Skip to main content

Many people with chronic diseases lack magnesium

- and a regular blood test cannot reveal it

 Many people with chronic diseases lack magnesiumAlthough humans generally live longer now, an increasing number of people suffer from chronic diseases. Our medicine consumption is steadily increasing, yet the underlying causes are not addressed, and it is often down to a lack of essential nutrients. Just think of magnesium, a nutrient that is involved in more than 300 different enzyme processes that are important for our nervous system, digestion, muscle function, heart function, blood pressure, bone health, pregnancy, and utilization of vitamin D. This also means that lack of magnesium may be involved in the development of asthma, stress, insomnia, constipation, migraines, neurological diseases, cardiovascular diseases, breast cancer, premature deliveries etc. A recent review article published in Scientifica looks at the importance of magnesium in clinical therapy, and it is vital that magnesium supplements are in a form that the body can absorb and utilize.

According to medical science, there are two concurrent phenomena: A neglect of the fact that chronic diseases are spreading like a bushfire, and the problem with widespread deficiency of specific nutrients. Although the scientific literature reveals a comprehensive insight into the different functions of the nutrients and their importance for human health, this knowledge is rarely used in medical practice. The blatant neglect may easily make things worse, because the underlying causes are not addressed, and a lot of the medicine that is used to control the symptoms has serious side effects. It is therefore important for us to get sufficient amounts of magnesium throughout life, as it may help us prevent a host of different diseases and conditions. Magnesium supplements can be taken separately or integrated as part of a medical treatment.

Magnesium and its many functions

Magnesium is one of the minerals that we humans need in the largest quantities. An adult person contains around 25 grams of magnesium. We have 53% in our bone tissue, 27% in muscle tissue, 19% in other soft tissues and less than 1% in our blood serum. Because only one percent is present in our serum, a normal blood test will not be able to give us a clear picture of our magnesium status.
Most of our magnesium is stored inside the cells, where it is involved in the energy turnover. Large magnesium concentrations are found inside our mitochondria, which are the cellular powerhouses. It is important to make sure to have the right balance between magnesium and calcium for the sake of bones and the cells in soft tissues.

Magnesium supports more than 300 different enzyme processes that are important for:

  • Energy turnover and energy levels
  • Protein synthesis
  • Muscle function and muscle contraction
  • Nerve function
  • Digestion
  • Blood sugar control
  • The hormone system
  • Heart and blood pressure
  • Proper control of the calcium channels in cell membranes
  • Strong bones. Magnesium (plus calcium and phosphorous) constitute the solid matter of bones
  • The activation of vitamin D, which all cells need

Why magnesium deficiency is so common

An estimated 56-58% of Americans do not get enough magnesium from their diets, if you look at the official recommendations, which are similar to those in Denmark (RI – reference intake – for adults is about 375 mg). The widespread magnesium deficiency problem, which is also seen among children and adults in Denmark, may be caused by several factors:

  • Fertilizers and pesticides reduce the magnesium content in crops
  • There is less magnesium in non-organic and refined foods
  • Regular staples like meat, white flour, and white rice provide less than 20% of the recommended daily intake of magnesium
  • Cooking, frying and baking lowers the magnesium content in food
  • Lack of vitamin D, which is quite common, impairs the body’s uptake of magnesium
  • Normal ageing can lower your magnesium uptake by up to 30%
  • Pregnancy increases the need for magnesium
  • Stress increases your need for magnesium
  • A large alcohol consumption increases the body’s magnesium excretion
  • Insulin resistance and type 1 and type 2 diabetes increase the body’s magnesium excretion
  • Diarrhea and Crohn’s disease increase your magnesium excretion
  • Your magnesium uptake may be impaired by diuretics, certain types of antibiotics, antacids, and anti-hypertensive medicine
  • Other types of medicine such as antihistamines, antacids, laxatives, hormone pills with estradiol, certain types of blood pressure medication, corticosteroids, anti-depressive medicine etc. may also reduce the body’s magnesium levels

A chronic magnesium imbalance can be a result of these general factors:

1: Reduced intake
Soil depletion combined with a diet that is not properly balanced and is too refined

2: Impaired uptake
Lack of vitamin D, gastro-intestinal disease, and consumption of certain types of medicine

3: Increased loss
Heavy sweating, diarrhea, use of laxatives, diabetes, alcohol, and medicine

4: Increased need
Stress, pregnancy, ageing processes, and deficiency diseases

Magnesium is involved in a host of different enzyme processes. Therefore, moderate to severe deficiency may cause different clinical symptoms. The following is just a brief review of the extensive research in this area.

