Medical Conditions

Magnesium: causes and symptoms of magnesium deficiency

Written by

Anna Roell
10 October, 2023

Medically checked article All HOMED-IQ content is reviewed by medical specialists

Our bodies are incredibly complex systems that rely on a variety of nutrients and minerals to function optimally. One of these important minerals is magnesium. In this article, we’ll highlight everything you need to know about magnesium, from its function in your body to the symptoms and causes of a deficiency. Interested in checking your magnesium levels? Homed-IQ’s Magnesium Test allows you to test easily from home.

Table of contents

What is magnesium?

Magnesium is an essential mineral that is vital for health and well-being. It is the fourth most abundant mineral in our bodies and plays a key role in over 300 enzymatic reactions, ranging from energy production to muscle and nerve function. Four major organs play a role in maintaining healthy magnesium levels. While the small and large intestines absorb magnesium from the food we eat, the bones serve as the primary storage site for magnesium. The kidneys also play an important role by excreting magnesium from the body through the urine (Cleveland Clinic, 2022).

What is the function of magnesium in the body?

The functions of magnesium in the human body are varied and extensive, including:

  • Energy production: Magnesium helps our cells produce energy. It works with certain proteins (enzymes) to make ATP – which is the energy our cells use to function.
  • Protein production: Magnesium helps our bodies make proteins. Proteins are like the building blocks of the body – they are the main component of our tissues and organs.
  • Nerve and muscle function: Magnesium helps our nerves and muscles work properly. It allows nerves to send signals for muscles to contract and relax.
  • Heart Health: Magnesium is important for maintaining a healthy heart. It helps keep our heartbeat regular and regulate our blood pressure.
  • Bone health: Much of the magnesium in our bodies is stored in our bones. This helps our bones stay strong, stable, and healthy.
  • Electrolyte balance: Electrolytes are essential minerals required for many vital body functions. Magnesium is an electrolyte that has a direct effect on the balance of other electrolytes, including sodium, calcium, and potassium. Appropriate levels of electrolytes are essential as they regulate nerve and muscle function, hydrate the body, balance blood acidity and pressure, and help rebuild damaged tissue.

Source: NIH, 2022

How much magnesium do I need?

The recommended daily intake for magnesium varies depending on age, gender, and other conditions such as being pregnant or breastfeeding.

  • Generally, an intake of 310-420 milligrams (mg) per day is suggested for adults.
  • Depending on their age, children need between 30-240 mg.
  • Higher magnesium intake is recommended for pregnant and lactating women. For pregnant women aged 18-30, the recommended daily intake is 350 mg and for those over 30, 360 mg. Lactating women in the same age ranges need 310 and 320 mg per day, respectively.

Source: NIH, 2022

What is a magnesium deficiency?

Magnesium deficiency, also called hypomagnesemia, occurs when magnesium levels in the body are too low. This can lead to a variety of symptoms, ranging from mild to severe.

What are the symptoms of magnesium deficiency?

Symptoms of magnesium deficiency can vary depending on how severe the deficiency is and how long it lasts. Some people may have no symptoms at all, particularly if the deficiency is mild or has not existed for a long time. Early signs of magnesium deficiency include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue and weakness

More severe symptoms include:

  • Muscle cramps and spasms and numbness in the hands and feet
  • Nervousness and anxiety
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Heart problems and cardiac arrhythmias
  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches and migraines

It is important to note that many of these symptoms can also be caused by other health problems. If you notice some or more of these symptoms, see a doctor to determine the exact cause.

Source: Gragossian et al, 2023

What are the causes of magnesium deficiency?

