• Emily Achey, MS, RD

Nutrient Spotlight: Magnesium | Signs of Deficiency and Best Food Sources

Magnesium is utilized by every single organ in the body, and plays a vital role in over 300 biological reactions. This macro- mineral is most widely known for its effects within the muscular and nervous systems, and is often referred to as the 'calming mineral.' Lack of this important mineral has been shown to trigger several symptoms and medical conditions from migraine headaches to heart attacks. If you’ve ever been woken up by an excruciating calf cramp, have had unexplained fatigue, or even anxiety, low magnesium could be to blame.

Some sources report that nearly 80% of Americans are not consuming adequate magnesium. This is largely due to what is referred to as: the Standard American Diet (S.A.D), where processed foods have gained precedence over their whole, nutrient dense counterparts.

So, how do we know if we are deficient?

Well, there isn’t a straight answer to that. Only 1% of magnesium in the body is circulating in the blood. The rest lives in bones, muscle and other non-muscular soft tissue. The body tightly regulates this, therefore standard magnesium blood tests will not show the whole picture. Alternative options that will provide more valuable information are Red Blood Cell testing and Sublingual Epithelial Cell Testing.

However, assessing signs and symptoms and improving the diet may just be the best plan of action out there.

Common Signs of Deficiency:


Have you ever had one of those nasty, middle- of- the- night leg cramps? Or, anytime during the day for that matter? What about that annoying under eye muscle twitch? If you answered yes to either, magnesium could be to blame due to its profound role in muscle relaxation.


Magnesium, also called the ‘calming mineral,’ is known for its physiological and psychological effects on relaxation. If you have a hard time falling or staying asleep, you may not have enough of this mineral to calm the nerves of your brain.


To piggyback off of number 2, many studies (1) have also shown the correlation of magnesium deficiency and anxiety. Another representation of the mineral’s role within the nervous system.


Magnesium is Calcium’s right hand man when it comes to making sure bone health is up to par. Diagnosis of osteoporosis or osteopenia may be an indicator of low magnesium levels.


Magnesium has an important role in the production of cellular energy in the form of ATP. Low ATP production means low overall energy. This may show up as physical or mental exhaustion and muscle weakness, and would likely be accompanied by other signs of low magnesium.


Magnesium relaxes smooth muscle, including the muscles of the vascular system. When blood vessels are not relaxed, and therefore in a state of constant constriction, blood pressure increases. In addition, some blood pressure reducing medication depletes magnesium levels in the body, which further progresses the issue.


Irregular heartbeats, also referred to as heart palpitations, are oftentimes caused by an imbalance of both magnesium and potassium. Magnesium deficiency alone may offset this balance and cause arrhythmias, which can be dangerous and progress to more serious heart conditions.


While there are many causes of constipation, magnesium deficiency is one that has a direct effect on intestinal muscle function. Have you ever taken magnesium citrate for constipation? Well, this is a treatment because the magnesium relaxes the bowel, making it easier to pass.


The brain is a network of neurons. Similar to number 2 and 3 above, magnesium deficiency has been linked to an altered functioning nervous system. Studies have shown a decrease in severity and frequency of migraines upon magnesium repletion (2).


  • Menstruation. When estrogen and progesterone are elevated, such as during a woman’s menstruation period, magnesium lowers. In some individuals this may cause severe PMS symptoms such as cramping. Many experts suggest increasing magnesium intake during this time to alleviate these symptoms. Have you ever craved chocolate during your period? Well, your body may be telling you something! Chocolate, notably dark chocolate, is one of the highest sources of magnesium. Have at it, ladies!

  • Magnesium depleting medications. Some diuretics, blood pressure meds, and antibiotics deplete magnesium and may put you at risk for magnesium deficiency. Please check with your doctor if you are prescribed any of the above and believe you may be experiencing signs of magnesium deficiency.

Best Food Sources of Magnesium:

The recommended daily intake of magnesium for adults is 310- 320mg for women and 400-420mg for men. Check out the graphic below for 10 of the top food sources.

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The bottom line: consuming a balanced diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods is the best medicine. If you believe you may be magnesium deficient, consider including more of the magnesium rich foods above on a regular basis. And as always, please consult your doctor.

DISCLAIMER: This blog provides information that should not take the place of medical advice. You are encouraged to talk to your healthcare providers about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.


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