Magnesium activates vitamin D

Humans synthesize vitamin D in the form of cholecalciferol by means of sunlight. It is also cholecalciferol that is found in vitamin D supplements. Aided by magnesium-containing enzymes, the liver converts cholecalciferol to 25-hydroxycholecalciferol D3 (also known as 25(OH)D) , which is the form of vitamin D that is measured in blood. When the body needs vitamin D, it converts 25(OH)D into the active form called 1,25-dihydroxycholecalciferol D3 with help from other magnesium-containing enzymes. This process takes place inside the kidneys. Being magnesium deficient can therefore lead to an array of diseases caused by a lack of active vitamin D. For example, if you attempt to treat Rickets by giving massive doses of vitamin D to a patient, who already lacks magnesium, the therapy will not work. This is because of magnesium’s role in several of the functions that are of relevance to the building of bones.

We need vitamin D to be able to absorb calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous.

Magnesium ensures the correct distribution of calcium to bones and soft tissues

Magnesium works like a door bolt in the calcium channel of cells. Here, it makes sure that the major share of calcium is channeled into the bone cells, while at the same time ensuring a very small calcium concentration in soft tissues such as nerves, muscles, and internal organs.
According to a number of studies, higher magnesium intake among older men and women is associated with increased bone density and a lower risk of osteoporosis. In contrast, a magnesium deficiency is linked to a greater risk of osteoporosis. Lack of magnesium also increases the risk of calcium flooding of the cells in soft tissues. Too much calcium tends to stress cells in soft tissues, and it may cause local inflammation, tension, cramps, atherosclerosis, and several other serious conditions.

Therefore, it is essential to have the right balance between calcium and magnesium

  • Facts about the relation between calcium and magnesium
  • According to the RI (reference intake) level, the relation should ideally be 2:1 (800 mg calcium/375 mg magnesium)
  • The actual ratio in Nordic diets is around 4:1
  • The ratio in Japanese diets is around 1:1
  • Milk contains around nine times more calcium than magnesium
  • Too little magnesium in relation to calcium has a number of negative effects on our health

Magnesium and asthma

The exact mechanisms have not yet been mapped out, but it looks as if lack of magnesium may cause severe bronchial spasms that make it difficult to breathe. The spasms typically occur in connection with asthma and bronchitis. To begin with, too little magnesium, especially if combined with a calcium overload, may stress the bronchial cells. Moreover, a magnesium deficiency may cause a lack of active vitamin D, which impairs the body’s ability to control inflammation.

Magnesium and pregnancy

Magnesium deficiencies are widespread among pregnant women, who have an increased need for the nutrient in the first place. Studies show that magnesium supplements given before the 25th week of pregnancy lowers the risk of premature delivery and low birth weight. Magnesium supplements also help reduce the risk of preeclampsia, which is a combination of elevated blood pressure and protein excretion in the urine. Preeclampsia may lead to life-threatening conditions.

Magnesium and migraines

Not only can magnesium supplements reduce the number of days with migraine attacks, they can also reduce their duration and severity plus lower the need for acute medication. This was shown in a placebo-controlled study that is published in the journal Cephalalgia. In this study, patients were given 600 mg of magnesium daily or placebo (dummy pills) for a 12-week period. Magnesium is believed to relieve migraine by protecting the nerve cells against calcium poisoning.

Magnesium, insulin resistance, and diabetes

Insulin works by moving sugar from the bloodstream into the cells. Insulin resistance is when the cellular uptake of sugar is impaired, and insulin levels in the blood are persistently high. Insulin resistance is also a part of what is known as metabolic syndrome, which is an early stage of type 2 diabetes.
People with metabolic syndrome generally have lower magnesium levels. Part of the explanation may lie in the fact that normal diets are low in magnesium, and that people with metabolic syndrome have increased magnesium excretion via the kidneys. For that reason, magnesium is important both for prevention and in therapy. Another important thing is that magnesium activates vitamin D, a nutrient that is also involved in blood sugar regulation. A study of type 1 diabetics suffering from neuropathy showed that they were helped with a 300 mg daily magnesium supplement taken for a period of five years.
Magnesium, anxiety, stress, and depression
We humans depend on magnesium-containing coenzymes that help us convert tryptophan to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is vital for our mental well-being. Scientists at the University of Leeds in England have reviewed several studies showing that magnesium supplements may be useful as add-on therapy against mild anxiety, stress, and depression. It appears that magnesium is a precondition for a healthy and strong nervous system, and it is vital to get enough of the nutrient to prevent and treat these problems.

Magnesium, sleep, and restless legs

An estimated 50 percent of adults have sleep problems. In a study where participants took 500 mg of magnesium before bedtime, they had an easier time falling asleep, their sleep was deeper, and they slept longer. Magnesium supplements have actually been shown to raise blood levels of melatonin, a sleep hormone that we humans synthesize from serotonin during the night. However, our endogenous production of melatonin decreases with age, and it appears that a magnesium deficiency can decrease our melatonin production additionally. Supplementation with magnesium has also been shown to reduce problems with restless legs at night.

