Magnesium metabolism in health and disease

Dis Mon. 1988 Apr;34(4):161-218. doi: 10.1016/0011-5029(88)90013-2.


Magnesium is an important element for health and disease. Magnesium, the second most abundant intracellular cation, has been identified as a cofactor in over 300 enzymatic reactions involving energy metabolism and protein and nucleic acid synthesis. Approximately half of the total magnesium in the body is present in soft tissue, and the other half in bone. Less than 1% of the total body magnesium is present in blood. Nonetheless, the majority of our experimental information comes from determination of magnesium in serum and red blood cells. At present, we have little information about equilibrium among and state of magnesium within body pools. Magnesium is absorbed uniformly from the small intestine and the serum concentration controlled by excretion from the kidney. The clinical laboratory evaluation of magnesium status is primarily limited to the serum magnesium concentration, 24-hour urinary excretion, and percent retention following parenteral magnesium. However, results for these tests do not necessarily correlate with intracellular magnesium. Thus, there is no readily available test to determine intracellular/total body magnesium status. Magnesium deficiency may cause weakness, tremors, seizures, cardiac arrhythmias, hypokalemia, and hypocalcemia. The causes of hypomagnesemia are reduced intake (poor nutrition or IV fluids without magnesium), reduced absorption (chronic diarrhea, malabsorption, or bypass/resection of bowel), redistribution (exchange transfusion or acute pancreatitis), and increased excretion (medication, alcoholism, diabetes mellitus, renal tubular disorders, hypercalcemia, hyperthyroidism, aldosteronism, stress, or excessive lactation). A large segment of the U.S. population may have an inadequate intake of magnesium and may have a chronic latent magnesium deficiency that has been linked to atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction, hypertension, cancer, kidney stones, premenstrual syndrome, and psychiatric disorders. Hypermagnesemia is primarily seen in acute and chronic renal failure, and is treated effectively by dialysis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Magnesium / administration & dosage
  • Magnesium / blood
  • Magnesium / metabolism*
  • Magnesium / physiology
  • Magnesium Deficiency / blood
  • Magnesium Deficiency / complications
  • Magnesium Deficiency / drug therapy
  • Magnesium Deficiency / etiology
  • Nutritional Requirements


  • Magnesium