Magnesium is trending on social media. Will taking magnesium help with my mental health?
Maybe a little. It is difficult to tell if magnesium helps with mental health for most people.
Why is magnesium important?
Magnesium is a mineral that is present in the human body and generally taken in through food products. It is present in some medications and of course, can also be taken as a supplement. Measuring how much magnesium someone is taking in is complicated because the tests available do not really tell you how much magnesium is in key areas of the body. Usually blood tests are done, but this doesn’t tell you much about how much is actually being used for different processes and how much is actually in the cells, tissues, or bones. If the body has too much magnesium, it is removed from the body by the kidneys (comes out in urine). For most healthy adults, about 350mg of Magnesium intake is the daily limit.
Magnesium is used in hundreds of different reactions in the body that help to control blood pressure, muscle contraction, blood sugar, and nerve cell communication and heart function. Magnesium helps nerve cells (including those in the brain) work by helping with communication between cells and creating a good layer around the cell. It is also thought to help serotonin and dopamine (mood regulating neurotransmitters) better communicate with cells. In depression, it is hypothesized that magnesium may play a role in the serotonin system and can work well with antidepressants. It may also help with N-methyl D-aspartame (NMDA) receptor regulation, which can influence glutamate, one of the transmitters that is involved in mood regulation. It can also be involved in control of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is often thought of as a system that regulates the stress response.
Is there evidence that magnesium helps with mental health?
Some, but it isn’t enough to recommend it as a primary treatment.
A systematic review (review of a bunch of studies) in 2020 looked at 32 different studies on magnesium supplementation. Most of the studies were about depression but looked at the association between magnesium levels and depressive symptoms as well as the association between magnesium supplementation (with or without antidepressant treatment) and improvement in mood symptoms. Three of the studies suggested that magnesium improved depressive symptoms. The four studies that looked at anxiety did not show a strong association between magnesium supplementation and anxiety symptoms. Other conditions studied had few studies to review (OCD, Autism, Eating disorders). Another systematic review in 2017 looked more specifically at anxiety in 14 different studies. Of the 8 studies that looked at general anxiety, most did not have an adequate placebo nor looked at magnesium supplementation alone (it was with B6 or other supplements). Studies did show an effect on anxiety but it is hard to draw conclusions because the studies were hard to compare. There is some evidence from 4 of 7 studies to suggest that magnesium helps with PMS symptoms.
For sleep, one systematic review in 2021 looked at insomnia in older adults. Three randomized controlled trials had evidence that suggested that it took people a little less time to fall asleep (little more than 15 minutes less). People were given high quantities of magnesium (300-800mg three times daily) and outcomes were measured differently. Another systematic review in 2022 suggested that sleep may be affected by magnesium status (level of magnesium at baseline) but it was not clear if supplementation or treatment with magnesium affected sleep quality and outcomes.
All this tells us that there is some evidence that magnesium supplementation can help with anxiety, depression, and sleep, but we don’t have enough data to tell us how much magnesium, in what combination (with or without other supplements or medications) and for whom this treatment will work best.
What if I want to try magnesium?
If you want to try magnesium to help with your mental health symptoms, please speak with your clinician first. There are many different formulations of magnesium with different effects. Most clinicians will suggest dietary sources of magnesium as primary sources like green leafy vegetables, legumes, and whole grains (see the NIH article for some more ideas).
Some formulations of magnesium can cause you to have loose stools (yikes!), so you want to be careful and take lower doses to decrease the side effect. Magnesium citrate is often recommended for this effect, so be aware of that. Magnesium oxide is often recommended for migraines (although this was not discussed here) and Magnesium maleate is used for muscle aches and pains. Magnesium glycinate is most often used for anxiety, depression and sleep because it is thought to be well absorbed and lower in terms of side effects. If you do choose to use a supplement, first talk to your clinician to make sure that it will not cause you harm. Once you do that, please make sure you read more about choosing a supplement and try to choose a company that has the Good Manufacturing Processes (GMP) certification. Not all supplements are created equal and you want to make sure that you are getting the best and safest product. Unfortunately supplements are not well regulated in the U.S. so you have to take this extra step to ensure quality.
And as a general rule, no one treatment is good for every person. While some people may have benefitted from magnesium supplementation, the evidence is limited to date. This is not to say that magnesium may not help with anxiety, depression, or sleep, but that more studies that are comparable, have similar treatments, and similar measured outcomes are needed do draw further conclusions.
The bottom line: Magnesium may help mental health symptoms a little but is likely not a primary treatment for anxiety, depression, or sleep. It could be helpful as an adjunctive treatment or for milder symptoms. If you want to try magnesium to help with your mental health symptoms, talk to your clinician and follow their recommendations. More research is needed to draw more conclusions about its use.
Stay safe. Stay well.
Those Nerdy Girls