Magnesium plays a significant role in helping us stay healthy. It helps regulate muscle function, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels, among other vital bodily processes. Including sufficient magnesium in our diets may help reduce the risk of more severe health issues.
Magnesium is an electrolyte that directly affects the balance of other electrolytes like calcium, potassium, and sodium. Most magnesium found in the body is stored in our bones. The magnesium that cells and organs use is dissolved in blood plasma (extracellular fluid).
In this article, we’ll discuss how much magnesium you should consume daily, what magnesium deficiency is, how to recognize warning signs, and which foods can help boost your magnesium levels.
What is the Recommended Daily Intake of Magnesium?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is the average intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of 97-98% of healthy individuals in the United States1. The RDA for magnesium varies depending on age and gender but is often used to plan nutrient-rich diets.
From birth to 13 years, boys and girls in the same age group have the same RDA. After puberty, the magnesium RDA for men and women changes. When there isn’t enough evidence to develop an RDA, an adequate intake (AI) level is established to ensure nutritional adequacy.
The chart below lists the Recommended Dietary Allowances for magnesium in the US:
|Birth to 6 months
The intake levels for children 12 months and younger represent adequate intake (AI) rather than Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). Additionally, RDA levels shown in the above chart for women between the ages of 14 and 50 do not represent all women. Pregnant and lactating women have a higher RDA, which is not included in this chart.
Next, we’ll define magnesium deficiency and discuss some common causes.
What is Magnesium Deficiency?
Hypomagnesemia, commonly known as magnesium deficiency, occurs when your blood has a lower-than-normal magnesium level. It is often overlooked or underdiagnosed, even in otherwise healthy individuals. In many cases, people are unaware of their deficiency until their levels are severely low.
Hypomagnesemia usually occurs due to one of three scenarios:
- Excessive loss of magnesium,
- Insufficient intake of magnesium, or
- Movement of magnesium into locations that are less accessible for your body.
While specific causes vary from person to person, the following are potential precursors of magnesium deficiency:
- Certain prescription medications (i.e., chemotherapy and anti-rejection drugs, proton pump inhibitors)
- Diarrhea (acute or chronic)
- Starvation or poor nutritional intake
- Following certain surgeries (i.e., parathyroid, thyroid, or gastric bypass surgery)
- Malabsorption diseases (i.e., celiac, inflammatory bowel)
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Acute pancreatitis
Generally, it takes habitually low intakes or excessive magnesium losses due to specific medical problems to cause magnesium deficiency. For example, various health conditions or diseases are associated with magnesium loss, while people with alcohol use disorder may have an increased risk of magnesium deficiency2.
So, how do you know if you are suffering from magnesium deficiency?
6 Warning Signs of Magnesium Deficiency
While magnesium deficiency may not be widespread, knowing what signs to look for can help prevent your levels from becoming severely low. Individuals with severe magnesium deficiency may be at risk for hypocalcemia (low serum calcium levels) or hypokalemia (low potassium levels) due to disruption of mineral homeostasis3.
Early indicators of magnesium deficiency include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, and weakness. As hypomagnesemia worsens, more severe warning signs may occur4.
#1 Muscle Spasms, Twitches, and Cramps
Some of the most noticeable signs of magnesium deficiency are spasms, twitches, tremors, and muscle cramps. Magnesium is an electrolyte that helps regulate muscle and nerve function by carrying calcium and potassium to your cells.
According to medical experts, muscle spasms occur when muscle nerves are hyperstimulated due to a higher flow of calcium. Increasing your magnesium levels through supplementation or an improved diet may help relieve muscle twitches and spasms.
On the other hand, severe muscle cramping may indicate a different health issue. If you are experiencing regular and persistent muscle cramping, consult your doctor or medical professional.
Osteoporosis is a medical disorder defined as having weak bones and an increased risk of bone fractures. Several factors can influence the development of osteoporosis, including lack of exercise, aging, and poor dietary intake of necessary nutrients.
