoming more easily agitated than usual.
  • Seizures: Severe magnesium deficiency has been linked to higher seizure risk. People at risk of seizures are often on magnesium supplements on top of watching their dietary magnesium.
  • Osteoporosis: Older adults are especially vulnerable to the effects of a low amount of magnesium in their diets. When this key to strong, healthy bones is missing, their risk of osteoporosis goes up.
  • Heart disease: High blood pressure, often found in people with a magnesium deficiency, can lead to heart disease. There’s also a link between magnesium and your body’s efforts at keeping healthy amounts of calcium flowing through the body, rather than clogging up pathways around the heart. Magnesium really is an impressive mineral.
  • Hypokalemia: This side effect of low magnesium is basically your body wasting the potassium you’re getting elsewhere in your diet or through supplements, causing potassium levels to drop.
  • Type 2 diabetes: Low magnesium is often found in people with type 2 diabetes. Researchers think there could be a link between the mineral and insulin resistance.

Causes of Low Magnesium

Low magnesium may be caused by:

  • Deficiencies in other key vitamins and minerals like vitamin D
  • Diuretics
  • A diet low in natural sources of magnesium
  • Low-gluten or gluten-free diet due to celiac disease or gluten sensitivity

Certain health conditions or chronic diseases can also increase your risk of magnesium deficiency:

  • Renal disorders
  • Asthma
  • Kidney problems
  • Gastrointestinal conditions like Crohn’s disease
  • Chronic alcohol use disorder (formerly called alcoholism)

These diseases may lead to low magnesium levels due to a few different factors.

The dysfunction caused by disease can make it difficult for the body to absorb magnesium. Or that lack of magnesium is making it hard for the body to absorb those essential vitamins and minerals that make these kinds of conditions worse.

You may also have found yourself in a routine where you’re avoiding magnesium-rich foods due to other conditions, like celiac disease.

The good news is that being gluten-free doesn’t have to mean missing out on magnesium’s beneficial effects.

What Does Magnesium Do In The Body?

Magnesium plays an essential role in all kinds of body processes. It’s a key piece in your body’s energy production, DNA, and RNA. It promotes healthy teeth and bones. Magnesium also improves muscle and nerve function.

Magnesium content also plays an important role in protein synthesis.

You already know too little magnesium can cause muscle cramps. That’s because of how it interacts with the proteins in your body. Healthy levels of magnesium help your muscles and your body relax, rather than contract.

Luckily, most people can enjoy the health benefits of magnesium through changes to their diet or just bumping up delicious magnesium-rich foods in their recipe rotations.

Treating A Magnesium Deficiency

How do you fix magnesium deficiency? Oral magnesium supplements and adjustments to your diet are the simplest ways to fix magnesium deficiencies. But—and this is a BIG but—you should talk to your healthcare provider before starting a new supplement, especially if you think you have a nutritional deficiency.

Helping your body absorb magnesium is important, too.

That can mean making some adjustments to daily habits, like timing your magnesium intake right and eating more raw veggies.

(Pro tip on magnesium timing: Avoid calcium within a few hours before and after eating your magnesium-rich foods to avoid malabsorption.)

Looking for good sources of magnesium? Magnesium-rich foods include:

    • Pumpkin seeds
    • Chia seeds
    • Almonds
    • Cashews
    • Black beans
    • Peanut butter
    • Bananas
    • Avocados
    • Whole grains
  • Leafy green vegetables, like spinach

Medications like magnesium citrate or magnesium sulfate—both commonly used as laxatives or antacids—also include magnesium. That’s why it’s vital to take a close look at what you’re ingesting across the board.

There is such a thing as too much of a good thing if you’re looking to boost your levels of magnesium using supplements, too. Symptoms of magnesium toxicity can even resemble those of a magnesium deficiency.

It’s always best to know your magnesium status and talk to your doctor before adding a supplement to your diet. This is especially true if you’re suffering from any of the risk factors associated with magnesium deficiency.

If your symptoms get worse, you’re likely dealing with an underlying condition that you’ll need to treat alongside any magnesium deficiency.

Outlook For Low Magnesium

I’ve already mentioned that you may not even know that you’re dealing with low magnesium.

Even if you’re feeling the symptoms you now think may be linked to your magnesium levels, you shouldn’t just run to the store to buy a magnesium supplement. Instead, it’s important to correctly identify the problem and work to fix it.

I’m all about natural healing and healthy ways for not only making sure I’m getting enough magnesium in my diet, but making sure my body’s ready to absorb the mineral efficiently and effectively.

Consider a supplement, but also keep an eye on your stress levels, and watch what you’re putting into your body, from your cooking oils to the occasional treat.

If you’re looking for ways to bump up your dietary intake of magnesium, check out some of my favorite recipes:

Are you taking any steps to make sure you’re getting enough magnesium? What are your favorite magnesium-rich foods or recipes? Share them with me in the comments!

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Hi, I'm Elizabeth

I'm a strong believer that life is too short to settle for anything less than living your best life. 

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