6 signs you're low in magnesium

Magnesium is one of the essential minerals in the human body and a co-factor in more than 600 enzyme systems that regulate our bodies. Its vital functions include: regulating muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, blood pressure and energy production. Magnesium also has a crucial modulatory role in brain biochemistry, regulating various neurotransmission pathways linked to the onset of depression.


Inadequate dietary magnesium intake has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and metabolic diseases such as metabolic syndrome, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Surveys undertaken in many nations have regularly revealed that the general population's consumption of magnesium from food is significantly insufficient, particularly in young people, those aged 70+, and women. Intensive agricultural techniques have considerably reduced soil mineral content over the last 60 years, including a 30% fall in magnesium. Furthermore, western diets often include a higher amount of processed food, where some goods are mainly refined, depleting magnesium content by up to 80–90% in the process. 

Several factors and behaviours linked with the western lifestyle, such as strenuous sport and physical exercise, insufficient sleep quality and quantity, and psychological stress, can cause magnesium loss. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency are varied and numerous, given the importance and multiple functionalities this mineral has on our health. 

Here are 6 predominant signs of magnesium deficiency you might not be aware of.

1. Mild anxiety and nervousness

Magnesium is inhibitory in the normal stress response's regulation and neurotransmission. In addition, studies show that individuals suffering from psychological stress or related symptoms have a decreased magnesium status.

This overlap in the findings shows that stress may increase magnesium loss, resulting in a shortfall, and magnesium deficiency may increase the body's vulnerability to stress, culminating in a magnesium and stress vicious loop.

2. Headaches and migraines

Some experts suggest that those who suffer from migraines are more likely to be magnesium deficient than others. In fact, a few promising studies indicate that magnesium can help prevent and even alleviate migraines.

3. Muscle cramps, twitches, weakness

Magnesium works like a natural calcium blocker, allowing your muscle cells to relax after they have contracted. Because 90% of the magnesium in the body is located in the muscles and bones, magnesium is drawn from these tissues when levels fall. As a result, your muscles cannot relax properly when your magnesium levels are low and may tense excessively, resulting in cramps or muscular spasms. Low magnesium levels can also promote lactic acid accumulation, which produces post-workout soreness and stiffness.

4. Fatigue

Magnesium is essential for the generation and utilisation of energy in our cells. This energy generation function in our bodies spans the creation of enzymes to digest and transport nutrients to convert glucose in meals into energy. As a result, having enough magnesium can help maintain energy levels consistent and avoid exhaustion from setting in.

5. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) 

Do you crave chocolate during your periods? Perhaps this is a craving to uptake your magnesium levels, given that chocolate is a rich source of this mineral. Studies show that magnesium is an effective therapy for PMS symptoms, including mood swings, depression, anxiety, insomnia, water retention, and breast tenderness.

6. Sleep disturbances

Getting adequate magnesium may help you sleep better by delivering nerve impulses that calm your muscles and brain. Evidence shows that magnesium can help with insomnia symptoms, such as poor sleep quality, waking up early in the morning, and difficulty falling asleep. In addition, as a result of better sleep quality, magnesium lowers your odds of feeling exhausted during the day.

The NHS recommends that men aged 19-64 need 300mg of magnesium a day, and women aged 19-64 need 270mg. However, please consider that each individual is unique, and your needs might be higher than the average population. Individuals with gastrointestinal or renal diseases, high alcohol intake, poor eating habits, and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to magnesium deficiency.

Sadly, magnesium deficiency can go undiagnosed, since it frequently manifests as nonspecific symptoms, such as irritability, agitation, mild anxiety, muscular spasms, weakness, exhaustion, and digestive problems. 

In addition, deficiency can go undetected if our body compensates for the shortage by using magnesium storage from the bone reservoir. The usual ‘serum magnesium’ blood test might not detect magnesium deficiency. The ‘red blood cell magnesium’ test is more reliable but may still miss a whole-body magnesium shortage.

Ways to get more magnesium into your diet

We can't produce magnesium; therefore, we need to consume it from foods or supplements. Thankfully, magnesium is present in both whole plant and animal foods. Good sources of magnesium include dark leafy green vegetables (and all green vegetables), legumes, nuts and seeds and whole grains. 

Here are rich magnesium food sources to stock your kitchen.

  • Hemp seeds: 30g provides 210 mg of magnesium
  • Cooked spinach: A 1-cup serving has 157 mg of magnesium,
  • Pumpkin seeds: 28g provides 150 mg magnesium
  • Cooked black beans: A 1-cup serving contains 120 mg of magnesium
  • Chia seeds: 28g provides 95 mg magnesium
  • Atlantic mackerel: 88g contains 85 mg magnesium
  • Almonds: One handful provides 77mg of magnesium
  • Dark chocolate (preferably no added sugar): 28g contain 64 mg of magnesium
  • Dry buckwheat: 28g contains 65 mg of magnesium,
  • Avocado: One medium provides 58 mg of magnesium

When it comes to improving magnesium status, my approach is always to start with food first, supported by a whole food diet. Always work closely with a nutritional therapist to ensure your meals contain enough nutrients catered to you. Still, you might require supplementation to meet your magnesium needs. There are several oral supplements to choose from, and noteworthy, different magnesium formats are suited for specific needs.  

Magnesium supplementation is often well tolerated, with diarrhoea being the most common symptom of an overdose. If you have a medical issue, consult your doctor before using magnesium supplements on your own.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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