|December 7, 2023

Signs of Magnesium Deficiency

By Bulletproof Staff
Reviewed by Theresa Greenwell for Scientific Accuracy

Signs of Magnesium Deficiency

  • Magnesium is involved in over 300 body processes. Magnesium deficiency is difficult to identify because it can look like other health conditions.
  • Stress, medicine, alcohol, and certain medical conditions can cause low magnesium.
  • Learn about magnesium deficiency symptoms, the causes of low magnesium levels and how to get more magnesium in your diet.

Could you be suffering from a magnesium deficiency? Magnesium is a crucial mineral that plays a vital role in helping your body operate at its best. It contributes to over 300 functions, including regulating blood pressure, muscle and nerve activity, protein construction, bone development and more.[1] Unfortunately, magnesium deficiency symptoms can vary greatly, making it difficult to pinpoint if your diet is deficient in this mineral.

Magnesium deficiency is common, and studies have claimed that between 50%[2] to 75%[3] of Americans do not get enough from their daily diet. Read on to learn what causes magnesium deficiency, how to identify low magnesium symptoms, and which foods are high in magnesium.

Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms

Woman holding fingertips to temples

If you are not getting enough magnesium, you may feel some side effects of magnesium deficiency. And if you’re insufficient, the symptoms can range from uncomfortable to serious.

If your magnesium intake remains too low for an extended period, you may notice the following:

  • Muscle weakness, aches and pains[4]
  • Migraines[5]
  • Irregular sleep patterns and insomnia[6]
  • Heart irregularities[7]
  • Depression[8]
  • Occasional constipation[9]
  • Brain fog and memory problems[10]

It’s possible to have a magnesium deficiency and have some of these symptoms, none or even other effects. If you’re not feeling your best, consider if some of the following causes of magnesium deficiency could be to blame.

What Causes Magnesium Deficiency?

Bottle of pills next to glass of alcohol

Today, getting your recommended dietary intake of magnesium can be trickier than it used to be compared to your ancestors’ times. Modern farming practices like monocropping have caused soil depletion; our vegetables don’t absorb as many minerals from the soil as they used to. Plus, drinking filtered water filters out both unwanted impurities and good-for-you minerals.

Your lifestyle and health issues can also have an important impact on your magnesium retention. The following can decrease the level of magnesium in your body or cause malabsorption:

  • Over-the-counter and prescription medicines: A wide range of medicines, like antacids, antibiotics, birth control pills, blood pressure medications (diuretics), stomach acid blockers and more can cut into your magnesium stores.[11]
  • Chronic diseases: Crohn’s disease, kidney disorders, celiac disease, digestive disorders, type 2 diabetes, low stomach acid and other conditions can affect magnesium absorption and retention.[12]
  • Alcohol consumption: Regular alcohol consumption destroys your mineral stores, especially magnesium.[13] Acting as a diuretic (it makes you go pee more often), alcohol dehydrates your body while depleting it of minerals and electrolytes.
  • Stress: When you’re stressed, your body loses magnesium, which in turn can cause more stress.[14]

The good news is that you can counter magnesium deficiency with magnesium supplements or eating more foods high in magnesium. You should start to feel the beneficial effects from the mineral in about a week.[15]

How to Test for Magnesium Deficiency

Example of bar chart

One of the most common ways to test magnesium is with the magnesium RBC test, which you can set up with your doctor. This test measures the amount of magnesium stored in your red blood cells, which gives you an idea of how much magnesium your body has in reserves in your bones and soft tissues.

Your doctor will help you interpret your results and determine if you should supplement or not.

How Magnesium Deficiency Affects Your Body

Woman sitting next to window

Because magnesium is so important for your body’s functioning, magnesium deficiency can affect your system in many ways. Learn more about some low magnesium symptoms your body could be subject to if you don’t get enough of this mineral.

Mood and Memory Problems

Wavering moods, mental clarity, attention problems and anxiety all signal that the mitochondria (the structures that power your cells) in your brain are struggling.

Magnesium can improve mitochondrial function,[16] which helps your brain think clearly, focus, regulate emotions and respond to stress. In short, having adequate amounts of magnesium can help regulate your brain’s everyday function.

