Treating anxiety disorders is possible with conventional medicine and therapy, but more and more of us are seeking alternative means of managing and achieving good mental health. One such approach is dietary supplementation.
Supplementation is an increasingly popular means of not only reducing poor mental health symptoms but also optimizing one’s physical and mental health and performance.
In this article, we will look at magnesium, an essential nutrient and a popular choice of supplement for those struggling with anxiety. We will explore the best magnesium for anxiety and explain how this essential nutrient can act as a powerful anxiolytic.
First, let us discuss why magnesium supplementation is becoming an increasingly popular approach to stress and anxiety management.
Magnesium Supplementation for anxiety
If you are struggling with anxiety, know that you are not alone. Anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are among the most common health issues in the world today.
In the U.S. alone, around 40 million adults struggle with an anxiety disorder every year. Globally, approximately 1 in 13 people suffer from anxiety. Though extremely common, anxiety disorders are nonetheless challenging and can be debilitating.
Some of us experience mild anxiety from time to time, but for others, their symptoms can be so severe that they get in the way of everyday life. Excessive fear, worry, headaches and nausea, and co-occurring depression are just some of the anxiety symptoms that can reduce a person’s quality of life and make it hard to relax and enjoy oneself.
In an attempt to relieve anxiety symptoms and improve our quality of life, many of us seek cures and solutions. Conventional treatment for anxiety disorders involves a combination of therapy and medication, and these are evidence-based and effective healing modalities that have helped millions of people. Still, in recent decades more and more interest has risen regarding alternative treatments.
Nutritional health researchers Shaheen E. Lakhan and Karen F. Vieira explain: “With the rising cost of prescription medications and their production of unwanted side effects, patients are exploring herbal and other natural remedies for the management and treatment of psychological conditions.”
As research into the nature of anxiety continues, psychologists, doctors, and neuroscientists alike are beginning to realize and understand that anxiety and other mental health issues are not only in our minds. The state of the body plays a huge role in how we think and feel. Thus, keeping the body healthy and functional is a core aspect of living a mentally healthy life. Some popular alternative healing approaches include meditation and mildness, yoga, tai chi, other forms of exercise, breathwork, and dietary changes.
Also, one alternative approach to mental health treatment is dietary supplementation. We can indeed get the nutrients we need through our diet. Still, many of us simply do not adhere to a balanced diet due to stress, lack of nutritional education, and ease of accessibility to highly processed, unhealthy foods. Now, this is where supplements come in.
Supplements are substances that contain essential vitamins and minerals that the body needs to function properly. These are known as essential nutrients. We need to get them from our diet because the body cannot produce them alone.
Regarding anxiety, research suggests that certain nutrients can help reduce the severity of symptoms, while a deficiency in others can exacerbate them. Moreover, prolonged stress and anxiety can deplete our nutrients so low that we risk even more stress and anxiety due to nutrient deficiency. An emerging area of research with an exciting future to relieve anxiety is magnesium supplementation.
What are magnesium supplements?
Magnesium supplements are capsules, powders, liquids, or gels that contain high concentrations of magnesium—one of the essential minerals the brain and body need to function properly. Magnesium plays several key roles in the brain and body, including:
- Neuroprotective function—magnesium helps nerve cells in the brain communicate properly and blocks unnecessary activity.
- Promotes memory and learning
- Contributes to a healthy heart
- Promotes muscle recovery and relaxation
- Lowers blood pressure
You can find magnesium in many food sources, such as:
- Leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale)
- Whole grains
- Legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils)
- Nuts and seeds
Despite its availability in common food sources, studies have found that magnesium levels are low in the general population. According to the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, over two-thirds of Americans do not get enough magnesium in their diet.
“Among U.S. adults, 68% consumed less than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of magnesium, and 19% consumed less than 50% of the RDA.”
Also, even if you get enough magnesium from your food, your anxiety and stress can reduce the magnesium level in your body. Anxiety and stress cause you to release more magnesium through your urine. People who meet their magnesium requirements through diet alone can still face reduced magnesium levels when anxiety and stress persist.
