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Magnesium deficiency can cause many health problems including anxiety, depression, type 2 diabetes, fatigue, irregular heartbeat, osteoporosis, as well as many other mental and physical issues.
This is a vital nutrient that your body cannot do without, yet magnesium deficiency is a common and worldwide problem and up to 75% of Americans do not meet their dietary requirements. 
In this article, you’ll learn what are the causes, signs, and symptoms of a magnesium deficiency, as well as the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) and the best sources of magnesium.
Table of Contents
What is Magnesium?
Magnesium is an essential mineral and electrolyte that your body needs, but cannot produce, so a magnesium deficiency is a health issue.
It is also one of seven essential macro-minerals like calcium and potassium, that the human body requires in relatively large quantities compared to other minerals.
Since your body does not produce essential nutrients like magnesium, we need to supply these through food.
Magnesium plays a role in many important bodily processes, ranging from energy production, muscle and nerve function, regulation of heartbeat, kidney functioning, blood glucose control, bone and teeth structure, DNA replication, and protein synthesis.
In fact, magnesium is needed for every cell function from the gut to the brain and has a critical part in over 300 biochemical functions in the body. So, for your body to even function the way it is supposed to, you need optimal levels of this mineral.
What’s more, magnesium is super important for mental health.
But all these vast and seemingly unrelated functions of magnesium in your body, also make it hard for doctors to pinpoint magnesium deficiency as the source of a particular health issue.
As such, magnesium deficiency is often an overlooked health problem.
Causes of Magnesium Deficiency
Magnesium deficiency usually occurs if your body does not absorb enough of this mineral, or if your body is releasing too much magnesium through your kidneys and intestines. The most common examples of this include the following:
As an essential nutrient, your body needs magnesium to function properly. Essential nutrients MUST be supplied through food. Therefore, one of the main causes of magnesium deficiency is a poor diet that is low in this mineral, which usually includes too many processed foods and simple sugars.
High Protein Diet
Also, excessive protein intake can cause increased urinary loss of magnesium, while the fat content in high-protein foods can reduce its absorption.
Mental or physical stress causes magnesium to be released from your cells and from there, it is excreted into the urine. The greater your level of stress, the greater the loss of magnesium. This is why chronic stress can lead to magnesium deficiency. Also, low levels of magnesium make you more reactive to stress, creating a vicious cycle.
Since most nutrients are absorbed in the small intestines, health issues that affect the intestines are also likely to cause malabsorption of minerals, including magnesium. For example, leaky gut syndrome, chronic diarrhea, and diseases such as celiac disease and Crohn’s disease.
Type II Diabetes
High glucose levels can lead to increased urination, releasing too much magnesium in the process. Hence people suffering from type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance are more at risk of developing magnesium deficiencies.
Most chronic illnesses are associated with magnesium deficiency and lack of mineral absorption in general.
Over time medication use can damage the gut lining, which is responsible for absorbing magnesium from the food that we eat.
As a person ages, mineral absorption tends to decrease leading to a higher probability of magnesium deficiency.
Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to imbalances of electrolytes or nutrients, and it may cause the body to release more magnesium than usual. Alcoholics, therefore, have a higher risk of magnesium deficiency.
Signs and Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency
Now that we have covered possible causes of magnesium deficiency, it’s time to consider some of its common signs and symptoms.
Optimal levels of magnesium promote calmness and relaxation for body and mind. This is because magnesium plays an important part in the function of GABA, which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter known to “calm” the brain and relax the body.
So, a deficiency in magnesium affects the GABA cycle in the body, leading to side effects such as irritability and nervousness, common in anxiety. As magnesium deficiency worsens, anxiety symptoms get worse.
If you are suffering from anxiety, research shows that taking magnesium supplements can help calm the body, improve mood, and if consumed daily can overtime reduce anxiety as well. 
Magnesium is important for mental health and several studies have shown that magnesium deficiency can also be a symptom of depression. [3, 4, 5]
As is the case with anxiety, magnesium supplements can help with depression, by aiding recovery and even acting as an anti-depressant. 
Research shows that magnesium deficiency in children with ADHD occurs more frequently than in healthy children. 
Further, supplementing ADHD children with magnesium results in reduced hyperactivity. 
4. Brain Fog
Mental fog or brain fog is a general term used to describe a series of symptoms such as short-term memory problems, lack of concentration, or mental clarity.
Everyone can experience this from time to time, but brain fog on a regular basis might be the result of nutrient deficiencies or some other health problem.
