Taking Magnesium for Anxiety: Does It Help?

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Anxiety involves feelings of intense fear, unease, or nervousness. Such feelings can stem from particular events or situations, but they can also occur in a more generalized sense of anxiety without a single identifiable source. 

No matter how it is experienced, anxiety is undoubtedly a common problem for many people. According to the Anxiety and Depression Centers of America, 18.1% of adults in the United States experience anxiety each year.

Since anxiety is so common, it’s not surprising that people often turn to a variety of methods to deal with it. One such method that has recently gained interest is the use of magnesium supplementation.

What Is Magnesium?

Magnesium is an essential mineral that is required for a number of important body functions. However, research has found that dietary intake of this mineral is often insufficient.

Can magnesium really treat anxiety? Magnesium plays an important role in the body, including in how the brain functions. Some evidence does suggest that taking magnesium may help with anxiety, although more research is needed to better understand this connection.

This article explores how anxiety is traditionally treated and whether or not magnesium might offer some benefits. It also covers how to take magnesium for anxiety, any side effects to watch for, and other benefits you might experience.

How Is Anxiety Treated?

The two primary treatments for anxiety are psychotherapy and medications. Some people may find that they get the greatest benefit from a combination of these two treatments, although each person's experience and needs are different.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one evidence-based treatment that is often used to relieve symptoms of anxiety. It focuses on helping people recognize distorted thought patterns that contribute to anxiety. It also helps people develop more helpful coping skills so that they are better able to tolerate feelings of anxiety and reduce avoidance behaviors.

A number of medications may also be prescribed to relieve symptoms of anxiety. Some types of antidepressants can be helpful, as can an anxiolytic medication called buspirone. Beta-blockers, which are often used to reduce blood pressure, and a type of sedative known as benzodiazepines are sometimes prescribed for the short-term relief of anxiety symptoms.

Can Magnesium Treat My Anxiety?

Magnesium is one of the most common minerals found in the body, yet it is not uncommon for many adults to get less than they need from diet alone. While a true deficiency tends to be rare, estimates suggest that as much as 48% of adults get less than the recommended amounts each day.

Given its role in functions ranging from energy levels to homeostasis to brain health, it is perhaps not unexpected that deficiencies in the mineral have been implicated in mental health concerns.

In a review of studies, researchers found that people with depression and other psychiatric conditions were more likely to have lower magnesium levels.

One reason that magnesium might be beneficial is because of its ability to boost brain function and affect cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is a hormone associated with stress, so lowering its levels in the body may have some impact on relieving anxiety.

Some studies have suggested that taking magnesium supplements may be helpful for relieving symptoms of different types of anxiety. One 2017 review, for example, found that magnesium supplementation appeared to reduce subjective symptoms of mild anxiety, generalized anxiety, and anxiety associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS). However, this review noted that the quality of the current evidence was poor and that randomized controlled trials were needed to further explore the effect.

Such results are promising, but other studies have not found this same effect. A 2020 review found that while magnesium supplementation appeared to have positive results on depressive symptoms, there was no significant connection between magnesium levels and symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder.

Recap

While magnesium may have some benefits for anxiety, the evidence remains mixed. More studies are needed to determine if taking magnesium supplements might reduce anxiety and to compare its impact against other effective treatments including antidepressant medications and psychotherapy.

Types of Magnesium

Magnesium is available in a variety of different types. It is bound to different substances, which may impact the rate and degree to which the body is able to absorb it. Some of the main types of magnesium supplements that are available include:

  • Magnesium citrate: This type of magnesium is bound with citric acid. It is the most common type found in supplements and evidence indicates that it is easily absorbed by the body via the digestive tract. This type also has a laxative effect, so it is sometimes utilized to treat symptoms of constipation.
  • Magnesium glycinate: This type of magnesium contains glycine, a type of amino acid that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain and affects functions including appetite, mood, cognition, and sleep. Some evidence indicates that supplementation of glycine may also help improve sleep quality. Given the impact of sleep quality on mental health, this may also have some beneficial effects on anxiety levels.
  • Magnesium malate: This type is formed by combining magnesium with malic acid, a substance that is found in many different types of fruits. It is also involved with the production of energy in the body, so it could potentially impact symptoms of fatigue.
  • Magnesium taurate: This type contains a combination of magnesium and taurine, an important amino acid with anti-inflammatory properties. 
  • Magenesium threonate: This form contains threonic acid, a compound that is produced from the breakdown of vitamin C. This type of magnesium is easily absorbed and raises magnesium levels in the brain. Animal studies also suggest that it may have neuroprotective effects.

