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Magnesium deficiency? Genes that Impact Magnesium Levels

Key takeaways:
~ Magnesium is an essential mineral needed for hundreds of reactions in the body.
~ The body controls magnesium through uptake in the intestines, storage in the bones, and reabsorption or excretion in the kidneys.
~ Some people genetically are more likely to be deficient than others, based on polymorphisms that impact magnesium absorption.
~ Understanding your genes can help you decide whether you may need more magnesium in your diet or via supplements.

Members will see their genotype report below, plus additional solutions in the Lifehacks section. Join today

Graphical Overview:

What does magnesium do in the body?

Magnesium is a cofactor for more than 300 different enzymatic reactions. It means that many biochemical reactions in the body need both an enzyme and magnesium for the reaction to occur at the proper rate. Without enough magnesium (or without the required enzymes), some cellular reactions just won’t happen.

Research shows that about 50% of us don’t get enough magnesium on a daily basis.[ref]

One of the reactions that magnesium is crucial for is the synthesis of DNA and RNA, as well as the metabolism of ATP.[ref] As you can imagine, magnesium is essential for life and the proper functioning of the body.

What are the signs of low magnesium?

Low magnesium levels are referred to as hypomagnesemia.

Research shows that common problems associated with hypomagnesemia include:[ref][ref]

  • migraines
  • ADHD
  • strokes
  • high blood pressure
  • insulin resistance
  • neurodegenerative diseases.
  • muscle weakness
  • twitches
  • tremors
  • heart arrhythmia or palpitations
  • seizures

In a nutshell, low magnesium shows up in physiological issues with the brain, heart, or skeletal muscles.

One study explains: “magnesium is essential for the regulation of muscular contraction, blood pressure, insulin metabolism, cardiac excitability, vasomotor tone, nerve transmission and neuromuscular conduction. Imbalances in magnesium status…might result in unwanted neuromuscular, cardiac or nervous disorders. Based on magnesium’s many functions within the human body, it plays an important role in prevention and treatment of many diseases.”[ref]

How do we maintain normal magnesium levels?

Your body stores magnesium in the bones (53%), muscles (27%), and soft tissues (19%). That leaves only about 1% of your total magnesium circulating in the blood.[ref]

The body tightly controls serum magnesium levels. While lab ranges can vary a little bit, the normal range for an adult is around 1.3 to 2.1 mEq/L (0.65 to 1.05 mmol/L or 1.5 to 2.6 mg/dL).[ref]

Hypomagnesemia is the term for low magnesium, which is usually defined as under 1.5 mg/dL on a lab test.[ref]

We take in magnesium from food and mineral-rich drinks. Magnesium is absorbed in the intestines. It circulates in the bloodstream and is taken up by cells as needed. The kidneys reabsorb serum magnesium so that only a small percentage is lost in the urine.[ref]

Low magnesium levels can be caused by:[ref]

  • losing too much magnesium in the urine (e.g., uncontrolled diabetes)
  • chronic diarrhea
  • malabsorption disorders (e.g., celiac, IBD)
  • bones taking up too much magnesium (e.g., following thyroid removal)
  • alcoholism
  • chronic pancreatitis

Both diet and genetics play a role in your magnesium levels. Everyone needs to consume enough magnesium, but the exact amount you need depends, in part, on your genes.

Below is a diagram showing some of the factors in magnesium absorption. We’ll first dig into the genetic factors and then return to the ‘exogenous’ factors in detail in the lifehacks section.

diagram showing how magnesium is absorbed in the intestines from PMC5652077
Absorption of magnesium in the intestines. Creative Commons PMC5652077 (good overview article)

TRPM6 and TRPM7: Magnesium uptake

The TRPM6 and TRPM7 genes encode ion channels that transport magnesium ions across cell membranes. These ion channels can also transport calcium or other ions, but they primarily involve magnesium uptake.