Types of magnesium supplement
There are many types of magnesium, and they play hundreds of roles throughout the body. As such, you might be wondering what the best magnesium supplement is for you.
Magnesium comes in many forms, including:
- Magnesium citrate
- Magnesium chloride
- Magnesium glycinate
- Magnesium taurate
- Magnesium lactate
- Magnesium sulfate
- Magnesium oxide
- Magnesium malate
- Magnesium L-Threonate
Do not be overwhelmed by all of the names and different types of magnesium. All of the above have an essential role to play in the body, but some are more directed toward anxiety and stress reduction than others.
Best magnesium for anxiety
Research suggests the three types of magnesium, in particular, are the most helpful for anxiety-related issues:
- Magnesium Glycinate
- Magnesium Taurate
- Magnesium L-Threonate
Magnesium glycinate supplements contain magnesium and glycine, which are essential amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and help our muscles and tissues recover from strain. This type of magnesium supplement is one of the most popular for dealing with anxiety.
It has been proven to improve sleep quality, a common issue for those struggling with anxiety. It can offer quick relief from associated symptoms because the body easily absorbs it. Many people opt for magnesium glycinate for its calming properties and ease of digestion.
Magnesium taurate is also easy for your body to absorb, so it is a common first choice for those looking to recover from a magnesium deficiency. A magnesium deficiency reduces your body’s ability to handle stress and increases your risk of fatigue, migraines, and insomnia. These are symptoms of anxiety that may worsen. Magnesium has been found to have calming properties, and studies suggest that it reduces blood pressure and helps the body regulate the heartbeat.
Magnesium plays hundreds of roles throughout the body. One of its most important features is its interaction with brain cells. Magnesium L-Threonate is a type of magnesium that has been found to improve cognitive function in study participants.
Cognitive function refers to capacities like memory, attention, focus, and problem-solving. As such, magnesium L-Threonate can help reduce the severity of brain fog, a common but challenging anxiety symptom in which one’s mind goes blank in conversation or when performing a task due to excess stress.
How magnesium helps anxiety
In order to understand why magnesium helps with anxiety, it is important to understand the consequences of magnesium deficiency. Low levels of magnesium in the body have consistently been linked with:
- Increased stress, reduced stress tolerance
- Tiredness, fatigue
- Sleep issues
Meeting one’s dietary requirements for magnesium can help prevent or reduce the above symptoms. Even if you are not magnesium deficient, you may still benefit from supplementing more magnesium into your diet.
Research is ongoing, but current research already suggests that magnesium may play an important role in reducing anxiety symptoms, whether you experience mild anxiety from time or struggle with a diagnosed disorder. A review of 18 studies, initially published in 2017, found that study participants reported reduced severity of subjective anxiety after receiving magnesium supplementation compared to the control groups.
1. Magnesium reduces stress
Anxiety disorder stems from prolonged stress. Stress is completely natural, and it serves a rival function. Without stress, we would not have survived long enough as a species to be here today. Still, our brain and body are designed to handle short bursts of stress, just enough to get us away from danger. However, a higher or more severe stress level harms our physical and mental health.
In a stressed state, the brain elicits the release of the stress hormone cortisol into the bloodstream. Cortisol, along with other stress hormones like norepinephrine and adrenaline, help the body prepare for threats by boosting the heart rate, tensing the muscles, and putting the wind on high alert. All of these are completely necessary for dealing with threats, but a significant problem may occur when we find ourselves in this state, even in times when there is no threat around us.
Magnesium can counter the body’s stress and anxiety response by binding to neurotransmitters, a chemical messenger in the brain associated with a state of calm and relaxation. In doing so, it gives us a chance to exit the heightened state of anxiety. In such a state, we experience sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activation.
The SNS is part of the autonomic (involuntary) nervous system (ANS) and is the branch of the ANS responsible for the fight/flight survival response. In simpler terms, the SNS is our body’s accelerator. The opposite of the SNS is the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS). This is more like the body’s brake system. The PSNS is responsible for reducing the heart rate, calming the body, and bringing us into a state of rest and digestion.
