Looking at magnesium levels is important when addressing the issue of whether or not you may be deficient in magnesium. Because symptoms and conditions caused by magnesium deficiency are similar to many symptoms and conditions related to other causes, magnesium deficiency can be difficult to diagnose and that its symptoms often are misdiagnosed or attributed to other causes.
Normal Magnesium Levels in Blood
When considering low vs. normal magnesium levels in blood, it’s important to bear in mind that serum magnesium levels do not correlate with levels of magnesium in muscles or cells. In fact, this factor contributes to further masking the presence of magnesium deficiency.
The body holds blood levels of magnesium at a fairly constant level of 1% even when experiencing an overall condition of deficiency.1 This means that blood tests often cannot reveal magnesium deficiencies, and therefore may not be reliable for determining magnesium status in the body. In fact, magnesium levels’ normal range is from 0.7 to 1.0 mmol/L and typically remains at these levels even the most severe cases of magnesium deficiency.2
Tests for Magnesium Blood Levels
Magnesium blood levels may be measured by several types of tests, and most accurately by magnesium loading tests. However, loading tests may need to be requested by patients because health care providers may not suspect magnesium deficiency, particularly when the focus remains on treating symptoms.
Given the fact of widespread magnesium deficiency, Dr. Mark Sircus, author of the book Transdermal Magnesium Therapy, suggests that one of the best (and easiest) ways to determine magnesium deficiency is to apply magnesium chloride transdermally in low doses, and then to assess improvement of symptoms that can occur within minutes, hours, or days.3 This method is simple, non-invasive, and effective largely because conditions marked by pain or muscle tension can show immediate improvement as magnesium penetrates skin. This is one of the unique benefits of transdermal magnesium therapy.
Other Methods for Diagnosing Low Magnesium
It is critical to address magnesium deficiencies, especially when they cause problematic symptoms or conditions. Addressing a deficiency can reverse or eliminate symptoms with surprisingly speed. Yet, as noted, many individuals and health care professionals fail to consider low magnesium levels as a potential factor in conditions of poor health. In addition, because of the focus within the medical system on treating symptoms instead of determining and correcting underlying causes of symptoms, magnesium deficiency remains widespread.
It is regularly acknowledged that Americans are deficient in magnesium. Yet, the medical system has not actively used this understanding to its full extent despite active applications of magnesium (e.g., intravenous or intramuscular injection) by many doctors, and an extensive history of magnesium use in medicine for treating acute symptoms and conditions related to heart disease, particularly acute myocardial infarction (heart attack).
Treatment for the many symptoms and conditions caused by low magnesium levels often remain a correspondingly diverse array of drugs and surgical procedures.
Yet, when magnesium deficiency is the underlying state leading to various symptoms and conditions, then rapidly reversing deficiency is the best approach.
Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency
There are many symptoms and conditions that persons suffering from low magnesium levels experience. Dr. Mildred Seelig describes symptoms associated with heart disease that can be caused by magnesium deficiency. These symptoms include:
- Calcium entry into cells
- Overreaction to stress hormones (adrenaline)
- Overproduction of cholesterol
- Blood clotting in blood vessels
- Constriction of arterial muscles
- High sodium to potassium ratios
- Insulin resistance
- Coronary arteriosclerosis
- Vulnerability to oxidative stress4
She also notes that these symptoms are typically treated with drugs or surgery, and as separate and unrelated problems. For example, blood clotting is treated by anticoagulation agents, overproduction of cholesterol is treated by statin drugs, and coronary arteriosclerosis is treated with bypass surgery.
However, symptoms and conditions relating to magnesium levels below normal go far beyond those associated with heart disease.
Indeed, they range from fibromyalgia and muscle weakness to low energy levels, chronic fatigue syndrome, headaches and migraine headaches, and many types of pain (both acute and chronic). Many other conditions such as mitral valve prolapse, attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), asthma, and allergies have been linked to magnesium deficiency.5
It has been noted that these conditions or symptoms often occur in clusters together within the same individual and that magnesium deficiency is likely their cause because the common denominator is magnesium deficiency.6 Other conditions and symptoms related to low magnesium levels include chemical sensitivities, anxiety and psychiatric disorders, calcification of soft tissues, osteoporosis, muscle twitches, nystagmus (a form of involuntary eye movement), hearing loss, tempomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), and diabetes.
It is evident that below-normal magnesium levels are an unsuspected cause in a much wider collection of symptoms and health conditions than is commonly believed by health professionals or consumers. This statement must be understood within the context of the fundamental role magnesium plays in biological processes.
Precisely because magnesium is essential for life and because of the critical roles it plays in many basic life processes (including enzyme function, synthesis of ATP, and synthesis of nucleic acids DNA and RNA), less than adequate levels of magnesium will prevent the body from gaining the benefits that otherwise would be provided when an abundant supply is available to the body. At its greatest extreme, magnesium deficiency results in the cessation of life.
Treating Low Magnesium Levels Proactively
Further complicating diagnosis or identification of magnesium levels outside the normal range is the fact that magnesium deficiency is readily masked. This relates to the fact that no classical symptoms exist that can indicate the extent to which magnesium deficiency plays a causal role in health conditions.7 As noted, symptoms of magnesium deficiency are diverse and often similar to symptoms relating to other causes.
Although difficulties in indentifying states of deficiency are not limited to magnesium (that is, deficiencies of many other minerals and nutrients can be difficult to identify), it is particularly the case for magnesium because deficiency manifests in many different ways.
A first-response emphasis on treating the symptoms of low magnesium with drugs or surgery is unlikely to result in positive identification of a magnesium deficiency. As a consequence, treatment of symptoms in isolation, or treatment of symptoms as separate and unrelated to low levels of magnesium, easily can result in failure to address the basic underlying deficiency.
Instead, some experts now recommend proactively identifying possible indicators of low magnesium, for example through a combination of serum magnesium levels near the low end of the “normal” range and possible symptoms indicating below normal magnesium in the body. Because magnesium therapy is cost-effective, by increasing magnesium intake of those who exhibit signs of low levels of magnesium, more severe deficiency syndromes can be prevented.
This same approach is available to any individual, with or without data available from blood tests indicating absolute magnesium blood levels. By simply increasing magnesium levels through dietary magnesium and therapies such as transdermal magnesium therapy, we can observe how increased magnesium provides improved health.
- See http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/magnesium.asp [↩]
- See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnesium [↩]
- Sircus, Mark, Ac., OMD. Transdermal Magnesium Therapy (2007),, 292. [↩]
- Seelig, Mildred S., PhD, MPH and Andrea Rosanoff, PhD. The Magnesium Factor(2003), 7. Table 1.1. [↩]
- See: http://www.ctds.info/5_13_magnesium.html [↩]
- See: http://www.ctds.info/5_13_magnesium.html [↩]
- Sircus, 28. [↩]