Magnesium absorption occurs in the body in two ways:

  • Passive absorption in the intestines using an ion gradient to diffuse into intestinal cells
  • Active transport into intestinal cells using TRPM6 ion channels

The majority of magnesium uptake is via passive absorption in the small intestines. When the body’s magnesium levels aren’t met by passive transport, the TRPM6 ion channel is used to fine-tune the absorption.[ref]

Within the body, magnesium can be taken into cells and utilized as needed. The ion channel TRPM7 regulates the cellular uptake of magnesium. TRPM7 is found in tissues throughout the body and is essential for life. When magnesium levels drop within a cell, it activates the TRPM7 channel to take in more magnesium via this ion channel.[ref][ref][ref]

The TRPM6 ion channel is found in the cells lining the intestines, kidneys, and placenta. This ion channel is thought to dial in the right amount of magnesium absorption in the intestines and may play a role in the reabsorption of magnesium in the kidneys.[ref] Magnesium, via the TRPM6 ion channel, affects blood pressure regulation in the kidneys.[ref]

The TRPM7 ion channel is found in multiple tissues, including the heart and brain. In the heart, TRPM7 is integral in maintaining the heart’s rhythm, along with other ion channels.[ref][ref] Oxidative stress caused by higher intracellular levels of hydrogen peroxide can inhibit the TRPM7 channel.[ref]

CNNM2 and Magnesium Reabsorption:

The body tightly controls magnesium through both the amount absorbed in the intestines and the reabsorption of magnesium in the kidneys. The cyclin M2 (CNNM2) gene encodes a magnesium transporter in the kidneys. When magnesium levels are high in the body, more magnesium is transported out via the urine. Similarly, when magnesium levels are trending lower, more magnesium is reabsorbed. This process is controlled, in part, by the availability of the CNNM2 magnesium transporter.

Rare mutations that cause a deficiency of CNNM2 result in too much magnesium being excreted in the kidneys, which is linked to a loss of circadian rhythm in blood pressure control.[ref] Rare mutations in CNNM2 are also linked to brain development disorders due to the dysregulation of magnesium.[ref]

Magnesium and calcium levels interact through several regulatory mechanisms. Mutations in CNNM2 can show up as calcium dysregulation along with the effect on magnesium.[ref]

Magnesium Genotype Report

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The RDA for magnesium is 320 mg for women and 420 mg for men. is a free web app to track your daily food intake. Keep track for a few days and see what you average for magnesium as a baseline from foods.

Water accounts for about 10% of magnesium intake in a day. If you are drinking water with the minerals filtered out, you may need to increase the amount of magnesium you get from other sources.

Drinking too much water can lead to low magnesium levels due to excessive urination. Excessive sweating, such as exercising in the heat or using a sauna, can also lead to low magnesium levels, usually temporary.

Drug interactions:

Medications can cause you to have low magnesium levels:[ref]

  • diuretics
  • proton pump inhibitors
  • aminoglycoside antibiotics
  • digitalis
  • calcineurin inhibitors
  • certain chemo drugs

Talk with your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions about whether medications could decrease your magnesium levels.

Food sources of magnesium:

Taken from the NIH Health Information fact sheet:

Food Mg/serving % RDA
Pumpkin seeds, roasted, 1 ounce 156 37
Chia seeds, 1 ounce 111 26
Almonds, dry roasted, 1 ounce 80 19
Spinach, boiled, ½ cup 78 19
Cashews, dry roasted, 1 ounce 74 18
Peanuts, oil roasted, ¼ cup 63 15
Cereal, shredded wheat, 2 large biscuits 61 15
Soymilk, plain or vanilla, 1 cup 61 15
Black beans, cooked, ½ cup 60 14
Edamame, shelled, cooked, ½ cup 50 12
Peanut butter, smooth, 2 tablespoons 49 12
Potato, baked with skin, 3.5 ounces 43 10
Rice, brown, cooked, ½ cup 42 10
Yogurt, plain, low fat, 8 ounces 42 10
Breakfast cereals, fortified with 10% of the DV for magnesium, 1 serving 42 10
Oatmeal, instant, 1 packet 36 9
Kidney beans, canned, ½ cup 35 8
Banana, 1 medium 32 8
Salmon, Atlantic, farmed, cooked, 3 ounces 26 6
Milk, 1 cup 24–27 6
Halibut, cooked, 3 ounces 24 6

What are the different types of supplemental magnesium?

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About the Author:
Debbie Moon is the founder of Genetic Lifehacks. Fascinated by the connections between genes, diet, and health, her goal is to help you understand how to apply genetics to your diet and lifestyle decisions. Debbie has a BS in engineering from Colorado School of Mines and an MSc in biological sciences from Clemson University. Debbie combines an engineering mindset with a biological systems approach to help you understand how genetic differences impact your optimal health.