Magnesium Deficiency: what are the symptoms, causes & treatments

Magnesium deficiency, also known as hypomagnesemia, refers to low levels of magnesium in your blood. It is defined as having a blood serum magnesium level of less than 0.75 millimoles per litre (mmol/l) and is usually assessed via a blood test.

Magnesium is a very important mineral and nutrient that your body needs for all sorts of functions. Magnesium deficiency does not always show symptoms but some early signs to look out for include muscle twitchiness, numbness and tingling sensations in your limbs.

If not treated, hypomagnesemia can cause health problems to sprout as it reduces the body’s levels of calcium and potassium. Today, we will be looking at the symptoms, causes and treatments available to you if you suffer from magnesium deficiency.

Why is magnesium so important?

It is involved in more than 300 of the body’s enzyme reactions and is vital to:

  • The health of muscles and nerves
  • The production of body cell energy
  • The synthesis of DNA and RNA
  • The regulation of blood pressure

However, magnesium is not naturally created by the human body … it can only be obtained through a person’s diet. If you don’t get enough magnesium in your body, you may develop hypomagnesemia.

It is estimated that 50% of all people have some magnesium deficiency. However, many of the 50% are healthy people who don’t really feel the effects or see any symptoms.

If you have low magnesium levels but don’t have a full-on deficiency, then we call this a ‘magnesium inadequacy’.

What are the symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency?

The most common early symptoms of magnesium deficiency include the following:

  • Twitching, usually in the facial muscles
  • Constipation
  • Weakness, exhaustion and fatigue
  • Over-the-top reflexed and movements
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Change in personality

If you have a severe bout of magnesium deficiency, you will experience:

  • Muscle contractions
  • Seizures
  • And irregular change to the heart’s rhythm

What are the causes of Magnesium Deficiency?

A proper magnesium deficiency doesn’t get the chance to develop in healthy people who maintain a balanced diet. In a healthy person, the kidneys control how much magnesium is excreted through urine. If the body is not getting enough magnesium, the kidney will stop excreting the magnesium in the body, keeping the levels balanced.

So, a person will develop a magnesium deficiency if:

  • They aren’t getting enough magnesium in their diet.
  • Their kidneys are excreting more magnesium than they are storing.
  • They have another condition that is affecting magnesium intake and storage. (This includes malnutrition, digestive diseases, diarrhoea, alcohol abuse, pregnancy, diabetes, organ failure and more.)
  • They are taking certain medications that also affect magnesium levels (This includes antifungal drugs, diuretics, proton pump inhibitors and chemotherapy drugs.)

What are the treatment options for Magnesium Deficiency?

There are a few different ways of treating a magnesium deficiency. The type of treatment chosen will all depend on how low your magnesium levels truly are.

  1. Changing your diet
    For mild cases of ‘magnesium inadequacy’, your doctor may simply suggest an alteration to your diet. This will essentially mean adding foods containing high amounts of magnesium to your diet. Foods that are high in magnesium include almonds, avocados, cooked brown rice, lentils and cooked oats. Sometimes these foods may be off the table due to a variety of personal and medical factors. In these instances, your doctor will suggest a magnesium supplement that can help raise your nutrient level.
  2. Magnesium Injections
    If your case of magnesium deficiency is more severe than one that can be addressed via diet changes, then a doctor may suggest a large dose of magnesium. Sometimes, in hospitals, if a doctor notes a severe deficiency, they can administer high levels of magnesium in a short amount of time to get the levels back up. During severe cases of magnesium deficiency, the doctor will inject the magnesium straight into the muscle or vein. You will then be monitored regularly to see whether the treatment is working.

Your next steps

The first step in any situation like this is to speak to a medical professional. If you think you have a magnesium deficiency, they will suggest a blood test to determine what the true cause of your problems are. Even if you think it is magnesium deficiency, don’t look to rectify it if you haven’t had confirmation yet.

You need to make an informed and educated decision and seeking the advice of your doctor will allow you to do just that.

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