The warning signs of low magnesium levels in your body can be difficult to spot. A magnesium deficiency can show signs like muscle cramps, fatigue, nausea, tingling in your hand, and constipation. Many of these signs can also be indicative of other health conditions and are easy to mistake for something else. However, signs of low levels of magnesium should never be ignored.
Because low magnesium levels in people are easy to ignore, this has been called an “invisible deficiency.” Having low levels of magnesium over a long period of time can also lead to various complications. For example, osteoporosis, heart disease, high blood pressure and kidney stones have all been linked to a chronic magnesium deficiency.
So, if a lack of magnesium is so serious, why is it difficult to spot? Low magnesium side effects are often attributed to other causes. Also, lifestyle choices can sometimes affect how much magnesium is absorbed into the body. For example, chronic diarrhea, drinking too much alcohol, or certain medications can lower magnesium levels.
In this article, I will look at the 14 warning signs of low magnesium levels that are easy to ignore. You will also find answers to your questions like: what causes low magnesium in the body? How should you treat low magnesium? And what are the best ways to increase low magnesium levels?
What Does Magnesium Do in Your Body?
Magnesium is an essential mineral in your body that helps to keep your body functioning properly. Dr. Carol DerSarkissian on WebMD states that magnesium is important for healthy bones, muscles, nerves, and heart function. Magnesium also plays a role in your body to regulate blood pressure and blood sugar, therefore, helping to give you energy.1
The National Institute of Health says that magnesium is an important mineral because it processes over 300 biochemical reactions in the body. Magnesium is also needed for healthy DNA and also has antioxidant properties that keep you healthy. Around half of your body’s levels of magnesium are in the bones with the rest in soft tissues and a little amount in the blood.2
Low levels of magnesium are called hypomagnesemia. This is when there is too little magnesium in your blood which is a sign of low magnesium levels in your body.2
Magnesium, Vitamin D & Calcium – The Connection
Magnesium is also closely connected with calcium and vitamin D. A lack of magnesium can affect how vitamin D is absorbed in the body and it helps to prevent too much calcium building up in the bones.
According to the National Institutes of Health, magnesium affects the concentration of vitamin D which is essential for healthy bones.2 Doctors from the NHS also say that vitamin D helps the body to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate. These minerals are also necessary for healthy bones, teeth, and muscle function.3
However, magnesium also has a direct influence on the body’s calcium levels. The journal American Family Physician reports that proper levels of magnesium in the body affect calcium and potassium. If your body lacks magnesium, levels of calcium can increase to dangerous levels because magnesium helps the body flush out excess calcium.4
The journal BMJ Open reported that when magnesium and calcium levels are imbalanced, the result in the body is an increase in inflammation and many other common chronic diseases.5
Low Magnesium Levels: 14 Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency
How can you tell if your magnesium levels are low? If you live in a Western country, then chances are that you have a lack of magnesium. Dr. Mary Guerrera from University of Connecticut School of Medicine says that around 75% of Americans show signs of low magnesium levels.4
Here are the 14 common signs of having a magnesium deficiency that are easy to ignore.
1. Muscle cramps and spasms due to low magnesium
A lack of magnesium in your body can cause you to have muscle cramps, spasms, muscle tics and twitches.
Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that various types of muscle cramps can be caused by having too little magnesium, calcium, or potassium. Cramping in your legs is a common symptom of a mineral deficiency such as a lack of magnesium.6
Keeping yourself well hydrated and stretching your muscles are some ways to prevent muscle pain and cramping.
2. Numbness and tingling
If you frequently suffer from numbness and tingling in your arms or legs, it could be a sign of not having enough magnesium.
Doctors from the American Academy of Family Physicians report that people with low levels of magnesium often experience tingling and numbness.4
Of course, tingling down one leg could also be a sign that you have a trapped sciatic nerve. Or, tingling in just one arm could also be an indication of poor blood circulation or a trapped spinal nerve.
3. Loss of appetite as a sign of magnesium deficiency
One sign of low magnesium is if you often don’t feel like eating or you don’t have an appetite.
A study published in the journal Nutrients found that a loss of appetite is often an early sign of a magnesium deficiency. Not eating a healthy, well-balanced diet where you don’t get enough vitamins and minerals could then make levels of magnesium drop even lower.7
This can also result in fatigue, which is another common sign of low levels of magnesium.
4. Fatigue & weakness
If you constantly feel tired, have no energy, or feel physically weak, boosting your levels of magnesium could help.
