Magnesium deficiency?

Magnesium deficiency can come about for a number of reasons affecting many of us without us realising.

Sadly, farming methods have led to depleted nutrients in soil and nowadays the storage methods of fresh produce means that vegetables, which are a great source of magnesium can be up to three or four weeks old by the time we buy them.

Recent studies have shown that magnesium content in cereal seeds have markedly declined over time, and “two thirds of people surveyed in developed countries received less than their minimum daily Mg requirement” (Guo et al., 2016) 

Magnesium is needed for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body and is critical for our cells to make energy. Magnesium’s role is vast; needed to maintain normal nerve and muscle function, supports a healthy immune system, keep a regular heartbeat, and support bone health.

Generally, in the UK we just don’t seem to be getting enough from our diet. This is most likely due to us not eating enough plant-based, wholegrains foods. We can get magnesium from foods such as; nuts, legumes, wholegrains, beans, seeds, green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, broccoli, cabbage, watercress, rocket, lettuce). Fish is also an excellent source.

Additionally, considering the stress everyone has been through this last year with Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions it is important to recognise that being stressed uses up more magnesium in the adrenal glands which release stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline in response. Over time, if stress continues for a long period of time, body systems struggle to maintain homeostasis and we can end up with chronic fatigue syndrome or you may have heard of “adrenal fatigue” which can leave you feeling as though you are wading through treacle with a spacesuit on as energy levels are depleted.


Those with malabsorption issues seen in coeliac disease, irritable bowel disease and leaky gut syndrome are much more likely to have a deficiency as they are simply unable to absorb enough magnesium in the small intestines, but also prevalent in people taking antacid medications used to prevent heartburn/acid reflux. This is because stomach acid is needed to liberate minerals such as magnesium from its protein-bound matrix. Therefore, blocking acid production prevents magnesium from being available for absorption. In addition, some of us will have an increased need for magnesium depending on a diet, lifestyle and genetic predisposition.

Symptoms of magnesium

Symptoms of magnesium deficiency can manifest as:

  • restless leg syndrome
  • muscle cramps or spasms
  • fatigue
  • depression
  • nausea
  • headaches
  • migraines
  • Muscle weakness
  • lower bone density
  • constipation
  • abnormal heart rhythms

As magnesium is used in over 300 reactions in the body it is a critical requirement for our bodies to function optimally. This includes brain, heart and muscle movement and bone health. It is also needed for cellular respiration; your cell’s ability to create energy, so if you feel tired you may need to boost your magnesium levels. Additionally, research has commonly demonstrated that magnesium deficiency is associated with headaches, depression and anxiety.

In some case histories where patients presented with major depression they made a rapid recovery (less than 7 days) using a relatively low dose supplement 125–300 mg of magnesium (as glycinate and taurate) with each meal and at bedtime.  (Eby & Eby. 2006). However taking a supplement is not a substitute for a poor diet. Nutrients work in synergy with others, for example magnesium, calcium and vitamin D work together therefore if you are low on one you are likely to be low or deficient in others.

Working with a professional to help you meet your nutritional needs naturally through diet and discuss which supplements might be needed and which dose from quality sources should be prioritosed to help you reach your health goal.

How much magnesium?

According to the National Institutes of Health, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for people between the ages of 19 and 30 years old is:

  • 310mg for females
  • 400mg for males

For people aged 31 years or older, the RDA is:

  • 320mg for females
  • 420mg for females

Requirements are higher in teenagers aged between 14 and 18 years old, during pregnancy. Younger children require less magnesium than teenagers and adults.

It is really important to get magnesium from real food sources but some people can benefit from taking additional amount from a good quality supplement.

Food sources

The more processed the food, the lower the magnesium levels are likely to be. For example, only 16% of the magnesium found in whole wheat remains in refined flour. It is possible to eat food rich in magnesium such as green vegetables, fruit, whole grains, cereals, and legumes and meet the RDA.

Some foods high in magnesium, listed from highest to lowest magnesium content, include:

  • nuts, especially almonds, cashews, peanuts
  • spinach
  • black beans
  • edamame beans
  • peanut butter
  • wholewheat bread
  • avocado
  • potato
  • rice
  • yogurt

Other foods containing good amounts of magnesium include:

  • oatmeal
  • kidney beans
  • banana
  • apple
  • fish
  • milk
  • raisins
  • chicken breast
  • beef
  • broccoli and carrot

Magnesium and constipation

Magnesium is needed to relax muscles in between contractions i.e. heartbeat and the wave-like movement in gut motility called peristalsis. Increasing magnesium can help alleviate chronic constipation by supporting peristalsis plus increasing magnesium rich foods in your diet would naturally increase the fibre content which is key to keeping things moving.  I often see the benefits of increasing dietary magnesium, in my clients who suffer with depression, fatigue, insomnia, migraines and constipation.

We need about 300-400mg of magnesium every day. This is equal to having ½ cup of oats, 1 tablespoons of seeds (sunflower), 1 cup of yoghurt, 1 slice of wholegrain bread, 1 cup of spinach and  ½ cup of brown rice. Plus a square of dark chocolate which is an excellent source of magnesium!!

Don’t’ forget you can also absorb magnesium through the skin by having a lovely, relaxing Epsom salt bath which can also help aid a restful night’s sleep.

Increase your magnesium levels by aiming to have at least 4-5 servings of vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds and beans every day to see your energy levels soar and improve your sleep. My Gut Transformation package can help you achieve your best health naturally.

Case Study

My client (41 yrs) suffered with recurrent cluster migraines with aura. These would be debilitating and require complete rest and darkness to recover and were occurring approximately 3-4 times per month. After removing some common dietary triggers for migraines they reduced by over 50%. We then worked together further to focus in on hormone-balancing and supported a strong dietary protocol with supplemental magnesium complex specifically designed for migraine relief and she has now been migraine free for the past 5 months. You can see some testimonial videos on various health conditions to see how I have helped them.

Test don’t guess

You can find out if you have a need for more magnesium for using functional testing through me if you wish to know more do get in touch.

If you have suffered with any of these symptoms and want to ensure you are meeting your nutritional needs I can help.  I always check for other concomitant deficiencies that cause similar symptoms such as vitamin D deficiency which is extremely common in the UK. Read my other blog on this here vitamin-d-nutrient-and-deficiency


If you do suffer from any of the symptoms mentioned, it is useful to know that some supplemental forms of magnesium can be a really helpful addition to a healthy diet to help alleviate insomnia, migraines, headaches, fatigue, constipation and muscle/bone weakness. However, different forms have different actions in the body which can cause tummy upsets in some, therefore, it is important to get the right advice to find what will be best to suit your needs.

If you have any health concerns/conditions and would like my help and advice, please get in touch.

Written by Evie Whitehead, Evienutrition. 2021


(Reference: Gropper & Smith, 2013, p443-449)

Rajizadeh et al. 2017.

Yablon et al., 2011

Tangvoraphonkchai & Davenport, 2018.

Eby & Eby 2006


Disclaimer: The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this article are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this article. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this article. Evie does not know your personal circumstances and Evie Whitehead disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this article. To seek personal advice contact Evie by email



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