14 Signs You’re Not Getting Enough Magnesium

Magnesium Deficiency-40

As a functional medicine practitioner, one of the most overlooked nutrient deficiencies I see is magnesium deficiency, or hypomagnesemia.

Even though it’s the most abundant mineral in your body, over half of us are dealing with some level of magnesium inadequacy, even if we’re not technically “deficient.” Think of it this way: If there are 4 people in your family, at least 2 of them aren’t getting enough magnesium.

We function best when magnesium is at its optimal level. When you’re lacking in this essential mineral, you’re at risk for changes in mood, energy levels, and sleep, and more severe effects on your brain, heart, and digestive health if not addressed.


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1. Mood Disorders

Magnesium plays an important role in brain function and neurotransmitter synthesis, particularly when it comes to balanced levels of the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor. When this neurotransmitter is overstimulated, it can cause something called excitotoxicity.

Excitotoxicity increases oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain, two predictors for symptoms of depression and anxiety. (1) Healthy levels of magnesium can support healthier receptor function and, in many of my patients, improved mood.

Nutritional deficits that include low magnesium have also been found in people who have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). (2) This may be connected to that imbalance of neurotransmitters like NMDA in the brain.

2. Focus And Memory Problems

Studies suggest there’s a relationship between serum magnesium deficiency and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). (3) It’s all about that balance of brain chemicals I described above. When things aren’t firing as they should, even our attentions are affected.

A low intake of magnesium can also cause brain fog and impact memory function. Magnesium supports neural plasticity, which is your brain’s ability to make new connections. (4) This is essential to learning, memory, and even healing from trauma, especially in older adults.

3. Fatigue

I’ve personally dealt with adrenal fatigue and can vouch for the connection between magnesium and cortisol, your body’s stress hormone. Magnesium helps regulate cortisol levels to avoid symptoms of chronic stress that can make it hard to get out of bed in the morning.

If you ignore symptoms like excessive tiredness for too long, you could put yourself at risk for chronic fatigue syndrome. Boosting levels of magnesium for adrenal fatigue can help, and the research supports it.

Researchers have found that underlying magnesium deficiencies are a key component of low energy levels, especially as we age, and stress-related conditions that contribute to fatigue. (5)

4. Cardiovascular Disease

Low magnesium levels are linked to increased rates of high blood pressure and chronic inflammation, two risk factors for coronary heart disease and stroke. (6) This may be connected to the essential mineral’s effects on healthy blood vessel function and calcium channels.

Studies show a link between magnesium deficiency and calcium in the arterial walls, which can cause abnormal heart rhythms and arrhythmias, cardiac arrest, and heart failure down the line. (7)

5. Gastrointestinal Issues

Magnesium helps regulate muscle contractions in your digestive tract, including the smooth muscle of the intestines. When you don’t get enough magnesium, it’s possible to experience gastrointestinal spasms and symptoms like cramping, chronic diarrhea, nausea, and constipation. (8)

Low levels of magnesium can also cause issues with gut motility. This can lead to malabsorption and exacerbate symptoms of conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. (9) Magnesium supplementation can help in situations where diet alone won’t get you there.

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6. Muscle Spasms

Muscle weakness, cramping, and spasms are some of the most common side effects of low magnesium levels. This is because of the mineral’s role in muscle contractions and nerve transmission. (10)

While the rare charley horse isn’t usually debilitating for most, frequent cramps can have serious effects on athletes, rehab patients, and the elderly.

7. Insulin Resistance

Magnesium helps regulate blood sugar and insulin sensitivity because of its role in glucose metabolism. (11) This is important not only for patients with type 2 diabetes but anyone at risk of developing a metabolic disease.

Patients already diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are more likely to have low levels of magnesium. That makes it that much more important to watch your levels for blood sugar control and overall metabolic health.

8. Migraines

Research shows that people with a history of migraines have lower magnesium levels than those without chronic headaches. (12) This is especially true for postmenopausal women with osteoporosis and women with menstrual-related migraines.

