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The many effects of magnesium deficiency

The many effects of magnesium deficiency

The many effects of magnesium deficiency

Magnesium deficiency in Australia is prevalent as it is throughout the world.  Magnesium is an essential nutrient for healthy muscles, nerves, bones and blood sugar levels. It helps convert food into energy, regulate your nervous system and create new proteins. [1]

Magnesium deficiency, also known as hypomagnesemia, is a common and under-recognised problem throughout Australia and the world. Importantly, magnesium deficiency does not manifest in consistent symptoms and is not always easily recognised by your doctor.

Fifty to 90 percent of us are magnesium deficient, so you may be experiencing some symptoms. This may be due to a number of different reasons but it’s something to pay attention to. A mild deficiency can make you feel much less than your best and if there isn’t enough magnesium in your diet over a long period of time, you may develop health issues, including heart attack, stroke, diabetes or osteoporosis.

So, how do you know if you have a magnesium deficiency and what can you do to restore your levels to enable your body to function at its very best?

Why is magnesium so important?

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in your body and works in every cell of your body. It is vital in achieving at least 300 important biochemical reactions. [2]

It regulates diverse biochemical reactions in the body, including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation.

“Magnesium is required for energy production, oxidative phosphorylation, and glycolysis. It contributes to the structural development of bone and is required for the synthesis of DNA, RNA, and the antioxidant glutathione.

Magnesium also plays a role in the active transport of calcium and potassium ions across cell membranes, a process that is important to nerve impulse conduction, muscle contraction, and normal heart rhythm.” [3]

Magnesium supports energy production, healthy digestion and enzyme formation, all of which are critical in healthy bowel movements. Furthermore, magnesium relaxes the intestines and colon, as well as draws water to the bowel, allowing for softer and better-formed stools.

It also supports heart health, helping to regulate blood pressure, support calcium absorption, as well as maintaining an even heart rate. [4]  Research has shown that subclinical magnesium deficiency likely leads to hypertension, arrhythmias, arterial calcifications, atherosclerosis, heart failure and an increased risk for thrombosis. This suggests that magnesium deficiency is a principal, yet under-recognised, driver of cardiovascular disease. [5]

Magnesium helps move blood sugar into your muscles and dispose of lactate, which can build up during exercise and cause fatigue. It helps to support optimal blood flow in veins and arteries so you can exercise longer.

Magnesium also plays an important role in helping you get better sleep, reducing your stress and helping you relax. As it plays a critical role in brain function and mood, low levels are linked to an increased risk of depression. One analysis in over 8,800 people found that people under the age of 65 with the lowest magnesium intake had a 22% greater risk of depression. This has led experts to believe the low magnesium content of modern food may cause many cases of depression and mental illness. [6]

Magnesium is a key cofactor in the COMT (Catechol-O-methyltransferase) pathway, the pathway that assist with the clearance of neurotransmitters, hormones and other important chemicals in the body including various catechol drugs and structures.

Signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency

The recommended dietary allowance for magnesium for adult men is 400-420 mg per day. The dietary allowance for adult women is 310-320 mg per day.

In some cases, deficiency may be underdiagnosed since the obvious signs commonly don’t appear until your levels become severely low.

The early signs of magnesium deficiency include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness

As magnesium deficiency gets worse, other symptoms may occur, including:

  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Muscle contractions and cramps
  • Seizures
  • Personality changes
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Coronary spasms [7]

The causes of magnesium deficiency

The causes of magnesium deficiency vary but common causes can include:

  • Poor nutrition – the modern diet contains almost no magnesium – highly-processed and based mostly on white flour, meat and dairy (all of which have no magnesium).
  • Excess alcohol, salt, coffee, phosphoric acid (cool drinks), profuse sweating, prolonged or intense stress, chronic diarrhea, excessive menstruation and some intestinal parasites. [8]
  • Medications that deplete magnesium (such as antibiotics and diuretics)
  • Poor absorption of magnesium which is easily lost from our bodies. To properly absorb magnesium, we need a lot of it in our diet, as well as enough vitamin B6, vitamin D, and selenium to assist with absorption.
  • Soil depletion
  • Chronic gut problems (e.g. leaky gut syndrome


People at risk of magnesium deficiency

People with gastrointestinal diseasesThe chronic diarrhea and fat malabsorption resulting from Crohn’s disease, gluten-sensitive enteropathy (celiac disease), and regional enteritis can lead to magnesium depletion over time.

People with type 2 diabetesMagnesium deficits and increased urinary magnesium excretion can occur in people with insulin resistance and/or type 2 diabetes.

People with alcohol dependence – Magnesium deficiency is common in people with chronic alcoholism.

Older adults – Older adults have lower dietary intakes of magnesium than younger adults. In addition, magnesium absorption from the gut decreases and renal magnesium excretion increases with age. Older adults are also more likely to have chronic diseases or take medications that alter magnesium status, which can increase their risk of magnesium depletion.[9]

How do you test for a magnesium deficiency?

