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Common Conditions That Can Result from Low Magnesium Levels



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Importance in Human Health

Magnesium (Mg) is an important mineral needed for normal, day to day functioning of the human body. Responsible for the regulation of over three hundred enzymes, magnesium helps in the regulation of blood calcium levels, energy production, and muscle relaxation. Mg is a part of the mineral structure of bones and teeth. The bones act as a reservoir to maintain the correct extracellular magnesium concentration.

A 2005 study, "What We Eat in America", found that nearly half of all Americans age one year and over had inadequate magnesium intakes.[1] More than two thirds of teenagers, ages fourteen through eighteen, and seniors over the age of seventy had suboptimal intakes. If you put together all of the functions this important mineral is used for in the human body along with the fact that most Americans do not get enough from their diets, then logically there are potentially millions of people in the U.S. walking around with multiple health symptoms directly attributable to inadequate magnesium intake. Unfortunately, magnesium deficiency, along with other vitamin and mineral deficiencies, rarely gets diagnosed.

Many clusters of deficiency symptoms commonly occur concurrently in the same individual, such as:

  • Migraines
  • Heart disorders, including mitral valve prolapse
  • Palpitations
  • Diabetes
  • Fibromyalgia
  • High blood pressure
  • Asthma
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Tight muscles, including TMJ
  • Tics and twitches

Yet all too often these symptoms are diagnosed by mainstream health care providers as unrelated symptoms, and treated with medications and surgeries that never solve the root, underlying cause, which in many cases may simply be a magnesium poor diet.

a pile of shelled almonds
One ounce of almonds provides 19% of the DV of magnesium.

Intake in a Standard American Diet Compared to a Whole Foods Diet

What types of diets are likely to provide insufficient amounts of magnesium? Unfortunately, the typical American diet of this century, filled with soda, white bread, filtered water, snack foods and other processed foods is unlikely to meet the recommended DVs for magnesium.

1. High amounts of calorie dense, nutrient poor, processed and fast foods.

Basically, this is what we in America tend to eat too much of.

2. Low intakes of fruits and vegetables.

3. "Soft", filtered water used for cooking and drinking, stripped of both impurities as well as minerals.

The typical SAD diet in Table 1 below provides approximately 1900 calories a day and 192 mg of magnesium, well below the recommended daily values (DV) for most age groups. Let's compare this diet to a sample whole foods diet listed in Table 2, devoid of nutrient poor white bread and other processed foods and see how the magnesium levels compare. The diet in Table 2 lists the kinds of foods generations of our ancestors lived on, the kinds of foods people still eat in countries where magnesium and other nutrient intake is high and diseases such as cancer, high blood pressure and heart disease levels are much lower than the U.S.

Table 1: Standard American Diet

Milligrams of Magnesium

Two fried eggs

One slice toast

Grilled cheese sandwich (white bread)
French fries
Apple juice
Skim milk
Daily Total

Table 1: Typical Standard American Diet Daily Menu (SAD). Food values derived from Understanding Nutrition, Ninth Edition [2].

Table 2: Whole Foods Diet

Milligrams of Magnesium



Two hard boiled eggs
Split pea and ham soup
Baked potato with skin
Mineral Water
Tomato vegetable soup
Broiled salmon
Steamed broccoli
1/2 papaya
Baked sweet potato
Olive oil
Mineral water
Daily Total

Table 2: Healthy, Whole Foods Diet. Food values derived from Understanding Nutrition, Ninth Edition [2].

Both the SAD diet in Table 1 and the whole foods diet in Table 2 provide around 1,900 calories, yet the whole foods diet provides 472 mg of magnesium compared to 192 mg for SAD, a 245% increase. Think about it. You need magnesium for your teeth, your bones, balanced blood pressure, diabetes prevention and over 300 important enzyme reactions. Which ones do you want to live without on the SAD diet?

The diet in Table 1 is actually even worse that it looks at first glance. Not only is it low in magnesium intake, but because it contains coffee and other acid forming foods and high levels of calcium, a magnesium antagonist, it is actually Mg depleting. Coffee is particularly harmful because it is acid forming and stimulates gastric acid secretion, which in turn depletes alkaline forming minerals such as calcium and magnesium.[3]

Allergies and Chemical Sensitivities 

When lab rodents are deprived of magnesium, a number of studies have found that they show signs of allergic reactions. A 1980 study in France found that mice deprived of this important mineral, compared to a control group, developed allergy like symptoms including skin redness and increased scratching. White blood cells, and histamine levels increased in an allergy-like crisis. [4]

Magnesium deficiency has been implicated in allergies and allergic skin reaction in many studies on humans, too.  Variations of allergies, skin allergies, and raised white blood cells have all been noted as features of many chronic disorders. 