Magnesium relaxes blood vessels in the brain that could trigger migraines otherwise, and it may have an effect on neurotransmitters responsible for migraine symptoms like auras. Supplements like magnesium oxide are a common preventative measure for migraine sufferers.

9. Sleep Trouble

Low magnesium levels can impact both sleep quality and how long you sleep. Magnesium helps regulate neurotransmitters like gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which helps your body relax and fall asleep. (13) Too little magnesium can make it harder for you to reset at the end of the day.

Magnesium also supports a healthy balance of hormones, including melatonin. (14) Melatonin supports your internal clock and helps ensure higher-quality sleep. Disruptions to that can lead to more sleep disturbances and brain fog, even if you’ve been trying Sleepy Girl Mocktails.

10. Thyroid Dysfunction

Magnesium deficiency is often an overlooked factor for those dealing with thyroid problems, especially in post-menopausal women. Magnesium is an essential component in the production of parathyroid hormones that regulate energy levels, metabolism, and bone health. (15)

Any disruption to these processes, and you put yourself at risk for the opposite: fatigue, rapid weight changes, and weakened bones.

I want to emphasize the part on bone health here. Post-menopausal women are already in the high-risk category for osteoporosis. Untreated hyperthyroidism can lead to even lower bone density and increase your risk of fractures and breaks. (16)

Read Next: Your Functional Medicine Guide To Underlying Thyroid Dysfunctions + How To Heal

11. Asthma

Low magnesium levels have been associated with an increased risk of asthma and worsened asthma symptoms. Studies show this may be because magnesium acts like a natural bronchodilator, helping to relax muscles in the airway and improve airflow. (17)

12. Skin Conditions

Magnesium supports healthy skin barrier function, hydration, and collagen synthesis. These are all important to healthy skin, especially as we age. Deficient magnesium can make it harder for your skin to retain moisture, which can worsen existing conditions like psoriasis and eczema. (18)

Topical magnesium is often used to enhance skin hydration and elasticity, but more research is needed to show the efficacy of those treatments.

13. Premature Aging

Magnesium is important to healthy aging. Studies show magnesium deficiencies can accelerate aging by influencing cellular senescence. (19) This is the process where our cells lose the ability to divide. Rather than die off, they accumulate and stay behind to potentially harm healthy cells.

This can weaken your immune system and put you at risk for aging-related conditions like cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis. We can’t stop the passage of time, but we can do our best to keep magnesium at healthy levels and support wellness even at the cell level.

14. Inflammation

I’ve mentioned inflammation a few different times already as a predictor for conditions like depression and cardiovascular disease. Chronic inflammation, whether it’s caused by low magnesium, stress, or exposure to toxins, plays a role in nearly every health condition out there.

Diabetes, asthma, arthritis, chronic pain, and gastrointestinal disorders are just a short list of conditions I’ve linked back to chronic inflammation in my own patients. Improving your diet to boost magnesium levels and overall wellness can help relieve some of that stress on your body.

LISTEN: Hot or Not: Fire Cider, Magnesium Spray, Moldy Foods & Exactly How To Know If You’re Mold Sensitive + Top Picks For Immune Support (Ask Me Anything Episode!)

Need More Magnesium? Eat These Foods!

A healthy, balanced diet that includes leafy greens, legumes, and whole grains is a great way to meet healthy levels of magnesium. Some breakfast cereals and fortified foods include added magnesium, but they may be ultra-processed as a result.

You can be creative with your consumption, too. I love green smoothies that incorporate magnesium-rich spinach and bananas. Heck, sip on a healthy mocktail after work as you prep dinner.

