The Dos & Don'ts Of Taking Magnesium For Anxiety

mbg Health Contributor By Gretchen Lidicker, M.S.
mbg Health Contributor
Gretchen Lidicker earned her master’s degree in physiology with a focus on alternative medicine from Georgetown University. She is the author of “CBD Oil Everyday Secrets” and “Magnesium Everyday Secrets.”
Medical review by Heather Moday, M.D.
Allergist & Immunologist
Heather Moday, M.D. is the founder of the Moday Center for Functional and Integrative Medicine in Philadelphia, where she practices both traditional medicine and integrative medicine.
The Dos & Don'ts Of Taking Magnesium For Anxiety

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If you're one of the almost 40 million Americans who struggle with anxiety, you're almost certainly open to the idea of an all-natural, nerve-calming remedy. Enter: magnesium, one of nature's natural-born relaxants. This mineral plays a role in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body that regulate processes ranging from blood pressure and energy production to muscle relaxation to blood sugar balance—just to name a few. We all know magnesium works well for sleep, but can it work for anxiety as well?

The connection between magnesium, also known as "nature's relaxation mineral," and anxiety is complex and multifactorial. The best place to start explaining the connection is magnesium deficiency; many of us are likely not consuming enough magnesium in our diets, creating a deficiency and putting us at higher risk for anxiety.

Magnesium deficiency and anxiety.

"Magnesium deficiency is not uncommon in the U.S.—and neither is anxiety," says Ilene Ruhoy, M.D., Ph.D., integrative neurologist and mindbodygreen Collective member. But how common, exactly? It's thought that 50 to 90 percent of us are deficient in magnesium. We can thank medication use, soil depletion, and the fact that staples of the standard American diet—like refined and processed foods—are basically devoid of this mineral for that.

Seeing as there are over 3,700 magnesium-binding sites in your body, a magnesium deficiency can affect your health in numerous ways. When it comes to anxiety, magnesium's role in the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is of particular interest. The PNS is known as our "rest and digest" system and works to bring our body back to calm. Magnesium plays a pivotal role in the health and activity of the parasympathetic nervous system and the nervous system in general, with studies showing that a deficiency in magnesium can induce the part of the nervous system that is in charge of our fight-or-flight response.

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Magnesium and anxiety.

For those of us struggling with generalized anxiety, social anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD, or any other anxiety-related disorder, the idea that taking a magnesium supplement could bring you relief and take the place of side-effect-heavy and addictive pharmaceutical drugs is extremely attractive. But can magnesium really help with anxiety? The research on the topic is still very much developing, but according to top integrative and functional medicine doctors, signs point to yes. "Several studies have shown magnesium to be beneficial for anxiety with improvements in sense of calm, contentment, and resilience," says Ruhoy.

We're still not sure exactly how to explain the connection, but it might have something to do with magnesium being an important cofactor in the creation of serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters that play a very important role in mood and relaxation. Magnesium also influences the activity of GABA, the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain that is intricately involved in anxiety (GABA receptors are actually the target of benzodiazepine drugs like Xanax, the most popular drugs for anxiety). Certain studies have shown that there's a correlation between low levels of magnesium and an increase in mood disorders.

The research on magnesium and anxiety.

According to Marvin Singh, M.D., integrative medicine doctor and mindbodygreen Collective member, "Magnesium is one of my favorite simple, natural substances. A 2016 article noted that the efficacy of magnesium in the treatment of anxiety in those who were mildly anxious and experiencing PMS-related anxiety there was a beneficial effect." Not all studies were so conclusive, though: "More recently, in 2017, a systematic review noted that there is evidence that is suggestive of a beneficial effect with using magnesium in the setting of anxiety but more high-quality evidence was needed,” he explained.

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How to take magnesium for anxiety.

The bad news is that the research on magnesium for anxiety isn't definitive yet, the good news is that it's relatively safe to experiment with and many, many people are using it for this purpose and reporting great results. As Singh put it, "While we may not have a final verdict on exactly how magnesium works to combat anxiety, it can be a nice way to induce a more relaxed state." You can take magnesium in the form of a powder, capsule, or liquid supplement. The limiting factor is loose stool as magnesium is a common ingredient in laxatives." This means that certain forms of magnesium, like magnesium sulfate and citrate, can give you diarrhea if you take too much of the wrong form at once.

To avoid this entirely, you can focus on eating more magnesium-rich foods like spinach, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, and legumes like black beans and lentils.

What form of magnesium to take for anxiety.

If you start shopping for magnesium supplements, you'll be bombarded with different forms of the mineral. You should know that some are better than others. So what kind of magnesium should you take for anxiety? There are several magnesium forms such as magnesium threonate, citrate, gluconate, or citramate. Another great form of magnesium is magnesium glycinate, which won't cause digestive upset like almost all other forms of the nutrient. Are there any other safety concerns to worry about? According to Singh, "Those with kidney disease, heart disease, arrhythmias, and certain other conditions should, seek the advice and guidance of their medical doctors before taking a magnesium supplement to ensure that it is the right thing for them." As a general rule, you should always inform your doctor if you're going to be experimenting with any new supplements, herbs, or drastic lifestyle or dietary changes.

One last expert tip? If you want to supplement with magnesium, you don't have to limit yourself to a supplement capsule or powder. You can also experiment with magnesium oil, creams, and even Epsom salt baths, which are made using magnesium sulfate crystals. These delivery methods have the added bonus of forcing you to calm down and take some time for yourself, which means you double down on the anxiety-busting benefits.

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