I'm a huge advocate for magnesium. This stems from my father's infinite wisdom that I ultimately don't listen to until much later & realize he was, yet again, right.
Since discovering how great magnesium can be for both mental & physical health, & reaping the benefits of taking them as supplements, I've become somewhat of a spokesperson for it. If someone comes to me with an issue, I immediately re-direct them towards magnesium. Sore muscles? Take an epsom salt bath. Stressed? Take a magnesium supplement. Head-ache? Magnesium. Trouble sleeping? Magnesium. Car won't start? Magnesium. Issues with your SO/roommate/friend? Magnesium.
Just kidding for those last two. But seriously speaking, magnesium is a fantastic supplement.
*Disclaimer: please note that supplements in any form are not a cure. They can be helpful but if you suffer from mental illness, it's best to take supplements (if needed) in conjunction with talk therapy and, sometimes, medication. A holistic approach is the best approach because, as I've mentioned before, nutrition, brain function and mental health are all intrinsically linked. Speak with a medical professional before taking magnesium supplements, especially if you have heart disease or kidney problems, as magnesium can exacerbate these conditions.
Are You Deficient?
While anyone can be deficient for a variety of reasons, some people are more prone to be than others: those with gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn's disease & celiac disease, and those suffering from type II diabetes and/or chronic alcohol dependence.
If you're deficient in magnesium, you may be experiencing nausea, fatigue, weakness, muscle contractions & cramps, and/or a loss of appetite.
The list of benefits related to magnesium intake is a long one: from relieving constipation to helping with muscle tension to reducing the risk of Alzheimer's & cardiovascular diseases, and everything in between. Instead of going over each & every one, I decided to pick the ones that pertained the most to mental health & have been backed up by research:
Depression affects more people than we think. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 264 million people globally suffer from some form of depression. That number is only increasing, particularly with the current pandemic and the subsequent shelter in place. Although depression is common, it's still incredibly stigmatized. It's not talked about as much as it should be, leaving many people to feel like they have no choice but to suffer alone and in silence. It's also frequently misdiagnosed and, as a result, poorly treated or not treated at all.
Magnesium has been linked to depression since the early 1920s. Studies have been used to, mostly successfully and at times unsuccessfully, show its ability to alleviate depressive symptoms. Some researchers have suggested through their findings that major depression is intrinsically linked to magnesium deficiency. There is no denying that there is a relationship between magnesium and affective disorders such as depression: magnesium is needed as a coenzyme to help turn tryptophan, an amino acid, into serotonin, an essential mood-regulating neurotransmitter. That being said: we are all different, and not everyone is going to respond favorably to magnesium supplements. But because it's quite safe and cost-effective, there isn't much harm in giving it a trial run to see if it helps alleviate any depressive symptoms.
Stress creates a vicious cycle when it comes to magnesium. When we're stressed, magnesium builds up in our urine and we ultimately end up peeing it out - lowering our magnesium levels. On the flip side, magnesium is essential in helping calm down our nervous system through the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis (HPA axis). The HPA axis is a major neuroendocrine system that is a huge contributor to mood disorders, as it controls our reactions to stress and regulates our mood and emotions. In fact, anti-depressants work by regulating the HPA axis.
Magnesium has been shown to calm the HPA axis down when it's hyperactive by reducing the release of adrenocorticotrophic hormones, which are released when we experience stress and anxiety and creates cortisol, a steroid hormone. When cortisol is overproduced due to chronic stress, our HPA axis becomes dysregulated and, as a result, changes our response to stress. HPA axis dysregulation & elevated cortisol levels have been consistently found in adults suffering from depression and/or anxiety - but studies show that magnesium supplements can be a valuable helping hand to change that, particularly when in conjunction with other treatments such as anti-depressants and/or talk therapy.
Migraines can be extremely debilitating, can result from stress and, if frequent enough, have the strong potential to decrease quality of life. Migraines are tricky as they are still somewhat of a question mark - the root cause is not fully understood. According to the Mayo Clinic, there is evidence that points towards genetic & environmental factors, as well as brain chemical imbalances such as serotonin, which plays a big role in helping process pain in addition to controlling our mood.
Since it's not very well understood, finding a way to help migraines can be difficult. However, some studies, such as this randomized controlled clinical trial of 133 migraine sufferers, have shown that magnesium has a significant effect on decreasing the number of attacks as well as the severity of the migraine. Another randomized controlled study had similar findings: after a three month period of taking 600mg/day of magnesium, both the severities and the frequencies of the migraine attacks of 30 participants diminished significantly. This last study points towards the increase in blood flow to the brain experienced by its participants who took the magnesium as a potential reason for the benefits of magnesium for migraine sufferers. Some researchers point to low serotonin in migraine sufferers as being the root cause. Because magnesium is required as a coenzyme to create serotonin, it wouldn't be a stretch to believe that it can help prevent migraines.