Here are some of my favorite sources of magnesium to add to your diet, complete with a percentage of the Daily Value* in each:

Food Serving Size Magnesium Per Serving % RDA
Cooked spinach 1 cup 157 mg 37%
Cooked Swiss chard 1 cup 154 mg 37%
Quinoa 1 cup 118 mg 28%
Brown rice 1 cup 84 mg 20%
Pumpkin seeds 1 ounce 74 mg 18%
Almonds 1 ounce 77 mg 18%
Dark chocolate 1 ounce 65 mg 15%
Black beans ½ cup 60 mg 14%
Avocado 1 medium 58 mg 14%
Edamame ½ cup 50 mg 12%
Kefir 1 cup 50 mg 12%
Figs ½ cup 50 mg 12%
Acorn squash 1 cup diced 45 mg 11%
Banana 1 medium 32 mg 8%
Tofu 3.5 oz 30 mg 7%
Salmon 3.5 oz 27 mg 6%


*Daily Value is based on 420 mg of magnesium daily. This is the upper limit of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for healthy men from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

I have to add here that low magnesium levels often mean deficiencies elsewhere. Severe magnesium deficiency can lead to hypocalcemia (low serum calcium) or hypokalemia (low potassium levels). Any of these electrolyte deficiencies can create problems for your heart, bones, and immune system.

Do You Need A Magnesium Supplement?

The RDA for magnesium is 400-420mg/day for men and 310-320mg/day for women. Pregnant women should aim for 350-360mg daily. Optimal magnesium levels in functional medicine may be higher depending on your health needs.

Many of us don’t meet even the basic standards, especially if we’re dealing with chronic conditions that make it even harder to get the nutrition we need. A healthy diet of magnesium-rich foods is the best way to prevent low levels of magnesium.

For those dealing with a severe magnesium deficiency, though, diet alone may not be enough. Supplements can help.

I have a detailed guide to choosing the right magnesium supplement for your needs, but here are the most important tips I share with my patients:

  • Figure out what your body really needs. Working with a functional medicine provider can help you understand your current magnesium levels beyond conventional blood tests.
  • Do your research. The brand you choose should be transparent with where it sources its ingredients. It should also be free of fillers and ingredients that could worsen symptoms.
  • Start with the right amount of magnesium. Too much magnesium can cause an upset stomach or, in rare cases where your kidneys can’t handle excretion, magnesium toxicity.
  • Consider the timing. Magnesium is linked to calming effects on your muscles and your mood. It may make sense to supplement before bed.

If you think you have symptoms of magnesium deficiency, talk to your healthcare provider about having your magnesium levels tested. I always recommend advanced nutrient labs that are more accurate than standard tests.

From there, you both can decide whether you need changes to diet or supplementation as a temporary measure to get you back on track.

A functional medicine approach is the best way to address not only magnesium deficiency, but barriers to feeling your best. If you’re interested in a holistic approach to optimal health, I can help you get there. Schedule a consultation with me today to kickstart your health journey.


Low levels of magnesium are common in so many Americans for a number of possible reasons:

  • Poor nutrition
  • Restrictive diets (e.g. gluten-free diets due to celiac disease)
  • Medications like diuretics, antibiotics, laxatives, antacids, and proton pump inhibitors that deplete magnesium
  • Health conditions like type 2 diabetes, pancreatitis, and chronic gut issues that affect magnesium absorption
  • Alcohol use disorders
  • Soil depletion (20)

Topical magnesium may be a convenient, low-cost way to boost magnesium levels, but research is mixed on whether it addresses a true deficiency in a significant way. (21) Limited studies show positive outcomes in patients with fibromyalgia and sleep issues. (22)

Taking vitamin D with magnesium (and vice versa) can enhance the effects of both. Magnesium can help your body metabolize vitamin D and regulate calcium in the body. Vitamin D supports calcium absorption.