The Clinical Kidney Journal reported that fatigue and chronic tiredness are among the early signs that your magnesium levels are low.8 Other studies have also found that people suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) often have a chronic magnesium deficiency.9
Of course, there are other nutritional deficiencies that can make you feel tired all the time. If you have problems with constant tiredness, you could try these 8 secrets to boost your energy or these 10 foods. Also, this supplement can help people who suffer from CFS.
5. Nausea and vomiting
A sign of low levels of magnesium that is easy to ignore is nausea and vomiting.
There are, of course, many reasons for feeling nauseous like having food poisoning, a stomach bug, or being pregnant. However, researchers from the University of Maryland report that a persistent feeling of nausea and vomiting is a common magnesium deficiency symptom.10
If you suffer from bouts of vomiting, you can try consuming ginger as a natural remedy for throwing up. Ginger can help to calm your stomach and also improve your appetite.
6. Arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm)
One thing that magnesium does in your body is help regulate your heart rhythm. Low magnesium in your blood could cause arrhythmia.
According to the journal Hippokratia, hypomagnesemia can affect the cardiovascular system. Researchers have found that boosting levels of magnesium in the body helps to reduce incidences of arrhythmias. Addressing low levels of magnesium if you have arrhythmia also improves your chances of surviving a myocardial infarction (heart attack).11
If you have an irregular heartbeat, you should speak to your doctor about getting levels of magnesium tested.
7. Personality changes
Another consequence of having low levels of magnesium in your body is that it can affect your mood and personality.
A study from Japan found that among individuals who had a lack of magnesium, personality changes and depression were the most common signs. Researchers suggested that some people with depression may be suffering from a magnesium deficiency, not a psychiatric condition.12
In many cases, it’s important to get professional advice if you suffer from depression. There are some natural treatments for depression that may help to alleviate your symptoms. Also, you can try these quick and natural ways to boost your mood.
8. Anxiety is a symptom of magnesium deficiency
A magnesium deficiency can have a major impact on your feelings of anxiety and stress in your day-to-day life.
According to a scientific study published in the journal Nutrients, there are some reasons why a lack of magnesium can increase anxiety levels. For example, magnesium affects glutamate which is an important neurotransmitter that regulates responses to fear, panic, and anxiety. Also, magnesium regulates the adrenal glands which affect your stress response.13
You can help to reduce your feelings of anxiety naturally by increasing your magnesium intake. I have also written about some effective essential oils for getting rid of stress and anxiety.
9. Sleeping problems caused by lack of magnesium
Not having enough magnesium in your diet can cause sleep problems and insomnia.
Many people suffer from sleep problems like not falling asleep quickly, awakening too early, or feeling tired when they wake. A study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences found that magnesium supplementation helped to improve individuals’ sleep patterns. Getting more magnesium in the diet allowed people to sleep better and wake up feeling more refreshed.14
If you have disrupted sleep patterns, then it could be a sign of a magnesium deficiency that you shouldn’t ignore. There are many dangers of sleep deprivation and it’s important to take steps to get a better night’s sleep.
10. Constipation and low magnesium
Constipation is a sign that you could be suffering from a lack of magnesium which makes it harder to pass stools.
According to research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, increasing levels of magnesium can help relieve constipation. The study found that low levels of magnesium have a direct effect on the incidences of constipation. In fact, the research found that magnesium is just as important as fiber to keep your stools soft and your bowel movements regular.15
Other ways to relieve constipation naturally include drinking plenty of water and eating fiber. You can also try the tried and tested method of using castor oil as a natural laxative. These are just some of the ways you can help beat digestive problems without medication.
11. Cravings for chocolate
Having low levels of magnesium could cause you to have chocolate cravings to satisfy your magnesium deficiency.
Interestingly, the Journal of the American Dietetic Association reported that chocolate can help to address a magnesium deficiency. Chocolate also boosts levels of dopamine and serotonin and can affect feelings of well-being.16
The health benefits of chocolate are in dark chocolate, not the milk variety or white chocolate. Eating dark chocolate in moderation can help to improve your heart health, lower cholesterol, and lower high blood pressure naturally.
12. High blood pressure as a warning sign of low magnesium
One of the most well-researched areas about the signs of low levels of magnesium is the connection with high blood pressure. High blood pressure could be a sign that you lack enough magnesium in your diet.
Because magnesium has a relaxing effect on many functions of the body, it helps to relax your blood vessels. The journal Clinical Calcium stated that magnesium levels have a direct effect on a person’s blood pressure. Magnesium also affects potassium and calcium levels which also affect blood pressure.17
Some other ways of lowering blood pressure naturally include enjoying a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough magnesium, calcium, and potassium.