Which type of magnesium should you take for anxiety? In a 2019 study comparing the bioavailability and metabolism of different magnesium preparations, magnesium taurate was found to absorb the fastest, pass into the brain the quickest, and result in the highest brain tissue concentrations. It was also associated with decreased indicators of anxiety. The two least bioavailable types of those tested were magnesium oxide and magnesium citrate.

How Is Magnesium for Anxiety Administered?

Magnesium supplements are available in tablet, capsule, powder, and liquid forms. Tablet and capsule forms are taken orally with food.

In most cases, tablets should be taken whole without breaking, crushing, or sucking on them. Some capsule tablets may be broken open and added to soft foods before eating. However, you should always check with your doctor first.

Powder forms are mixed with liquid before they are consumed by mouth. Liquid doses are often taken as a laxative.

How Much Magnesium Do You Need?

The recommended dietary allowance for adults aged 18 to 30 is 400 mg for men and 310 mg for women. For adults over age 31, the recommended dietary allowance is 420 mg for men and 320 mg for women.

Your magnesium needs can also often be met by consuming dietary sources of the mineral. Some good food sources of magnesium include:

  • Almonds
  • Avocados
  • Bananas
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Brown rice
  • Dark chocolate
  • Lima beans
  • Peanuts
  • Spinach
  • Tuna
  • Yogurt

There is no standard recommended dose of magnesium for relieving anxiety, so you should always speak to your doctor before taking them for this purpose.

Side Effects of Magnesium

Magnesium is generally well-tolerated and is unlikely to produce adverse effects even when taken at maximum daily limits. The National Institutes of Health suggests that, in healthy individuals, the body is able to naturally manage and excrete any excess magnesium consumed from dietary sources.

If you are taking magnesium via supplements, however, you should use caution to avoid exceeding the established upper limits. For adults, this means you should not consume more than 350 mg per day unless otherwise directed by a healthcare professional.

Some forms of magnesium, such as magnesium citrate, may cause some symptoms of stomach upset or diarrhea. 

Are There Other Benefits of Taking Magnesium? 

In addition to its potential benefits for anxiety, taking magnesium may have a number of other health benefits. Magnesium plays an important part in body functions including regulating blood sugar levels, blood pressure, heart rhythm, immunity, and muscle function.

Research suggests that magnesium may be helpful for:

  • Relieving constipation, including symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
  • Improving sleep
  • Lowering blood pressure and decreasing risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Boosting mood
  • Treating migraines
  • Reducing pain
  • Lowering the risk for type 2 diabetes
  • Reducing the risk of osteoporosis
  • Preventing cardiovascular disease

Taking magnesium can also be helpful if you are deficient in this important mineral. Signs of magnesium deficiency can include fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and weakness. As symptoms become more severe, people may experience muscle cramps, numbness, seizures, abnormal heart rhythms, and personality changes.

If you suspect you have a magnesium deficiency, you should talk to your doctor immediately.

Can You Overdose on Magnesium?

Consuming very large doses of magnesium can lead to a rare side effect known as magnesium toxicity. This risk is higher for people who have kidney disease due to a reduced ability to remove excess magnesium from the body. Symptoms of a magnesium overdose can include: 

  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Low blood pressure
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea
  • Urinary retention
  • Vomiting

Such large doses are typically consumed via the excess use of laxatives and antacids, resulting in the consumption of more than 5,000 mg per day of magnesium. In very rare instances, this can be fatal. 

A Word From Verywell

Magnesium may be helpful for anxiety, but research results remain mixed and there is simply not enough evidence to recommend taking this supplement to treat anxiety. Ensuring that you are getting adequate dietary levels of magnesium can be a great way to protect your health and reap the potential health benefits of this mineral. 

If you are concerned about your magnesium levels or want to try magnesium supplements for anxiety, talk to your primary care physician or another healthcare practitioner. They can offer more specific advice about dosages and which type of magnesium may be the most appropriate for your needs.

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