Magnesium may not be as well known as other essential minerals like calcium or sulfur, but it’s needed by every cell in the body to function correctly. Ironically, without magnesium the body cannot properly use or absorb those other minerals like calcium.
The Nutritional Health and Nutrition Examination survey found that nearly half of the adults in the U.S., 48 percent, consumed less than the estimated daily recommended amount of magnesium. 19 percent of the population don’t even consume 50 percent of what’s recommended daily.
The symptoms of low magnesium can often be very similar to many other conditions and sometimes a magnesium deficiency can go unrecognized and hence may not be treated. Many health experts refer to magnesium deficiency as the silent epidemic of our times which may be the largest single health problem in the world at present.
Magnesium in the Body
After calcium, phosphorus and sulfur, magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body. Every organ in the human body uses magnesium in some way and it’s known to be involved in over 300 enzyme systems, or biochemical reactions in the body.
Researchers have now identified 3,751 magnesium-binding sites on human proteins, suggesting that the importance of magnesium in human health has long been underestimated.
Are you magnesium deficient? Let’s take a look at some of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency as well as why magnesium really is so important for your overall health.
Why Is Magnesium so Important?
Magnesium is essential for energy production and metabolism, it even regulates levels of many other important nutrients found in the body including calcium, potassium and zinc. The metabolic reactions that magnesium plays a role in, are responsible for:
- Protein synthesis.
- Energy production in cells and storage.
- Cell stability.
- DNA synthesis.
- Signal transmissions within the nervous system.
- Metabolism of the bones.
- Cardiac health and function.
- Muscle movements and relaxation.
- Glucose and insulin metabolism.
- Regulation of blood pressure.
A short but informative YouTube video which further explains what magnesium is and its importance to the human body can be found below:
Why Is a Magnesium Deficiency so Difficult to Recognise?
Testing for a magnesium deficiency can be difficult as 60 percent of the magnesium in the body is found in the bones with most of the rest in soft tissues. Less than 1 percent of magnesium in the body circulates in the bloodstream with only 0.3 percent found in blood serum. Clinical blood serum often doesn’t take into account the magnesium stored in the bones or muscle tissues of the body.
To further complicate matters, the body also regulates the amount of magnesium with the kidneys expelling magnesium through your urine. At times of lower magnesium levels, the kidneys expel less magnesium, artificially keeping the magnesium levels appearing to be higher than they actually are.
For these reasons, magnesium deficiency is often referred to as the invisible deficiency, being hard to detect and sharing symptoms with many other conditions. A severe magnesium deficiency, known as hypomagnesemia, can trigger 22 chronic conditions including diabetes type-2, cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heart patterns), seizures and in extreme cases sudden death.
Initial Symptoms or Warning Signs of Magnesium Deficiency
Fatigue or Weakness
One of the most common first symptoms or warning signs of a magnesium deficiency can be chronic fatigue. Feeling tired is not uncommon and is often blamed on many other factors including stress at work or college, a busy schedule, insufficient sleep or simply the kids wearing you out. But sometimes that fatigue won’t go away until you correct the levels of magnesium in your body.
One of the enzyme reactions we talked of earlier requires magnesium to create ATP, adenosine triphosphate, the main source of energy for cells which needs the magnesium ion to be activated. With lower levels of magnesium, the cells literally have no energy, similar to a car without gas. This manifests itself as fatigue, low levels of energy, lack of drive or just generally feeling weak.
To keep energy levels high your body needs to be getting enough magnesium. Sometimes people who regularly experience fatigue, but aren’t necessarily low in magnesium, take magnesium supplements to relieve their fatigue. As always you should consult your doctor before taking any new supplements.
Muscle Spasms or Cramps
Cramps or stiff muscles is something we’ve all suffered with at some stage in our lives. It may have been caused by overexertion at the gym or many other factors but magnesium deficiency is also a major cause of muscle cramps. As most magnesium is stored in the tissues, muscle twitches, spasms, foot pain or leg cramps can be an early sign of a deficiency.
Magnesium is needed for muscle recovery, it relaxes the body. When an electrical impulse is sent to the muscles, cells draw calcium, a hardening agent, from the blood which causes the muscle to contract or move. Magnesium that lives in the cells help to push out the calcium when the contraction or movement is over, giving flexibility to the muscles. If you don’t have enough magnesium, calcium may not be fully expelled leaving the cell in a partial or fully contracted state. In a small number of cells this may be insignificant, but when it happens on a larger scale it can cause muscle cramp, spasms, locked up muscles or swollen joints.
Many studies have shown that fixing a magnesium deficiency can eliminate muscle problems and help to prevent any future cramps. In addition to getting your magnesium levels back to normal, short-term relief can be gained from stretching or massaging any affected muscles. Other vitamins like vitamin D, E and B can also help prevent muscle cramps.
Irregular Heartbeat Patterns
Irregular heart rhythms, or arrhythmia, can be indicative of many conditions but magnesium has been shown to directly help you maintain a normal heartbeat. The heart is one of the major muscles in the body, and like all muscles needs magnesium for proper muscle contraction. Magnesium is often used in the treatment of arrhythmia and studies have shown magnesium can help prevent future heart diseases.
Magnesium deficiency plays a large part in many cases of arrhythmia. The magnesium in cells can improve the delivery of oxygen to the heart muscle by relaxing coronary arteries as well as producing more energy within the heart muscle. A lack of magnesium can lead to a disturbance of the electrical impulses causing an irregular heartbeat pattern.
There have been many studies on how magnesium can affect your heart, in particular whether it can help prevent heart disease or lower risks of a stroke or heart attack. The majority of these studies have shown an increased magnesium intake to have a positive effect on the health of the heart and in preventing future heart diseases. Magnesium is even prescribed by some doctors for patients considered at risk of cardiac arrhythmia.
