Can magnesium really help with mental health and anxiety?
With many of us looking for more holistic ways of improving our mental health, could magnesium be a star player?
If you live with anxiety, then you may have done a fair amount of research into foods, supplements and practices that might help to dial down your whirring brain. And amid all the CBD and gratitude guides, there’s one remedy you’ll probably have seen mentioned again and again: magnesium.
There are a number of reasons why we might be experiencing troublesome thoughts and low mood; according to Mental Health UK, over eight million of us are experiencing anxiety at any one time. It’s really common and there’s no quick fix. But, it’s thought that levels of magnesium – a mineral that’s found in a number of foods – can play a role in reducing some of anxiety’s effects. Studies have shown links between magnesium and depression, with promising results for anxiety too.
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Does magnesium help with mental health?
“Magnesium has an important role in assisting over 300 biochemical reactions in the body,” explains Dr Jane Leonard.
“The main functions are to maintain normal nerve and muscle function, to maintain a healthy immune system and to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system, including a steady heartbeat. It’s also really good at keeping bones strong and can be involved in maintaining blood glucose levels.”
When it comes to anxiety and depression, why is magnesium so important?
“Magnesium is thought to help with anxiety and mood because it plays a crucial role in the functioning of the nervous system and the regulation of neurotransmitters,” explains mental health research fellow Ben Warren from Stress Reliever’s Club.
“Magnesium is also known to modulate the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is involved in the body’s stress response. Studies have shown that magnesium deficiency can lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression.”
Obviously, that doesn’t mean that anxiety and depression are caused by low magnesium – or cured by taking magnesium supplements. It’s more that healthy levels can help to support our stress reaction, leaving us less vulnerable to symptoms.
How to tell if you’re deficient in magnesium
Frustratingly, it’s actually quite hard to diagnose magnesium deficiency.
“Many women are at risk of magnesium deficiency; however, magnesium deficiency generally remains undiagnosed,” advises Pauline Cox, functional nutritionist, author and nutritional advisor to Wiley’s Finest.
“This is because 99% of total body magnesium is found within the cells, not in the serum of our blood, so it’s not easy to test for.”
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What causes magnesium deficiency?
Cox explains that there are many factors that influence magnesium levels, including:
- chronic stress
- Crohn’s disease
- heavy periods
- high insulin
- poor dietary intake of magnesium-rich foods
- poor gut absorption
- strenuous exercise
- uncontrolled blood sugars
- vitamin B6 deficiency
- vitamin D excess or deficiency
In other words, a lot of things can compromise our levels – some of which are outside of our control.
Symptoms of magnesium deficiency
Mild symptoms can include:
Severe symptoms range from depression and hypertension to osteoporosis.
Should you take magnesium supplements?
The NHS states that the recommended daily intake of magnesium for women aged 19 to 64 is 270mg, and that we should be able to get this from a varied and balanced diet. Foods rich in magnesium include whole grains, leafy greens, beans, dark chocolate, nuts and seeds. All the good stuff.
However, those looking to improve their mental health often exceed this amount, by way of supplements. A 2017 review revealed that magnesium supplementation could have a positive effect on those with anxiety, although more trials are advised.
“Dosage can range from 125mg–600mg per day but it’s all down to individual mental health needs,” advises Dr Leonard.
“I would seek the advice of a GP, talk to them about your mental health and only then take the dosage they recommend, rather than seeking to exceed any dosage immediately.
“It’s generally safe for most people to take the RDA, but possible (and rare) side effects include nausea, diarrhoea and lower abdominal pain. You could risk more severe effects – like irregular heartbeat, confusion and slow breathing rate – if you exceed that dose. Seek urgent medical attention if this occurs.”
Which type of magnesium helps with mental health?
Magnesium comes in many different forms, each adding value to the body in its own cute little way. Which types should we be looking to for (potential) improvements in our mental health?
“Magnesium taurate and magnesium glycinate are the best in supporting mental health,” advises Dr Leonard.
“They’re thought to particularly help with anxiety, depression and problems with sleep.”
How long does it take to feel the effects of magnesium?
So, you’ve consulted with your doctor and you’re popping magnesium pills – what now?
“The time it takes to feel the positive effects of magnesium supplementation can vary from person-to-person,” explains Warren.
“Some people may experience immediate improvements, while others may need to take magnesium supplements for several weeks before seeing any benefits. The dosage and form of magnesium supplement can also affect how quickly it is absorbed and utilised by the body.”
Our brains are complicated beasts, so it’s important to be aware that there generally are no quick fixes when it comes to mental health.
“In addition to magnesium supplementation, there are many other things that can be done to improve mental health,” advises Warren. “These may include regular exercise, a balanced diet, therapy, stress management techniques such as meditation or deep breathing, therapy and medication (if recommended by a healthcare professional).
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“It’s important to approach mental health from a holistic perspective and to address any underlying issues that may be contributing to anxiety or mood disorders.”
If you’re struggling with your mental health, please know that you’re not alone. Better days are ahead, though it might take a little bit of work and experimentation to get there. Your first port of call should always be your GP, who can discuss treatment options – like magnesium supplementation – with you.
If you are struggling with poor mental health or anxiety, chat with the experts at Mind or the Samaritans.
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