Magnesium deficiency

Without enough magnesium, your body will experience fundamental life process disruptions. You won’t have enough cellular energy and not enough proteins will be synthesized. All kinds of metabolic reactions will be disrupted. Migraines, high blood pressure, heart palpitations, anxiety, infertility and muscle cramping – which ones will rear their ugly heads?

You might experience one, two or several symptoms at once or you might show no signs at all until much later. A magnesium deficiency can also trigger a cluster of abnormal biochemical reactions that can increase your risk of secondary problems.

Imagine commuting on a busy highway. To keep it in good shape, the highway needs to be a regularly maintained. Roads need to be graded and ruts filled in. And it wouldn’t hurt to have a fresh coat of asphalt paved after the harsh winter. But what if the city’s maintenance budget was cut? Road conditions might remain the same for a while, then one day, BAM! You’ve driven through a rather large pothole and damaged your car. Budget cuts might be partially to blame, but who knows the exact reason why the pothole appeared?


Can I test for magnesium deficiency?

Are you magnesium deficient?

Take a 2 minute quiz

It’s always recommended that you review your blood and urine tests closely with your healthcare practitioner. But when it comes to testing your magnesium levels, it gets a little complicated.

Magnesium is kept mostly in bones and in soft tissues. The amount that travels through our bloodstream is less than 1%, and those levels are tightly regulated by the body.

Magnesium levels in blood or urine might not relate to magnesium levels in the body as a whole. There are a few other tests that are more accurate (testing magnesium inside red blood cells for example), but we recommend you become familiar with magnesium deficiency symptoms and risk factors as a first defence.

Because magnesium flows between blood, the bones and inside cells, testing magnesium in just the blood can be inaccurate.

If you decide to requisition a magnesium red blood cell test, try taking one baseline test before supplementing with magnesium and again three to four months after supplementation. Steady, consistent supplementation will help build up the reserve stores in your bones and tissues. Repeating this test every three to four months will provide a guide for how much magnesium you should be taking.

When supplementing, you’ll want to aim for a test result in the higher end of the range, say around 2.4 to 2.52mmol/L.

One last thing. The reference range for the RBC test is between 1.65 and 2.52 mmol/L, which is a very wide interval. Be aware that you still might experience deficiency symptoms at the lower end of this range.


What are the signs of a deficiency?

It’s easier to diagnose a magnesium deficiency from a number of symptoms rather than just one. Understanding how magnesium works in the body can help you get to the root cause of your symptoms, too.

Am I at a higher risk for magnesium deficiency?

Certain conditions can upset your body’s magnesium status. Gastrointestinal diseases like IBS or colitis may disrupt your gut’s ability to absorb dietary magnesium.

Hyperthyroidism, intense athletic activity or chronic stress may increase the demand for magnesium as your body metabolizes faster or creates more hormones like cortisol. Conditions like type 2 diabetes may increase the amount of magnesium excreted through the kidneys.


Magnesium Status Checklist

Here’s a checklist of symptoms and risk factors to help you figure out whether you’re getting enough magnesium or not. Tick off the corresponding box for any statements that apply to you. Check this list again every four months or so to see whether supplementation has improved your conditions. (Did we mention that we love testing?)

 Download Magnesium Checklist

What if don’t I see any symptoms? Silent deficiencies & triage theory.

Sometimes micronutrient deficiencies may not exhibit the usual array of signs and symptoms. Why does this happen?

Dr. Bruce Ames is a professor emeritus of molecular biology at the University of California Berkeley and a senior scientist at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute. In his research on degenerative diseases, he noted that deficiencies in various micronutrients may lead to DNA damage and cellular aging. He theorized that this was the consequence of something called triage allocation.

Organisms (like humans) commonly live through episodes of micronutrient shortages. Triage allocation theory hypothesizes that during those shortages, scarcer micronutrients are allocated towards urgent short-term survival at the expense of sustaining long-term health. For example, in a vitamin K shortage, the body will allocate what little it has to fuel critical metabolism in the liver at the expense of the vitamin’s bonebuilding function. A shortage of iron will draw from stores in the liver before it draws from iron stores in the heart.

Triage allocation theory can help explain why moderate shortages of minerals and vitamins might increase the risk of chronic diseases but have no overt symptoms of a deficiency. It can also explain why someone might not be getting enough magnesium despite lacking the classic signs of deficiency, like cramps, tics, seizures or irregular heart beats.

Triage theory: Rebalancing micro-nutrients for short-term survival at the expense of longterm health.



Can I have too much magnesium?

The body is highly competent at regulating magnesium levels. If too much dietary magnesium is consumed, it can flush the excess through the digestive tract as diarrhea. Too much magnesium in the bloodstream is flushed out through the kidneys in urine. As long as these safety mechanisms are functioning, it is very difficult to take too much magnesium. The worst you may experience is loose stools.

If these safety mechanisms are not functioning, then you should consult your healthcare practitioner prior to oral magnesium supplementation. In particular, if you suffer from kidney (renal) failure or bowel obstructions, you will not be able to clear magnesium from the body.

You should also consult a healthcare practitioner if you have any conditions that involve too much muscle relaxation such as very low blood pressure or irregular heartbeat.


What should I do if I am magnesium deficient?

Correcting your magnesium status requires some effort, especially when levels of magnesium in foods are in decline. However, looking at the checklist you filled out earlier, there are some risk factors you can deal with right away.

Lifestyle & Dietary Recommendations

  • Cut back on the consumption of coffee, alcohol and soft drinks. These drinks can increase magnesium wastage and reduce magnesium absorption.
  • Cut back on processed and junk foods. Heavy processing will remove many minerals found in food.
  • Reduce sodium consumption. Sodium competes with magnesium for ion channels.
  • Soak beans and grains before cooking. Soaking can reduce phytic acid found in high concentrations in beans and grains. Phytic acid interferes with magnesium absorption in the gut.
  • Steam raw greens like spinach and chard to remove the oxalic acid content. Oxalic acid also interferes with magnesium absorption.
  • Try to remove stressors in your life. Easier said than done, but dealing with the root causes of stress and anxiety will help improve magnesium digestion (IBS is often stress-induced) and reduce magnesium wastage. You can measure levels of the stress hormone cortisol through a non-invasive saliva test.
  • Increase your consumption of organic greens. Look for organic greens grown with natural, organic fertilizer. Artificial fertilizers are rich in nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, but usually poor in magnesium. Joining a community-sponsored agriculture program is a great way to access locally-grown greens.
  • Add more raw nuts and seeds into your diet. Nuts and seeds can be eaten raw, have low phytic acid compared to other plant-based foods, and are easy to snack on.

Taking an oral magnesium supplement consistently is an easy way to improve your magnesium levels.

Once you’ve started making these changes, go through the checklist again (and perhaps do another RBC magnesium test) to verify improvements.

Back to top