High Blood Pressure or Hypertension
High blood pressure can be caused by many factors too, with many people simply writing it off as running in the family. If the cause of hypertension is not investigated it can often get worse and may lead to a stroke or a heart attack. Studies have researched the correlation between a magnesium deficiency and high blood pressure, finding that magnesium helps to prevent high blood pressure.
Sufficient levels of magnesium help prevent the constriction of blood vessels, can lessen inflammation and reduce blood clotting, which together may help to lower blood pressure. Magnesium can also help regulate other minerals including calcium, or the sodium/potassium ratio that can affect blood pressure. A higher than usual blood pressure on regular doctor’s visits can often be a sign of a magnesium deficiency.
Hypertension is one of the most studied symptoms of magnesium deficiency and magnesium is often recommended for patients with elevated blood pressure. In one study, patients who took 450 milligrams of magnesium supplement a day experienced significantly lower blood pressure than a controlled placebo group. Although studies have concluded magnesium supplements can only help with blood pressure for patients who are deficient in magnesium, on patients with adequate magnesium they have no noticeable effects.
Feelings of dizziness or being off balance can also be attributed to a magnesium deficiency. Unlike the feeling of dizziness you get from standing up too quickly which often goes away just as fast, dizziness attributed to magnesium deficiency often lasts all day. Unfortunately, as the magnesium deficiency becomes more serious, the dizziness can become more severe and even fully transform into vertigo.
Nausea and Vomiting
Early signs of magnesium deficiency can manifest in may gastrointestinal problems from loss of appetite to nausea and vomiting. Again these can be hard for a doctor to pinpoint to low magnesium as they too can be caused by many other factors. Too much magnesium can also cause feelings of nausea and vomiting.
Magnesium helps to activate all the proper stomach enzymes making sure you get the most from your food. When there isn’t enough magnesium, the digestive system isn’t capable of getting required nutrients from food and can’t break down the fats and other toxins that may cause lack of appetite, constipation, nausea or vomiting. These gastrointestinal issues can additionally contribute to a further lack of magnesium as the body doesn’t absorb it along with the other nutrients.
Although nausea man not seem like the most severe complaint, and many people think it’ll pass in a few days, it may be worth asking the doctor to check for a magnesium deficiency before it gets worse. Although too high levels of magnesium can also cause these symptoms, it’s unlikely to be from magnesium absorbed through food. Certain medicines or other supplements are more likely to cause your magnesium levels to spike if you’re already taking magnesium supplements.
Tingling And Numbness
Another early sign of a deficiency in magnesium can be tingling and numbness due to the impact magnesium has on your nervous system. Insufficient magnesium in the body can prevent nerves and muscles from functioning and reacting to signals sent by the nervous system often resulting in numbness or tingling. This can be commonly felt in your feet, hands and face.
More severe symptoms like numbness are rare but can still be very frightening. There are many reasons numbness can happen in the body and it’s important to see a doctor to try and work out the cause. Hopefully it’ll only be a relatively easy to cure magnesium deficiency.
Anxiety and Panic Attacks
Although most of us experience anxiety or panic attacks once in a while, regular bouts of anxiety could be due to a magnesium deficiency. Unfortunately the stress that comes with anxiety can further deplete your magnesium levels making a vicious circle of low magnesium leading to anxiety causing lower levels still during an attack.
Some of the symptoms of a panic attack can include shortness of breath, chest pains, a rapidly beating heart and an impending feeling of fear or dread. Although they normally only last a few minutes, they can sometimes seem like an entire lifetime. If you experience these symptoms often you should definitely talk to your doctor to see if magnesium deficiency could be the cause or even if it could be helped by magnesium treatments.
Magnesium’s role in brain function and mood has seen magnesium deficiency linked with an increased risk of depression. One study showed that men under 65 years old with the lowest consumption of magnesium have a 22 percent greater risk of suffering with depression.
Magnesium has been used with great success by many doctors to help reduce symptoms of depression.
It may seem strange describing a condition like diabetes as a symptom, but magnesium has been shown to have far reaching effects on the body’s ability to process glucose and insulin sensitivity.
Diets that are high in magnesium intake have been associated with a lower risk of diabetes. Magnesium deficiency is often discovered in cases of prediabetes when insulin resistance is decreased, which if untreated could result in diabetes type-2. Research published by the World Journal of Diabetes suggests that 48 percent of diabetics have low levels of magnesium in their blood.
Cutting out sugars and carbs is often considered the only way of reducing blood sugar but getting adequate magnesium in your diet can help with insulin’s ability to control your blood sugar levels. Higher blood glucose readings may often be a symptom of not enough magnesium doing its job, or a deficiency.
Other Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency
Some of the symptoms we’ve already looked at, can lead to other symptoms too. Involuntary muscle spasms, leg twitching, or permanently contracted muscles can cause insomnia. Fatigue, insomnia and dizziness may cause severe personality changes or further depression—it’s hard to carry on as usual when suffering from any of these! Stress can also be a major symptom of magnesium deficiency signs.
Foods like spinach, almonds, salmon and even dark chocolate are excellent sources of magnesium. Supplements are normally well tolerated but you should seek advice from your doctor if on any other medications especially diuretics, heart medication or antibiotics. Too much magnesium can sometimes result in unpleasant side effects including diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramps and possibly the arrhythmia you’re trying to combat.
Your primary care physician can normally advise you if you feel you’re experiencing symptoms of a magnesium deficiency taking into account your medical history and looking for other potential causes. Although many of us don’t consume enough magnesium, severe deficiencies can be quite uncommon and your symptoms may be caused by something else which can be easily treated.