Magnesium deficiency—a condition known as hypomagnesemia—is a common health problem that often gets overlooked. Because the obvious signs don’t appear until your levels become severely low, deficiencies tend to be underdiagnosed.
The causes of magnesium deficiency vary: They may be caused by inadequate dietary intake, or the loss of magnesium from the body (as a result of poor absorption, chronic diarrhea and other conditions).
Throughout the body, magnesium is involved in more than 300 biochemical reactions. The mineral aids in energy production, immune system maintenance, normal functioning of nerves and muscles, bone strength, heart health and more.
That’s why when magnesium levels are low, basic bodily functions begin to break down. If you experience any of the symptoms below, you might be deficient in magnesium.
Muscle twitches and cramps
Magnesium regulates muscle and nerve function by carrying potassium and calcium through the cells—an important process for operative muscle contractions. Low levels of the mineral might excite nerve endings, which are responsible for stimulating your muscles. As a result, the muscles cannot relax properly. Therefore, twitches, tremors, and muscle cramps are signs of deficiency, and in worst case scenarios, may even cause seizures or convulsions.
Mental disorders are another possible ramification, including apathy (mental numbness or lack of emotion), delirium or even a coma. Additionally, studies have linked low magnesium levels with increased feelings of depression. That’s because magnesium calms down the excitatory NMDA receptor. Without the mineral, calcium and glutamate activate NMDA, which can cause depression and anxiety.
Osteoporosis is a disorder in which bones grow weak and the body is at an increased risk of bone fractures. Magnesium deficiency might weaken bones directly, or it might lower levels of calcium—an essential nutrient for strong bones.
Fatigue and muscle weakness
In conjunction with cellular enzymes, magnesium helps you feel alert by producing energy, making fatigue another symptom of a deficiency. Another, more specific sign of inadequate levels of magnesium is muscle weakness—a condition known as myasthenia. Research has shown that the weakness is caused by the loss of potassium in muscle cells, which can occur when someone is deficient in magnesium.
High blood pressure
Magnesium deficiency may increase blood pressure. This puts patients at a strong risk factor for heart disease.
Magnesium deficiency can cause severe asthma. A lack of magnesium may cause the buildup of calcium in the muscles lining the airways of the lungs, which causes the airways to constrict and makes breathing more difficult. Sometimes, inhalers are lined with magnesium sulfate to help expand airways.
One of the most serious symptoms of magnesium deficiency is heart arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. The symptoms of arrhythmia are usually mild; however, it can cause heart palpitations, which are pauses between heartbeats. Other symptoms of an arrhythmia include lightheadedness, shortness of breath, chest pain, or fainting. In some cases, arrhythmia may lead to stroke or heart failure.
Magnesium deficiencies can promote headaches, either by inhibiting the release of neurotransmitters or by constricting your blood cells. Scientists estimate that around 50 percent of those who suffer from migraines are deficient in magnesium.
When the body lacks magnesium, it speeds up the loss of human endothelial cells and fibroblasts. This can lead to faster aging and age-related diseases.
Magnesium regulates the brain receptors needed for learning and memory. Supplementing the body with magnesium helps combat brain fog, so if you’re deficient in the mineral, your mind might feel as though it’s moving more slowly. Magnesium also betters the brain’s ability to change and heal, which slows down declining cognition.
Thankfully, there are plenty of magnesium-rich foods to choose from. The mineral can be found in both plants and animal-sourced foods. The richest sources are seeds and nuts, but whole grains, beans, and leafy green vegetables can also get your body the magnesium that it needs.
If you suspect a magnesium deficiency, there are simple blood tests to determine your levels. Talk to your doctor to rule out other possible health problems.