Magnesium and inflammation

Researchers from Mexico, Iran, and Australia have gathered data from many studies and looked at a certain protein that is a marker of inflammation in the body. According to the scientists, magnesium supplements may significantly reduce levels of this specific protein.
As mentioned earlier, magnesium controls inflammation by regulating the distribution of calcium and by activating vitamin D. As it turns out, inflammation is the common thread among most chronic diseases, even those that are not felt directly. This is because inflammation virtually bombards the body with free radicals.

Magnesium, vitamin D, and cancer

Lack of magnesium reduces the magnesium content in cells, where the nutrient is needed for energy turnover. Also, there is a risk of calcium flooding of the cells of the soft tissues such as nerves, connective tissue, and internal organs. This can stress the cells and set the stage for cancer. It is shown that a high ratio of calcium compared to magnesium increases the risk of breast cancer. Too little vitamin D also increases the risk of breast cancer, and it has been seen that magnesium is important for both the uptake and activation of vitamin D.

Magnesium and cardiovascular diseases

Lack of calcium can cause cardiovascular disease by way of several mechanisms. As mentioned earlier, magnesium’s role is to channel the lion’s share of calcium into bone cells, while making sure that only a limited amount of calcium gets into the other cells. When magnesium levels are too low, there is a risk of calcium flooding of cells in the soft tissues. This increases the risk of inflammation that sets the stage for atherosclerosis. Too little magnesium may also lead to elevated insulin levels and elevated triglycerides levels in the blood. A study shows that the quartile of patients with the highest magnesium intake had a 77% lower risk of dying of heart failure. Lack of magnesium may also result in atrial fibrillation.

Magnesium, AHDH, sclerosis, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease

Magnesium also has several roles in the nervous system, which is why the nutrient is important for our mental well-being. Most children with ADHD lack magnesium, and supplements have been shown to improve their symptoms significantly. Magnesium supplements can also reduce fatigue in patients with sclerosis, and they improve the memory of patients with dementia. In patients with Parkinson’s disease, scientists have observed lower levels of magnesium combined with elevated levels of aluminum, which is believed to contribute to the disease.

Deteting magnesium deficiencies

Although science has demonstrated that magnesium is vital for our health, it is difficult to measure, whether we get enough. It is also difficult to establish optimal levels for daily intake or for optimal blood levels. This is because most of our magnesium is stored inside our bone cells and other tissues. Moreover, a regular blood test only shows the magnesium content in serum. But because we have most of our magnesium inside our cells, full blood analyses are more accurate, as they measure the magnesium content inside and outside the cells.

Magnesium sources, supplements, and medicine

Some of the best sources of magnesium are kernels, almonds, nuts, whole grain, cabbage, and other compact vegetables. There are also nutritional supplements and certain types of medicine that contain magnesium. Among the magnesium types that are absorbed the best are magnesium carbonate, magnesium acetate, magnesium orotate, and magnesium amino acid chelate.
Magnesium oxide, a tablet excipient that is normally found in inexpensive magnesium supplements, is not very bioavailable and does not affect the body’s magnesium status. Magnesium oxide (Magnesia) is commonly used to treat heart burn and constipation.
There are magnesium supplements that contain not one but several types of magnesium to improve the highest level of bioavailability and utilization of the nutrient. High-dosed magnesium supplements are not associated with side effects. Rare cases of diarrhea have been observed, and the best way to avoid this is through a gradual dosage increase rather than a sudden one, or by lowering the dosage in the case of adverse effects. Many people actually find that magnesium supplements help their digestion.


Gerry K Schwalfenberg and Stephen J. Genius. The Importance of Magnesium in Clinical healthcare. Scientifica (Cairo). 2017

Kristian Sjøgren. Kroppen vælter I magnesium, men forskere kan ikke finde det. 2018

Helen Sauil Case. Magnesium demper hyperaktivitet blant AD/HD-barn. Helsemagasinet Vitenskap og Fornuft. N1 2017

Andrea Rosanoff et al. Essential Nutrient Interactions: Does Low or Suboptimal Magnesium Interact with Vitamin D and/or Calcium status. Advances in Nutrition 2016

Anna E. Kirkland et al. The Role of Magnesium in Neurological Disorders. Nutrients 2018

Mauskop A, Varughese J. : Why all migraine patients should be treated with magnesium. Journal of Neural Transmission 2012

Neil Bernard Boyle, Clare Lawton and Louise Dye. The Effects of magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress – A systematic Review. Nutrients 2017

L-.E. Simental-Mendia et al. Effects of magnesium supplementation on plasma C-reactive protein concentrations: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Current Pharmaceutical Design. 2017

  • Created on .