Symptoms of magnesium deficiency are rare in the Western world despite the fact that most people don't consume as much magnesium as they should. Although clinical magnesium deficiency is unusual, experts are concerned that chronically low magnesium levels can inhibit cardiovascular health and immune function.
Who's at Risk for Magnesium Deficiency?
The body of an average healthy adult absorbs between one-third to one-half of the magnesium consumed. The average healthy adult, depending on their weight, should consume between 270 and 400 mg of magnesium per day. Individuals become at risk for magnesium deficiency if something interferes with the body's absorption of magnesium. A temporary magnesium deficiency can be caused by a virus or bacteria that induces vomiting or diarrhea. Anything that produces a diuretic effect, including taking laxatives, excessive sweating, or excessive alcohol consumption, can also create temporary magnesium deficiencies. Long-term magnesium deficiencies are usually caused by gastrointestinal diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome or ulcerative colitis that inhibit the body's ability to absorb nutrition. Kidney disease is also a factor because damaged kidneys can lose their ability to reduce magnesium excretion in individuals with less than optimum magnesium levels. Alcoholism, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism can also play a role in magnesium deficiencies. In fact, between 30 and 60 percent of alcoholics, and as high as 90 percent of people experiencing alcohol withdrawal, have low blood serum magnesium levels. Some medications, typically antibiotics, diuretics, and medications used to treat neoplastic syndrome, can also cause magnesium deficiencies. Older people are also at higher risk for magnesium deficiencies because both they are less able to absorb it and because their kidneys excrete it at higher levels.
Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency
Early symptoms of magnesium deficiency include anorexia, nausea or vomiting, drowsiness, and muscle weakness. If the issue isn't addressed, symptoms can progress to tingling in the arms and legs, agitation and anxiety, changes in personality, muscle contractions and cramps, abnormal heart rhythms, sleep disorders, low blood pressure, confusion, hyperventilation, poor nail growth, and even seizures and coronary spasms. Severe magnesium deficiency can also cause low blood serum calcium levels.
Treating Magnesium Deficiency
Temporary magnesium deficiencies are treated by treating the underlying cause and recommending a healthy diet that includes green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes, and other foods rich in magnesium. More severe magnesium deficiencies can be treated with magnesium supplements or intravenous magnesium.