13. Headaches and migraines
Having low levels of magnesium could mean that you suffer from frequent headaches or have more severe migraines.
According to research published in the journal The Clinical Biochemist Reviews, one of the signs of low magnesium levels are migraines and headaches.18
A lack of magnesium is just one mineral and vitamin deficiency that is connected with headaches. One natural way to relieve headaches without painkillers is to use aromatherapy. Some of the best essential oils for headaches are peppermint, lavender, and chamomile.
14. Connection between PMS and a lack of magnesium
Women need sufficient amounts of magnesium to help reduce the severity of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms.
Not having enough magnesium can affect hormones and cause PMS. A study published in 2007 found that symptoms of PMS improved when women took magnesium supplements.19
For helpful advice on how to deal with PMS symptoms naturally, please read my article on 12 helpful home remedies for PMS.
Common Causes of Magnesium Deficiency
What causes low magnesium in the body? Let’s look at why many of us lack enough magnesium in our bodies.
Modern farming techniques and food processing
One cause of a magnesium deficiency is due to modern farming techniques which deplete the soil of nutrients and the way that many of our foods are processed which reduces their mineral, vitamin, and fiber content.
The Crop Journal reported on studies that have shown that magnesium levels in cereal seeds have markedly declined in recent years. This was sighted as one of the reasons why two-thirds of people lack enough magnesium.20
Municipal water-purification facilities have intensified their efforts to remove contaminants like lead, pesticide residues, and nitrates from drinking water. However, these modern water-treatment methods also deplete drinking water of desirable minerals like calcium and magnesium. Exacerbating this problem is that many people have added home water filters that extract any remaining minerals from the water.
According to a report of the World Health Organization, although the concentrations of calcium and magnesium in drinking-water vary significantly from one supply to another, mineral-rich drinking-water may provide important contributions to total intakes of these nutrients in some populations. The report also states that water treatment processes can affect mineral concentrations and, hence, the total intake of calcium and magnesium for some individuals.32
Chronic diarrhea can reduce magnesium levels
Dr. James Lewis reported that chronic diarrhea affects magnesium absorption and can result in a magnesium deficiency.21
Drinking too much alcohol results in low magnesium
Chronic alcoholism is another reason why some people show very low levels of magnesium. The Journal of the American Society of Nephrology reported that alcoholism and chronic diarrhea are often connected and can further impact negatively on magnesium levels.22
Diuretics and magnesium deficiency signs
The Journal of the American Society of Nephrology reported that the long-term use of diuretic therapy can also negatively affect magnesium levels. Diuretics are sometimes used in the management of high blood pressure.22
Excessive exercising causes low levels of magnesium
The journal Clinical Biochemist Reviews said that excessive exercising can affect levels of magnesium and cause them to drop after long workouts.18
Medication for acid reflux inhibits magnesium absorption
The long-term use of medication to manage acid reflux and symptoms of gastroesophageal disease (GERD) can mean low levels of magnesium. The World Journal of Gastroenterology reported that proton pump inhibitors can hinder magnesium absorption. Some people with chronic GERD even need weekly intravenous injections to boost magnesium levels.23
Age affects levels of magnesium
As we grow older, our body’s ability to absorb enough magnesium from food diminishes. However, according to some studies, a magnesium deficiency caused by age only affects the very elderly.18
Diabetes as a cause of low magnesium
One of the complications of diabetes is that it impairs magnesium absorption. The journal Postgraduate Medicine reported that there is also a clear link between diabetes and showing signs of low magnesium levels.24
Diseases Caused by Low Levels of Magnesium
Let’s look briefly at what low levels of magnesium can mean when it comes to serious diseases.
Because magnesium is closely connected with vitamin D and calcium, a magnesium deficiency can cause osteoporosis. The journal Nutrients stated that magnesium is essential to maintain bone health and prevent osteoporosis.25
Your body needs magnesium to keep its heart healthy, and heart disease can be caused by a magnesium deficiency. Dr. Tibor Fulop on Medscape reports that abnormal magnesium levels can cause various coronary and artery issues.26
A chronic deficiency of magnesium levels could lead to respiratory conditions like asthma. The medical journal the Lancet reported that many people who suffer from asthma also have symptoms of low magnesium levels. Researchers have found that a magnesium deficiency could be connected with the development of asthma and other respiratory diseases.27
Sometimes, magnesium is given to help reduce the symptoms of asthma naturally.
