Magnesium is essential for around 300 enzymatic processes in the body. Magnesium deficiency can affect our immune system, blood pressure, metabolism and many other aspects of our health. It is surprising then that hypomagnesemia, magnesium deficiency, is often overlooked. In fact, 75 percent of Americans do not meet their required intake of magnesium (1). Most people don’t show any magnesium deficiency symptoms till the levels go very low and the low levels stay for a long time.

Foods high in magnesium are nuts, spinach, beans, bananas, milk, salmon, etc. If you do not consume enough of these magnesium-rich foods, you can develop a deficiency. You can also find it challenging to absorb magnesium if you drink too much alcohol or have health issues like diabetes, chronic diarrhoea, kidney problems or celiac disease (2).

Magnesium deficiency symptoms

1. Irregular heartbeat

Arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat is one of the most severe magnesium deficiency symptoms. Magnesium is an essential mineral for muscle relaxation. When you lack magnesium, your heart struggles to maintain its natural rhythm.

Since magnesium is so vital for your heart rhythm, people who are experiencing heart trouble are given magnesium intravenously in hospitals (3).

The symptoms of arrhythmia include light-headedness, chest pain, shortness of breath and even fainting.

2. Muscle spasms and cramps

Magnesium is essential for muscle relaxation. So, when you lack magnesium, your muscles contract causing spasms. In severe cases, this deficiency can also cause seizures and convulsions. According to scientists, these symptoms are a result of the higher flow of calcium into nerve cells which stimulates the muscle nerves (4).

These symptoms can become worse when we drink tea or coffee. These drinks are diuretics and can deplete our stores of minerals in the body.

3. Dark chocolate cravings

We usually crave foods that are deficient in our body. It is our body’s way of telling us that we are deficient in that nutrient. So, if you find yourself craving for chocolate, you may be deficient in magnesium.

Dark chocolate is a rich source of magnesium. In fact, one square of dark chocolate takes care of 28 percent of our daily requirement. Make sure you have chocolate that has at least 70 cocoas to get more nutrition out of it.

4. Osteoporosis

Magnesium is as essential as calcium for your bone health. We need magnesium to stimulate calcitonin to draw calcium out of the muscles and soft tissues and into the bones. Thus, magnesium lowers the risk of osteoporosis (5). A magnesium deficiency can reduce the levels of calcium in the bones.

According to a study done on rats, low levels of magnesium can result in reduced bone mass (6).

5. High blood pressure

One of the most common magnesium deficiency symptoms is high blood pressure. Magnesium deficiency increases blood vessel constriction, which results in high blood pressure. Animal studies have shown that lack of magnesium can cause high blood pressure and even lead to heart disease (7).

Many observational human studies have also been done on the subject. These suggest that lower levels of magnesium can cause high blood pressure (8). According to a Harvard study of over 7000 people, the people who have a high intake of magnesium have healthy blood pressure.

So, if you are struggling to lower your blood pressure, you must add magnesium rich food to your diet.

6. Anxiety and depression

According to research, deficiency in magnesium can severely affect mental health. While one of the most common signs of magnesium deficiency is anxiety, there are other conditions like numbness and lack of emotions that are also linked to it.

If the deficiency becomes too acute, it can also lead to delirium and coma. Specific studies have also found a link between magnesium deficiency and depression (9). So, if you are often anxious and worried, you must add more magnesium to your diet.

7. Muscle weakness and fatigue

Magnesium is essential to create ATP energy in the cells. Adenosine triphosphate is the primary source of energy in the cells, and it must bind with magnesium ion to be active. If you don’t have energy on the cellular level, you will be tired and fatigued.

Muscle weakness is another sign of magnesium deficiency. This can be one of the reasons for sudden infant death syndrome in infants (10).

Loss of potassium in the cells, a condition linked to magnesium deficiency, could be the reason for muscle weakness (11).

8. Asthma

Magnesium deficiency symptoms are commonly seen in patients with severe asthma (12).  Low magnesium intake can lead to asthma and chronic obstructive airways disease (13). According to researchers, lack of magnesium may cause a build-up of calcium in the muscles lining the airways of the lungs. This makes breathing more difficult as the airways get constricted.

People with severe asthma are given inhaler with magnesium sulphate to expand their airways (14). For some patients with life-threatening conditions, injections are also given.

Though dietary magnesium is found to have inconsistent result in individuals with asthma, further research needs to be done on the subject.

9. Insomnia

Magnesium helps to relax the body and the mind, which is essential for proper sleep. A deficiency in magnesium can lead to insomnia.

Magnesium is essential for the proper functioning of GABA receptors in the brain. GABA is the neurotransmitter that allows the brain to transition into a restful state.

Take magnesium supplement at night to get maximum advantage of it.

10. Constipation

Lack of magnesium in the body can also lead to constipation. Low levels of magnesium make the intestines contract more which can cause constipation. Magnesium also helps to pull water into the intestines which allow the waste to move along smoothly.

11. Migraines and headaches

Migraines or headaches are often the results of tense muscles of the neck, back and shoulders. People who suffer from migraines are often found to be deficient in magnesium. A magnesium supplement is an excellent way to relieve this tension.

How much magnesium do we need?

The table below shows the RDA for magnesium.

AgeMaleFemale
Birth to 6 months3030
7 to 12 months7575
1 to 3 years8080
4 to 8 years130130
9 to 13 years240240
14 to 18 years410360
19 to 30 years400310
31 to 50 years420320
50 + years420320

Women need higher doses of magnesium during pregnancy and while they are lactating. Many plant and animal-based products are good sources of magnesium. Almonds, dark chocolate, seeds, spinach and avocado, are just some of the foods that are rich sources of magnesium.

Final words on magnesium deficiency symptoms

Most people do not get adequate magnesium from their diet. The symptoms of magnesium deficiency include anxiety, fatigue and high blood pressure. If you suspect that you have a magnesium deficiency, contact your doctor and get a blood test done.  Eat magnesium-rich food like seeds and nuts to get rid of this deficiency.