The chemical element magnesium is essential to all living cells. It is the eleventh most abundant element in the universe and the fourth most abundant element in the Earth's crust. It is an essential mineral nutrient used by the body to maintain nerve and muscle function, and also serves as a key regulator of blood sugar levels.
Deficient levels of the element can cause a diverse number of complications within the body – the medical term for this condition is hypomagnesemia, and here we will first explain what exactly it is, what common symptoms readers should look out for, how worried parties can go about getting a diagnosis, and what the treatment commonly entails.
What Is Hypomagnesemia?
Medically, magnesium deficiencies are called hypomagnesemia. Hypomagnesemia is generally defined as magnesium levels under 0.75 mmol/L in your blood. The vast majority of people who are magnesium deficient are not getting enough from their diet. However, some conditions can increase magnesium loss from the body, which can lead to deficiency.
Common examples of these include gastrointestinal disorders (such as Crohn’s disease), and type 2 diabetes, but the potential for interference with magnesium absorption exists for many more disorders that affect intestinal and kidney function within the body.
Diuretics, chemotherapy drugs, some antibiotics, and select antifungal injections can also cause deficient magnesium levels by interfering with magnesium absorption.
Excessive drug use, as in the case of alcohol, is another risk factor.
Symptoms of Hypomagnesemia
Since magnesium plays a key role in a number of biological processes within the body, magnesium deficiency can affect people in many different ways. These range from fatigue, nausea, muscle cramps, and seizures to more cognitive issues like loss of appetite and changes in your personality.
Other, less obvious symptoms include deficiencies in other substances commonly found in the blood that may be the result of hypomagnesemia. Chiefly among these are calcium and potassium.
It is important to note that symptoms rarely appear in people whose magnesium deficiency is minor, meaning that if you do experience symptoms, your levels have likely fallen to critical levels. If left untreated, hypomagnesemia can also result in more severe and possible chronic conditions – from migraines to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis.
Magnesium Deficiency Diagnosis
If you present with two or more of the symptoms above, be sure to see your primary healthcare provider as soon as possible. Your doctor may ask you about your diet and nutritional intake.
A blood test will determine the level of magnesium in your blood and whether or not you are magnesium deficient. Blood levels below 1.8 mg/dL are generally considered to be magnesium deficient, and levels under 1.25 mg/dL would be considered very severe cases of hypomagnesemia.
Long Term Problems Associated With Magnesium Deficiency
Chronic magnesium deficiency can lead to a number of long-term health problems, including:
Cardiovascular disease - Long-term magnesium deficiency can lead to a build-up of plaque in the arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Osteoporosis - Magnesium is needed for the healthy development and maintenance of bones. Low magnesium levels can lead to bone loss and increase the risk of fractures.
Kidney damage - Magnesium is essential for the healthy function of the kidneys. Low magnesium levels can lead to kidney failure.
Type 2 diabetes - Magnesium is involved in the processing of glucose and insulin. Low magnesium levels can lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Asthma - Magnesium is involved in the relaxation of muscles, including the muscles that line the airways. Low magnesium levels can lead to airway constriction and asthma attacks.
If you have any of these long-term health problems, and you think you may be magnesium deficient, be sure to speak with your doctor. He or she can help you correct the magnesium deficiency and may recommend specific treatments or interventions to improve your health.
When To See a Doctor
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency, it is important to see your doctor as soon as possible. Magnesium deficiency can lead to a number of long-term health problems, so it is important to get it corrected as soon as possible.
Blood work will be done to see if you are deficient and a solution or magnesium supplement will probably be prescribed.
Magnesium Deficiency Treatment
Treatment largely depends on the severity of the deficiency, potential comorbidities, and your healthcare provider’s particular treatment philosophy.
Minor deficiencies which do not generally result in immediately apparent symptoms can often not see any treatment at all, with doctors instead suggesting dietary changes that will round outpatients daily nutritional intake by including more magnesium.
In some cases, doctors may also prescribe magnesium supplements. Magnesium supplements are available in several forms, including magnesium oxide, citrate, and chloride. Magnesium is also included in some combination vitamin-mineral supplements.
If symptoms are present and your doctor suspects critically low levels of magnesium, they may also feed magnesium into your body intravenously. In such cases, follow-up prescriptions for oral magnesium supplements are also relatively common.
Dietary adjustments meant to increase magnesium levels usually involve the consumption of legumes, whole grains, nuts, and green vegetables.
It is important to note that magnesium is not found in large quantities in many of these foods. For example, one cup of cooked black beans contains only 120 mg of magnesium, and one cup of raw spinach contains only 24 mg of magnesium. Therefore, it is important to eat a variety of foods that contain magnesium to ensure adequate levels are reached.
If you do suspect that you are suffering from hypomagnesemia and plan to self-medicate with supplemental magnesium, be sure to stay below the maximum recommended amount for adults (350 mg), and excess magnesium can be just as dangerous as a magnesium deficiency.
Specifically, high levels of magnesium can lead to a condition called magnesium toxicity, which can cause low blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, depression, and lethargy. If left untreated, symptoms can progress to muscle weakness, difficulty breathing, irregular heartbeat, and ultimately cardiac arrest. Therefore, it is important to speak with a healthcare professional before taking supplemental magnesium if you are not already taking it as prescribed by your doctor.
Foods Rich in Magnesium
Some of the best sources of magnesium include legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and leafy green vegetables.
Here are some specific foods that are high in magnesium:
- Legumes: black beans, navy beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils
- Nuts: almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios
- Seeds: pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flaxseeds
- Whole grains: quinoa, oats, brown rice, buckwheat
- Leafy green vegetables: spinach, Swiss chard, kale, collard greens, broccoli
How To Boost Magnesium Intake
If you're looking for ways to boost your magnesium intake, there are a few things you can do.
First, try to include some of the foods listed above in your diet. Magnesium is found in a wide variety of plant-based foods, so eating a varied diet is a good way to ensure you're getting enough.
Another way to boost your magnesium intake is to take a magnesium supplement. This can be especially helpful if you don't eat many of the foods that are high in magnesium.
Finally, you can also try to relax and reduce stress in your life. Stress can deplete magnesium levels, so taking time for yourself to relax can help increase your magnesium levels.
While relieving stress isn't easy, you can start with some simple things that are proven to work, like yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises. Small changes can make big differences over time, so don't be discouraged if it takes a little bit of time to see results.
Some great sources of magnesium include leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. However, if you find that you are still deficient after increasing your intake of these foods, then you may need to consider taking a magnesium supplement.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency, it is best to consult with a healthcare professional to get a diagnosis. From there, a treatment plan can be devised that may involve increasing your magnesium intake through diet or supplementation.
This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical or other professional advice. Your specific circumstances should be discussed with a healthcare provider. All statements of opinion represent the writers' judgement at the time of publication and are subject to change. Phoenix and its affiliates provide no express or implied endorsements of third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products, or services.