test-What is Magnesium Deficiency?
Vitamins & Supplements
What is Magnesium Deficiency?
Amy Sunderman, MS, RD • February 15, 2018

Magnesium is getting a lot of good press lately – with mentions in publications from Shape magazine to The New York Times – and it isn’t just media hype. More and more people are realizing that the possible lack of magnesium in their diets may be the culprit of many previously unexplained or misattributed health woes.

Not sleeping so well? Having mood swings? Feel stressed often? Tired during the day? These are just a few of the widespread health concerns that studies have shown may be related to low magnesium levels in our diets. But there’s a reason a magnesium deficit is sometimes referred to as the “invisible deficiency.” Magnesium deficiencies are hard to spot because a lot of the signs of a magnesium deficiency are often attributed to other health concerns, and some people don’t notice any symptoms at all.

Also, deficiencies in magnesium are extremely difficult to reveal by testing since most of the magnesium in your body is stored in bones and organs. Low magnesium can’t always be determined effectively in the same ways that many other deficiencies can be detected, like through blood tests.

Symptoms of Inadequate Magnesium

Regardless of whether symptoms are present, magnesium deficiencies should not be taken lightly. Magnesium is one of the most important minerals for our bodies and is one of many electrolytes in our bodies that play an important role in heart and nervous system function. Also, it’s needed by every organ and in hundreds of biochemical reactions down to a cellular level. Magnesium is involved in everything from our heartbeat to our hormones, muscles and nerves1, and it’s vital to our health. Put simply – magnesium isn’t optional when it comes to helping our body function at its best.

If you are concerned that you’re not getting enough magnesium, read on to learn more about symptoms of low magnesium intake, the best ways to achieve the recommended magnesium intake levels, and how much magnesium you may need. Relieving symptoms of low magnesium intake can be as simple as getting enough magnesium in your diet. Magnesium is widely available in nutrient-rich, whole foods and magnesium supplements are inexpensive, so there is little reason to risk having low magnesium.

More About Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms

Magnesium deficiencies usually happen in a few stages and the symptoms you experience depend on how low you are in magnesium. Symptoms may be minor at first and barely noticeable or easily brushed off and attributed to something else. Fatigue and nausea are common in early stages, with muscle cramping, numbness, tingling and muscle contractions or twitching2 (like an eye twitch) not far behind. Here are some symptoms of low magnesium.

Symptoms of Low Magnesium

  • Feeling tired or fatigued: Your cells need magnesium to produce energy. People who are low in magnesium often experience fatigue1 even when they feel they have gotten enough sleep.
  • Loss of appetite or nausea: Some people with low magnesium levels experience loss of appetite and gastrointestinal issues.1
  • Feeling bloated: Magnesium plays a role in healthy digestion and can help alleviate the feeling of being bloated.
  • Trouble sleeping: Magnesium regulates stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, helps muscles relax and supports the functioning gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors. GABA is a neurotransmitter and it helps calm your mind so you can sleep.3
  • Muscle twitches: Low magnesium can cause muscle twitches and spasms, and without magnesium, your muscles can’t relax as easily.2
  • Feeling Stressed, Anxious and Nervous: Low Magnesium intake has been associated with feelings of anxiety and nervousness. 4

Benefits of Magnesium Supplementation

  • Menstrual Bloating: Magnesium can help alleviate the premenstrual fluid retention and feelings of being bloated.5
  • Sleep: Magnesium supplementation has been shown to improve sleep quality and stress hormone levels during sleep.6
  • Leg restlessness: Studies have shown that magnesium may help people that have restless feelings in their legs that keep them up at night.2
  • Blood pressure issues: Magnesium may play a role in regulating healthy blood pressure.1,10
  • Hormone issues: Healthy magnesium levels are important for optimal parathyroid function.8
  • Other deficiencies: Magnesium plays important roles in the absorption of other nutrients like calcium and potassium.1
  • Hearth health concerns: Magnesium’s involvement in the transport of calcium and potassium supports healthy heart rhythms.1

Since low magnesium levels may manifest like symptoms other health concerns, it’s best to consult with your doctor if you’re worried you might have low magnesium levels.

Low Magnesium Symptoms

If you are experiencing any of the above signs, you may be low in magnesium. In extreme cases of magnesium deficiency, symptoms like personality changes and heart health concerns have been noted.11

What are Low Magnesium Causes?

What causes low magnesium levels? There are several contributors. Most people in the U.S. don’t get enough magnesium from their diets alone.10 Teenage girls and men over 70 are especially at risk for dietary magnesium deficiencies, but the causes don’t stop there.10 Other lifestyle and health factors can contribute to magnesium deficiencies as well.

From a dietary standpoint, low magnesium can be partially attributed to the fact that many of us eat a high amount of processed foods.10 Most of our dietary opportunities for magnesium comes from leafy greens, nuts, seeds and legumes. Some other foods that contain magnesium, like wheat, should provide a healthy amount of this vital mineral, but actual levels may be lower than expected due to food processing and nutrient depletion in growing soil. For example, over a 19% drop in magnesium contents in wheat has been observed by researchers with drops related to farming techniques and soil fertilizing practices.9

Certain health issues related to the gastrointestinal system and the amounts of glucose in the blood may contribute to decreased levels of magnesium as well.10 Other factors that contribute to low levels of magnesium include aging, alcohol consumption and high levels of stress.10 Stress causes a loss of magnesium because when you are under a lot of stress, your body uses more of it.