Magnesium has been used as a preventative treatment for migraines for a few years now, as it's relatively low-cost and low risk. It can be taken orally or administered intravenously. Different types of magnesium are used for different types of migraines (for example, intravenous magnesium sulfate for those who experience migraines with aura), so be sure to consult your doctor to see which one is best for you!
Sources of Magnesium
There are plenty of food sources for increased magnesium intake. The Cleveland Clinic points towards leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans, dairy products and whole-grains as food items that are rich in magnesium. At the top of the list are pumpkin seeds (168mg/serving), almonds (80mg/serving), spinach (78mg/half cup boiled), cashews (74mg/serving), peanuts (63mg/serving) and shredded wheat (61mg/serving). Dark chocolate deserves its own special shout-out, because how amazing is it that it's absolutely delicious while still being insanely healthy?! Dark chocolate not only has 64mg of magnesium per serving, it's also rich in iron and copper. If there's ever been a better excuse to eat chocolate, I've yet to hear it.
Other food sources that are high in magnesium include bananas, avocados, figs, salmon, asparagus and oats. Enough items have magnesium to where you can use all of them create a well-rounded, magnesium-rich meal:
Here are some recipes that are certain to boost your magnesium intake from one of my favorite recipe websites, Jar of Lemons.
Roasted Beets & Sweet Potato Salad - a personal favorite!
177% of Magnesium DRI (Daily Recommended Intake) per 600 calories. 1 serving of this salad is 288 calories.
123% of Magnesium DRI per 600 calories. 1 serving of this salad is 453 calories.
137% of Magnesium DRI per 600 calories. 1 serving of this dish is 384 calories.
101% of Magnesium DRI per 600 calories. 1 serving of this salad is 267 calories.
Note: check your calcium intake. I love cheese just as much (if not more) than the next person, but too much calcium does interfere with magnesium absorption.
Magnesium supplements are a great way to get the dosage you need, especially if you are deficient and need a boost. Keep in mind that, as with many other types of vitamins and minerals, not all supplements are created equal. Magnesium comes in many forms, including: citrate, oxide and chloride. Oxide is the one that we want to steer clear from, as its not as easily absorbed by the body compared to its counterparts.
Deciding on which magnesium supplement to go with also depends on what you're looking to accomplish: for example, magnesium citrate - which is the most commonly found type of magnesium - is used to lower stress, which magnesium malate may be more suited to tackle chronic fatigue. My recommendations for magnesium supplements in pill form are: Nature's Way Magnesium Complex and Now Food's Magnesium Caps.
I personally prefer to drink my magnesium. The reason for this is that I have a hard time absorbing tablets - so if the magnesium is in liquid form, it's locked, loaded and ready to be absorbed once it's in my gut. My favorite is Natural Vitality's Calm cherry-flavored 'anti-stress' drink, which I like to enjoy at night.
While doing my research for this blog post, I was surprised to read about magnesium oil. I knew about (and absolutely love!) epsom salts and how incredible they are for achy muscles. So, I gave the oil a test drive after a couple of especially arduous spin classes and was pleasantly surprised with the results (there is, however, a tingling/itchy sensation upon application). It's also been promoted as being helpful for digestive issues by rubbing the oil onto your stomach, although I can't attest to that just yet.
Epsom bath salts are incredible for aching muscles, whether they've tensed up from stress or you're experiencing muscle soreness. You can find epsom salts just about anywhere - I love adding a few drops of essential oils, usually lavender and bergamot, to my epsom salt bath to make it a really calming experience.
The great thing about magnesium is that the side-effects are minimal, and it's pretty difficult to take too much of it (hypermagnesemia) - though not impossible - due to our kidney's quick response to eliminating any excess magnesium. It's still wise to be careful about overconsumption - Milk of Magnesia didn't get its name by accident: magnesium supplements can cause dehydration as it does act as a laxative if taken in high doses.
Do you take magnesium supplements? How have they helped (or not helped!)? Let me know in the comments below or by email!
Disclaimer: I'm not affiliated with any brands or organizations, & receive no compensation for listing them. Anything linked here is either a resource for the article or a product/service that I have tried, tested and firmly believe in.
Grases & al., Magnesium Research, 2006
World Health Organization, 2020
Greenblatt, Psychiatric Times, 2016
Magnesium Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health, 2018 updated 2020
Tepper, American Migraine Foundation, 2013
Cleveland Clinic, 2014
Migraine Mayo Clinic
Ehlert & al., Biological Psychology, 2001
Sun-Edelstein & Mauskop, Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, 2009
Serotonin and CGRP in Migraine Aggarwal & al., Annals of Neuroscience, 2012
Esfanjani & al., Biological Trace Element Research, 2012
Köseoglu & al., Magnesium Research, 2008
The Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress - A Systematic Review Boyle & al., Nutrients, 2017
Schwalfenberg & Genuis, Scientifica (Cairo), 2017
Zinc, Magnesium, Selenium and Depression: a Review of the Evidence, Potential Mechanisms and Implications Wang & al., Nutrients, 2018