11 Warning Signs of Magnesium Deficiency

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Can stress deplete magnesium levels?

Healthylife Pharmacy12 July 2022|3 min read

Could stress be depleting magnesium in the body? 

Research suggests a vicious cycle exists of stress-depleting magnesium and depleted magnesium increasing the body’s susceptibility to stress. 

Interestingly, the symptoms of stress and magnesium deficiency are very similar. While it is rare to suffer a severe deficiency of magnesium, a long-term low level of magnesium is associated with several conditions. 

People who are stressed are often advised to take magnesium – a mineral that is known to support the nervous system.” 

Where is magnesium found in the body

Approximately 60% of magnesium is found in the bones of most adults. One third of this is used as a reserve and used when needed outside of the cells. The rest of the magnesium is found in muscle and soft tissue.

Symptoms of magnesium deficiency compared to those of stress

Symptoms of stress and magnesium deficiency are very similar. 

Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include:

11 warning signs of magnesium deficiency

  1. Irritability
  2. Nervousness and mild anxiety
  3. Muscle weakness
  4. Muscle cramps
  5. Headaches
  6. Gastrointestinal spasms
  7. Tiredness
  8. Loss of appetite
  9. Vomiting 
  10. Numbness 
  11. In extreme cases, seizures

Most frequently reported symptoms of stress

  • Irritability or anger
  • Feeling anxious
  • Lack of energy
  • Muscle tension
  • Headache
  • Stomach upset
  • Fatigue

The main difference is symptoms of magnesium deficiency may include nausea, vomiting and sleep disturbances. Symptoms of stress may also include feelings of sadness, depression, chest pain and hyperventilation.

Stress is considered an ongoing adaptive system that allows the individual to evaluate, manage and adjust to situations and conditions that are constantly changing. However, the body’s ability to cope with ongoing stress is limited and may result in poor health outcomes if not managed. 

Stress and its complications with health

There has been an increase in high levels of stress in Australia over the past few years. In response to stress, alcohol, tobacco smoking, vaping, gambling and consumption of low nutrient-dense foods have increased, resulting in a higher risk of health complications.

These complications may include mental health conditions cardiovascular diseases, gastrointestinal dysfunction, skin issues,; menstrual problems and sexual dysfunction.

Magnesium and the stress response

Magnesium is required as a cofactor for over 300 enzyme systems in the body. It is needed for energy generation and plays a key role in how the body responds to stress. It does this via its role in brain chemical function known as neurotransmitters and through the cortisol response.  

Cortisol is the hormone that suppresses non-essential bodily functions in a stressful fight-or-flight situation. It alters the immune system response, reducing the function of the digestive system and communicating with the region of the brain controlling fear, motivation and mood. Magnesium signals cortisol to turn off once a perceived threat (stressor) has passed, and the body returns to a normal state. However, when stress is ongoing (chronic), the body may remain on high alert due to overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones, increasing the risk to health. 

In response to a stressor, magnesium is released and as a consequence, higher amounts of magnesium are excreted through the kidneys. During times of chronic stress, the constant excretion of magnesium results in deficiency – triggering the vicious cycle. Magnesium is needed when there is a stress stimulus but is excreted as a result.

Other factors that may contribute to magnesium deficiency include:

  • Insufficient magnesium intake through the diet
  • High sodium, calcium or protein diet
  • High caffeine intake
  • High alcohol intake
  • Physical exercise
  • Poor sleep hygiene (quantity and quality)
  • Chronic stress
  • Medications – such as diuretics, proton-pump inhibitors, antibiotics 
  • Health conditions – such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disorders, kidney failure, genetic disorders 

Food containing magnesium

Many foods contain magnesium mostly from plant sources. Green vegetables, legumes, peas, beans, nuts, seeds, shellfish, avocados, guavas, bananas, kiwi fruit, papayas, blackberries, raspberries, cantaloupes, and grapefruit are rich sources of magnesium. Supplementing with magnesium may help with fatigue, irritability and sleep disturbances. It may reduce cortisol levels, improve heart rate, and reduce stress, bringing the body back to a state of calm. 

Magnesium supplementation is considered safe with few side effects. Diarrhoea is considered the first indicator of excess consumption. The Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) for adults 19-70+ years is 400-420 mg daily for men and 310-320 mg for women. Pregnancy requires about 350-360 mg daily and lactation, 310-320 mg.

Talk to your healthcare professional if you need further help with selecting a magnesium supplement.

Related Reads:


  1. Pickering, G., Mazur, A., Trousselard, M., Bienkowski, P., Yaltsewa, N., Amessou, M., Noah, L., & Pouteau, E. (2020). Magnesium status and stress: The vicious circle concept revisited. Nutrients, 12(12), 3672. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7761127/
  2. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/stress#symptoms 
  3. Ribeiro Santiago, P. H., Nielsen, T., Smithers, L. G., Roberts, R., & Jamieson, L. (2020). Measuring stress in Australia: validation of the perceived stress scale (PSS-14) in a national sample. Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, 18(1). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7161288/
  4. Intakes, I. of M. (US) S. C. on the S. E. of D. R. (1997). Magnesium. In www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. National Academies Press (US). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK109816
  5. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/#:~:text=Sources%20of%20Magnesium-,Food,containing%20dietary%20fiber%20provide%20magnesium. 
  6. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/blog/can-magnesium-help-to-reduce-anxiety