Authored By Murigi

An overview of magnesium

Magnesium is vital for many body processes. According to Harvard Health Publishing, this mineral is needed as a cofactor for more than 300 biological processes to take place normally in the body.

Benefits of magnesium cut across various enzymatic reactions to supporting the regulation of many metabolic processes (such as blood sugar control) to supporting functions of important organs such as the heart. These are explained in details below.

Borderline deficiency of the mineral nutrient can lead to suboptimal health that may not be easily associated with it unless a detailed careful history, thorough examination, and relevant laboratory investigations are carried out.

Magnesium distribution in the body

The total amount of magnesium in a healthy adult is about 25g. More than 90% of this is found in the bones and soft tissues. Serum magnesium constitutes less than 1% of the amount in the body with the normal levels falling between 0.75 and 0.95mmol/L.

Magnesium is excreted in the urine and the rate is determined by the amount in the blood. Low levels leads to low secretion.

Signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency

Hypomagnesemia is the technical term for low magnesium levels in the body. These are levels below 0.75mmol/L. according to a study published in the Nutritional Reviews of October 08 2014, about a half of the U.S population do not get enough magnesium. These low levels are thought to increase the risk for developing certain medical conditions. Magnesium deficiency can include nonspecific signs and symptoms such as:

  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Emotional issues such as anxiety
  • Neurological issues such as numbness and tingling in the hands or legs
  • The restless leg syndrome
  • Respiratory problems
  • Allergic problems including asthma
  • Digestive disorders such as constipation
  • Pronounced tiredness and general weakness
  • Menstrual disorders (PMS)
  • Disturbed sleep (insomnia)
  • Muscle cramps and twitches
  • Painful neck and back
  • Increased incidence of fractures due to weakened bones.

If magnesium deficiency is prolonged and severe, serious health conditions can develop. These include:

  • Abnormal heartbeats
  • Convulsions
  • Heart blood vessel spasms (can trigger a heart attack)
  • Symptoms of low calcium levels
  • Symptoms of low potassium levels

Who is at risk of magnesium deficiency?

Magnesium deficiency can occur in people who consume inadequate amounts of foods rich in the mineral. Others at risk are those with medical conditions that affect the absorption of the mineral or interfere with its metabolism. Some medications can also affect magnesium functions in the body. Diseases can lead to increased loss while some medications can (among other ways) reduce the availability of the mineral through the formation of strong bonds. Specific groups of people and situations that increase the risk include:

  • Highly refined foods. People who take much of these foods are at a higher risk of magnesium deficiency. Food processing usually strips them of most magnesium, calcium, and other important nutrients.
  • People with malabsorption problems. These include conditions such as celiac disease, Chrohn’s disease and other gut inflammatory conditions.
  • Gut surgery. Surgical procedures such as bypass or resection of part of the intestines interfere with nutrients absorption and magnesium loss.
  • These people have poor food intake and are also prone to digestive issues such as diarrhea, vomiting and passing fatty stools.
  • Type 2 Diabetes. People with this condition usually have increased urine output associated with high blood sugar levels. This increase the rate of magnesium loss in the urine.
  • The older a person is, the higher the risk of magnesium deficiency. This is due to:
  • Increased rate of excretion
  • Higher incidence of chronic diseases
  • Being more likely to be on medications that interfere with magnesium metabolism.

The people in this high risk category can benefit from nutritional and lifestyle advice to overcome the deficiency. A good multivitamin and multi-mineral supplement can be a good way of increasing the intake of magnesium. Such a product should contain vitamins and other minerals that work together with magnesium for optimal health. Calcium is such a mineral. Vitamin K and vitamin D are also important in working with magnesium especially in support of bone health.

The relationship between magnesium and calcium

The metabolism of the two minerals is interrelated. The state of one affects the other in a way. The mineral’s ratio in relation to one another has been found to affect the incidence of some diseases. A study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition of September 2007 found this to be the case in some forms of cancer.

