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Relax with magnesium


Cacao beans isolated on white background

Magnesium is Nature’s original relaxer. Magnesium has long been used for calming nerves and relaxing muscles and as a natural laxative. Its therapeutic role in both anxiety and depression is well supported.

Our ancestors would have had a ready supply from food grown on magnesium rich soil. Modern farming practices have diminished magnesium levels in some soils. Magnesium is present in many natural water sources – the “harder” the water, the more minerals like calcium and magnesium it contains. Magnesium is removed in municipal water treatments and in “soft” water systems used in many homes and offices. Foods that contain magnesium like seafood, whole grains, Brazil nuts, and dark green leafy vegetables are not consumed in great quantities in the Western diet. For all of those reasons, and because stress depletes our magnesium levels quickly, the average American is deficient in magnesium.

The Hordaland Health Study in Norway of over 5700 individuals found that magnesium intake was definitely related to depression. Those who had less magnesium in their diets had higher rates of depression.

An article in Neuropharmacology describes a study with mice at the University of Innsbruck in Austria. They found that anxiety-related behaviors can be induced by making mice deficient in magnesium. Magnesium had already been shown to be an effective treatment for both depression and anxiety in mice. A Russian study demonstrated that both anxiety and depression could be induced in mice by making them deficient in magnesium. They also found that the symptoms could be significantly relieved by adding magnesium back into the diet and that even better results were obtained when the mice were treated with both magnesium and vitamin B6 together. Another study on Russian children aged 6-12 with ADHD found a very strong difference between the control group and the children given magnesium and vitamin B6. The children given magnesium and vitamin B6 showed improvements in behavior, decreased anxiety and aggression, and increased characteristics of attention.

George and Karen Eby have done extensive research on the effects of magnesium on depression and anxiety at their nutritional research center in Austin, Texas. In a paper they wrote titled, “Rapid recovery from major depression using magnesium treatment”, they present numerous case histories showing rapid recovery (less than 7 days) from major depression using 125-300 mg of magnesium with each meal and at bedtime.

Exactly how magnesium works to alleviate anxiety and depression is not fully understood but there is some evidence to suggest that it acts on GABA receptors, increasing GABA levels which decreases anxiety and stress-related depression. It appears to also assist in blocking the production of adrenaline (the hormone involved in our “fight or flight” response) allowing us to remain calmer under stress.

Magnesium is a good example of why I would recommend choosing foods high in a particular nutrient over taking supplements. There are many types of magnesium available to take as supplements. Some are more “bioavailable” than others. In other words, your body is better able to utilize some types more than others. Some magnesium supplements are going to be a good investment and some are going to be a near waste of money. The magnesium available in food is going to be magnesium that your body can use. Another reason is that many of the nutrients implicated in depression and anxiety share foods in common. When we eat foods high in magnesium, for instance, we are also eating foods containing vitamin B6, folate, calcium and other nutrients that are beneficial in treating depression and anxiety. Each time you eat these foods, it’s like taking a super pack depression and anxiety supplement – but without the risk of taking too much or wasting money on the wrong kind.

Sources of magnesium:

  • Rice
  • Halibut
  • Wheat and oat brans
  • Barley
  • Artichokes
  • Buckwheat flour
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Dark chocolate (raw cacao has 50% more magnesium than cocoa)
  • Flax seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Brazil nuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Molasses
  • Soybeans
  • Dark leafy greens



7 Responses to “Relax with magnesium”

  1. Dena says:

    I too believe that a nutritious diet is the best way to incorporate the vitamins and minerals that our body needs! The challenge is to facilitate understanding and the willingness to make some adjustments to eating habits.

    Magnesium is an important one for sure as the article addressed. There are a lot of health benefits including regulating blood sugar (preventing highs and lows), production of serotonin (irritability, moodiness and depression), activation of enzymes that manage energy and hormone production and nutrient absorption, and it is a powerful antioxidant that protects the body from free radical damage. Wow!

    In addition to making some necessary changes in diet, some may find it easy and helpful to supplement with additional magnesium by using magnesium citrate powder which can mix easily in foods. The caveat is of course not to expect miracles if one is eating a diet consisting primarily of fast food and microwaveables.

    Treatment plan goals and objectives for those in a clinical setting might include psychoeducation related to nutrition and mental health (increasing understanding of relationship between nutrition and mind/body) and in making healthier choices when it relates to food intake (snacks, meals, etc.)

  2. admin says:

    Yes! The education about the relationship between nutrition and, especially “mind”, is what this blog serves to accomplish. It’s time this information became easily accessible to all who could benefit from it! Thanks for this thoughtful response.

  3. Dena says:

    Thank YOU for this terrific blog site! Very informative and useful 🙂

  4. ron marx says:

    Thank you for the information. If I want to use magnesium in supplement form what make/type would you recommend?

    • admin says:

      Hi Ron, thanks for your question. Ideally, I would like to see people get most, if not all, of their nutrients from food. There are a lot of reasons for this. There is a synergy between nutrients that exists in nature that is impossible to replicate in supplements. Also, magnesium needs to work together with other nutrients in performing various important functions and taking it alone can actually cause a deficiency in some other things. So, my first recommendation would be to increase the magnesium-rich foods in your diet. That, in my opinion, is the best and safest way to get all of your nutrients. That said however, if you are not able to do that or need immediate relief from anxiety, taking a supplement is the next best thing. Some forms of magnesium are easier for the body to absorb than others. That doesn’t mean a less absorbable kind is necessarily bad or you, you just need to take more of it. Keep in mind that many forms of magnesium supplements have been artificially manipulated to bind the magnesium to another substance. I have a basic distrust, though admittedly possibly unwarranted, of that kind of manipulation. I’m more inclined to trust in the way it occurs in nature. Magnesium that is mined directly from the earth in the form of dolomite occurs as magnesium carbonate along with calcium (those two minerals often occur together in nature because they work together). You will find a lot of disagreement among the “experts” on which kinds of magnesium are best to take. I’m including a couple of articles for you to read where one recommends magnesium carbonate because it is easily absorbable and the other says the opposite. Which is one reason I try to stay out of the supplement debates! My recommendation is to increase magnesium-rich foods in your diet as much as possible and if you feel you need a supplement, any form you take will have some pros and cons but will get magnesium in your system.

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