Low magnesium is known in research circles as the silent epidemic of our times.
Many of the symptoms of low magnesium are not unique to magnesium deficiency, making it difficult to diagnose with 100% accuracy. Thus quite often low magnesium levels go completely unrecognized… and untreated.
Yet chronic low intake of magnesium is not only extremely common but linked to several disease states, indicating the importance of considering both overt physical symptoms and the presence of other diseases and conditions when considering magnesium status.
Get answers below:
- What are the signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency?
- What’s the difference between mild and severe magnesium deficiency?
- When should you address signs of low magnesium?
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF MAGNESIUM DEFICIENCY?
Magnesium is an important ingredient to so many of the body’s regulatory and biochemical systems that the impact of low levels spans all areas of health and medical practice. Therefore the symptoms of a magnesium deficit fall into two broad categories – the physical symptoms of overt deficiency and the spectrum of disease states linked to low magnesium levels.
Symptoms include both:
- Classic “Clinical” Symptoms. These physical signs of magnesium deficiency are clearly related to both its physiological role and its significant impact on the healthy balance of minerals such as calcium and potassium. Tics, muscle spasms and cramps, seizures, anxiety, and irregular heart rhythms are among the classic signs and symptoms of low magnesium. (A complete list of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency follows.)
- “Sub-clinical” or “Latent” Symptoms. These symptoms are present but concealed by an inability to distinguish their signs from other disease states. Caused by low magnesium intake prevalent in nearly all industrialized nations, they can include migraine headaches, insomnia, depression, and chronic fatigue, among others. (A complete list of the symptoms of low magnesium follows.)
The subject of subclinical or chronic latent magnesium deficiency has been one of alarm and increased emphasis in research communities. This growing attention is largely due to epidemiological (population study) links found between ongoing chronic low magnesium and some of the more troubling chronic diseases of our time, including hypertension, asthma and osteoporosis.
Compounding the problem is the knowledge that the body actually strips magnesium and calcium from the bones during periods of “functioning” low magnesium. This effect can cause a doubly difficult scenario: seemingly adequate magnesium levels that mask a true deficiency coupled by ongoing damage to bone structures. Thus experts advise the suspicion of magnesium deficiency whenever risk factors for related conditions are present, rather than relying upon tests or overt symptoms alone.
SIGNS OF MAGNESIUM DEFICIENCY
Increased intracellular calcium
Irregular or rapid heartbeat
Growth retardation or “failure to thrive”
CONDITIONS RELATED TO PROBLEMS OF MAGNESIUM
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Parkinson’s disease
- Sleep problems
- Cluster headaches
- Premenstrual syndrome
- Chest pain (angina)
- Cardiac arrhythmias
- Coronary artery disease and atherosclerosis
- Type II diabetes
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MILD AND SEVERE MAGNESIUM DEFICIENCY?
It is well known that low magnesium is difficult to detect in a clinical setting, so much so that magnesium deficiency itself is sometimes referred to as “asymptomatic” or “showing no outward signs”.1
Magnesium deficiency itself is sometimes referred to as “asymptomatic” or “showing no outward signs”.
In using these terms, researchers emphasize that conditions will often become severe before overt clinical signs are available – essentially issuing a warning to health practitioners to be on the alert to signs of magnesium deficiency.
Thus the question becomes not “How can we distinguish mild vs. severe deficiency?”, but “Given the difficulty in recognizing chronic low magnesium, how can we prevent it from developing into severe symptoms and chronic disease?”
The monitoring of magnesium levels among at risk populations would seem to be a solution, yet the most commonly used magnesium test, blood serum magnesium, is considered inaccurate in clearly identifying marginal magnesium deficiency.
Dr. Ronald Elin of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Louisville makes this point clear:
The definition of magnesium deficiency seems simple, but it is complicated by the lack of available clinical tests for the assessment of magnesium status. Ideally we would define magnesium deficiency as a reduction in the total body magnesium content. Tests should be available to identify which tissues are deficient and the state of magnesium in these tissues. Unfortunately, this definition is incompatible with current technology.”7
In light of evidence that sub-clinical magnesium deficiencies can increase calcium imbalance, worsen blood vessel calcification, and potentially lead to type 2 diabetes, the World Health Organization in 2009 issued a call for improved and more scientific methods of setting daily magnesium requirements and more accurate and accessible methods of assessing magnesium deficiency.7
ADDRESSING SYMPTOMS OF LOW MAGNESIUM
In their paper published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Drs. DH and DE Liebscher examine the difficulties in diagnosing magnesium deficiency through symptoms and testing, and offer a proposed solution.
Based on their clinical experience with mineral imbalance, the authors suggest:6
- Performing magnesium testing whenever conditions or symptoms associated with magnesium deficiency are present.
- Increasing the threshold at which low blood magnesium is considered problematic, to successfully capture those with marginal deficiencies (from the commonly used 0.7
mmol/l Mg to 0.9 mmol/l Mg.)
- Beginning magnesium therapy and magnesium supplements as soon as possible, for a minimum of one month’s duration or until levels are clearly improved.
These recommendations echo the general sentiment that magnesium supplementation is safe and recommended, especially for the estimated 75% of the population with below the recommended daily magnesium intake.
The hope is that through measures to prevent magnesium deficiency, risk factors created by long-standing chronic low magnesium could be addressed in more people before severe symptoms and chronic disease develop.
Given the extreme prevalence of low magnesium intake in the U.S. and most developed countries, wider use of magnesium supplements may be the only solution to this silent epidemic.