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The “Odd” Repercussions of Low Magnesium

Magnesium foods

Why magnesium is a long-time workhorse not to be overlooked

In a supplement industry awash in the latest “superfruits” and “miracle foods,” the long-time nutritional workhorses can sometimes be overlooked. Compared to other more topical compounds and foods with exotic-sounding names—resveratrol, acai berry, camu camu—it’s all too easy to overlook something as every day as magnesium. But there’s a reason—many reasons, in fact—why magnesium is a long-time workhorse. You may be surprised to learn there are several lesser-known, even “odd” repercussions of low magnesium that may be afflicting you without your knowledge. This humble mineral is a required co-factor for hundreds of enzymes and biochemical reactions too numerous to list in full.

Well known benefits of magnesium

The very short list of magnesium’s heavy-hitting effects includes supporting healthy blood pressure and promoting proper deposition of calcium in the bones and teeth, while helping to keep calcium out of places where buildup could be dangerous, such as in the joints, arteries, and other soft tissues. These effects are due to magnesium’s critical role in balancing calcium. For the same reason—balancing calcium, which is considered an “excitatory” compound—magnesium has also long been recognised as a muscle relaxant and sleep aid, as it helps calm the body and mind. Magnesium is especially critical for cardiovascular health.

Sub-optimal magnesium status has repercussions

But these are widely recognised effects of magnesium. What about some of the lesser-known—and perhaps even “odd,” or surprising—conditions that may be caused or exacerbated by sub-optimal magnesium status? It’s often said that chocolate cravings are a sign that the body needs magnesium. Unsweetened cocoa powder is, in fact, a rich source of magnesium. (Just one ounce provides 35% of the daily value for magnesium.) This wouldn’t be a bad way to go to get some more magnesium, but not many people are satisfied by 100% cocoa, which can be fairly bitter. People are more likely to get their chocolate fix along with a hefty dose of sugar and vegetable oil—perhaps not the ideal way. Good thing there are other foods rich in magnesium, such as leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, cashews, and other nuts & seeds, which come with an array of nutrients and healthy fats you won’t find in a candy bar.

What about marginally low magnesium levels?

Some healthcare practitioners have suggested that marginally low magnesium levels (as opposed to overt clinical deficiency) may lead to hyper-excitability, ultra-sensitivity to noise, and being “high-strung” in general. Anecdotal evidence even points to low magnesium levels making people extra-ticklish. None of these issues is technically a pathological situation, nor a disease, but if it bothers someone enough to discuss it with a medical professional, it might be worth seeing if a trial of supplemental magnesium improves matters. Certainly, magnesium imbalance is documented to underlie “nervous hyperexcitability,” with central and peripheral neuromuscular symptoms.

Magnesium insufficiency in mild anxiety

Physicians have also noted a potential role for magnesium insufficiency in mild anxiety. This could be due to electrolyte imbalances that affect the central nervous system, and an additional plausible explanation is magnesium’s role in blood sugar management. The signs and symptoms of panic attacks overlap quite strongly with those of acute hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Magnesium is a crucial “ingredient” in the proper metabolism of carbohydrate, and magnesium is critical for healthy blood glucose control, so it makes sense that insufficient magnesium could be at least one factor behind panic attacks.

Some of the lesser-known possible effects of sub-optimal magnesium levels have not been corroborated in well-designed scientific studies. But considering the vast array of physiological processes that require magnesium, and the wide range of troublesome conditions that result from inadequate magnesium intake, there’s little to lose and potentially a great deal to gain through a simple trial of magnesium supplementation. As always, work with your qualified healthcare professional to determine whether supplementation is appropriate for you.

Research and References

  1. Rosanoff A, Weaver CM, Rude RK. Suboptimal magnesium status in the United States: are the health consequences underestimated? Nutr Rev. 2012 Mar;70(3):153-64.
  2. Serefko A, Szopa A, Wlaź P et al. Magnesium in depression. Pharmacol Rep. 2013;65(3):547-54.
  3. Durlach J, Bac P, Durlach V, Bara M, Guiet-Bara A. Neurotic, neuromuscular and autonomic nervous form of magnesium imbalance. Magnes Res. 1997 Jun;10(2):169-95.
  4. Sartori SB, Whittle N, Hetzenauer A, Singewald N. Magnesium deficiency induces anxiety and HPA axis dysregulation: modulation by therapeutic drug treatment. Neuropharmacology. 2012 Jan;62(1):304-12
  5. Rodríguez-Moran M, Guerrero-Romero F. Oral magnesium supplementation improves the metabolic profile of metabolically obese, normal-weight individuals: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Arch Med Res. 2014 Jul;45(5):388-93.

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