Anxiety and Psychiatric Disorders 

Results from a 1994 study from researchers in the United Kingdom show a strong association for more disturbed and excitable patients to have abnormal (either high or low) Mg levels. [5] The paper's authors thought that the patients who seemed most disturbed may have some abnormality of magnesium metabolism. In a related study, researchers reported in a 2009 study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry an inverse relationship between Mg intake and depression and anxiety disorders. [6] Low dietary intake of this important mineral correlated to increased levels of anxiety and depression in the study subjects. In a 2012 study published in the journal Neuropharmacology, researchers conducting tests on mice found that low magnesium levels in the mice caused them to enter states of hyper-excitability and enhanced anxiety.[6.1]

office workers holding stress sign

Low magnesium levels induce a heightened state of anxiety.

Magnesium is needed to reduce the flow of adrenaline in the body, lower blood pressure and relax contracted muscles. Without sufficient magnesium reserves, muscles stay tense, blood pressure remains elevated, and adrenaline keeps flowing. Our bodies stay in a constant state of fight or flight / red alert status. Talk therapy may be helpful secondary treatment consideration for patients suffering from anxiety, but talk therapy isn't a substitute for correcting a biological mineral deficiency.

Aorta Strength 

In 1998 study on rats by researchers in Brazil, the animals had their thoracic aortas injured with balloons.  They were then fed diets with low, normal or high magnesium concentrations.  The rat aortas with the high magnesium diets healed better than the normal and low diets.[7]

For more information on aortas and nutrition, also see my section on Marfan Syndrome - The Similarities to Copper Deficiency.


A continually growing body of research shows that people with asthma are often low in magnesium and that increased intake of the mineral is beneficial for asthma sufferers. A 2010 study by researchers from the University of California, Davis and Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington enrolled fifty-two participants with asthma. The study participants were then split into two groups. One group received supplemental magnesium and the other a placebo. Six and half months later, at the conclusion of the study, researchers found that the supplement group showed a marked improvement in lung activity as well as the ability to move air in and out of their lungs.[8] On a related note, a 1994 United Kingdom study reported on in the Lancet, notes that people who have diets lower in magnesium have more asthmatic symptoms and self reported wheezing.[9]

Multivitamin tablets and pills often do not contain magnesium because it is a bulky mineral that makes the pill or tablets very large, so manufacturers often just leave it out! Yet multivitamins may contain many magnesium antagonists, i.e. vitamins and minerals that lower magnesium levels in your body. Perhaps this is why recent studies show that multivitamins usage is associated with asthma and allergies.[10] On a personal note, when I used to give our kids multivitamins when they were younger, their ears would turn red, which I took to be a sign of an allergic reaction.

Attention Deficit Disorder 
Magnesium in the treatment and prevention of attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is becoming more and more mainstream. A growing body of research supports the idea that significant factors causing ADD and ADHD are a lack of exercise and nutritional deficiencies, especially those of magnesium.

In a 1997 study from researchers in Poland, ninety-five percent of the children examined with ADD or ADHD were magnesium deficient. [11]

Calcification Of Soft Tissue Including Heart Valves 

In a 1990 study published by researchers from Czechoslovakia, eighty patients with soft tissue calcification were treated with oral magnesium therapy. Seventy-five percent of the patients were cured without any side effects or complication. [12] In a study of mitral valves, researchers in Italy found that a lack of magnesium played an important role in the the calcification of human heart valves. In a chemical analysis of human heart mitral valves, when calcification became massive, magnesium content appeared highly reduced. [13]

Vitamin K deficiency has also been linked to calcification of soft tissues. Also see my section on calcium deposits.


A growing body of research indicates that low levels of magnesium may play a key role in ever increasing cases of diabetes among Americans. Diabetes is currently the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.