Magnesium deficiency leads to poor calcium metabolism. The deficiency is thought to inhibit the metabolism of vitamin D3 which is needed for calcium metabolism. This suggests that magnesium deficiency can lead to calcium associated health disorders even where the intake of dietary calcium is adequate.

Sources of magnesium

Food sources of magnesium include from both plant and animal. This article outlines plant sources of the mineral. They include:

  • Green and leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, and kale.
  • Potatoes
  • Bananas
  • Raisins
  • Avocados
  • Peanuts
  • Carrots
  • Beans such as kidney and black beans
  • Brown rice
  • Whole cereals

Ordinary tap water and bottled mineral water usually contain some magnesium but the amounts vary. This may not therefore be a reliable sole source of the mineral.

Magnesium nutritional supplements

These usually come as part of a composite supplement containing several vitamins and minerals. The magnesium can be in various forms. These include:

  • Magnesium oxide
  • Magnesium citrate
  • Magnesium chloride
  • Magnesium sulfate
  • Magnesium aspartate

Some forms of magnesium are more easily absorbed than others. A well-rounded supplement may contain more than one form.

Some medications contain magnesium. These medicines are prepared for the purpose of managing other conditions and not necessarily for managing magnesium deficiency. Some examples are medications used for heartburn.

Always choose your nutritional supplements carefully. In this case, consider the amount of elemental magnesium in the product and the form(s). Do background research about the manufacturer and their reputation.

Health benefits of magnesium

  • Supports good neurological functions
  • Supports good heart health. It helps to lower blood pressure and reduce the overall risk of heart disease including stroke.
  • Helps in the control and prevention of type 2 diabetes
  • Support good bone health
  • Helps to manage migraine headaches. A study published in the Current treatment Options in Neurology of January 2008; found that 300mg daily of magnesium can be effective in preventing this debilitating condition.
  • It supports important biological functions that include energy synthesis, glucose metabolism, bone formation, and in DNA and RNA synthesis.
  • It is an important co-factor in the functions of the antioxidant called glutathione.
  • Supports the movement of calcium and potassium through cell membranes


This varies according to age, gender, health status, and pregnancy or lactation state in women.. The table below shows the recommended dosages as recommended by the U.S  Office of Dietary Supplements (Table courtesy of National Institute of Health – Office of Dietary Supplements)

Table 1: Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Magnesium






Birth to 6 months

30 mg

30 mg



7–12 months

75 mg

75 mg



1–3 years

80 mg

80 mg



4–8 years

130 mg

130 mg



9–13 years

240 mg

240 mg



14–18 years

410 mg

360 mg

400 mg

360 mg

19–30 years

400 mg

310 mg

350 mg

310 mg

31–50 years

420 mg

320 mg

360 mg

320 mg

51+ years

420 mg

320 mg



Interactions and safety

When taken as recommended, magnesium supplements are safe. Interactions can occur with some antibiotics, bone building medications, water pills, high blood pressure medications and others. If on any medications, consult with your health professional before using magnesium supplements.

Magnesium toxicity can occur as a result of a disease process or over dosage with a medication or supplement. This will present with neurological, respiratory, and cardiovascular problems among other issues.

At Belisan, a wholesome magnesium containing product is available. For more details about this, click here.


Rude, R. K. (1992). Magnesium deficiency and diabetes mellitus: causes and effects. Postgraduate medicine, 92(5), 217-224.

Quaranta, S., Buscaglia, M. A., Meroni, M. G., Colombo, E., & Cella, S. (2007). Pilot study of the efficacy and safety of a modified-release magnesium 250mg tablet (Sincromag®) for the treatment of premenstrual syndrome. Clinical drug investigation, 27(1), 51-58.

Azoulay, A., Garzon, P., & Eisenberg, M. J. (2001). Comparison of the Mineral Content of Tap Water and Bottled Waters. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 16(3), 168–175.

Del Gobbo, L. C., Imamura, F., Wu, J. H., de Oliveira Otto, M. C., Chiuve, S. E., & Mozaffarian, D. (2013). Circulating and dietary magnesium and risk of cardiovascular disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 98(1), 160–173.


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