Depression affects more than 3 million Americans each year. Worldwide, that number rises to over 350 million adults (1). Despite pharmaceutical drugs not performing as well as they should, more and more people are prescribed anti-depressants. Not only are these pills expensive but they also come with many side effects.
Think about this for a second, the global anti-depressant market is forecasted to reach $16 billion by 2030 (2); there is a lot of money to be made if things remain the same. The lack for an effective treatment has created a need for safer and better alternatives.
One of the solutions that has received a lot of attention for its potentially beneficial effect on people with depression is magnesium therapy. There are over 600 studies that analyze the link between mental health and magnesium. Even though the research findings have been positive, most of the papers involving human participants are not high-quality (3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8). But one specific study published by the PLOS Journal (9) stands out from the rest. This paper is a randomized clinical trial that examined the link between magnesium supplement and depression.
248mg of Magnesium Chloride
The researchers recruited 126 out-patients who have been diagnosed with mild to moderate depression. All participants were adults with an average age of 52 years; 62% of the group were women. At the beginning of the study, the patients received a PHQ-9 questionnaire which was used to measure the severity of their symptoms. Then, the participants were split into two different groups. Within the next 6 weeks, one group was given 248 mg of generic drug store magnesium chloride daily while the other received a placebo.
The researchers called the patients twice a week to collect data on their progress. They concluded this study by comparing the difference between initial symptoms with the results at the end. This study also measured the participant’s level of anxiety, adherence to medication, side effect outcomes, and willingness to continue taking the magnesium supplements. However, four people were excluded from the results because of incomplete data.
Magnesium Alleviates Symptoms of Depression in Just 2 Weeks
The result showed that patients who took the magnesium pill for at least 80% of the time, reduced their depression symptoms on the PHQ-9 scale by 6 points; their anxiety levels also dropped significantly. Moreover, 61% of the participants said they will continue using the drug after the trial ends.
The findings also revealed that the effects of magnesium on the patients were not determined by their age, gender, initial severity of depression, and whether they were on anti-depressants or not. The best part is that most of the participants began seeing positive results just after 14 days of taking the magnesium pills.
The study authors concluded: “Magnesium is effective for mild-to-moderate depression in adults. It works quickly and is well tolerated without the need for close monitoring for toxicity.”
To put this study’s result in context, conventional anti-depressant only improves patients’ PHQ-9 score by 5 points while magnesium supplement does so by 6 points. This makes magnesium a more effective treatment for depression than the available medications.
Another important factor to consider is that most people prescribed anti-depressants stop taking their medication within the first 4 weeks because of the side effects (10). But more than half of this study’s participants said they would continue to use magnesium supplement even after the initial six weeks.
Beyond Depression: Health Benefits of Magnesium
Magnesium is one of the most important minerals that the body needs to function properly. It is involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions and without it, your cells cannot produce energy (11). Studies also show that magnesium is essential for the synthesis of dopamine, commonly known as the feel-good hormone (12).
Over the past 40 years, researchers have been publishing an estimated 2,000 studies a year on the effects of magnesium. Their findings show that magnesium has more than 100 health benefits in the body (13). The following are the seven most common disorders that have been linked to magnesium deficiency:
Fibromyalgia: people diagnosed with fibromyalgia who received 50 mg of magnesium and malic acid (in the form of magnesium malate) experienced a significant reduction in their pain and tenderness symptoms (14, 15, 16).
Atrial Fibrillation: A number of studies showed that magnesium supplementation reduce atrial fibrillation, either by itself, or in combination other drug agents (17).
Type 2 Diabetes: This disease is mainly caused by insulin resistance that leads to excess sugar in the bloodstream. However, research shows that between 13.5% to 47.7% of type 2 diabetics have low levels of magnesium (18). Ingesting magnesium supplements is beneficial for people with diabetes as it helps to lower fasting blood glucose and boosts HDL cholesterol (19). Magnesium also helps to improves insulin sensitivity and overall glucose metabolism (20).
One study (23) showed that 34% of premenstrual women between the ages of 18 to 25 who took 250 mg of magnesium daily for 3 months significantly reduced their symptoms. If combined with vitamin B6, magnesium can also help to relieve anxiety that is associated with premenstrual symptoms (24).
