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Magnesium is an essential mineral to the human body. It is needed for bone, protein, and fatty acid formation, making new cells, activating B vitamins, relaxing muscles, clotting blood, and forming adenosine triphosphate (ATP; the energy the body runs on). The secretion and action of insulin also require magnesium.
Where to Find It
Nuts and grains are good sources of magnesium. Beans, dark green vegetables, fish, and meat also contain significant amounts.
Magnesium deficiency is common in people taking “potassium-depleting” prescription diuretics. Taking too many laxatives can also lead to deficiency. Alcoholism, severe burns, diabetes, and heart failure are other potential causes of deficiency. In a study of urban African-American people (predominantly female), the overall prevalence of magnesium deficiency was 20%. People with a history of alcoholism were six times more likely to have magnesium deficiency than were people without such a history. The low magnesium status seen in alcoholics with liver cirrhosis contributes to the development of hypertension in these people.
Almost two-thirds of people in intensive care hospital units have been found to be magnesium deficient.168 Deficiency may also occur in people with chronic diarrhea, pancreatitis, and other conditions associated with malabsorption.
Fatigue, abnormal heart rhythms, muscle weakness and spasm, depression, loss of appetite, listlessness, and potassium depletion can all result from a magnesium deficiency. People with these symptoms should be evaluated by a doctor before taking magnesium supplements.
As previously mentioned, magnesium levels have been found to be low in people with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Deficiencies of magnesium that are serious enough to cause symptoms should be treated by medical doctors, as they might require intravenous administration of magnesium.
Comments in this section are limited to effects from taking oral magnesium. Side effects from intravenous use of magnesium are not discussed.
Taking too much magnesium often leads to diarrhea. For some people this can happen with amounts as low as 350–500 mg per day. More serious problems can develop with excessive magnesium intake from magnesium-containing laxatives. However, the amounts of magnesium found in nutritional supplements are unlikely to cause such problems. People with kidney disease should not take magnesium supplements without consulting a doctor.