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Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency in Adults

Woman lining up magnesium supplements into the letters Mg.

There are a few telltale indicators of a magnesium deficiency in adults — here’s what you need to know and recommended next steps.

Magnesium is one of the most abundantly used minerals in the human body. Below are some of the essential purposes that magnesium serves in the human body, as well as insight into signs of symptoms of a possible magnesium deficiency.

What Does Magnesium Do in the Body, and What Are Possible Signs and Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency?

This key mineral plays several important roles in virtually all of the body’s systems, especially the nervous system, circulatory system, and immune system. Let’s take a look at exactly what magnesium does in these different vital systems and processes, and what symptoms may appear in the case of a deficiency.

Magnesium and Bone Health

Without enough magnesium, you may run an increased risk of developing osteoporosis, which is one of several signs and symptoms of a magnesium deficiency. Magnesium helps to prevent the development of osteoporosis by helping to maintain calcium levels in your blood. The link between blood calcium and healthy magnesium levels is thought to be the main reason why magnesium deficiency sometimes leads to osteoporosis and other bone density disorders.

Osteoporosis typically makes a person’s bones significantly weaker and can make fractures and bone breakage more likely. The disorder is more common in older adults, as well as in people who live relatively sedentary lives. Other deficiencies in key bone-supporting nutrients, including vitamin D and vitamin K, can increase the risk for osteoporosis.

To lower the risk of developing osteoporosis, you might consider taking a supplement that provides you with calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D – three essential nutrients for bone health. You can usually get all of these vitamins and minerals from a high-quality multivitamin. Consult with a healthcare provider for additional guidance.

Magnesium and Energy Levels

Fatigue is another common symptom of a magnesium deficiency, and there’s a clear reason why: this mineral plays a key role in maintaining energy levels throughout the body. While the occasional feeling of exhaustion or fatigue is a normal part of life for most adults, it shouldn’t be something that you experience on a day-to-day basis.

The fatigue that you might feel from a magnesium deficiency is usually mostly physical. This is because magnesium regulates the amount of potassium stored in your muscle cells. When your muscles don’t contain enough potassium, it’s speculated that the human body is more prone to feelings of weakness and exhaustion.

If you are constantly fatigued, it might indicate that you are experiencing a nutrient deficiency; while magnesium deficiencies are a common source of fatigue, there are many nutrient deficiencies that can contribute to this symptom, so it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider about your symptoms.

Magnesium and Asthma

Research on the relationship between asthma and magnesium deficiency suggests a possible link between severe breathing issues and chronic low levels of magnesium. This isn’t to say that magnesium deficiency is a deciding factor in the development of asthma, but some researchers speculate that it may be a contributing one.

As of now, what is known about the link between asthma and magnesium deficiency is that asthmatic individuals appear to generally have lower-than-average magnesium levels. In addition, some inhalers that doctors prescribe to asthmatic patients are formulated with magnesium sulfate, which provides relief from symptoms in the event of an asthma attack by essentially relaxing the airways to allow for airflow.

All of this said, there are no official guidelines or recommendations yet as additional evidence is needed to see if magnesium supplementation can help improve asthma symptoms that may be exacerbated by a magnesium deficiency.

Magnesium and Heart Arrhythmia

Also known as an irregular heartbeat, arrhythmia is characterized by a change in the rhythm of your heartbeats. Some cases of arrhythmia are mild, while others can cause symptoms like heart palpitations. In the most severe cases, arrhythmia poses an increased risk of severe heart problems.

The connection between magnesium deficiency and heart arrhythmia stems from magnesium’s impact on the level of potassium in your muscle cells. The heart is a muscle as well as an organ, which means its functionality may be negatively impacted by low levels of potassium. Since magnesium helps to regulate potassium levels, a magnesium deficiency might contribute to arrhythmia because of the body’s overall weakened ability for proper muscle function.

Magnesium and Mental Health

Low levels of magnesium seem to have an impact on mental and emotional health in some cases of depression, particularly contributing to feelings of apathy. It’s speculated that this may be related to the low energy levels that result from a magnesium deficiency, but additional research is needed to understand how a magnesium deficiency impacts these types of symptoms.

Magnesium and Muscle Cramps

One often-overlooked symptom of magnesium deficiency is experiencing muscle cramps, which can be caused by an imbalance of potassium in your muscles due to low magnesium. When magnesium levels are low, it’s possible to experience a reduction in the amount of potassium stored in your muscles, which can in turn increase your risk of cramping up.

Magnesium and the GI Tract

Constipation is another potential symptom of magnesium deficiency.

Getting a little backed up from time to time is perfectly normal, especially if you aren’t getting quite enough magnesium in your diet; constipation isn’t a definite sign of a deficiency, especially since other more common causes of constipation include a lack of dietary fiber, stress, and dehydration.

Since there are several factors that might be behind your constipation, zeroing in on a magnesium deficiency as the culprit might not be an ideal first step. Instead, it may be worth trying to first address the more likely causes, such as dehydration and insufficient fiber intake.

If upping the amount of water you drink and fiber you consume doesn’t change anything about your ability to go to the bathroom, consult with a healthcare provider; while magnesium supplements are notorious for supporting regularity in the GI tract, constipation is often caused by other issues that need to be identified by your provider.

How Is a Magnesium Deficiency Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of a magnesium deficiency usually starts with a blood test at your doctor’s office. During this test, your doctor collects a blood sample for analysis, which offers a clear readout of your vitamin and mineral counts. This test is also helpful for diagnosing other nutrient deficiencies, which is especially important in the case of broader symptoms like low energy levels.

How Is a Magnesium Deficiency Treated?

If the results of your blood test indicate that you need to up your magnesium intake, your doctor will usually recommend adding a magnesium supplement to your daily routine.

While you can always work to increase your magnesium intake through the foods you eat, a supplement is often more convenient and typically offers a higher concentration for your body to use.

That said, your doctor might still recommend that you do both — add a supplement to your diet and focus on getting more magnesium-rich foods on your plate each day. Some magnesium-rich foods include:

  • Pumpkin seeds, which contain over 35 percent of an adult’s daily magnesium needs
  • Chia seeds, which offer 26 percent of your daily value of magnesium with each serving
  • Almonds, which contain 19 percent of your daily allotment of magnesium
  • Spinach, one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, contains 78 mg of magnesium

These are just a few of the most magnesium-rich foods you can eat, with numerous others offering more modest portions of the mineral — foods like rice, peanut butter, black beans, fortified cereals, and broccoli are all reliable sources of magnesium, too.

How Much Magnesium Do I Need Per Day?

The daily recommended intake for magnesium varies based on your age and gender. Generally, males need more magnesium than females, particularly through adolescence and into adulthood.

After the age of 18, your magnesium needs stay relatively steady, floating around 400 mg per day for males and 300 mg per day for females. It’s recommended that you get slightly more magnesium in your diet after the age of 50.

Final Notes

Magnesium is a vital nutrient because of the invaluable roles it plays in hundreds of bodily functions every day; because of this, magnesium deficiencies can cause body-wide symptoms like fatigue, muscle cramping, and GI disruptions.

While many of us get a decent amount of magnesium in our diets when we consume fresh whole foods, magnesium deficiencies are especially common in this day and age across healthy and chronically ill individuals alike.

If you suspect you may have a magnesium deficiency, talk with your healthcare provider about your symptoms.


Magnesium - Health Professional Fact Sheet | NIH

Magnesium and Human Health: Perspectives and Research Directions | NCBI

Mental Health: Keeping Your Emotional Health | familydoctor.org

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