Cardiovascular Disease: magnesium is essential for the proper functioning of the heart and its surrounding tissues. Strong evidence shows that magnesium deficiency is high among people who suffer from life-threatening cardiovascular diseases (CVD) such as heart attacks or strokes (25). According to research, giving CVD patients magnesium helps improve their symptoms because it acts as a calcium channel blocker, it is hypotensive, it is antispasmodic (which may protect against coronary artery spasm), and anti-thrombotic.
Migraines: Blood magnesium levels have been found to be significantly lower in those who suffer from migraine attacks (26, 27). A recent Journal of Neural Transmission article titled, “Why all migraine patients should be treated with magnesium,” pointed out that routine blood tests do not accurately convey the true body magnesium stores since less than 2% is in the measurable, extracellular space, “67% is in the bone and 31% is located intracellularly.”(28) The authors argued that since “routine blood tests are not indicative of magnesium status, empiric treatment with at least oral magnesium is warranted in all migraine sufferers.” Indeed, oral magnesium supplementation has been found to reduce the number of headache days in children experiencing frequent migranous headaches, (29) and when combined with l-carnitine, is effective at reducing migraine frequency in adults, as well (30).
Aging: in order to properly synthesize and metabolize DNA, the body needs enough magnesium and because of this, people with this mineral deficiency age faster than normal (31). Research shows that magnesium supplement can help reverse age-related neuroendocrine and sleep EEG frequency in humans (32). Magnesium is also involved in healing up the ends of the chromosomes after mitosis (33).
Best Dietary Sources of Magnesium
Even though taking magnesium supplements has no side effects, the best way for you to enjoy all the benefits is by eating foods that are nutrient-rich. Green plants contain the highest levels of magnesium as plants use this mineral to transport and convert chlorophyll to cellular energy. Without magnesium, plants cannot metabolize the sun’s energy.
Still, plants that have different colors also have a significant amounts of magnesium. It is better you eat plants that are packed with magnesium than using supplements because most store brands are not naturally sourced. They are extracted from limestone mining in the form of magnesium oxide.
Below is a list of everyday foods measured in 100 grams that are rich in magnesium.
- Dried seaweed (770 mg)
- Leeks (156 mg)
- Onions (92 mg)
- Kale (88 mg)
- Spinach (79 mg)
- Chard (81 mg)
- Broccoli (21 mg)
- Avocado (29 mg)
- Artichoke (60 mg)
- Squash (14 mg)
- Sweet potato (25 mg).
- Raw salmon (95 mg)
- Pollock (67 mg)
- Blue Crab (34 mg)
- Bluefin tuna (50 mg).
- Bananas (108 mg)
- Dried apricots (32 mg)
- Raisins (32 mg)
- Kiwi (17 mg)
- Prunes (41 mg)
- Watermelon (10 mg)
- Milk (10 mg)
- Yogurt (16 mg)
- Millet (106 mg)
- Long-grain brown rice (116 mg)
- Oats (117 mg)
Seeds & Nuts:
- Pumpkin seeds (535 mg)
- Flaxseed (392 mg)
- Cumin seed (366 mg)
- Brazil nuts (376 mg)
- Sesame meal (346 mg)
- Almond butter (303 mg)
- Cashew nuts (273 mg)
- Chives (640 mg)
- Coriander leaf (694 mg)
- Basil (422 mg)
- Parsley (372 mg)
- Raw cocoa powder (499 mg)
- Soy flour (290 mg)
- Whey (176 mg)
- Lentils (47 mg)
If you don’t want to eat any of these foods, then you should buy whole food organic magnesium supplements; be aware that it might be more expensive than the brands from chemical sources.
For people looking to use magnesium as a laxative, they should buy magnesium citrate supplements instead. To boost your digestive function and increase the amount of magnesium your body absorbs, go for magnesium glycinate.
Recommended Daily Intake of Magnesium
Looking at all these benefits, it’s obvious that we need to be consuming more magnesium. The National Institute for Health (34) recommends adults consume a minimum of 400 grams of magnesium per day. But if you are like most people, you’d be lucky if you’re getting 200 grams in your diet.
Studies show that on average, pharmaceutical drugs have on average 70 negative side effects. This makes magnesium an even better option for people with depression and other mental health disorders as it has a very low toxicity effect in the body.