Even though magnesium reduces stress, prolonged stress can deplete our body’s magnesium levels. With less magnesium in the body, our ability to fight off stress also lessens. This loop can be frustrating and is one of the primary reasons supplementation with magnesium is a practical and effective means of dealing with anxiety and stress.
2. Magnesium promotes neuroplasticity
A common perpetrator of anxiety disorders, specifically phobias, is avoidance. Avoidance is a coping behavior in which a person goes to whatever lengths necessary to avoid dealing with the pain, discomfort, and sense of overwhelming associated with stress triggers. It can look like social withdrawal, shutting down emotionally around others, or misusing substances like alcohol or cannabis.
The more we engage in avoidance behavior, the stronger pathways become forged in our brains. Whatever unhealthy coping mechanisms we turn to will become second nature to our minds and bodies. However, you can use the same mechanism in the brain to undo the conditioned coping and replace it with healthier coping tactics. Neuroplasticity allows the pathways in our brains to shape, strengthen or die, and reorganize. Magnesium promotes effective neuroplasticity, thus making it a valuable tool in reshaping unhealthy and maladaptive neural pathways that elicit and exacerbate anxiety.
3. Magnesium increases GABA levels
Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger in the brain). GABA is heavily associated with calming the other neurotransmitters and eliciting a sense of calm and relaxation. Low levels of GABA in the brain tend to manifest as feeling on edge, with racing thoughts and excess worry.
Magnesium binds to GABA receptors on the brain and stimulates them. The result is that GABA continues to calm the brain cells and keeps extra brain activities to a minimum, thus reducing the racing thoughts and heightened alertness associated with all types of anxiety.
How much magnesium for anxiety?
The exact amount of magnesium you need on a daily basis depends on your unique physical makeup, including your age and gender. In general, the RDA for men is around 420 mg and 320 mg for women.
The studies on magnesium anxiolytic effects involved administered doses of around 360 mg per day. That is 40mg more than the RDA for women, so consult a professional before beginning supplementation if you are a woman looking for anxiety relief through magnesium.
Regardless of your gender, it is wise to consult a doctor before supplementing your diet with magnesium. They will probably give you the all-clear, but they may also understand your medical history and advise against certain supplements due to drug interactions that reduce the efficacy of other important medications.
Magnesium is one of the most abundant minerals in the body, but we still do not get enough magnesium intake from our diet. Taking magnesium supplements for anxiety is a safe and effective way to manage symptoms, improve sleep, and improve your cognitive function all at the same time.
Still, do not rely on magnesium supplements alone to get you through your anxiety. As with any other health issue, the best treatment is a combination of dietary and lifestyle changes, professional medical support, therapy, and high-quality rest. Magnesium can support your body’s fight against stress, but it is up to you to make the changes necessary in your life to reduce the impact of that stress.
Magnesium Supplements FAQs
Can you take ashwagandha and magnesium together?
Yes, you can take magnesium and ashwagandha together. There is no known dangerous interaction between these two supplements. However, both can promote sleep and deep relaxation, so if you are taking them as a sleep aid or simply to relax, be mindful of the time of day you take them. It would be wiser to take them 30 minutes to an hour before bed than in the morning before commuting to work or performing your daily tasks.
Can you take magnesium and vitamin b12 together?
Yes, you can take magnesium and any of the B vitamins together. There is no competition between these two nutrients to get absorbed by the body, so one will not cancel out the other. Taking these nutrients together may be more effective than taking either one alone. Both are neuroprotective – they protect nerve cells from damage and promote better, more efficient cognitive function.
Does magnesium cause dry mouth?
It is vitally important to consult a doctor or other medical professional before taking large doses of magnesium. If you are already taking medication that slows down your heart rate and breathing rate, then taking a supplement may lead to excess magnesium intake, which can be unsafe.
Can I take L-Theanine and magnesium together?
Yes, L-Theanine and magnesium can work well together. L-Theanine is an amino acid, the building block of protein. Combined with the nerve-soothing muscle-relaxing magnesium, one can enjoy a state of physical relaxation along with reduced anxiety symptoms.