Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms – What You Need to Know

Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms – What You Need to Know
By Team Perlmutter
Category: Food

If you are like most Americans, your dietary consumption of magnesium is suboptimal. Recent statistics reveal that close to 75% of Americans are consuming less than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of magnesium (see table below). New research is making it clear that this is absolutely cause for concern.

Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Magnesium

1-3 years80 mg80 mg
4-8 years130 mg130 mg
9-13 years240 mg 240 mg
14-18 years410 mg360 mg
19-30 years400 mg310 mg
31-50 years420 mg320 mg
51+ years420 mg320 mg

Source:  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Magnesium’s central role in facilitating the function of over 300 critical enzymes ranks the mineral among the most important trace elements in the human diet. These enzymes play an important role in regulating our day-to-day metabolic functions, which influence everything from how our body manufactures DNA, RNA, and protein, to how our cells derive and generate energy from the food we eat. The mineral is critically important for the structural development and maintenance of healthy bones, and even plays a role in the production of glutathione, a chemical that has been called the body’s master antioxidant. As one of the most abundant minerals in the human body, it’s no wonder that the symptoms of low magnesium levels are correlated with so many health-related issues that impact all the body’s major systems. Just look at this list!

Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Lethargy
  • Fatigue
  • Memory problems
  • Anorexia
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Tremors
  • Vertigo
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat

Magnesium Deficiency Clinical Conditions

While it’s true that modern factory farming techniques are inhibiting our ability to consume the recommended daily amount of magnesium by growing crops in magnesium-depleted soil, the good news is that you can enhance your body’s absorption and utilization of magnesium by reducing your intake of alcohol and junk foods (something you should already be doing anyway). Furthermore, and what may come as a surprise to many, is that many of the most widely used prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications deplete the body of the critical nutrient. Again, look how comprehensive and expansive this list is!

Drugs that Deplete Magnesium

Acid Blocking Drugs:

  • Cimetidine (Tagamet)
  • Esomeprazole (Nexium)
  • Famotidine (Pepcid)
  • Nizatidine (Axid)
  • Omeprazole (Prilosec OTC)
  • Pantoprazole (Protonix)
  • Ranitidine (Zantac)
  • Rabeprazole (Aciphex)


  • Aluminum and magnesium hydroxide (Maalox, Mylanta)
  • Aluminum hydroxide (Amphojel, AlternaGEL)
  • Calcium carbonate (Tums, Rolaids)
  • Magnesium hydroxide (Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia)
  • Sodium bicarbonate (Alka-Seltzer)


  • Betamethasone (Diprolene, Valisone, Luxiq)
  • Hydrocortisone (Cortef)
  • Methylprednisolone (Medrol)
  • Prednisolone (Pediapred Liquid)
  • Prednisone (Deltasone)
  • Flunisolide (Nasarel, Nasalide)
  • Futicasone (Flonase)
  • Triamcinolone (Azmacort)


  • Amoxicillin (Amoxil)
  • Azithromycin (Z-Pak)
  • Cefaclor (Ceclor)
  • Cefdinir (Omnicef)
  • Ciprofoxacin (Cipro)
  • Clarithromycin (Biaxin)
  • Doxycycline (Doryx)
  • Erythromycin (E.E.S.)
  • Levofoxacin (Levaquin)
  • Minocycline (Minocin)
  • Sulfamethoxazole / trimethoprim (Bactrim, Septra)
  • Tetracycline (Sumycin)

Blood Pressure Drugs:

  • Hydralazine
  • Ethyacynic acid (Edecrin)
  • Enalapril and HCTZ (Vaseretic)
  • Valsartan and HCTZ (Diovan HCT)  
  • Bumetanide (Bumex)
  • Furosemide (Lasix)
  • Hydrochlorathiazide (HCTZ)
  • Torsemide (Demadex)
  • Candesartan and HCTZ (Atacand HCT)
  • Chlorothiazide (Diuril)
  • Chlorthalidone (Hygroton)
  • Methyclothiazide
  • Metolazone (Zaroxolyn)

Heart medications:

  • Digoxin


  • Estradiol (Activella, Climara, Combipatch, Estrace, Estraderm)  
  • Estrogen (Premphase, Prempro, Estratab)
  • Estropipate (Ogen)

Oral Contraceptives:

  • Ethinyl Estradiol and Desogestrel
  • Ethinyl Estradiol and Levonorgestrel
  • Ethinyl Estradiol and Norethindrone
  • Ethinyl Estradiol and Norgestimate

ADHD Drugs:

  • Methylphenidate (Metadate, Ritalin, Concerta)

How to Test for Magnesium Deficiency

If you are taking any of the above medications, you are at even higher risk of being magnesium-deficient. It is a good idea to discuss this possibility with your healthcare practitioner. A simple blood test is all that is needed to determine your magnesium level, but you need to make sure it’s the right test.

The blood test commonly done in doctors’ offices measures serum magnesium levels. Unfortunately, this method does not give the best information on intracellular magnesium levels. In other words, the test does not efficiently measure the magnesium level within the cell where 99% of the magnesium in the body is found! The good news is that many labs now offer an “erythrocyte magnesium level” or “red blood cell magnesium level” test. These tests provide far more insight into your magnesium levels and are available from labs across the country.

How to Replenish this Valuable Nutrient

Getting enough magnesium into your body, both by diet and supplementation, provides a wide-range of benefits and is more important than many realize. In addition to helping reduce the symptoms and clinical conditions listed above, this “relaxation mineral” can also improve sleep, relieve stress, increase energy, and improve mood.

Magnesium in the body works in tandem with other vitamins and minerals, so a healthy diet is key to boosting magnesium levels. Dark, leafy green vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds are all great sources of magnesium that are easily absorbed by our body. Here’s a list of some of my favorite magnesium-rich foods that are easy to incorporate into your shopping list:

  • Almonds
  • Spinach
  • Cashews
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Avocados
  • Cultured yogurt
  • Salmon

How to Choose a Magnesium Supplement

But again, keep in mind that because so much of our food is grown in magnesium depleted soil, they may not be as magnesium-rich as advertised! That said, you can almost always reestablish a healthy magnesium level by taking a magnesium supplement. I would recommend supplementation if you are not getting enough magnesium from natural sources through your diet or are at an increased risk because of any of the drugs listed above. When choosing a magnesium supplement, keep in mind that magnesium salts, such as magnesium sulfate, magnesium oxide, magnesium chloride, and magnesium citrate, often have undesired gastrointestinal side effects. Chelated magnesium, which is magnesium that is bound to an amino acid, is less likely to cause nausea, bloating, or diarrhea. Chelated magnesium supplements include magnesium aspartate, magnesium arginate, and magnesium lactate. Magnesium supplements are even available now in a form that’s chelated to whole food (pea protein).

Learn more about magnesium by visiting our new magnesium focus page.

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Mark Hyman, MD