Almost every one of us knows the feeling: suddenly a muscle contracts hard – this is known as a muscle cramp. For example, a calf cramp most commonly occurs at night in bed or during sports. Such a muscle cramp is usually harmless and can be a symptom of a magnesium deficiency …
Magnesium is an essential mineral that cannot be produced by the organism itself. That is why we must ingest an adequate amount via food intake.
About 25 grams are stored in the human body, of which the greatest share (approx. 60 %) of magnesium is stored in the bones. Our skeleton is therefore the largest reservoir of magnesium in the body. The muscles require another 30 % of the magnesium, while the remaining share is stored in the soft tissue.
Magnesium is involved in many processes in our body. All functions which are associated with energy processing and supply are only possible due to the mineral, since it is involved as a constituent of enzymes or as a coenzyme. In fact, our body could not use fats or carbohydrates at all for energy production without magnesium.
Furthermore, it ensures the stability of cell walls and also controls their permeability. Magnesium also stabilises the resting potential of excitable nerve and muscle cells as well as the nerve cells of the autonomic nervous system.
The mineral also plays a role in bone strength and is even required for hormone release. Only a sufficient concentration of magnesium can secure the function of all muscles – also including the cardiac muscle.
Therefore it is not without reason that magnesium is also referred to as the “bone & muscle mineral”.
In summary, it can be said that the preservation of the health and function of all our cells, bones, teeth, tissue and organs are dependent on an adequate supply of magnesium.
On average, the magnesium content for healthy adults is indicated by the German Nutrition Society (DGE) at 300-400 mg daily:
|Age||Male / magnesium content||Female / magnesium content|
|1 to 4||80 mg / day||80 mg / day|
|4 to 7||120 mg / day||120 mg / day|
|7 to 10||170 mg / day||170 mg / day|
|10 to 13||230 mg / day||250 mg / day|
|13 to 15||310 mg / day||310 mg / day|
|15 to 19||400 mg / day||350 mg / day|
|19 to 25||400 mg / day||310 mg / day|
|25 +||350 mg / day||300 mg / day|
A magnesium deficiency (hypomagnesaemia) can have many causes. They can range from insufficient absorption through our nutrition, disturbed magnesium absorption (resorption), increased excretion of magnesium or increased magnesium content in stress situations.
A deficiency of the mineral can also be caused by an increased excretion of magnesium, for instance due to metabolic diseases such as diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism or other gastrointestinal diseases.
Some medications can also contribute towards development of a magnesium deficiency. For instance, this includes diuretics, the birth control pill or cortisone.
But last but not least, a magnesium deficiency can also be genetically related – yet this is rarely the case.
Our organism requires magnesium because it assumes essential tasks in the body. Approximately 300 enzymes are dependent on the help of the mineral – it stabilises the skeleton and plays a major role in the transmission of stimuli from nerves to muscles. And naturally it is indispensable for muscle contraction.
Since magnesium is essential for so many different bodily functions, a magnesium deficiency and its effects usually cannot be limited to one symptom. Moreover, a magnesium deficiency can also only become noticeable years or decades later and lead to perceptible symptoms. But calf cramps, particularly at night or during sports, are among the most common symptoms of an insufficient magnesium intake.
All other muscle cramps, the twitching of an eyelid, tensions, vertigo, migraines or cold hands and feet can also be indicative of a deficiency of the mineral. Less tangible sensations such as restlessness, weakness, insomnia or susceptibility to stress can also be accompanying symptoms of an inadequate supply of magnesium.
But a magnesium deficiency does not have to be immediately behind all of these physical symptoms. A poor supply situation or a short-term bottleneck is also possible. But anyone who has more frequent symptoms of a poor magnesium status should preferably have the cause clarified by a doctor.
A magnesium deficiency is usually diagnosed by a doctor due to the symptoms and the medical history. A blood test is conducted to measure a person’s magnesium status. But it is difficult to diagnose a magnesium deficiency at an early stage solely through the analysis of blood values.
About 59 % of the magnesium is in the bone tissue, while 40 % is in the muscles and somatic cells. Only 1 % of the magnesium is contained in the blood serum.
The body initially releases the magnesium from these endogenous depots in the event of a deficiency. The bone tissue serves as a long-term depot, while the organs and muscles serve as rapid depots – whereby blood levels initially remain constant. A magnesium deficiency only becomes visible in the blood level measurement when the reservoirs in the bones and muscles are no longer adequately filled and magnesium can no longer be released.
The determination of the magnesium level occurs via the blood serum. Normal values among adults are between 0.7 – 1.0 mmol/L. A deficiency is referred to if the concentration of magnesium in the blood has fallen below 0.65 mmol per litre.
A magnesium deficiency can often be treated by means of a nutritious balanced diet; magnesium preparations are prescribed in the event of a pronounced magnesium deficiency.
For example, here there is a whole spectrum of dosage forms which range from tablets, coated tablets, capsules, effervescent tablets to granules in sachets. A daily dose of 400 mg of magnesium can often be enough to remedy a magnesium deficiency.
But several weeks can pass by until a deficiency is remedied. In principle, research regarding the cause should be conducted in the event of a pronounced magnesium deficiency.
A pronounced magnesium deficiency can not only be expressed in the well-known unpleasant acute consequences such as calf cramps or fatigue, but can also lead to serious effects on health.
Studies indicate that there is a connection between a magnesium deficiency and the risk of an ischaemic stroke (vascular occlusion in the brain). The risk of cardiovascular diseases also increases in the long run, because hypomagnesaemia facilitates inflammatory processes which can constitute the risk of vascular diseases such as heart attacks or thromboses.
Since our body is not able to produce magnesium itself, we must regularly and sufficiently ingest the essential mineral via food intake. Magnesium is actually contained in many foodstuffs.
For example, we satisfy a majority of our magnesium requirement via cereal products or alcohol-free beverages. High-quality mineral waters can be a good source of magnesium. Some contain over 80 mg of magnesium per litre.