A balanced diet comprising carbohydrates, protein and fats as primary nutrients is vital for the healthy functioning of the human body. Additionally, vitamins and minerals are equally important for various bodily functions and regulations. While the 13 essential vitamins include Vitamin A, C, D, E, K and the B group of vitamins (riboflavin, niacin, thiamine, biotin, folate, pantothenic acid, B6 and B12), the minerals crucial for health include calcium, fluoride, iodine, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and sodium.
Magnesium is a key electrolyte—a mineral that is present in cells, tissues, bones and body fluids and is required for the optimal functioning of the brain, nerves, eyes, muscles, heart and immune system—along with the other aforementioned minerals. It is of prime importance as it helps build DNA, RNA, metabolizes insulin and assists in muscle relaxation and contraction and ATP synthesis for the production of energy in the body.
When the level of magnesium in the blood is lower than normal, it results in magnesium deficiency, a condition that, in medical terms, is referred to as ‘hypomagnesemia’. Let us find out more about the warning signs of magnesium deficiency, the impact it can have on your bodily functions, and what you can do to gradually improve magnesium levels in your body.
- When the level of magnesium in the blood is lower than normal, it results in magnesium deficiency, a condition that is medically termed as ‘hypomagnesemia’,
- Magnesium is an electrolyte that plays a significant role in energy production, bone and teeth development, maintaining heart health, muscle and nerve function, and regulating blood pressure, pH levels, blood sugar and protein levels in the body,
- If ignored for a long time or left untreated, magnesium deficiency can lead to health complications in the long run, which might then contribute to several long-term illnesses.
What is magnesium deficiency?
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral present in the human body. While more than half of it is stored in the bones, the rest of it is found in the tissues throughout the body. Magnesium is naturally present in several foods; it can also be obtained via dietary supplements or medicine—upon the recommendation of a medical professional.
Magnesium plays a significant role in energy production or regulating metabolism, bone and teeth development, maintaining heart health, muscle and nerve function, and regulating blood pressure, blood sugar and protein levels in the body.
Since it is an electrolyte, magnesium aids a host of essential bodily processes, including balancing water levels, maintaining the body’s pH levels, transferring nutrients to the cells, moving waste out of cells, and ensuring the regular working of the heart, muscles, nerves and brain.
However, in the last century or so, the amount of magnesium that naturally occurs in food sources has drastically reduced since new-age, mechanized farming processes have depleted certain minerals from the soil.
A significantly low intake of magnesium, or its reduced absorption, or even a sudden, drastic loss of magnesium in an otherwise healthy individual is a matter of concern. A deficiency in magnesium can occur on account of various reasons.
Some of the more common ones include kidney tubule disorders, polyuria or excessive urination—such as in cases of uncontrolled diabetes; excessive consumption of alcohol, chronic diarrhoea, inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease (gluten-sensitive enteropathy) that might interfere in the absorption of magnesium, pancreatitis or swelling of the pancreas and prolonged use of medicines such as antibiotics, antacids, diuretics, proton pump inhibitors or those associated with chemotherapy.
In the case of hypomagnesemia, the body’s regular absorption or excretion of magnesium is affected due to factors such as poor nutrition, the intake of a drug that depletes magnesium or being afflicted by diseases that compromise magnesium absorption.
As the kidneys regulate the amount of magnesium that will be eliminated from the body through urination, the production of urine might gradually slow down as hypomagnesemia advances. This is particularly harmful, as the body is not getting rid of the waste that is building up and accruing, thus eventually damaging the kidneys.
Low levels of magnesium can also lead to an imbalance in the levels of the other electrolytes present in the human body. For instance, severe magnesium deficiency is revealed through disruptions in mineral homeostasis and electrolyte imbalances such as low levels of calcium, known as hypocalcemia, or low levels of potassium, i.e., hypokalemia.
Signs you might have magnesium deficiency
A significant drop in magnesium levels in the human body can be assessed through the development of certain symptoms. Ascertaining a magnesium deficiency can be difficult to test, and initial symptoms might indicate the plausibility of any other underlying health conditions. Early signs include frequent weakness, a loss of appetite, nausea and muscle spasms. Over time, some of the more crucial symptoms that might develop include the following:
Characterised by physical or mental exhaustion, fatigue can be one of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency. However, fatigue is a non-specific sign, so it might not always point towards a deficiency unless accompanied by other symptoms.
Muscle spasms and cramps:
A diet deficient in magnesium is often the key contributor towards the persistent occurrence of involuntary muscle spasms and cramps. While a few studies state that magnesium supplementation enhances muscle strength and endurance and improves physical performance in those deficient in magnesium, other studies point out that supplements might not always be an effective solution for older adults. However, lack of magnesium in the body leads to poor muscle performance and, in worst-case scenarios, even seizures.
Apart from the development of cholesterol-related problems, an irregular heartbeat or abnormal heart rhythm—known as cardiac arrhythmia—is a sign of magnesium deficiency in the body. According to some scientists, magnesium deficiency can create a potential imbalance of potassium levels inside and outside of the heart muscle cells, thereby causing arrhythmia. In extreme cases, it might lead to severe complications such as a stroke or heart failure.
High blood pressure:
Multiple observational studies indicate that a magnesium deficiency promotes high blood pressure, which, in turn, increases the risk of heart disease.
