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Lack of magnesium: how does it affect the body?

Lack of magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral - the body needs it in order to function properly. It plays a role in

  • muscle function: it helps the muscles relax after contracting;
  • cardio-vascular function: as the heart is a muscle, it requires magnesium to work properly, and to maintain a regular heart rate; magnesium also contributes to normal blood coagulation;
  • nerve function: since magnesium is involved in producing the body’s hormones, neurotransmitters and enzymes, it’s an important factor in numerous reactions involving the nerves and regulation of mood, for example.

Magnesium deficiency, the root of many ills

With magnesium playing a part in so many physiological reactions, deficiency gives rise to numerous dysfunctions which may lead to the onset of serious diseases. These include:

  • Depression: researchers have demonstrated a link between low magnesium levels in the body and depression, especially among young adults (1). Insufficient magnesium has negative effects on stress in general.
  • Hypertension: a lack of magnesium results in a build-up of calcium in cells and may cause blood vessels to narrow (vasoconstriction) (2).
  • Vitamin D deficiency: when magnesium levels are too low, vitamin D is unable to fulfil its role in the body and this can result in atherosclerosis (hardening of the artery wall).
  • Type 2 diabetes: similarly, a shortfall in magnesium prevents the release of insulin, making it harder to control diabetes and aggravating the complications associated with this chronic disease (3-4).
  • Renal failure: a lack of magnesium promotes diabetes and hypertension, both of which are risk factors for chronic renal failure (5).
  • Dysmenorrhea (painful periods): magnesium provides relief by reducing levels of the prostaglandins that cause pain (6). Its muscle-relaxant role also works on the uterus, contraction of which is painful in dysmenorrhea.
  • Pre-menstrual syndrome: magnesium seems to improve the mood swings often suffered by women just before their period (7). Other symptoms such as water retention, weight gain or sensitive breasts may also be relieved by ensuring adequate magnesium levels (8-9).

This list is by no means exhaustive and will undoubtedly evolve as a result of further research and clinical studies.

How can you prevent magnesium deficiency?

Average daily requirements for magnesium are estimated to be 420mg for men, and 360mg for women (10). These are average figures only as magnesium requirements vary depending on factors such as age, state of health, and lifestyle ...

Magnesium deficiency can have a number of causes, such as alcohol abuse, oral contraceptives, diabetes, certain drugs ... If you have symptoms related to inadequate magnesium levels, supplementation can prove very effective, as long as you ask your doctor or pharmacist about the right form and dosage. Of course, it’s important to eat a varied, balanced diet in order to meet your needs for magnesium. Foods to prioritise include wholegrains, especially wheat bran, nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts …), soya, pulses, spinach … and dark chocolate!


  1. Emily K. Tarleton, Benjamin Littenberg. Magnesium Intake and Depression in Adults. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. Vol. 28, n°2, pp 249-256. 2015.
  2. Guerrero-Romero F, Rodriguez-Moran M, Hernandez-Ronquillo G, Gomez-Diaz R, Pizano-Zarate ML, Wacher NH, et al. Low Serum Magnesium Levels and Its Association with High Blood Pressure in Children. Journal of Pediatrics. Vol.168, pp 93-98. 2016.
  3. Hatice Ozcaliskan Ilkay, Habibe Sahin, Fatih Tanriverdi, Gulhan Samur. Association Between Magnesium Status, Dietary Magnesium Intake, and Metabolic Control in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Vol. 38, n°1, pp 31-39. 2019.
  4. Pr F. Mnif, F.Loukil, Dr D. Bensalah, M.Chiboub, Pr M.Jammousi, Pr M.Mallek, Dr R. Marrekchi, Pr M.Abid. Impact du déficit en magnésium sur les complications chroniques du diabète type 2. Annales d’endocrinologie. Vol. 79, n°4, pp 477. 2018.
  5. Ferrè S, Li X, Adams-Huet B, et al. Low serum magnesium is associated with faster decline in kidney function: the Dallas Heart Study experience. Journal of Investigative Medicine. 2019.
  6. Seifert VB, Wagler P, Dartsch S, et al. Magnesium—a new therapeutic alternative in primary dysmenorrhea [translated from German]. Zentralbl Gynakol. Vol. 111, pp 755-760. 1989.
  7. Facchinetti F, Borella P, Sances G, et al. Oral magnesium successfully relieves premenstrual mood changes. Obstet Gynecol. Vol. 78, pp 177-181. 1991.
  8. De Souza MC, Walker AF, Robinson PA, et al. A synergistic effect of a daily supplement for 1 month of 200 mg magnesium plus 50 mg vitamin B 6 for the relief of anxiety-related premenstrual symptoms: a randomized, double-blind, crossover study. Journal of Women’s Health & Gender-Based Medicine. Vol. 9, pp 131-139. 2000.
  9. Facchinetti F, Sances G, Borella P, et al. Magnesium prophylaxis of menstrual migraine: effects on intracellular magnesium. Headache. Vol. 31, pp 298-301. 1991.
  10. ANSES : Actualisation des repères du PNNS : élaboration des références nutritionnelles. Rapports d’expertise collective. 2016.
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