On this page

Magnesium deficiency and low magnesium symptoms

Mum and children playing in their garden
On this page

Magnesium deficiency

The human body needs to consume a healthy, balanced diet containing essential nutrients to function properly and stay healthy. Not consuming enough vitamins and minerals can cause a deficiency, which – if not addressed – may lead to chronic health issues.

Having a magnesium deficiency is rare but if you aren’t consuming enough magnesium in your diet you may notice that you develop certain symptoms.

What is magnesium?

Magnesium is an important component of our diet that has hundreds of functions within the body. It is a metallic element that occurs naturally within lots of different foods, including wholemeal bread, spinach and nuts.

Magnesium helps our bodies convert the food we eat into energy, and to maintain good bone health. There is also some evidence to suggest that magnesium can help to reduce the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular issues, and ease anxiety, stress and depression. However if you are feeling anxious or experiencing low moods speak to your GP.

According to guidance from the NHS, men aged 19-64 should have 300mg of magnesium per day, while women aged 19-64 should have 270mg. If you don’t think you’re getting enough magnesium in your diet, you can take supplements, but you shouldn’t take more than 400mg as this can cause side effects such as diarrhoea.

Shop supplements

Who is at risk of magnesium deficiency?

You may develop a magnesium deficiency simply as a result of eating a restricted or unbalanced diet that is low in vegetables and nuts.

However, some people are more prone to have low magnesium levels because they have another health condition, or because they’re taking certain medicines.

You may be at risk of low magnesium if you:

  • Have a gastrointestinal condition such as Crohn’s disease or coeliac disease
  • Have poorly managed type 2 diabetes
  • Have a kidney disorder
  • Have chronic alcoholism
  • Are taking certain medications e.g. proton pump inhibitors, diuretics

Symptoms of magnesium deficiency

Low magnesium symptoms are usually mild to begin with, and may be easily confused with other common illnesses. They include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fatigue, and weakness.

As the deficiency progresses, it may lead to low calcium and low potassium, and cause other more distinctive symptoms.

Muscle twitches and cramps

A common symptom of magnesium deficiency is twitching and cramping in the muscles. In more severe cases, this could progress into seizures or convulsions.

Muscle weakness

It’s thought that low potassium (which can be a side effect of low magnesium) can cause muscle weakness.

Abnormal heart rhythms and coronary spasms

Low magnesium can cause some heart symptoms. These include pain, tightness and pressure in the chest, and an irregular or unusually fast heart rate.

Complications of low magnesium

If a magnesium deficiency persists it may heighten your risk of certain serious conditions including:

For this reason, it’s important to visit the doctor if you think you have a magnesium deficiency, particularly if you are in a high-risk group.

Sources of magnesium

It’s easy to get more magnesium into your diet, as foods that contain good levels of magnesium are generally suitable for everyone (excepting certain allergies and intolerances).

You can consume more magnesium by adding more wholegrains, leafy greens (e.g. spinach), nuts, avocados and dark chocolate to your diet – click here for a more extensive list.

Additionally, you can try taking magnesium supplements. These are readily available from high street pharmacies and health food shops, and are generally designed to be taken once a day. Look for a product such as Nutri Within magnesium that offers a dosage of 400mg or less, as this is the daily limit recommended by the NHS.

Always consult your healthcare professional before taking any food supplements, especially if you are taking medication or have an existing medical condition. Also remember that You should not take supplements as a substitute for a varied, balanced diet or a healthy lifestyle.