Two separate studies by Harvard researchers, published in the journal Diabetes Care, found that magnesium rich foods could reduce the risk of diabetes. According to both reports, in general people in the U.S. do not consume the recommended levels of magnesium, a major factor contributing to the increasing rate of type II diabetes onset. Interestingly, while the researchers found that magnesium rich foods helped prevent diabetes, multivitamins and magnesium supplements did not help to prevent the disorder. [14]

Continued at Magnesium - Part Two





Related sections of interest:

How to Get More Magnesium in Your Diet

Magnesium and Acid - Base Balance

Supplements and Epsom Salts

Getting More Magnesium in Your Child's Diet

Selected Links:

Maryland Medical Center Programs Complementary Medicine Program's page on magnesium has a good list of food sources, drug interactions and conditions that cause Mg loss.

"Magnesium is not limited to improving bone health. There are some three hundred bodily enzymes that require magnesium, which suggests that magnesium is vital for most cells and tissues of the body." - from an article on the American Chiropractic online site.

The Importance of Magnesium to Human Nutrition

The Magnesium Website - an amazing amount of information related to Mg.

References -

1. Moshfegh, Alanna; Goldman, Joseph; and Cleveland, Linda. 2005. What We Eat in America, NHANES 2001-2002: Usual Nutrient Intakes from Food Compared to Dietary Reference Intakes. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service.

2. Whitney, Eleanor Noss., and Sharon Rady. Rolfes. "Table of Food Composition." Understanding Nutrition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2002. N. pag. Print.

3. Cherniske, Stephen Snehan. The Metabolic Plan: Stay Younger Longer. New York: Ballantine, 2003. 212. Print.

4. Claverie-Benureau S, Lebel B, Gaudin-Harding F. Magnesium deficiency allergy-like crisis in hairless rats: a suggested model for inflammation studies. J Physiol (Paris). 1980;76(2):173-5. [PubMed abstract]

5. Kirov GK, Birch NJ, Steadman P, Ramsey RG. Plasma magnesium levels in a population of psychiatric patients: correlations with symptoms. Neuropsychobiology. 1994;30(2-3):73-8. [PubMed Abstract]

6. Felice N. Jacka, Simon Overland, Robert Stewart, Grethe S. Tell, Ingvar Bjelland and Arnstein Mykletun. Association between magnesium intake and depression and anxiety in community-dwelling adults: the Hordaland Health Study. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. 2009, Vol. 43, No. 1 , Pages 45-52. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00048670802534408

6.1 S.B. Sartori, N. Whittle, A. Hetzenauer, and N. Singewald. Magnesium deficiency induces anxiety and HPA axis dysregulation: Modulation by therapeutic drug treatment. Neuropharmacology. 2012 January; 62(1): 304�312.

7. Fonseca FA, Paiva TB, Silva EG, Ihara SS, Kasinski N, Martinez TL, Filho EE. Dietary magnesium improves endothelial dependent relaxation of balloon injured arteries in rats.Atherosclerosis. 1998 Aug;139(2):237-42. [PubMed Abstract]

8. Magnesium Supplements May Benefit People With Asthma. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), 10 Feb. 2010. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.

9. Britton J, Pavord I, Richards K, Wisniewski A, Knox A, Lewis S, Tattersfield A, Weiss S. Dietary magnesium, lung function, wheezing, and airway hyperreactivity in a random adult population sample. Lancet. 1994 Aug 6;344(8919):357-62. [PubMed Abstract]

10. Milner JD, et al. Early infant multivitamin supplementation is associated with increased risk for food allergy and asthma. Pediatrics. July 2004;114:27�32. [PubMed Abstract]

11. Kozielec T, Starobrat-Hermelin B. Assessment of magnesium levels in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Magnesium Research : Official Organ of the International Society for the Development of Research on Magnesium [1997, 10(2):143-148] [Europe MubMed Central Abstract]

12. Steidl L, Ditmar R.Soft tissue calcification treated with local and oral magnesium therapy. Magnes Res. 1990 Jun;3(2):113-9. [PubMed Abstract]

13. Bigi A, Compostella L, Fichera AM, Foresti E, Gazzano M, Ripamonti A, Roveri N. tructural and chemical characterization of inorganic deposits in calcified human mitral valve. J Inorg Biochem. 1988 Oct;34(2):75-82. [PubMed Abstract]

14. Tabak, Alan J. "The Harvard Crimson." Magnesium-Rich Foods Reduce Diabetes Risk, Study Says. The Harvard Crimson, 21 Jan. 2004. Web. 11 Mar. 2013.http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2004/1/21/magnesium-rich-foods-reduce-diabetes-risk-study/


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