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6 Things To Know About Magnesium Deficiency and MS

Posted on April 19, 2023

Many people with multiple sclerosis (MS) investigate alternative or natural therapies, including vitamins, minerals, and other supplements. Researchers are still exploring the connections between vitamin deficiency and multiple sclerosis — and some of these studies focus on magnesium levels.

Some members of MyMSTeam — on the advice of their doctors — take magnesium supplements. “Interesting visit with my neurologist yesterday,” one member shared. “I mentioned the cramps I have been experiencing, and she recommended I start taking a magnesium oxide supplement of 400-800 milligrams daily.”

Are magnesium levels important for managing MS symptoms? Read on for six things you should know about MS and magnesium deficiency.

1. Researchers Are Studying Magnesium and MS Inflammation

Most research on vitamin and mineral deficiencies in MS revolves around vitamin D. Low levels of vitamin D are a known risk factor for developing MS, and magnesium is necessary for vitamin D metabolism. When someone is taking vitamin D supplements, they’re typically advised to also take a magnesium supplement.

Less research is available on the specific role of magnesium in MS. Magnesium is an essential mineral for muscle and nerve function. It’s also necessary for electrical conduction to make your muscles contract. Furthermore, magnesium deficiency is known to cause inflammation in the nervous system, which is a hallmark of MS. Because of this, scientists have theorized that magnesium may play a role in MS. Some believe taking magnesium supplements, especially with vitamin D, might decrease inflammation in the nervous system.

One study noted young people with MS who took a calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium supplement had a reduced number of relapses. The study authors theorized that magnesium could play a role in the growth and stability of myelin. In MS, the immune system attack your myelin, the protective covering surrounding your nerve fibers. The destruction of the myelin causes MS symptoms to emerge.

Few research studies have investigated magnesium’s role in the risk of developing MS. One large study followed thousands of people over several decades to examine magnesium intake and the risk of developing MS over time. The study authors did not find any association between magnesium levels and MS risk.

Another study found that hypomagnesemia (low levels of magnesium) was present in the central nervous system tissue of people with MS. However, a 2021 review of the research on minerals and MS found no difference in magnesium levels among people living with MS and those without the condition.

The existing research is inconclusive about the role of magnesium in MS. More studies are needed to determine what impact the mineral may have in the development of MS or on MS relapses.

2. Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency Can Overlap With MS Symptoms

Many people live with magnesium deficiency without any symptoms, so it’s possible to have low levels of magnesium without knowing it. Magnesium deficiency shares symptoms with various other conditions, so it can be difficult to diagnose.

Common symptoms of low levels of magnesium include:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Numbness
  • Stiffness
  • Twitching
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite

If the magnesium deficiency is severe, symptoms can include abnormal heart rhythms and shaking.

Of course, some symptoms of MS can be similar to those of magnesium deficiency. Weakness, numbness, and stiffness can all be symptoms of an MS relapse. Additionally, some people living with MS experience painful muscle spasms in their legs, whether or not they’re magnesium-deficient. It may be difficult to know what’s causing those symptoms without being diagnosed by a doctor.

3. Your Doctor Can Diagnose Magnesium Deficiency

If you’re concerned you may have magnesium deficiency, your doctor can use a routine blood test to measure your magnesium levels — along with levels of other minerals, such as calcium and potassium.

Your doctor may also perform a physical exam to evaluate your symptoms. Sometimes, they’ll order an electrocardiogram (ECG) of your heart as part of a thorough evaluation for magnesium deficiency.

4. Magnesium Supplements May Help With Leg Spasms

If you have MS and are experiencing significant leg spasms, it’s worth asking your doctor to investigate the cause. The spasms could be linked to low levels of magnesium. One MyMSTeam member wrote, “I was having chest pain, and low magnesium was a factor. Plus magnesium has helped with leg spasms.”

Another member noted, “Magnesium really helps with reducing spasms, especially restless legs any time, but usually at night.” A fellow member agreed, “My spasms have gotten better due to my daily magnesium.”

5. You Can Get More Magnesium Through Food

Whether or not you have MS, getting enough magnesium is important to your body’s vital functions and overall health. Magnesium is easily obtained through a well-balanced diet. Below are some examples of magnesium-rich foods:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Legumes (e.g., black beans, lima beans, and edamame)
  • Leafy green vegetables (e.g., spinach, kale, and collard greens)
  • Potatoes with skin
  • Green peas
  • Fruits (e.g., avocados, bananas, and blackberries)
  • Dark chocolate (over 70 percent cocoa)
  • Whole grains (e.g., whole wheat and quinoa)
  • Low-fat dairy products

6. Magnesium Supplements Can Have Side Effects

It’s always best to ask your doctor before you begin taking any vitamins and dietary supplements. Some can interact negatively with other treatments you may be on, including certain antibiotics and other medications. Taking more than the recommended daily allowance of magnesium can cause side effects such as diarrhea, abdominal pains, and cramping.

It’s usually better to obtain magnesium through dietary intake (the foods and beverages you consume) instead of taking a supplement. You’ll likely only need a supplement for a specific symptom, as recommended by a doctor.

Because the research is largely inconclusive about magnesium deficiency and MS, it’s best to share your symptoms with your doctor to determine if a supplement is right for you.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyMSTeam is the social network for people with MS and their loved ones. On MyMSTeam, more than 196,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with MS.

Have you had a magnesium deficiency? Have you talked to your doctor about vitamins and supplements for MS? What has worked for you? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on April 19, 2023
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Luc Jasmin, M.D., Ph.D., FRCS (C), FACS is a board-certified neurosurgery specialist. Learn more about him here.
Remi A. Kessler, M.D. is affiliated with the Medical University of South Carolina and Cleveland Clinic. Learn more about her here.

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