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Magnesium deficiency symptoms: are my levels low?


Magnesium deficiency affects 10 to 20 per cent of the world’s population. It is one of the most important nutrients for energy production in the human body and is furthermore responsible for 300 other reactions, including muscle relaxation and stimulation. This mineral can be found in numerous plant-based foods and beverages.

Imagine shaking someone’s hand – after which you’re more or less written off for the rest of the day; your muscles are weak and your body lacks energy. This is what would happen if there was no magnesium in your body. If you don’t get enough magnesium from your diet, do a lot of exercise or are pregnant, your risk of developing a magnesium deficiency increases.

Let us talk to you about magnesium benefits as well as about low magnesium symptoms and magnesium deficiency causes. If you suspect you may have a magnesium deficiency, we can tell you how to have your levels tested and how to treat a magnesium deficiency with either supplements or magnesium-rich food.

What is magnesium?

Magnesium is an essential mineral for the body, which we ingest via our diet. Your body stores magnesium mainly in the bones, where about 60 per cent of the total magnesium content is found, followed by the muscles with 25 to 30 per cent.[1, 2]

Did you know that the earth’s crust consists of two per cent magnesium? As a result, the magnesium content in seawater is especially high. At the beginning of evolution, all life developed in the sea, and scientists suspect that, for this reason, almost all functions in organisms are dependent on magnesium.[1]

Magnesium benefits: what effect does magnesium have on the body?

Without magnesium, the body would be unable to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the body’s most important energy supplier with which all metabolic processes take place in the body. With the help of magnesium, muscles are also able to tighten and relax. In addition to calcium, magnesium plays an important role in the formation of bones and teeth.[3] Magnesium has the most important task in our heart: it ensures we have a regular heartbeat.[4]

Did you know that vitamin D deficiency and magnesium deficiency are among the most common nutrient deficiencies in developed countries – and they also affect each other. If you suffer from a vitamin D deficiency, magnesium intake is inhibited. Conversely, a magnesium deficiency can lead to a vitamin D deficiency.[5]

How does magnesium help with muscles?

magnesium deficiency due to sports

One of the many magnesium benefits is that it helps build muscle. This mineral stimulates protein biosynthesis – a process that enables muscle growth. British researchers observed in a study that volunteers who took magnesium supplements for a year after working out were able to build up more muscle.

Magnesium also supports fat loss, as the mineral strengthens the activity of fat-degrading enzymes. It is recommended you take magnesium after exercise.[6, 7]

How much magnesium do I need per day?

According to recommendations from the NHS, men should consume 300 milligrammes of magnesium daily and women 270 milligrammes.[35] The daily requirement of magnesium increases to 310 milligrammes during pregnancy and 390 milligrammes during breastfeeding.[8]

To find out more about the ideal diet during pregnancy or breastfeeding, head over to our dedicated blog article now!

What are typical magnesium deficiency causes?

According to the German Federal Center for Nutrition, every fifth citizen of a European industrialised country consumes only 30 per cent of the recommended daily magnesium amount.[12] In adolescents and young adults, up to 40 per cent actually consume too little magnesium.

Nutritional surveys of people in Europe and the United States revealed that people there consume less magnesium than recommended by health authorities – despite fortified foods.[6]

What leads to a magnesium deficiency?

Studies have shown that the following factors are among the main magnesium deficiency causes:[11, 13]

  • An unbalanced diet
  • A greater magnesium requirement during pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause
  • Lots of exercise
  • Chronic intestinal or kidney diseases and diabetes
  • Diarrhoea
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Medication intake: proton pump inhibitors, birth control pills, antibiotics

Magnesium deficiency in athletes: does exercise cause magnesium deficiency?

Researchers found that marathon runners lose a significant amount of magnesium. One study revealed that they had less magnesium in their urine after a competition than before – these researchers therefore concluded that all people excrete more magnesium in their urine after strong physical exercise.[14] The body needs more energy during exercise – and thus up to 20 per cent more magnesium.[15, 16]

Athletes often find that they need to increase their nutrient intake in other areas. Supplements for athletes often additionally contain creatine, iron and B vitamins – among numerous other nutrients.

What is the link between a magnesium deficiency and pregnancy?

Studies have shown that consuming magnesium during pregnancy reduces the risk of premature birth. Magnesium relaxes the muscles of the uterus and prevents contractions and preterm labour. [31, 32]

Scientists have discovered that pregnant women and their children benefit further from sufficient magnesium intake. Among other things, the mineral can ensure that the child is born with a healthy birth weight. Magnesium also protects the child from possible brain damage.[32, 34]

What are typical magnesium deficiency symptoms?

Typical magnesium deficiency symptoms include eye twitches and calf cramps – everyone is familiar with these. If our body lacks magnesium, other symptoms can also emerge, including:[17]

  • Tingling and numbness
  • Fatigue, insomnia, poor performance
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Restlessness, difficulty concentrating, depressive moods

In addition, a long-term effects of magnesium deficiency can be calcified blood vessels and kidneys, cardiac arrhythmia and heart pain.[4]

banner to magnesium deficiency test

Is there a test for magnesium deficiency?

