Magnesium Deficiency in Older Adults

 A recent Gallup Poll survey reported that magnesium consumption decreases as we age, with 79% of adults 55 and over reportedly eating below the recommended dietary allowance  (RDA) of magnesium. In addition, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) says that older adults are at increased risk of magnesium deficiency due to their decreased ability to absorb the mineral. The diseases to which the elderly are vulnerable, and some of the drugs used in therapy, also contribute to magnesium loss.

"A potential magnesium deficiency is a matter of concern for many individuals of all ages, but for the elderly, it could be particularly serious," said Richard Rivlin, M.D., Chief of the Nutrition Division at New York Hospital, Cornell Medical Center.

"The prevalence of heart disease, diabetes and even leg cramps increases dramatically among older persons, and these are all health conditions in which magnesium deficiency has been found," Rivlin said.


Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health evaluated the dietary intake of specific nutrients for more than 85,000 women and more than 42,000 men, in data supplied over 18 years for the women and over 12 years for the men.  They found that the men and women whose diets included the largest amounts of magnesium were the least likely to develop type 2 diabetes.  Most of the participants in the study consumed magnesium through foods, such as whole grains, nuts and green leafy vegetables.


A lack of magnesium is also associated with osteoporosis.  Bone health is supported by many factors, most notably calcium and vitamin D. However, some evidence suggests that magnesium deficiency may be an additional risk factor for postmenopausal osteoporosis.  This may be due to the fact that magnesium deficiency alters calcium metabolism and the hormones that regulate calcium.  In one study of older adults, a greater magnesium intake maintained bone mineral density to a higher degree than a lower intake.

Sleep Remedy

A recent National Sleep Foundation poll found that a majority of older adults (67%) report having frequent sleep problems. This translates to 37 million older adults in the U.S. having some form of insomnia. Particularly for older people, a possible underlying nutritional cause of insomnia may be a deficiency of certain minerals.  James F. Balch, M.D., author of Prescription for Nutritional Healing, writes: "A lack of the nutrients calcium and magnesium will cause you to wake up after a few hours and not be able to return to sleep."

Types of Magnesium

Some forms of magnesium are more digestible than others - an important factor because our digestive enzymes and our ability to absorb nutrients lessen with age. Magnesium citrate is a unique form of magnesium in which the magnesium is bonded with citric acid to make it more absorbable. Magnesium aspartate is another form that is carried into the body more fully.  It is made by binding the mineral to an amino acid (aspartic acid).

Supplements with Magnesium

The combination of minerals included in a supplement and the presence of vitamin cofactors (such as vitamin D and K) are key. Formulas should contain a 2 to 1 ratio of calcium to magnesium. The original research on this recommended ratio appeared in 1935 in the Journal of Physiological Reviews.  In addition, a softgel form is more digestible than tablets. Softgels formulated with carrier oils such as evening primrose have been shown to increase mineral absorption, reduce calcium excretion, and increase bone density.

One formula that has these qualities and is gaining in popularity is Sleep Minerals II from Nutrition Breakthroughs. Sleep Minerals II is an insomnia remedy which contains six forms of calcium, three forms of magnesium (including the citrate and aspartate forms), boron, Vitamin D, Vitamin K and horsetail herb – all combined in a softgel with carrier oils.

Lyn K. of Los Angeles, CA. says “I’ve had chronic insomnia for some years now and had been taking other mineral-based insomnia remedies to help with my sleep. No remedy has worked as effectively or consistently as Sleep Minerals II. I can count on it whenever I need help falling asleep at night or going back to sleep in the middle of the night. This is what sets it apart from the rest – it works reliably. And in my life, I need to be well-rested 7 days a week, so I call this product my ‘Sleep Insurance’. It also eases my menopause symptoms, evens out my hormonal changes, and seems to put my body into a healthy balance."

Richard Rivlin, M.D. summed up the Gallup Poll survey results by saying: “It is clear that consumers are largely unaware of the role of magnesium -- a nutrient that is essential for the function of other minerals like calcium, as well as the normal operation of the heart and muscles."

For more information on Sleep Minerals II,
click here.


1. Landy, Liz. "Gallup Survey Finds Majority of American Diets Lack Sufficient Magnesium - At Potential Cost to Health," Searle News, Sept. 21, 1994

2. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, Fact Sheet on Magnesium

3. Lopez-Ridaura, R. “Diabetes Care”, January 2004; vol 27: pp 134-140. Ruy Lopez-Ridaura, MD, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston.

4. Tucker KL, Hannan MT, Chen H, Cupples LA, Wilson PW, Kiel DP. “Potassium, magnesium, and fruit and vegetable intakes are associated with greater bone mineral density in elderly men and women.” Am J Clin Nutr 1999;69(4):727-36.

5. National Sleep Foundation: "The 2003 Sleep in America Poll”.

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These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.  The nutrients and products discussed here are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.  Site last updated 5/2/12.