Magnesium in the Body?

Most of the magnesium levels in your body (about 99%) are found in your bones, muscles and soft tissues, with the majority in your bones (50-60%).11 Magnesium is a cofactor in more than 300 enzymatic reactions, including synthesis of protein and fat, glucose utilization, muscle contractions and ATP metabolism.11 The release of many neurotransmitters is also dependent on magnesium.11

Magnesium is absorbed in the gut before being stored in your bones and other tissues, and excess levels of magnesium are removed from the body as waste. But the amounts of magnesium your body absorbs varies broadly depending on the source of the magnesium, the nutrients and amino acids that accompany it, and your body’s current level of magnesium. Researchers claim that between 24-75% of magnesium consumed is absorbed in the gut and the rest is eliminated.11

So, what does that mean for your magnesium levels? It means you may need more magnesium than you think because some of what you consume won’t be absorbed. Chelated magnesium supplements that are combined with amino acids can also help your body absorb higher levels of magnesium.

What is a Normal Magnesium Range?

Magnesium sufficiency is a complex topic. Scientifically speaking, a normal reference range of magnesium is 1.5-2 mEq/L; 1.7-2.4 mg/dL.12 But what does that mean for you? The most important thing for you to know is how much magnesium you should consume each day. Most adults should look to get between 300 to 400 mg of magnesium per day from their diets or magnesium supplements. Exactly how much magnesium you need depends on your age and a few other factors. For a closer look at how much magnesium you need to maintain a normal magnesium range, as well as the best types of magnesium to take, see our earlier article Magnesium Benefits and Uses.

How to Support a Healthy Magnesium Level

If you suspect that your levels of magnesium are low, the best way to build up to a healthy magnesium level is to start slow. Increase your intake of high magnesium foods like beans, nuts, whole grains and green leafy vegetables, and choose a type of magnesium supplement with high bioavailability, which means it is easy for your body to absorb. Start with a lower dose for a few days then build up to your recommended daily intake, taking into consideration how much magnesium you are getting from your food as well as your supplements.

It is possible to take too much magnesium, so be careful not to go over your maximum recommended daily intake of magnesium. Taking too much magnesium can cause some gastrointestinal problems, and extremely high intakes can cause heart concerns.10 However, magnesium levels that are too low are much more common than magnesium levels that are too high.13

Magnesium can also interact with some other medicines, so if you are taking prescription medications be sure to check with your doctor before supplementing your magnesium intake.

Low magnesium levels may be affecting your life without you even realizing it. Since most people don’t get enough magnesium from their food, it’s important to monitor your diet and make sure you’re getting enough, and keep an eye out for the signs of a magnesium deficiency listed above. Getting relief from the symptoms of a magnesium deficiency may be as simple as taking a magnesium supplement. As always, it’s best to consult your doctor if you have concerns about magnesium deficiency symptoms and your health.

To learn more about the benefits of magnesium and the different types of magnesium supplements available to you, read Magnesium Benefits and Uses, and Magnesium for Sleep.

Amy Sunderman, MS, RD, Director of Science & Innovation Registered Dietitan

About Amy Sunderman, MS, RD
Director of Science & Innovation, Registered Dietitian, Swanson Health

Amy is a registered dietitian, nutritionist and author with over 20 years of experience in the supplement industry. Amy is passionate about dietary supplements and the health benefits they offer. She enjoys working to find novel nutritional ingredients with strong clinical research behind them to drive innovation and provide health-promoting products to consumers.


1 Magnesium Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/ (Accessed 01/17/2018)

2 22 Low Magnesium Symptoms: Do You Suffer from Muscle Spasms, Dizziness, Insomnia? University Health News. https://universityhealthnews.com/daily/pain/low-magnesium-symptoms-are-these-a-clue-to-the-cause-of-your-health-problem/ (Accessed 01/16/2018)

3 Benzodiazepine/GABA(A) receptors are involved in magnesium-induced anxiolytic-like behavior in mice. PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18799816 (Accessed 01/17/2018)

4 Association between magnesium intake and depression and anxiety in community-dwelling adults: the Hordaland Health Study. PubMed https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19085527 (Accessed 2/15/2018)

5 Walker, et al. Mg supplementation alleviates premenstrual symptoms of fluid retention. J Women’s Health 1998 PMID 9861593. PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9861593 (Accessed 2/15/2018)

6 Held, et al, Oral Mg(2+) supplementation reverses age-related neuroendocrine and sleep EEG changes in humans. 2002 PMID 12163983. PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12163983 (Accessed 2/15/2018)

7 Magnesium May Improve Memory. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/brain/news/20100127/magnesium-may-improve-memory (Accessed 01/17/2018)

8 Magnesium and the parathyroid. PubMed. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12105390 (Accessed 01/17/2018)

9 Magnesium Deficiency in Plants: An Urgent Problem. The Crop Journal. 4.2 (April 2016) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S221451411500121X (Accessed 1/17/2018)

10 Magnesium Fact Sheet for Consumers. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements.https://ods.od.nih.gov/pdf/factsheets/Magnesium-Consumer.pdf (Accessed 01/16/2018)

11 Magnesium basics. US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4455825/ (Accessed 01/16/2018)

12 Magnesium. Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/2088140-overview (Accessed 01/16/2018)

13 What Is a Magnesium Test? WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/magnesium-test#1 (Accessed 01/16/2018)

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.