Every cell in the body requires magnesium. As a result, an extensive list of symptoms could result from a deficiency. The mineral is a key player in nerve and muscle function, blood sugar and blood pressure regulation, energy production, and the manufacture of protein, bone and genetic material. Magnesium also serves an important role in women's health. Adequate amounts are important for osteoporosis prevention and during pregnancy. Magnesium deficiency symptoms are the same in women and men, however.
Early Deficiency Symptoms
A November 2011 article in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" reported that American women who do not use dietary supplements consume an average of 234 mg of magnesium daily -- a shortfall compared to the recommended dietary allowance of 310 to 320 mg. But even the early deficiency symptoms of nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, weakness and fatigue are uncommon in otherwise healthy people with low magnesium intake. In the short term, the body compensates for low intake by reducing magnesium loss through the kidneys and increasing its absorption through the intestine. Serious magnesium deficiency is often caused by conditions or medications that reduce gut absorption or increase magnesium loss through the urine.
Severe Deficiency Symptoms
Low body stores of magnesium can cause a wide array of symptoms. Because this mineral is a key nutrient in muscle function, a deficiency may cause muscle weakness or cramping. A severe magnesium deficiency can also cause abnormal nerve function, with numbness or tingling. A low magnesium level may affect the heart, causing an irregular rhythm that may be noticed as a racing or pounding heartbeat. Chest pain may occur due to the irregular heartbeat or spasms of the arteries that provide blood to the heart. Seizures or personality changes can also occur, as a severe lack of magnesium can cause excessive electrical activity in the brain.
Magnesium Deficiency Without Symptoms
An article in the May 2013 issue of "Advances in Nutrition" noted that 60 percent of Americans consume less magnesium than the RDA. Long-term, inadequate intake of magnesium can gradually deplete body stores. But since the decline is gradual, typical deficiency symptoms may be absent. Even without symptoms, however, chronically low magnesium intake can pose health risks. A February 2012 review article in the "Clinical Kidney Journal" reports that low magnesium intake or blood levels are associated with increased risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and metabolic syndrome. People with metabolic syndrome have high blood pressure, excess body weight around the middle, and abnormal blood sugar and blood fat levels. These abnormalities increase their risk for diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Seek Medical Advice
The symptoms of magnesium deficiency can range from subtle or absent to serious and life-threatening. While any ongoing health concerns should be evaluated by a doctor, symptoms that warrant immediate attention include severe muscle spasms or weakness; persistent nausea or vomiting; seizures, personality changes or hallucinations; or heart-related symptoms such as chest pain, a pounding or racing heartbeat, dizziness, fainting or shortness of breath. Low body magnesium can have serious consequences if untreated. Thus, a medical workup is recommended for any suspected magnesium deficiency.
Is This an Emergency?
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Dietary Supplement Use Is Associated With Higher Intakes of Minerals From Food Sources
- National Institute of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements: Magnesium Fact Sheet for Health Professionals
- Clinical Kidney Journal: Magnesium Basics
- Advances in Nutrition: Magnesium in Disease Prevention and Overall Health
- Handbook of Nutrition and Food, 3rd Edition: Carolyn D. Berdanier, et al.
- Clinical Kidney Journal: Magnesium in Disease