Testing for magnesium can be difficult and is not always accurate.

The basic blood test that a general practitioner will order is called a serum level. This serum level only measures extra-cellular levels (the amount of magnesium outside the cells). The majority of our magnesium (99%) is inside our cells. This means that this test is only able to measure 1% of magnesium in the body and will not reflect the true levels of magnesium in your body. [10]

The test that measures the magnesium inside the cells called the Red Blood Cell (RBC) Magnesium Test. At Advanced Functional Medicine, we can order this test for you to ensure your magnesium levels are accurate and we can understand how we can treat your deficiency with the correct dosage and type of supplement.

How can you treat magnesium deficiency?

  • Eat a diet rich in magnesium
  • Take magnesium supplements
  • Limit coffee, colas, salt, sugar and alcohol
  • Practice relaxation, stress burns through your magnesium stores!!
  • Take a hot bath with Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) to absorb
  • magnesium.
  • Check with your doctor if your medication is could be causing magnesium loss

More about magnesium supplements and their differences

Supplements are great way to increase magnesium intake, but you need to be aware that they are not all high quality or easily absorbed by the body.

  • Magnesium Oxide – This is most commonly used in supplements. If you are struggling with absorption issues this is probably not your best option. This low bioavailability gives it an intensive laxative effect that makes it a good constipation remedy.
  • Magnesium Glycinate – easier to absorb than some other magnesium supplements and is gentle on the stomach, without causing diarrhea.
  • Magnesium Malate – a combination of magnesium and malic acid, this form supports energy production as well as lactic acid clearance. Malic acid is a naturally occurring substance that can help the body produce energy during aerobic and anaerobic activities.
  • Magnesium L-Threonate – this is the only form of magnesium that has been proven, in studies, to cross the blood-brain barrier. This type of magnesium has shown promise in being able to penetrate tissue and cell membranes. Increasing the magnesium level in the brain is important for long and short-term memory, learning, stress management and sleep. [11]
  • Magnesium Chelate – this form is extremely bioavailable and is found in magnesium containing food sources.
  • Magnesium citrate – Magnesium is combined with citric acid to make this from. At 16 percent, it has a higher absorption rate than magnesium oxide, but also makes a great choice for relieving constipation.
  • Magnesium oil – Magnesium oil is placed directly on the skin which is effective for people with gut dysfunctions that limit absorption.

People with kidney disease or severe heart disease should take magnesium only under a doctor’s supervision.

How can you get more magnesium into your diet?

Magnesium is naturally present in many foods, added to other food products, available as a dietary supplement, and present in some medicines (such as antacids and laxatives).

It is widely found in both plants and animal-sourced foods. The richest sources are seeds and nuts, but whole grains, beans, and leafy green vegetables are also relatively rich sources.

Some good sources of magnesium include:

  • almonds
  • pumpkin seeds
  • dark chocolate
  • peanuts
  • popcorn
  • spinach
  • artichokes
  • flaxseeds
  • sunflower seeds
  • chia seeds
  • cocoa
  • coffee
  • cashews
  • hazelnuts
  • oats
  • kelp
  • wheat bran
  • wheat germ
  • almonds
  • cashews
  • buckwheat
  • brazil nuts
  • pecans
  • millet
  • bananas
  • salmon
  • swiss chard
  • walnuts
  • rye
  • tofu
  • soy beans
  • brown rice
  • figs
  • dates
  • prawns
  • avocado
  • parsley
  • beans
  • barley
  • dandelion greens
  • garlic

How we can help Magnesium Deficiency

Achieving the optimal daily intake of magnesium every day can be a challenge, but if you choose the right foods and the appropriate supplements, will are sure to get just what you need.

If you recognise some of the symptoms listed above, our Functional Medicine health practitioners can support you in testing for magnesium deficiency and if you are deficient, assess your diet and gut function to assess absorption and other factors that maybe interfering with your Magnesium levels.

Magnesium is an extremely important mineral and vital to be in plentiful stores to ensure vibrant health.


The above information is intended to be general, educational advice only, on topics which are of interest to us. It is not intended to represent specific or individual health or medical advice and is not specific to your situation. The below information is educative and is not intended to advertise any service.

Before making any decisions in relation to your health, you should always discuss your individual situation with your own health practitioners to ensure that any advice you have read is right for you.

Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper – ND

Jarrod Cooper - ND is the founder of Advanced Functional Medicine Australia. He is a Naturopathic Doctor with extensive functional medicine training from leading practitioners in the USA and worldwide.

He is leading the way with advancements of functional medicine, clinically implementing worldwide best practices in Functional Medicine throughout Australia.

Jarrod consults in person from Perth, Western Australia and also online via Telehealth throughout Australia and worldwide.

If you are looking for personalised treatment, we highly recommend contacting Jarrod Cooper’s Advanced Functional Medicine clinic in Australia.

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