Numerous epidemiological, experimental and clinical studies over the last 30 years have consistently shown that chronic magnesium deficiency is associated with and/or exacerbates a number of major disorders (Table 1). Yet chronic magnesium deficiency is not widely recognized and a major reason for this failure is that serum magnesium levels do not accurately reflect body magnesium stores. Specifically, in chronic magnesium deficiency, serum magnesium levels are often within the normal reference range (usually lowest quartile) and may not progress to overt hypomagnesaemia. This raises serious questions namely (i) should chronic magnesium deficiency be considered in high-risk patients irrespective of serum magnesium, even when 'normal'? and (ii) if recognized, should oral magnesium supplement be given to restore body stores? Appreciating the vital role of magnesium for normal cellular function and bone health may help in formulating a well-considered and justifiable approach to these questions. Pragmatic tests for assessing magnesium status in the adult are suggested and discussed.