Health And Wellbeing For The Over 50s

Magnesium: Its Importance & The Effects Of Its Deficiency

Magnesium food with full name

Magnesium is a mineral which plays several important roles in the health of your body and brain. It is required for the proper growth and maintenance of bones. It is also required for the proper function of nerves, muscles and many other parts of the body.

If you suffer from unexplained fatigue or weakness, abnormal heart rhythms or even muscle spasms, low levels of this essential mineral could be to blame. Magnesium deficiency, which is especially prevalent in older populations and women, is linked to diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, stroke and coronary heart disease.

What are the health benefits of magnesium?

  1. Bone health. Magnesium helps with the assimilation of calcium into the bones. This also leads to greater bone density thus lowering the risk of osteoporosis in older women.
  2. Diabetes. The mineral plays an important role in carbohydrate and glucose metabolism.
  3. Heart health. Magnesium is needed for the health of muscles including the heart. An adequate intake has also been associated with a lower risk of hypertension and clogging of the arteries.
  4. Nervous system health. The mineral is needed for the transmission of electrical signals in the body.
  5. Premenstrual syndrome. Research suggests that symptoms such as bloating, insomnia, leg swelling and breast tenderness may be alleviated with an adequate intake of the mineral.

What are the symptoms of a magnesium deficiency?

Symptoms of a deficiency may include:

  • agitation, confusion and anxiety
  • abnormal heart rhythms
  • muscle spasms, tremors and weakness
  • sleep disorders
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea and vomiting
  • restless leg syndrome
  • stress and fatigue
  • calcium deficiency


It is important to note that while these are symptoms  of a deficiency, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are definitely deficient in magnesium.

What causes us to be deficient in magnesium?

Modern farming practices have seen the magnesium content of the soil greatly diminished. This has had a large bearing on the level of the mineral in our crops. The magnesium content in vegetables has declined by as much as 80% since 1950.

Caffeine, alcohol, processed grains and sugar prompt the kidneys to expel magnesium thus deleting the level in the body. Stress in our lives can also be a cause and a symptom of magnesium deficiency. The stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol deplete the body’s natural stores.

Certain drugs can deplete magnesium levels and these include proton pump inhibitors, chemotherapy drugs such as cisplatin, amphetamines and osmotic diuretics.

How is the problem diagnosed?

Low magnesium levels are difficult to diagnose. A blood test rarely helps as just 1% of the body’s magnesium is found in the blood. The symptoms of a deficiency are also common to many other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, pre-menstrual tension and fibromyalgia.

Studies in the United States have found that up to 80% of the population could be deficient. Therefore if you experience several of the symptoms listed above, it may be useful to look at the variety in your diet and consider supplementation.

What are the best food sources?

Magnesium foods

  • Sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds
  • Nuts such as cashews and almonds
  • Leafy green vegetables such as spinach and Swiss chard
  • Pulses such as black beans, kidney beans, soybeans and black eyed peas
  • Bananas
  • Avocados
  • Whole grain bread and cereals


Magnesium supplements are available, but it is best to obtain an adequate level through food sources. This increases the likelihood of taking in other required and beneficial nutrients which work together to aid absorption. As always, a  diet filled with a variety of nutrients is the key to good health.

If you suffer from a medical condition which requires you to take certain diuretics or heart medications, consult your doctor before thinking of taking additional supplementation.

Finally, without enough of this important mineral, your body simply can’t function properly.

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