Magnesium deficiency, also known as hypomagnesemia, is an often-overlooked health problem.
While less than 2% of Americans have been estimated to experience magnesium deficiency, that percentage has been shown to be far greater in hospital and ICU patients and people with diabetes or alcohol use disorder.
In some cases, deficiency may be underdiagnosed since the obvious signs commonly don’t appear until your levels become severely low.
The causes of magnesium deficiency vary and can include:
- certain medications, such as chemotherapy drugs and proton pump inhibitors
- acute or chronic diarrhea
- “hungry bone syndrome” after parathyroid or thyroid surgery
- gastric bypass surgery
Health conditions such as diabetes, poor absorption, chronic diarrhea, and celiac disease are associated with magnesium loss. People with alcohol use disorder are also at an increased risk of deficiency.
In this article, Pritish Kumar Halder lists the symptoms of magnesium deficiency.
Muscle twitches and cramps
Twitches, tremors, and muscle cramps are signs of magnesium deficiency. In worst-case scenarios, deficiency may even cause seizures or convulsions.
Scientists believe these symptoms are caused by a greater flow of calcium into nerve cells, which overexcites or hyperstimulates the muscle nerves.
While supplements may help relieve muscle twitches and cramps in some people with a deficiency, one review concluded that magnesium supplements are not an effective treatment for muscle cramps in older adults. Further studies are needed in other groups (5Trusted Source).
They may also be a side effect of some medications or a symptom of a neuromuscular disease such as muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, or myasthenia gravis.
Mental health conditions
Mental health conditions are another possible effect of magnesium deficiency.
One example is apathy, which is characterized by mental numbness or lack of emotion. Worsened deficiency may even lead to delirium and coma.
Additionally, observational studies have associated low magnesium levels with an increased risk of depression. Scientists have also speculated that magnesium deficiency might promote anxiety, but direct evidence is lacking.
In short, it seems that a lack of magnesium may cause nerve dysfunction and promote mental health conditions in some people.
Osteoporosis is a disorder characterized by weak bones and an increased risk of bone fractures.
Numerous factors influence the risk of developing osteoporosis, including:
- lack of exercise
- poor dietary intake of vitamins D and K
Interestingly, magnesium deficiency is also a risk factor for osteoporosis. Deficiency might weaken bones directly, but it also lowers the blood levels of calcium, the main building block of bones.
Studies in rats confirm that dietary magnesium depletion results in reduced bone mass. Although no such studies have been carried out in humans, research has associated poor magnesium intake with lower bone mineral density.
Fatigue and muscle weakness
Fatigue, a condition characterized by physical or mental exhaustion or weakness, is another symptom of magnesium deficiency.
Keep in mind that everyone becomes fatigued from time to time. Typically, it simply means you need to rest. However, severe or persistent fatigue may be a sign of a health problem.
Since fatigue is a nonspecific symptom, its cause is impossible to identify unless it is accompanied by other symptoms. Another more specific sign of magnesium deficiency is muscle weakness, which may be caused by myasthenia gravis.
Scientists believe the weakness is caused by the loss of potassium in muscle cells, a condition associated with magnesium deficiency.
Therefore, magnesium deficiency is one possible cause of fatigue or weakness.
High blood pressure
Animal studies show that magnesium deficiency may increase blood pressure and promote high blood pressure, which is a strong risk factor for heart disease.
While direct evidence in humans is lacking, several observational studies suggest that low magnesium levels or poor dietary intake may raise blood pressure.
The strongest evidence for the benefits of magnesium comes from controlled studies.
Several reviews have concluded that magnesium supplements may lower blood pressure, especially in adults with high blood pressure.
Put simply, magnesium deficiency may increase blood pressure, which, in turn, increases the risk of heart disease. Nevertheless, more studies are needed before its role can be fully understood.
Magnesium deficiency is sometimes seen in people with severe asthma.
Additionally, magnesium levels tend to be lower in individuals with asthma than in people who do not have this condition.
Researchers believe a lack of magnesium may cause the buildup of calcium in the muscles lining the airways of the lungs. This causes the airways to constrict, making breathing more difficult.
Interestingly, an inhaler with magnesium sulfate is sometimes given to people with severe asthma to help relax and expand the airways. For those with life threatening symptoms, injections are the preferred method of delivery. However, evidence for the effectiveness of dietary magnesium supplements in individuals with asthma is inconsistent.
In short, scientists believe severe asthma may be linked to magnesium deficiency in some people, but further studies are needed to investigate its role.
Heart arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, is among the most serious possible effects of magnesium deficiency.
Arrhythmia can range from causing no symptoms to causing very serious symptoms. In some people, it may cause heart palpitations, which are pauses between heartbeats.
Other possible symptoms of arrhythmia include:
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
In the most severe cases, arrhythmia may increase the risk of stroke or heart failure.
Scientists believe that an imbalance of potassium levels inside and outside of heart muscle cells — a condition associated with magnesium deficiency — may be to blame.
Some people with congestive heart failure and arrhythmia have been shown to have lower magnesium levels than people who don’t have heart failure.In a small study in 68 people with heart failure, magnesium injections significantly improved participants’ heart function.
Magnesium supplements may also help reduce symptoms in some people with arrhythmia.