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Magnesium Deficiency Causes and Symptoms

Magnesium deficiency affects an estimated 50%+ of the US population. Learn magnesium deficiency causes and how to avoid them.

Researchers estimate that at least 50% of the US population is deficient in magnesium. The intake of the mineral has actually decreased in the Western world in recent years. So, since you searched for magnesium deficiency causes, there’s a good chance you’re at least at risk for magnesium deficiency.

Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms

Magnesium deficiency is difficult to diagnose via testing because it exists in the cells and the bones. You can test for serum concentration, but that’s not all that accurate because only 0.3% of body magnesium is found in serum.

Since magnesium is critical for more than 300 processes in the body, you can find low magnesium symptoms in several different systems.

Cognitive Health:

  • Anxiety
  • Lethargy
  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Hyperactivity
  • Poor memory
  • Nervousness
  • Vertigo
  • Headache and migraine
  • Irritability
  • Low stress tolerance
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Sleep disorders
  • Chronic fatigue

Muscular and Skeletal Systems:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle cramps
  • Back aches
  • Neck pain
  • Weakness
  • Impaired bone remodeling
  • Osteoporosis
  • Resistance to Vitamin D

Nervous System:

  • Abnormal tingling, burning, chilling, or numbness in the skin
  • Uncontrolled eye movements
  • Nervousness
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

Digestive System:

  • Constipation

Cardiovascular System

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Coronary spasm

Metabolic System:

  • Increased blood triglycerides and cholesterol
  • Decreased glucose tolerance
  • Insulin resistance


  • Menstrual pain
  • Dysacusis
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Asthma
  • Sodium retention
  • Kidney stones
  • Urinary spasms

Magnesium Deficiency Causes

Of dietary magnesium, only about 24–76% is absorbed. The rest is eliminated, which is why some forms of magnesium are often used as a laxative. The lower your magnesium levels, the more magnesium you absorb.

Some researchers are calling magnesium deficiency in crops “an urgent problem” due to its implications for human nutrition and necessary magnesium consumption. They document a major decline in the magnesium content in cereal grains over the past several decades. Food processing also depletes crops of magnesium, leaving traditional sources of magnesium lacking in the critical mineral.

Since diet is not a reliable way to achieve optimal magnesium levels, the magnesium supplement market is booming. And its success often depends on a lack of consumer education.

Lack of Bioavailable Magnesium in Supplements

If you’re supplementing with Magnesium, you’d think you don’t have to worry about being deficient. Unfortunately that is not the case. You have to be a Magnesium connoisseur for that. Ineffective supplementation can be one of the magnesium deficiency causes.

Magnesium Oxide is an inexpensive form of the mineral. Since the compound is small, it takes up minimal space in a tablet. These factors make it attractive for supplement companies. Unfortunately, multiple studies confirm that it has poor bioavailability and is thus not well absorbed. And many test subjects reported gastric distress from this compound.

So, if you’re taking a magnesium supplement that you bought for a steal, it probably contains Magnesium Oxide and you are not absorbing the amount on the bottle.

Other forms of Magnesium — including Magnesium Aspartate, Magnesium Citrate, and Magnesium Glycinate — have superior bioavailability. Magnesium Citrate is easy to find in top-shelf Magnesium supplements. The Magnesium Glycinate is large with less elemental content in a capsule so some supplement manufacturers combine it with Magnesium Oxide and call it “chelated.” And only one compound, Magnesium L-Threonate, has been proven to significantly raise brain levels of magnesium.

Then there’s the issue with the multivitamin that is purportedly designed to address all the nutritional shortcomings of your demographic in one tablet. While marketing themselves as bespoke solutions for the modern American on-the-go, they often fail to address the whole 50% magnesium deficiency statistic.

A leading multivitamin formulated for women contains no magnesium in an appreciable amount. Magnesium Oxide is included in the ingredients area under the supplement facts just under “Yellow #6” and gelatin.

Others contain about 13% of the RDA, of course often using magnesium oxide because it’s cheap and it will keep the tablet in a size that you can swallow.

Several Conditions Can Cause Magnesium Deficiency:


Alcohol acts as a magnesium diuretic, causing a “prompt, vigorous excretion of this metal." Prolonged alcohol abuse depletes the body’s magnesium stores.

Poorly Managed Diabetes:

Researchers suggest that the high incidence of magnesium deficiency in type 2 diabetics (between 13 and 47%) may be due to poor diet that lacks magnesium and the diarrhea associated with autonomic neuropathy that occurs with diabetes. The use of medications to treat other effects of the disease and metabolic syndrome can also interfere with magnesium absorption.

Digestive Issues:

Several conditions can cause malabsorption of magnesium, including Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, and short bowel syndrome.

Endocrine Overactivity:

Overactive glands that secrete excessive hormones can lead to low magnesium. These conditions include aldosteronism, hyperparathyroidism and hyperthyroidism.

Renal disease:

Kidney failure and dialysis can inhibit magnesium absorption.

Medication Use:

A variety of drugs can cause magnesium loss and poor absorption.

  • Aminoglycosides: Class of antibiotics used to treat severe infections
  • Antimicrobial medications: Antibiotics, antifungals, antiprotozoals, and antivirals
  • Beta adrenergic agonists: Medications that open up the air passages used to treat lung diseases.
  • Bisphosphonates: Drugs that prevent loss of bone density
  • Chemotherapeutic agents: Chemotherapy drugs
  • Immunosuppressants: Drugs that lower the body’s ability to reject a transplanted organ
  • Loop and Thiazide diuretics: Drugs used to treat fluid retention
  • Monoclonal antibodies: Cancer treatment drugs
  • Proton pump inhibitors: Stomach acid reducing drugs
  • Oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy: Drugs that modulate female hormones

How to Prevent Magnesium Deficiency

The first step is to be more cognizant of your intake. Read the labels. Know which foods are rich in magnesium and add them to your diet. Supplement wisely with bioavailable forms of magnesium. Understand that you cannot bargain shop for magnesium supplements.

Know your goals for magnesium supplementation. If you want to merely prevent magnesium deficiency throughout the body, you may want to invest in a Magnesium Citrate supplement. However, if you are looking to raise brain levels of magnesium to maintain optimal cognitive health as you age, you may want to look into Magnesium L-Threonate supplements like our Lypo-Spheric® Magnesium L-Threonate.

Tags: Magnesium