Individuals diagnosed with asthma often have low levels of magnesium as opposed to those who do not have this condition. While the role of magnesium deficiency in the development of asthma is still being researched, studies show that decreased magnesium might cause a build-up of calcium in the muscles that line the airways of the lungs, thus causing constriction that impedes breathing.
According to a study published in the health journal Circulation, those with higher magnesium levels had fewer chances of developing metabolic syndrome, which would then improve insulin sensitivity. Hence, insulin resistance can be a possible signal of lack of magnesium in the body.
As per recent studies, individuals with low magnesium levels are more prone to headaches and acute, debilitating migraines, affecting one’s mood and causing frequent irritability.
Experiencing a sudden difficulty concentrating or a decrease in synaptic plasticity—i.e., the ability of the neurons to create changes in the links between neuronal networks as a response to use or disuse—might signal towards a possible magnesium deficiency.
Low bone density:
Low bone density leads to a possibility of developing osteoporosis, or weak bones and a higher risk of fractures. While lack of physical exercise and a deficiency of Vitamin D and K is often associated with low bone density, a deficiency in magnesium can be equally responsible. Moreover, magnesium deficiency also lowers the level of calcium in the body, which is the key mineral in building bone health.
An altered sleep cycle:
A sudden change in one’s sleeping patterns or the development of insomnia can mean a potential magnesium deficiency. Since magnesium helps increase melatonin in the body—commonly known as the ‘sleep hormone’ which regulates sleep-wake cycles—a deficiency would translate into difficulty falling asleep or even leading to insomnia.
Conditions related to mental health:
According to some studies, low levels of magnesium have been linked to an increased risk of depression, a lack of expression of emotion, and in extreme cases, even coma. Multiple enzymatic and cellular reactions associated with the stress response are magnesium-dependent. Magnesium works to calm down the excitatory NMDA receptor in the brain.
In the absence of magnesium, the NMDA levels can go unchecked, increasing the chances of depression. A few studies also speculate the chances of developing anxiety owing to a magnesium deficiency, though the evidence is not strong enough.
Long-term effects of being magnesium-deficient
If ignored for a long period of time, a deficiency in magnesium can lead to serious long-term health implications, both physical and psychological. Magnesium deficiency increases one’s risks of developing chronic medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes, arrhythmia and other cardiovascular ailments, high blood pressure, severe migraines, osteoporosis and even seizures. Furthermore, there is a greater possibility of developing certain depressive disorders, anxiety disorders and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
How can you improve magnesium levels in your body?
On average, an adult requires between 300-500mg of magnesium daily. Some ways magnesium levels in the body can be improved include the following:
Increase the intake of magnesium-rich foods in one’s daily diet:
These include both plant- and animal-based sources. Foods that are perhaps the richest sources of magnesium include nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, cashew nuts) and seeds (pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flaxseeds), whole grains, legumes, beans as well as green leafy vegetables.
Other sources of magnesium include dark chocolate (containing at least 70% cocoa), fatty fish (salmon or mackerel), tofu, figs, bananas, avocados, coconut, oats and certain fortified breakfast cereals. One must reduce their intake of carbonated beverages, alcohol, caffeine, processed foods, and foods containing high levels of sugar and salt so that magnesium is absorbed more optimally.
Look out for health conditions that might hinder the absorption of magnesium:
There are certain factors that might hamper the absorption of magnesium in the body. These include health conditions such as Vitamin D deficiency, parathyroid hormone deficiency or intestinal permeability that disrupts nutrient absorption. Additionally, one should avoid taking a lot of stress and refrain from consuming excessive alcohol or taking over-the-counter medication frequently, as all of these factors contribute towards a decrease in magnesium levels.
Digestive or gut-related disorders such as Crohn’s disease, short bowel syndrome or celiac disease should be identified and treated via correct medical guidance as they also affect magnesium levels in the body.
Get magnesium levels tested regularly:
As magnesium tends to accumulate in the tissues and bone and not the blood, testing for a potential magnesium deficiency can prove to be challenging. While tests such as the serum magnesium test and the RBC test measure magnesium levels in the red blood cells, the magnesium loading test or a magnesium urine test are considered to be more accurate.
Always consult a doctor:
One must not self-medicate but always consult a doctor before consuming magnesium supplements. This is particularly important if the individual has an existing heart or kidney ailment. If consumed without consulting a doctor, an individual with kidney issues might be at a greater risk of toxicity or hypermagnesemia.
Moreover, it is important to let the doctor know about one’s medical history if any, so that the supplements do not interfere with the functioning of other bodily processes and will be prescribed depending upon one’s symptoms and genetics. The supplements that help replenish magnesium in the body can be oral or intravenous.
While oral magnesium (including magnesium citrate, magnesium oxide, magnesium chloride and magnesium gluconate) is available in a pill, powder or liquid form, intravenous magnesium is carried out in the case of an extreme deficiency under the supervision of a doctor.
The symptoms that point towards a magnesium deficiency in the body are usually very subdued unless one’s magnesium levels become severely low. In the case of the development of certain symptoms, one should be proactive and immediately consult a doctor, who would then recommend for tests to be done. It is vital to get enough magnesium via one’s daily diet.
However, if one’s required amount of magnesium is not being met through food, they must start a supplement in consultation with a medical expert. If ignored for a long time or left untreated, magnesium deficiency can lead to health complications in the long run, which might then contribute towards several long-term illnesses. Hence it is necessary to identify any symptoms in their early stages and work towards improving one’s magnesium levels.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention or alleviation of any disease, disorder or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns and before undertaking a new health care regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.