If you suspect you might be suffering from magnesium deficiency, you shouldn’t hesitate to test your magnesium levels – and not only the serum, but all of your blood. With a mineral deficiency test, you can test not only your magnesium levels, but also your zinc and selenium levels too. All this requires is usually a painless blood sample – taken either at your doctor’s or within the comfort of your own home with a home health test kit.

With an at-home magnesium deficiency test, you can expect to receive results informing you of your magnesium levels and optimal magnesium levels as a reference value – 1.38 to 1.50 millimoles per litre (corresponding to 34 to 36 milligrammes per litre) is considered an ideal magnesium level.[29]

What can the results of a magnesium deficiency test tell me?

If you have a magnesium deficiency, your body will combat it – by making using of your magnesium reserves (about 20 to 25 grammes), which are mostly found in your bones. The magnesium from your bones migrates into the blood.

Therefore, it is possible that the blood analysis from your magnesium deficiency test initially shows values within the normal range – even when a magnesium deficiency already exists. Only when your magnesium reserves are exhausted will this be reflected in your blood test. A low magnesium value can therefore already be an indication of a significant magnesium deficiency.[30]

Low magnesium treatment: what can I do?

To effectively combat magnesium deficiency, the consumption of magnesium-rich food and magnesium supplements can help.

What are examples of magnesium-rich food?

What are magnesium-rich foods

Many plant-based foods are also magnesium-rich food. Pumpkin and sunflower seeds, almonds, amaranth, quinoa and oat flakes are full of magnesium. Wholegrain cereals, cocoa, bananas and pulses such as soybeans and peas also contain a lot of magnesium.[9] The results of the National Consumption Study show that we absorb a large part of our magnesium through mineral water, tea, coffee and beer.[10]

How much magnesium our intestines absorb depends on how much is already present in the body: the lower our magnesium levels, the more minerals are absorbed by our intestines.[6]

Food manufacturers have been enriching foods with magnesium for several years – especially those that naturally contain little magnesium. These include dairy products and some beverages. As a rule, about 15 per cent of the recommended daily dose is contained in 100 grammes, 100 millilitres or a portion pack.[11]

Magnesium-rich food: replenish your magnesium reserves

If you want to top up your magnesium reserves, two servings of fruit and two servings of vegetables a day are enough, as well as plenty of whole-grain products. You can also eat a handful of nuts throughout the day for a magnesium-rich snack.[18]

Magnesium supplement benefits: which type of magnesium is best?

With a magnesium deficiency, magnesium supplements are also an option you should consider. Magnesium is present in a variety of compounds, and no research has yet tested all the compounds and compared which one is best suited to various health conditions. Studies have shown that the following magnesium compounds should be considered as supplements:[19, 21]

  • Magnesium citrate
  • Magnesium glycinate
  • Magnesium orotate
  • Magnesium malate
  • Magnesium chloride

Generally, if you have a magnesium deficiency, you should use dietary supplements like these for two to three months.[22]

Which magnesium is best for me?

In general, all these compounds can help improve your magnesium levels. However, studies have shown that these compounds may also help against other ailments – this may make it easier for you to choose a dietary supplement:[4, 19, 23, 28]

Magnesium compound

Helps with

Magnesium citrate

Constipation, kidney stones

Magnesium carbonate


Magnesium glycinate

Sleeping disorders

Magnesium orotate (in combination with potassium)

Cardiac insufficiency, high blood pressure

Tip: If possible, take magnesium supplements throughout the day. It is best to consume them in the morning and evening. This improves absorption and reduces the risk of side effects.

Can you have too much magnesium?

In general, you should never take more than 400 milligrammes of magnesium per day in addition to your regular diet. According to the current recommendations of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), this is the maximum daily intake.

A dose of over 2,500 milligrammes per day can even have very dangerous side effects, such as a drop in blood pressure or muscle weakness. However, severe magnesium poisoning is rare.[11]

Magnesium deficiency – at a glance

What are the most important magnesium benefits?

Magnesium is a mineral that stimulates the body’s own energy production and helps to transmit stimuli between cells. It also supports your heart muscles.

Magnesium-rich food include nuts, quinoa, amaranth, wholegrain cereals and mineral water.

Who needs to increase their magnesium intake?

Athletes, pregnant and breastfeeding women, people with chronic diseases and the elderly have an increased need for magnesium. Excessive consumption of alcohol and nicotine also leads to a higher magnesium requirement.

What are typical magnesium deficiency symptoms?

Muscle cramps, low energy, headaches and nervousness can indicate a magnesium deficiency.

Which magnesium supplements are recommended?

Magnesium supplements containing the compounds magnesium citrate, magnesium glycinate, magnesium orotate and magnesium malate are best absorbed by the body.


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  20. Coudray, C., Rambeau, M., Feillet-Coudray, C., Gueux, E., Tressol, J. C., Mazur, A., Rayssiguier, Y. ‘Study of magnesium bioavailability from ten organic and inorganic Mg salts in Mg-depleted rats using a stable isotope approach’, Magnes Res. 18, pp. 215–223, 2005
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