Digestive Issues

Your body relies on magnesium to help regulate your bowels.[17] If you are suffering from magnesium deficiency, you may encounter uncomfortable symptoms like occasional constipation.[18]

When you eat, your food mixes with saliva and stomach acid to form what’s known as a bolus. To move efficiently, it needs to have sufficient water content. Magnesium draws water into the bowels and keeps everything moving.

Pro tip: Looking for ways to support healthy digestion, aside from dietary magnesium? Reach for the prebiotics in Bulletproof InnerFuel Prebiotic. Want a dose of collagen protein in an all-in-one gut health supplement? Bulletproof Gut Health Collagen Protein has you covered.

PMS

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) points to an excess of estrogen. One of the main ways your body gets rid of estrogen is through the bowels. When your digestive system works well, your body produces and secretes estrogen at a good pace. When things slow down with low magnesium intake, estrogen hangs out in your intestinal tract for too long. Whatever estrogen doesn’t leave the body goes back into the bloodstream and stacks on top of the estrogen you’re already producing.

Increasing your magnesium intake can help balance your hormones and calm your central nervous system.[19]

Related: The Best Women’s Vitamins and Supplements in 2021

Cardiovascular and Muscle Function

Leg cramps can happen when there’s abnormal cell activity in your muscle and could be a low magnesium symptom. How and when nerve cells fire depends on electrolyte balance, and magnesium steps in when there are imbalances.

When there’s not enough magnesium available, there’s no stopping an over-excited neuron, and no waking up a lazy one. Too much firing and magnesium will slow down ion exchange. When there aren’t enough nerve impulses, magnesium will kickstart the exchange process.[20]

Muscles in your body depend on magnesium to keep this system working properly. If you experience any of the following magnesium deficiency symptoms, you might need more magnesium in your diet:

  • Muscle spasms or cramping[21]
  • Restless leg syndrome[22]
  • Twitching eyelids[23]

Low magnesium symptoms like these can have a root cause other than magnesium deficiency and can require medical attention. Always speak to your healthcare provider for medical advice.

How to Get More Magnesium in Your Diet

Stack of dark chocolate

Increasing magnesium intake can be as simple as eating more foods high in magnesium, trying out topical options or taking a supplement. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of magnesium for women is about 310-320 mg of magnesium per day and about 400-420 mg per day for men.[24] If you go over the daily recommendations, it may cause an upset stomach or diarrhea.

H3: Foods High in Magnesium
Dietary magnesium comes from various animal and plant-based foods. Here are a few foods high in magnesium content:

  • Seeds, such as pumpkin and chia
  • Nuts like cashews and almonds
  • Green vegetables, especially leafy ones like spinach
  • Legumes including black beans, kidney beans and edamame
  • Salmon
  • Chicken breast
  • Bananas
  • Potatoes
  • Whole grains
  • Tap, mineral, and bottled water (depending on the brand and source)

Foods high in magnesium and tryptophan offer a dual-angle approach to enhancing mood.[25] Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, the brain chemical that makes you feel happy, focused and calm. Foods with both tryptophan and magnesium include dark chocolate, salmon, spinach and avocados.

Topical Options

Magnesium oil (magnesium chloride) and Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate crystals) are two magnesium treatments meant to be absorbed through the skin. Magnesium oil can be sprayed directly on sore muscles to help relax the area. Bathing in Epsom salts is meant to help your body absorb the level of magnesium that it needs.

However, at the time of writing, not enough scientific studies support the claims that topical treatments are an effective way to treat magnesium deficiency.[26]

Powders and Capsules

There are many types of magnesium supplements on the market. For example, magnesium threonate supports memory and brain function,[27] while magnesium citrate is commonly used for muscle relaxation.

Bulletproof Magnesium and Sleep Collagen Protein both include magnesium. Try a few different magnesium treatments to find what works for you and pay attention to how you feel. Because magnesium regulates hundreds of processes in your body, it’s a mineral supplement worth looking into.

What other essential nutrients are you missing? Check out the best supplements that almost everyone should take.

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This article has been updated with new content.