Aside from ensuring adequate intake of vitamins D and K, maintaining healthy magnesium levels helps support the building blocks of bones5. Some studies in rats show that magnesium deficiency reduces bone mass and reduces bone mineral density6.
Low magnesium levels can weaken your bones over time, increasing the risk of bone fracture and osteoporosis. Magnesium influences your body’s major regulators of bone homeostasis, supporting bone formation and enhancing bone health.
#3 Muscle Weakness
Magnesium helps our bodies convert food into energy and is vital for proper muscle functioning. Common signs of magnesium deficiency include fatigue, weakness, and lower energy levels.
Since magnesium acts as a natural calcium blocker, which helps relax muscles after they contract, low magnesium levels are associated with myasthenia (muscle weakness). Muscle weakness may also be caused by a significant loss of potassium in muscle cells7. This loss of potassium can make it challenging and sometimes exhausting to perform regular daily tasks.
While hypomagnesemia has been linked to persistent fatigue and weakness in adults, studies have shown that magnesium deficiency in infants may contribute to the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)8.
#4 Abnormal Or Irregular Heart Rhythms
Heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) may be one of the most significant effects of hypomagnesemia9. Studies have shown that supplementing with magnesium or receiving magnesium injections helps reduce the incidence of serious arrhythmias following acute myocardial infarction10.
Arrhythmia presents differently from person to person. Some people experience heart palpitations, while others face dizziness, shortness of breath, or chest pain. In severe cases, arrhythmia may increase your risk of heart failure or stroke.
Without sufficient magnesium, your body cannot regulate blood pressure and your heart beats irregularly. Although magnesium deficiency may not always cause irregular heart rhythms, it can worsen arrhythmia and potentially increase the risk of more serious complications.
#5 Headache and Migraine
Anyone who has experienced migraines knows how debilitating they can be. People who experience frequent migraine headaches have been shown to have lower magnesium levels.
Hypomagnesemia can impact the release of neurotransmitters that help control or reduce pain. It may also affect the constriction of blood cells (vasoconstriction), which promotes headaches and migraines11.
Despite limited research, studies have shown promising improvement in reducing the occurrence of migraines through magnesium supplementation. Maintaining healthy magnesium levels may lower the risk of recurring headaches and migraines.
In severe cases, the dosage of magnesium required may exceed recommended upper intake levels. In these instances, you should consult a medical professional before trying supplementation.
While there are many potential causes for insomnia, low magnesium levels are one factor that is often overlooked. Magnesium deficiency can result in feeling fatigued, making it difficult to get quality sleep.
Magnesium improves the functioning of GABA receptors in the brain. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It stimulates beta-cell growth, converts alpha-cells to beta-cells, and allows the brain to transition into a state of rest.
Supplementing with magnesium can help improve the duration and quality of sleep. People with healthy magnesium levels may fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and experience fewer awakenings throughout the night12. Magnesium supplementation may also support higher levels of naturally circulating melatonin.
Can You Manage or Prevent Magnesium Deficiency?
Managing underlying health conditions is a great way to reduce the chances of hypomagnesemia episodes. For example, people with celiac disease should maintain a gluten-free diet to impede malabsorption, which may cause magnesium deficiency.
Of course, eating a balanced diet that includes magnesium-rich foods is a simple way to achieve the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for magnesium. Magnesium can be found in a wide variety of plant and animal-based foods.
The following includes some of the best sources of magnesium that can easily be incorporated into your daily diet:
- Nuts (cashews, peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds)
- Dark chocolate
- Beans and legumes
- Whole grains
- Leafy greens
- Seeds (flaxseed, sunflower, chia, pumpkin)
One of the easiest ways to ensure you get your RDA for magnesium is to take a supplement or daily multivitamin. Leading Edge Health (LEH) produces the highest quality supplements with scientifically-supported ingredients designed to improve the health and wellness of men and women. Every LEH product is manufactured in the USA and comes with a satisfaction guarantee.
If you think you may be suffering from a magnesium deficiency, you should speak with your doctor to determine the next steps. While supplementation and dietary changes can support healthy magnesium levels, people with severe cases may need additional support.