8 sign that you have magnesium deficiency
Some supplements are more confusing than others. It’s clear what you’re getting with a bottle of fish oil. And then there are those like vitamin D, which has two forms. If you thought that was confusing, enter magnesium with its seven different forms. It’s no wonder that a study from 2005-2006 found that 48% of Americans are not hitting their recommended intake through food (Rosanoff, 2012), though true magnesium deficiency or hypomagnesemia affects less than 2% of the population (Guerrera, 2009).
But even if many of us are skirting the line of a clinical magnesium deficiency, it’s not to be taken lightly. Magnesium is both a mineral and an electrolyte that’s essential for our bodies to function. It plays a key role in keeping our heartbeat steady, regulating our blood pressure, and building and maintaining strong bones. And if that isn’t enough to convince you to pay more attention to this tiny-but-mighty mineral, magnesium is also required for proper muscle and nerve function, energy production, DNA replication, and RNA synthesis.
- Magnesium is both a mineral and an electrolyte that’s essential for our bodies to function.
- A study from 2005-2006 found that 48% of Americans are not hitting their recommended intake through food.
- True magnesium deficiency or hypomagnesemia affects less than 2% of the population.
- Type 2 diabetes, refeeding syndrome, hungry bone syndrome, and genetic kidney problems also increase your risk of developing hypomagnesemia.
What you need to know about magnesium deficiency or hypomagnesemia
Hypomagnesemia, which is defined as serum magnesium, the amount present in your blood at the time of testing, being less than 1.8 mg/dL, is rare. But too many of us in the United States aren’t getting enough magnesium and are flirting with the line of deficiency. It’s difficult to catch a deficiency, and all too easy to be misdiagnosed as symptoms don’t become obvious until your magnesium levels are extremely low. And while a diet rich in healthy foods can generally meet your daily recommended intake, that’s not always enough to prevent a problem.
People suffering from certain health problems have an increased risk of magnesium deficiency. Digestive disorders, such as celiac disease, can increase gastrointestinal loss of the crucial mineral and limit magnesium absorption. Type 2 diabetes (Barbagallo, 2015), refeeding syndrome, hungry bone syndrome, and genetic kidney problems also increase your risk of developing hypomagnesemia (although some of these are very rare).
Signs of magnesium deficiency you should know
Magnesium deficiency can be hard to diagnose. We already mentioned that some of the signs don’t appear until your low magnesium levels are critical. But another hurdle patients face is getting to the root cause with their healthcare practitioners. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency tend to be nonspecific, so medical professionals may suspect other conditions or deficiencies. But if you know the signs and symptoms, you can better identify when you should seek out medical help and advocate for yourself in-office.
Loss of appetite
This is generally the first sign of hypomagnesemia, according to Dr. Hunnes. She underscores that this is one of the nonspecific symptoms that can be hard to pin down, and it can come together with the next point on our list.
Nausea and/or vomiting
Another of the nonspecific magnesium deficiency symptoms. “You might just think you ate something bad,” Dr. Hunnes notes of this sign of low magnesium. Note what you’re feeling so you can accurately report to your healthcare professional, but keep an eye out for other symptoms that can be paired together to shed light on what’s going on.
Everyone feels fatigued from time to time. But if you’re feeling persistent fatigue that doesn’t get better with adequate rest and quality sleep, it’s time to take notes and see a professional. It’s worth noting, though, that fatigue isn’t enough to diagnose you since it’s such a nonspecific symptom of low magnesium levels.
You’ll likely pair fatigue with weakness. Since this mineral plays a crucial role in proper muscle functioning—more on that in a second—an inadequate magnesium intake is likely to cause myasthenia, the fancy name for muscle weakness (Caddell, 2001). This happens because magnesium deficiency is associated with a drop in potassium levels in muscle cells, also called hypokalemia (Huang, 2007). Scientists believe it’s this loss of potassium that causes muscle weakness.
Muscle spasms and cramps
With the rise of workout culture, more people are aware that muscle cramps are a sign of magnesium deficiency. Magnesium plays a crucial role in helping muscles relax and regulating muscle contractions (Potter, 1981). In fact, you might have heard about or tried an Epsom salt bath after an intense gym session, which is one form of this important mineral: magnesium sulfate. But a deficiency can cause physical effects far beyond cramping, like tremors and even seizures.
Unfortunately, for older adults experiencing cramping, getting rid of the muscular discomfort isn’t as easy as supplementing with magnesium even though studies show the mineral can help relieve cramps and twitches in other groups of people that are deficient (Garrison, 2012). Magnesium deficiency can also cause a secondary deficiency, hypocalcemia, or lack of calcium, which also causes muscle spasm and cramps. So truly getting rid of them likely requires the correction of both conditions.
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