At least 74% of US adults ages 20-85 are magnesium deficient according to a review of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2014.[i] The key phrase is “at least.” Based on data from the review, the number could be – and likely is – much higher.
Some doctors say the number is above 80%. The exact number really doesn’t matter though, does it? The reality is that in the US, 3 of every 4 adults aren’t getting enough magnesium. As a cofactor in more than 300 metabolic reactions, this spells big trouble.
The situation gets even more complicated in identifying magnesium deficiency. About 99% of all magnesium is stored in bone or tissue. Only about 1% is in the blood stream, and that level is highly regulated by the body. There isn’t a good way to measure cellular magnesium and researchers have concluded cellular magnesium levels can drop significantly without a change in blood magnesium levels.[ii]
The NHANES review evaluated magnesium intake based on the nutrient profile of foods consumed, a standard conversion of foods into nutrients and additional lifestyle and health factors. Simply stated, the magnesium deficiency identified in the study was based on nutrients consumed, not on factors that can accelerate its loss. For example, strenuous exercise can deplete magnesium from tissue.[iii] Mental and physical stress can too.[iv]
This makes recognizing any symptom of magnesium deficiency important. Many symptoms, however, are not as apparent as others as researchers are discovering.
Types Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms
Nutrient deficiencies can be defined in two ways: frank deficiencies or subclinical deficiencies. The symptoms of a frank deficiency are clear as obvious symptoms develop. Subclinical deficiencies, or marginal deficiencies, are more difficult to identify as they are reflected in reduced physiological function.
Magnesium’s role in so many different aspects of metabolism make subclinical symptoms most likely to appear first. Many of these less obvious symptoms continue to be discovered.
Less Obvious Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency
Three recent studies have linked low magnesium levels with serious metabolic problems.
- In one study, researchers determined magnesium was essential for vitamin D activation, especially in bone health. In effect, a person could get plenty of vitamin D, but still end up deficient being unable to make use of it due to a lack of magnesium.[v]
- Another study found high levels of uric acid in people who consumed a diet that lacked magnesium. Those who ate diets full of magnesium-rich foods had a much lower risk of developing uric acid build-up.[vi]
- Subclinical magnesium deficiency has also been linked to heart and cardiovascular disease. Recent findings have led researchers to suggest magnesium deficiency may be a significant driver of the disease.[vii]
All of these reveal the far-reaching impact of magnesium deficiency. Heart disease is the number one killer of adults in the United States. Vitamin D is essential for strong, healthy bones. It’s also required to activate immune cells in response to infection. Uric acid is often attributed to gout, but scientists have also found that its connected to high blood pressure, kidney disease, obesity and more.[viii]
With a connection with 300+ metabolic reactions, the potential impacts of magnesium deficiency on human health could be almost unlimited. The challenge is to recognize them when they appear.
ObservableSymptoms of Magnesium Deficiency
Here is a list of potentially observable symptoms of magnesium deficiency. The recent study Subclinical Magnesium Deficiency: A principle driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis offers a more complete list.[ix]
- Spontaneous muscle contractions
- Muscle weakness
- Pain without an obvious cause
- Migraines and headaches
- Hearing loss
There are also measurable signs of magnesium deficiency in calcium and vitamin K deficiencies.
Addressing Magnesium Deficiency
With research indicating widespread magnesium deficiency, the best answer may simply to encourage increased dietary intake of foods rich in magnesium. This approach would ensure a person gets enough magnesium but prevent getting too much as the body would release excess dietary magnesium through the kidneys. Supplementation is an option, but should be monitored both for quality of supplement, bioavailability and dose.
[i] Zhang Y, Qiu H. Dietary Magnesium Intake and Hyperuricemia among US Adults. Nutrients. 2018;10(3):296. doi:10.3390/nu10030296.
[ii] Dolev E1, et al. Longitudinal study of magnesium status of Israeli military recruits. Magnes Trace Elem. 1991-1992;10(5-6):420-6.
[iv] Tarasov EA1, et al. [Magnesium deficiency and stress: Issues of their relationship, diagnostic tests, and approaches to therapy]. [Article in Russian; Abstract available in Russian from the publisher] Ter Arkh. 2015;87(9):114-122. doi: 10.17116/terarkh2015879114-122.
[v] Uwitonze AM, Razzaque MS. Role of Magnesium in Vitamin D Activation and Function. J Am Osteopath Assoc 2018;118(3):181–189. doi: 10.7556/jaoa.2018.037.
[vi] Zhang Y, Qiu H. Dietary Magnesium Intake and Hyperuricemia among US Adults. Nutrients. 2018;10(3):296. doi:10.3390/nu10030296.
[vii] DiNicolantonio JJ, O’Keefe JH, Wilson W. Subclinical magnesium deficiency: a principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis. Open Heart. 2018;5(1):e000668. doi:10.1136/openhrt-2017-000668.