8 magnesium deficiency symptoms (and 9 high magnesium foods)

Close up of woman pouring almonds into her hand

Magnesium is being touted as a miracle supplement. If you do a quick search online, you will see it has been said to lower stress, help with sleep, lose weight, lower blood pressure and blood sugar, treat depression and anxiety, strengthen bones and increase testosterone levels.

So does it deserve all of this attention? And should you be taking a magnesium supplement?

Role of magnesium in your body

Magnesium is an important mineral in our diet, notes Mindy Lacey, MD, Nebraska Medicine family medicine doctor. It is found in every cell in your body. It plays a critical role in hundreds of biochemical reactions that support many body functions, including protein creation, muscle and nerve function, converting food into energy and metabolism.

Magnesium helps your body in the following ways:

  • It works with calcium to strengthen your bones
  • Helps get blood sugar into your muscles and lactic acid out
  • Assists in metabolizing insulin and promotes sensitivity to insulin to prevent or improve the management of diabetes
  • Plays a role in brain function, which helps regulate mood and depression
  • Helps lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease
  • Can reduce inflammation and promote better joint health
  • May decrease the incidence of migraines
  • Increases your body’s efficiency in breaking down sugars, resulting in better weight maintenance and/or weight loss
  • Helps balance your body’s hormones that regulate your circadian rhythm and ability to sleep better
  • Works with components of your body that produce serotonin, which promotes calmness and relaxation, can help you sleep better and reduce depression
  • Can improve digestion
  • May help relieve achy muscles or muscle spasms
  • Can increase skin hydration and improve the appearance of your skin
  • Can help increase testosterone levels in men who are active 
    • Note: A magnesium supplement alone won’t do it. It should be in conjunction with weight management, physical activity and quality sleep to help sustain a healthy testosterone level

How to get enough magnesium in your diet

“Healthy individuals should be able to get enough magnesium from their diet and shouldn’t require a magnesium supplement,” says Dr. Lacey. 

The recommended daily allowance for women is 310 mg and for men is 400 mg. 

Eating the following foods will likely provide you with the recommended daily allowance:

  1. Nuts
  2. Seeds
  3. Whole grains
  4. Green leafy vegetables
  5. Avocados
  6. Milk
  7. Yogurt
  8. Beans
  9. Lentils

For example, just one ounce of almonds or cashews will give you 20% of the recommended daily allowance. Taking a multivitamin will give you about 120 mg of magnesium, which can help make up for any deficiency. 

Signs of low magnesium

“Unfortunately, low magnesium usually does not cause symptoms until your levels drop dramatically,” says Dr. Lacey. “Chronically low levels can increase your risk of high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.”

Very low magnesium levels may cause: 

  1. Nausea
  2. Constipation
  3. Headaches
  4. Nighttime leg cramps
  5. Numbness or tingling in the legs or hands
  6. General body weakness
  7. Tremors
  8. Heart palpitations

If you are concerned that your magnesium levels may be low, it is important to talk to your doctor. 

Should I take a magnesium supplement?

“While low-dose supplements will probably not hurt you, getting too much magnesium from supplements can lead to toxicity,” says Dr. Lacey. “Excessive supplemental magnesium can lead to symptoms such as nausea, abdominal cramping and diarrhea, flushing of the face and lethargy. Magnesium supplements can also interact negatively with some antibiotics and medications like diuretics and heart medications.”

Your magnesium level is not typically included in a standard blood draw. If you decide you want your magnesium level checked, your doctor will need to request an additional test to check your levels.

Who needs to take a magnesium supplement?

Individuals who may need a supplement include those with:

  • Documented magnesium deficiency
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Having had bariatric surgery
  • Taking acid-reducing medications such as proton-pump inhibitors

“Magnesium is a key nutrient to maintain overall good health,” says Dr. Lacey. “Keep in mind that getting magnesium from your diet is always preferred over taking supplements. If you focus on eating a well-balanced diet, you should get the magnesium your body needs. And, if you do decide to take a magnesium supplement, this will not guarantee any of the health benefits listed above.”

Need to talk about your magnesium levels with a doctor?
Call 800.922.0000 to schedule an appointment with a primary care doctor.