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  1. Olloquequi, J., Cornejo-Córdova, E., Verdaguer, E., et al. (2018). Excitotoxicity in the pathogenesis of neurological and psychiatric disorders: Therapeutic implications. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 32(3), 265-275. 
  2. Shohag, H., Ullah, A., Qusar, S., et al. (2012). Alterations of serum zinc, copper, manganese, iron, calcium, and magnesium concentrations and the complexity of interelement relations in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Biological Trace Element Research, 148(3), 275-280. 
  3. Effatpanah, M., Rezaei, M., Effatpanah, H., et al. (2019). Magnesium status and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Research, 274, 228-234. 
  4. Slutsky, I., Sadeghpour, S., Li, B., et al. (2004). Enhancement of synaptic plasticity through chronically reduced Ca2+ flux during uncorrelated activity. Neuron, 44(5), 835-849. 
  5. Barbagallo, M., Veronese, N. & Dominguez, L.J. (2021). Magnesium in aging, health, and diseases. Nutrients, 13(2), 463. 
  6. Dibaba, D.T., Xun, P., Song, Y., et al. (2017). The effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure in individuals with insulin resistance, prediabetes, or noncommunicable chronic diseases: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 106(3), 921-929. 
  7. Tangvoraphonkchai, K. & Davenport, A. (2018). Magnesium and cardiovascular disease. Advances in Chronic Kidney Disease, 25(3), 251-260. 
  8. Moradian, S.T., Ghiasi, M.S., Mohamadpour, A., et al. (2017). Oral magnesium supplementation reduces the incidence of gastrointestinal complications following cardiac surgery: a randomized clinical trial. Magnesium Research, 30(1), 28-34. 
  9. Gilca-Blanariu, G.E., Trifan, A., Ciocoiu, M., et al. (2022). Magnesium-a potential key player in inflammatory bowel diseases? Nutrients, 14(9), 1914. 
  10. Moretti, A. (2021). What is the role of magnesium for skeletal muscle cramps? A Cochrane Review summary with commentary. Journal of Musculoskeletal and Neuronal Interactions, 21(1), 1-3. 
  11. Veronese, N., Dominguez, L.J., Pizzol, D., et al. (2021). Oral magnesium supplementation for treating glucose metabolism parameters in people with or at risk of diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of double-blind randomized controlled trials. Nutrients, 13(11), 4074. 
  12. Maier, J.A., Pickering, G., Giacomoni, E., et al. (2020). Headaches and magnesium: mechanisms, bioavailability, therapeutic efficacy and potential advantage of magnesium pidolate. Nutrients, 12(9), 2660. 
  13. Pickering, G., Mazur, A., Trousselard, M., et al. (2020). Magnesium status and stress: the vicious circle concept revisited. Nutrients, 12(12), 3672. 
  14. Alizadeh, M., Karandish, M.,Asghari Jafarabadi, M., et al. (2021). Metabolic and hormonal effects of melatonin and/or magnesium supplementation in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Nutrition & Metabolism, 18(1), 57. 
  15. Kolanu, B.R., Vadakedath, S., Boddula, V., et al. (2020). Activities of serum magnesium and thyroid hormones in pre-, peri-, and post-menopausal women. Cureus, 12(1), e6554. 
  16. Delitala, A.P., Scuteri, A. & Doria, C. (2020). Thyroid hormone diseases and osteoporosis. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 9(4), 1034. 
  17. Kowal, A., Panaszek, B., Barg, W., et al. (2007). The use of magnesium in bronchial asthma: a new approach to an old problem. Archivum Immunologiae et Therapiae Experimentalis, 55(1), 35-39. 
  18. Schwalfenberg, G.K. & Genuis, S.J. (2017). The importance of magnesium in clinical healthcare. Scientifica, 4179326. 
  19. Killilea, D.W. & Maier, J.A. (2008). A connection between magnesium deficiency and aging: new insights from cellular studies. Magnesium Research, 21(2), 77-82. 
  20. Cazzola, R., Della Porta, M., Manoni, M., et al. (2020). Going to the roots of reduced magnesium dietary intake: A tradeoff between climate changes and sources. Heliyon, 6(11), e05390. 
  21. Gröber, U., Werner, T., Vormann, J., et al. (2017). Myth or reality-transdermal magnesium? Nutrients, 9(8), 813.
  22. Engen, D.J., McAllister, S.J., Whipple, M.O., et al. (2015). Effects of transdermal magnesium chloride on quality of life for patients with fibromyalgia: a feasibility study. Journal of Integrative Medicine, 13(5), 306-313.

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Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.

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Gut Feelings

Healing The Shame-Fueled Relationship
Between What You Eat And How You Feel