Magnesium is giving me a tight chest and difficulty breathing?

Tight chest from magnesium

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Magnesium has numerous functions in our body with experts estimating it to be involved in over 300 enzymatic mechanisms. I’m thoroughly convinced almost everyone is deficient in magnesium simply to different extents. Which would make magnesium supplemention seem logical and I would agree. However what happens when magnesium supplementation gives you negative side effects? One common side-effect I hear is magnesium supplementation making it difficult to breath, or giving a tight chest. Today we’ll review this common side-effect and discover what can be done to alleviate it.

Can magnesium supplements make breathing difficult?

Firstly if you’re wondering if magnesium effecting your breathing is even possible the answer is yes. Many people experience such a symptom after supplementation and it’s not something to get too concerned about – providing you address the problem!

Nobody likes to encounter breathing difficulties. Our natural response is to breath and when this automatic process begins to not function as well our anxiety can go through the roof. What’s worse is a tight chest isn’t always something you’ll notice. At first you can begin to notice increased levels of stress, irratability and fatigue.

A tight chest as a result of magnesium can feel like you’re unable to fully expand your lungs. This means you’re unable to take a full breath and as such will begin a minor hyperventilation of sorts where you begin a rhythm of shallow rapid breathing. It goes without saying that long term or even short term hyperventilation can almost instantly cause a bout of anxiety, panic, or simply exhaustion.

Why would magnesium effect breathing

If magnesium is intented to reduce the effects of anxiety and stressfulness why would it make me hyperventilate?

The answer lies in the fundamental way that magnesium effects our body. Firstly our skeletal muscles relax when resting and contract when being used. This is due to messages from the nervous system instruction the muscles to contract when needed. The process can be outlined in 3 simple steps. 

  1. Messages travels from our nervous system to our muscles. This triggers a chemical reaction in the body.
  2. That chemical reaction instructs the muscle fibres to rearrange themselves in a shape that shortens the muscle- which as we’ve seen in diagrams or experienced personally will contract the muscle and corresponding limb or joint.
  3. Lastly, when the task is complete and we no longer need to contract the muscle the nervous system stops the chemical reaction, it allows the muscle fibers to rearange back to their original form and the muscle relaxes.

Part of the reason magnesium can have such a calming effect on the body is because it interacts with our nervous system. By blocking certain chemicals that cause excitement in our neurons magnesium can initiate a calming effect on our nervous sytem. Thanks to this function magnesium has been known to reduce muscle pain, muscle spasms and the dreaded eye twitch. These relaxing effects go as far as reducing our stress, symptoms of anxiety and are linked to improvements in sleep quality.

So far all of these qualites of magnesium are desirable, but true to the namesake of this website, what happens when our minerals aren’t balanced? This is where problems can occur. See magnesium has an intricate relationship with several key minerals in our body, namely calcium, potassium and sodium. These four essential minerals are commonly referred to as our electrolytes because of their ability to conduct electricity when dissolved in a fluid. If these four electrolytes are out of whack, strange things can happen to our body that are unsurprisingly similar to electric shocks! (think cramp, twitches, eye ticks, or if you’re unlucky enough involuntary hand spasms).

The most commonly effected mineral relationship effected by magnesium is calcium. Normally this is great because in the western world we often have too much calcium and not enough magnesium which hinders correct calcium absorption creating something called a calcium shell. But that’s a topic for another post. Whilst most of us suffer from too little magnesium we’re enthusiastic to adminster huge volumes of magnesium supplements to rectify these issues. Up to a point this is normally without issue, however if we saturate the body with magnesium or do not correctly balance other minerals whilst supplementing, this is where we run into problems.

When there is an incorrect ratio of calcium to magnesium we can begin to experience symptoms that are due to incorrect muscle relaxation and contraction. Again, this is seen as twitches, cramps, jerks and spasms of various body-parts. (not fun!) Whilst magnesium is technically a calcium-channel blocker it directly counteracts the effects of calcium. One of calciums roles in the body besides contributing to bone health is assisting muscles to contract. However if we begin to supplement too much magnesium it begins to block too much calcium.

In the early stages of this mineral inbalance the symptoms are rarely noticed. Often felt as general fatique, listlessness, or drowsyness. This is because our muscles aren’t able to contract as fully or as quickly as we want which generally translates to slower and more laboured body movements. However if left untreated too much magnesium, also known as hypamagnesemia, can result in some pretty serious side effects. If this decrease in muscle contraction effects our arms or legs for example we could feel very heavy or slow. But what happens when this lack of contraction effects the muscles surrounding our diaphragm?

Magnesium overdose causes depressed breathing

When magnesium supplementation is overdone it can lead to a secondary condition known as hypocalcaemia. This is where the magnesium has blocked too much calcium being absorbed correctly resulting in low levels of circulating calcium.

Calcium is required for the contraction of muscles in our upper respiratory system including our diaphragm, intercostal muscles & accessory muscles of inhalation and exhalation. If the muscle contraction in these areas becomes compromised breathing will be negatively impacted, this results in something called depressed breathing.

Fear not. If this is happening to you it’s likely a result of a transient deficiency of calcium that will pass in a short amount of time. However, if you change nothing in your daily routine and continue to adminster magnesium the problem will persist.

Interested in mineral interactions and how supplements effect one another? Find every single interaction in our Ultimate Guide to Mineral Balancing within the Body


How do I stop magnesium effecting my breathing?

Simply put there are two options to remedy this issue.

  1. Temporarily reduce or eliminate your magnesium supplementation.
  2. Increase your available calcium in the body.

Either of these methods will help to reduce the impact magnesium has on your tight chest or difficulty breathing. However getting magnesium and calcium properly in balance may serve you better in the long run.

Firstly magnesium is neccessary for correct calcium transportation so it can be wise to continue magnesium supplementation even at slightly less amounts. Calcium intake is usually not a problem for most people although this is something that needs to be determined yourself.

A very effective method to quickly remedy this problem is to ensure you’re taking a quality calcium supplement. However equally as important is to ensure you’re taking a quality vitamin D supplement. This is because vitamin D is largely responsible for the correct absorbtion and assimilation of vitamin D. In fact, vitamin D can increase calcium absorbtion in intestines by more than four times. Correct your calcium levels and you will reduce or eliminate the chance of experiencing breathing problems whilst supplementing magnesium.


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If you’re experiencing other negative side effects from magnesium you need to read – Why Magnesium Stopped Working For You – How to Fix it!


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