Magnesium deficiency can occur for a variety of reasons. Although anyone can develop a deficiency, some people are more at risk. Risk factors for magnesium deficiency include:

  • Malnutrition: People who do not eat enough magnesium-rich foods, as well as people who suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, risk magnesium deficiency.
  • Chronic diseases: Certain diseases can impair the body’s ability to absorb magnesium. These include type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders such as persistent diarrhea, and autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease.
  • Medications: Some medications, such as diuretics, can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb magnesium or lower magnesium levels.
  • Alcohol abuse: Prolonged alcohol consumption can damage the digestive system, affecting the body’s ability to absorb magnesium and other nutrients. Alcohol also increases the excretion of magnesium by the kidneys, which lowers magnesium levels in the body.
  • Age: Older people tend to eat fewer magnesium rich foods, and the body’s ability to absorb magnesium decreases with age. Older adults are also more likely to take medications that lower magnesium levels, which can increase their risk of deficiency.
  • Intense exercise: people who regularly participate in intense exercise lose more magnesium through sweating and have higher energy demands due to physical exertion, making them more susceptible to magnesium deficiency (Volpe, 2015).

Source: Sherell, 2022

Individuals who are in a risk group for deficiency should check their magnesium levels regularly, make sure they are eating enough magnesium-rich foods, or take supplements after consulting with a doctor.

Would you like to check your magnesium levels from home? Homed-IQ’s Athlete Test is a laboratory blood test for magnesium and other biomarkers that play a role in athletic performance. This test is especially useful for athletes and active people who want to regularly monitor their magnesium levels and parameters such as iron levels. If you would like to specifically test your magnesium levels, try Homed-IQ’s Magnesium Test.

Can magnesium deficiency increase the risk of chronic diseases?

As magnesium plays an important role in many body functions, a prolonged deficiency can increase the risk of several health problems. Magnesium deficiency is associated with a higher risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and migraines (NIH, 2022).

How is magnesium deficiency diagnosed?

Magnesium deficiency is usually diagnosed using a blood test. Tests of other electrolytes, such as calcium, sodium, and potassium, are sometimes also performed.

How is magnesium deficiency treated?

Treatment for magnesium deficiency usually focuses on addressing any underlying causes and restoring normal magnesium levels in the body. This can be done by eating more magnesium-rich foods or taking magnesium supplements (Cleveland Clinic, 2022). If you are diagnosed with a magnesium deficiency, your doctor will guide you on how best to treat it.

Can magnesium levels be too high?

Hypermagnesemia is when the concentration of magnesium in the blood is too high. This condition is quite rare and usually only occurs in people who take magnesium in very high doses, such as from certain medications or supplements, or in people with certain health conditions that affect kidney function.

It is important for people who take supplements containing magnesium to follow the recommended daily dose and to consult their doctor about whether supplements are necessary in order to avoid hypermagnesemia (Barrell, 2017).


Magnesium plays a crucial role in many body processes. A deficiency can cause a variety of unpleasant symptoms and increase the risk for chronic health problems over time. Maintaining adequate magnesium levels through a balanced diet, healthy lifestyle, and supplements when appropriate is important for overall health and well-being.


Biggers, A. (n.d.). Hypomagnesemia: What to know about low magnesium. Medical News Today. Retrieved July 5, 2023, from

Falck, S. (2017, November 10). Hypomagnesemia (Low Magnesium): Symptoms, Causes, and Diagnosis. Healthline. Retrieved July 5, 2023, from

Gragossian, A., Bashir, K., & et al. (2023). Hypomagnesemia. National Library of Medicine.

Hypomagnesemia: What It Is, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment. (2022, June 14). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved July 5, 2023, from

Luo, E. K., & Barrell, A. (2017, July 12). Hypermagnesemia (high magnesium): Symptoms, treatment, and more. Medical News Today. Retrieved July 5, 2023, from

Magnesium – Health Professional Fact Sheet. (2022, June 2). NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. Retrieved July 5, 2023, from

25 Magnesium-Rich Foods You Should Be Eating. (2023, March 17). Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials. Retrieved July 5, 2023, from

Volpe, S. L. (2015). Magnesium and the Athlete. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 14(4), 279-283.

About the author

Anna Roell

Anna is a trained nurse and health economist specializing in epidemiology, combining her medical and scientific interests. Her goal is to improve others' understanding of medical information and to communicate it in an understandable way. Anna is originally from Germany and now lives in Amsterdam. What she appreciates most about Amsterdam is the open-minded, active attitude of the people, the markets, and the beautiful nature in the areas surrounding Amsterdam.