Many important enzyme systems and enzyme reaction require the mineral magnesium as an essential component - these enzyme reactions including the transfer of phosphate ions from adenosine triphosphate - ATP to the form adenosine diphosphate - ADP - with the release of a large amount of energy. All life processes require this ATP-ADP conversion reaction as it is the basic way in which energy is conserved and released in the cells of all living beings.
There is also a necessity to maintain a correct balance of calcium and magnesium ions in the cardiac and skeletal muscles in order for them to function properly - any imbalance in these two ions will result in pathological disorders affecting the person. The careful balance between ions of calcium and magnesium in the blood is also important for nerve impulse transmission and nervous communication in the human body.
Nerve impulse conduction is often increased by low levels of magnesium in the body fluids, as this situation results in the speeding up of nerve impulses - thus low levels of magnesium can directly increase muscular irritability and contractibility in the body. Physical symptoms such as persistent muscle tremors, the uncontrolled movements in the hands and the face, as well as convulsions can often affect the person if there is a severe deficiency of magnesium in the body.
An imbalance in the metabolism of calcium can also result during a magnesium deficiency, with the consequent deposition of the mineral in the soft tissues of the body. In such situations, it is also common for bone deformities to develop in the person. There are other long term effects of persistent magnesium deficiency which include degeneration of the kidneys and renal tissues, degeneration of skeletal and cardiac muscle, as well as degeneration of the endocardium, the skin and the teeth. Magnesium deficiency can also directly affect the blood levels of other ions like calcium and potassium and the level of these ions in the body is often depressed. There is a resultant accumulation of large quantities of the mineral sodium in the tissues, and this often results in edema. At the same time, it is important to remember that local tissue deficiencies of magnesium can come about even without the actual blood levels of the mineral falling below what is normal -this situation can lead to the development of physical symptoms that are hard to pinpoint.
The ability of animals to adapt to cold conditions can be lowered if they are deficient in magnesium. The physical symptoms seen in animals' deficient in magnesium include ulceration, the calcification of the kidney and resultant stone formation, a reduction in lifespan, impaired functioning of the heart and blood vessels as well as damage to the heart. Rats tested in the laboratory showed a reduced motivation to learn during some experiments related to magnesium deficiency; the deficiency also induced seizures in the rats. Only animals which were forced to perform in order to survive showed the normal levels of activity and motivation. The deficiency largely impacted voluntary activity in the test animals and did not have as much of an effect over involuntary actions.
Many different physical symptoms are caused by magnesium deficiency in the human body. These include persistent lethargy, generalized muscular weakness, and knotting of muscle and nerve fibers - called fasciculation, the sudden onset of gross tremors, problems like tetany, sudden writhing movements in the hands, mental and physical irritability, sudden mental changes, muscular convulsions, constant stupor, coma, spells of dizziness, as well as psychotic behavior. Symptoms may also include an exaggeration of the reflex actions, muscle jerks and seizures. Magnesium deficiency affecting babies and children can induce a complete loss of appetite, a failure to grow and impaired development, the presence of a generalized apathy, the presence of muscular irritability, hallucinations and mental confusion, generalized weakness and flaccidity in the body, occasional spasticity and rigidity in the body, the onset of muscular tremors, twitches, as well as sleep apnea - a condition where breathing stops suddenly, and the rapid increase in pulse rate. The hypothetical connection between sudden infant death syndrome and magnesium deficiency has also been suggested by some of the researchers and clinical scientists working on magnesium deficiency in humans.
Magnesium deficiency also often induces the condition called as neonatal tetany - exhibited as muscular convulsions, even if the major bio-chemical symptoms seem to suggest the low levels of calcium in the circulating blood. Injected magnesium supplements often alleviates the condition in such infants better than calcium, this is supposedly because the magnesium deficiency in the body is said to cause a very severe drop in the blood levels of calcium - these two minerals are thus connected bio-chemically and have a joint effect on the body. The metabolism of calcium in the body is again influenced to a great extent by magnesium. Supplements of magnesium can often alleviate cases of the rickets in children, if large doses of the vitamin D have not been able to bring positive results.
Some amount of magnesium is available in all natural foods. The best sources for the mineral magnesium include vegetables like legumes, all kinds of nuts and whole grains. Magnesium is found in rather small amounts in meats, and all non-vegetarian foods are relatively poor in this mineral, even then magnesium is found in high amounts in shellfish. Most of the mineral magnesium found in grains and many different foods is eliminated after they are refined, for this reason, magnesium is found in rather small quantities in white flour, similarly all other refined grains are also poor sources for the mineral.
People who use potassium-depleting prescription medications often suffer from a deficiency of the mineral magnesium as a side effect. A magnesium deficiency can also become established in people who use too many laxatives. The other potential causes of magnesium deficiency include long term alcoholism, injuries from severe burns, long term diabetes and heart failure.
Magnesium deficiency has been detected in almost two-thirds of all people in some intensive care hospital units in the United States. The onset of chronic diarrhea, severe pancreatitis and other disorders connected to malabsorption have also been linked to a magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium deficiency can also cause long term physical fatigue, abnormality in heart rhythms, a generalized muscle weakness as well as muscular spasms, it can induce long term depression, it can bring on loss of appetite, it can also cause listlessness and depletion in the levels of the mineral potassium.
As some serious symptoms associated with deficiency of magnesium can be quite serious and may require intravenous administration of magnesium supplements, they should be treated by medical doctors preferably in a hospital environment or in a clinical setting.
Magnesium requirements differ from one individual to another and differ across age groups as well. Infants have RDA magnesium of 60 mg. This can go up to 450 mg for lactating and pregnant women. The RDA of adult men is 350 mg, while the RDA of adult women is 300 mg of supplemental magnesium.
People who consume a lot of magnesium at one time are often affected by persistent diarrhea. This condition can often be induced by dosage amounts as low as 350mg - 500 mg daily in some people. Excessive use of magnesium supplements and a large intake of magnesium containing laxatives can induce the development of far more serious side effects in a person. Such problems are unlikely to be brought on by the amounts of magnesium normally found in most nutritional supplements. Magnesium supplements must never be used by people suffering from kidney disease unless the supplemental regimen is approved by a doctor and done under medical supervision.