High blood pressure
Not getting enough magnesium from your diet or supplements could cause high blood pressure or hypertension. The International Journal of Hypertension found that levels of magnesium impacts on blood pressure and a magnesium deficiency could lead to high blood pressure.28
If you have chronic low levels of magnesium, you may be at more risk of developing kidney stones. The journal Clinical Nutrition Research reported that low levels of magnesium in urine allows for the formation of mineral deposits which can form into kidney stones.29
The World Journal of Diabetes reported that low levels of magnesium may affect insulin levels so much that it is a causative factor in type-2 diabetes. Scientists reported that low magnesium intake increases a person’s risk of developing type-2 diabetes.30
How to Treat or Prevent Low Magnesium Levels
The first step to treat or prevent low magnesium levels is to get to the root of the problem. Enjoying a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables can help to boost levels of magnesium naturally.
It’s also important to avoid drinking excessive amounts of coffee and alcohol and eating processed foods. These poor dietary habits can contribute to a magnesium deficiency.
As many studies on the signs of low magnesium levels have pointed out, gastrointestinal issues and certain types of medication can all make it harder for the body to absorb magnesium. Therefore, you should try and resolve any health issues that could be contributing to a lack of magnesium.
Foods to Prevent Low Magnesium Levels
Some of the best foods that contain high levels of magnesium are green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds as well as whole grains.
According to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the best foods to eat to increase levels of magnesium are the following:31
- Cereals. Oatmeal, wholemeal bread, and bran flakes.
- Vegetables. Broccoli, raw carrots, corn, peas, beets, and asparagus.
- Nuts and seeds. Almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, cashews, Brazil nuts, and walnuts.
- Meat and fish. Lean veal, sirloin steak, chicken, turkey and tuna.
- Dairy products. Milk.
Supplements to Treat Magnesium Deficiency
Taking magnesium supplements is one way to address a magnesium deficiency and avoid the signs of low magnesium.
You can find magnesium supplements at your local health store or online. Magnesium supplements can be found in powder form, liquid, capsules or tablets. You can find inexpensive products that feature magnesium citrate (like this one), which is among the most readily absorbed forms of magnesium supplements.
As there is a risk of side effects and interactions with other medications and supplements, you should speak to your healthcare provider before taking supplements for low levels of magnesium.
Recommended Intake for Magnesium
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the daily recommendation for magnesium are:
19-30 years: men 400 mg, women 310 mg, pregnant women 350 mg.
31+ years: men 420 mg, women 320 mg, pregnant women 360 mg.
Read my other related articles:
- WebMD. Magnesium test.
- NIH. Magnesium.
- NHS. Vitamin D.
- Am Fam Physician.2009 Jul 15;80(2):157-162.
- BMJ Open.2013 Feb 20;3(2).
- MayoClinic. Muscle cramp.
- Nutrients. 2015 Sep; 7(9): 8199–8226.
- Clin Kidney J. 2012 Feb; 5(Suppl 1): i3–i14.
- Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2008; 10(2): 120–128.
- UMM. Magnesium.
- Hippokratia. 2006 Oct-Dec; 10(4): 147–152.
- Jpn J Med.1990 Jul-Aug;29(4):368-72.
- Nutrients. 2017 May; 9(5): 429.
- J Res Med Sci. 2012 Dec; 17(12): 1161–1169.
- Eur J Clin Nutr.2007 May;61(5):616-22.
- J Am Diet Assoc.1999 Oct;99(10):1249-56.
- Clin Calcium.2005 Feb;15(2):255-60.
- Clin Biochem Rev. 2003 May; 24(2): 47–66.
- Clin Drug Investig.2007;27(1):51-8.
- Crop J. 2016 Apr;4(2): 83-91.
- MSDManuals. Hypomagnesemia.
- JASN. July 1, 1999 10 no. 71616-1622
- World J Gastroenterol. 2017 Oct 7; 23(37): 6907–6910.
- Postgrad Med.1992 Oct;92(5):217-9, 222-4.
- Nutrients. 2013 Aug; 5(8): 3022–3033.
- Medscape. Hypomagnesemia.
- 1994 Aug 6;344(8919):357-62.
- Int J Hypertens. 2012; 754250.
- Clin Nutr Res. 2015 Jul; 4(3): 137–152.
- World J Diabetes. 2015 Aug 25; 6(10): 1152–1157.
- Cedars-Sinai. Magnesium rich foods.
- WHO. Calcium and Magnesium in drinking water
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