Magnesium deficiency can be a sign of memory problems and brain fog, as increasing magnesium through diet and supplements can improve these symptoms.
Magnesium plays a role in supporting deep, restorative sleep by maintaining healthy levels of GABA, and this is why insomnia is a common symptom of magnesium deficiency.
People with low levels of magnesium often experience restless sleep and waking up frequently during the night.
Taking magnesium supplements can improve sleep quality, especially in people with irregular sleep patterns. Magnesium can also help insomnia that is linked to the sleep disorder restless-leg syndrome. 
6. Irregular Heartbeat
Another sign of magnesium deficiency is heart arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat. 
In some people, arrhythmia can cause heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain, and light-headedness or fainting.
Research shows that taking magnesium supplements can reduce symptoms of arrhythmia. 
7. High Blood Pressure
Magnesium and calcium work together to support healthy levels of blood pressure that protect the heart.
However, people who are deficient in magnesium, are also likely to be low in calcium and are more prone to high blood pressure.
By the way, high blood pressure is a strong risk factor for heart disease and the cause of around 50 percent of ischemic strokes in the world.
The good news is that magnesium supplements can help lower blood pressure, especially in adults suffering from high blood pressure. [13, 14, 15]. Also, a diet high in magnesium foods can reduce the risk of a stroke. 
8. Type II Diabetes
Diabetes is one of the main causes of magnesium deficiency but it’s also a common symptom.
Research shows that low levels of magnesium are ten times more common with diabetics. 
However, diets rich in magnesium can significantly reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes because of magnesium’s role in sugar metabolism.
Further, magnesium supplementation can also lower the risk of diabetes. 
Fatigue, a term used to describe an overall feeling of physical or mental exhaustion or weakness, is another common symptom of magnesium deficiency.
This condition is not the same as simply feeling drowsy or sleepy. Even though everyone becomes fatigued from time to time, this can be usually resolved with rest. However, severe or persistent fatigue may be a sign of a health problem.
Low energy levels, feeling weak and suffering from fatigue are common symptoms of magnesium deficiency, and in fact, most people suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome are magnesium-deficient.
Magnesium deficiency is also associated with migraine headaches. Research shows that a daily dose of magnesium can reduce migraine headaches by up to 42 percent. 
Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by weak bones and a higher risk of bone fractures.
Risk factors for osteoporosis include old age, physical inactivity, deficiency in vitamin D and K, as well as magnesium deficiency.
A deficiency in magnesium can either directly weaken bones, or indirectly impact bone mass by lowering calcium, the main building block of bones. [19, 20, 21, 22]
However, supplementing magnesium can significantly slow down the development of osteoporosis, especially if are also supplementing Vitamin D3 and K2.
12. Muscle Twitches and Cramps
Restless leg syndrome, muscle twitches, and cramps are another sign of magnesium deficiency.  If you are suffering from this it is a good idea to supplement both magnesium and potassium.
How to Get Enough Magnesium
So, the next question is how much magnesium do we need. The table below shows all the various RDA figures for men and women in the United States.
Birth to 6 months
*Adequate intake Source: US National Institutes of Health
The RDA is slightly higher for women during pregnancy and when lactating:
- 14-18 years of age – 400mg during pregnancy and 360 mg when lactating
- 19-30 years of age – 350mg during pregnancy and 310 mg when lactating
- 31-50 years of age – 360mg during pregnancy and 320 mg when lactating
Best Food Sources of Magnesium
The best way to maintain healthy levels of magnesium is to eat magnesium-rich whole foods including:
Best Magnesium Supplements
If you believe you're magnesium-deficient, you can confirm this with a simple blood test. Also, speak with your doctor to rule out other possible health problems.
Irrespective of the outcome, try to regularly eat plenty of magnesium-rich foods such as whole grains, legumes, and seeds. These foods will nourish your cells with magnesium as well as other beneficial nutrients.
Additionally, you can also take a magnesium supplement.
But although there are various magnesium supplements on the market, the most effective variety is magnesium chloride powder (food, pharmaceutical or oral grade) as it absorbs easily. This type of magnesium is not popular due to its bitter taste, but if you want the best then this is it.
This is the only type of magnesium I use and recommend.
Magnesium chloride is easily absorbed orally and used to treat heartburn, constipation, and low magnesium levels
Pure Magnesium Chloride Crystal Powder, Highest Quality, Oral Supplement, Food & USP Pharmaceutical Grade
You might have difficulties getting on your hands on this supplement as it's often sold out, so make sure you bulk buy when it's available.
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