Neuroscience Explains How Magnesium Soothes Anxiety

Neuroscience Explains How Magnesium Soothes Anxiety


Magnesium is one of the most vital nutrients for us human beings.

Despite this fact, up to 70 percent of us don’t get enough of it. This lack is problematic, as magnesium interacts in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body. Moreover, many of those occur in vital organs, such as the brain.

In this article, we’re going to focus on the role of magnesium in relieving anxiety, the number one mental health issue of our time. Anxiety disorders across over 40 million Americans and countless others across the globe. Despite its prevalence, a small minority of people seek treatment.

Let’s start by reading an overview of magnesium.

Magnesium in the Body

Magnesium is one of the five major minerals in the body, along with calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and sodium. Fortunately, we find this essential mineral in many of our foods, dietary supplements, and even in some medications.

This essential mineral interacts with other 300 enzyme systems that regulate biochemical reactions in the body. Many of these are crucial bodily functions, including blood sugar and blood pressure regulation, muscle and nerve function, and protein synthesis.

Our bodies also require magnesium for food-to-energy conversion and energy production. ‘Mg’ contributes to the development of bone and in DNA and RNA construction. Magnesium also allows the transport of calcium and potassium across cell membranes, which is critical for muscle contraction, nerve impulse conduction, and normalized heart rate.

Most magnesium stores in the bones, and it serves as a sort-of intermediary for calcium and potassium interaction, a process known as ion regulation. The heart is one place where this interaction occurs. As such, it is common for those who are deficient in magnesium to experience heart-related trouble, including arrhythmia, muscle cramps, and even sudden death due to heart abnormalities or defects.

The vast majority of research regarding magnesium discusses its effect on the body. However, the mineral impacts the brain, as well. In fact, scientific evidence demonstrates that magnesium intake is essential for proper brain function.

magnesiumMagnesium and Anxiety

“Some would call this [magnesium] the first chill pill because it’s…eased anxiety for centuries. It stabilizes the mood and promotes…calm and well-being.” ~Edison de Mello, MD, Ph.D.

Magnesium actively enters the brain through a process of cellular energy blood transport (ATP). Once in the brain, magnesium gets to work in regulating the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate, which in turn, regulates calcium entry into the brain’s synapses.

Excitatory neurotransmitters, as the name implies, keeps the brain active. Inhibitory neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and GABA, counteract excitatory action. The body needs this balance for both proper cognitive function and a stable mood.

Where does magnesium come in? Well, it turns out that that magnesium is an agonist of (“promotes”) GABA activity. Per a 2017 study, “these mechanisms of action … suggest [magnesium’s anti-anxiety] activity, which has been confirmed in preclinical [models].” Evidence suggests that magnesium also regulates the neurotransmitter serotonin.

Low GABA activity is associated with numerous disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), panic attacks/phobias, and even dementia (e.g., Parkinson’s Disease.)

The mineral also suppressed anxiety by reducing the brain’s concentration of stress hormones such as cortisol. The body produces cortisol when we’re feeling stressed. And magnesium restricts the release of cortisol by acting as a sort-of filter at the brain-body barrier.

mineral deficiency
Learn the signs of a mineral deficiency.

How Magnesium Works

Magnesium is also a natural muscle relaxant, reducing the tension that so often surfaces with and exacerbates anxiety symptoms. Tight muscles trigger our fight-or-flight response, otherwise known as the ‘acute stress response’ or hyperarousal.

Moreover, an influx of calcium and glutamate into brain cells links to both neuronal degeneration and cell death. Magnesium also acts to relax the smooth muscles with the blood vessels, thereby increasing cerebral blood flow.

Magnesium may also reduce anxiety lowering inflammation. Research shows that low magnesium levels may be tied to higher inflammation counts in the body. The reason for this is that cytokines, chemical messengers that initiate the immune response, may contribute to mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. Astoundingly, elevated inflammation even connects to suicidal ideation in some individuals.

The Studies on Magnesium

Not only are there multiple studies demonstrating the anxiolytic (“anti-anxiety”) properties of magnesium, we found a few anecdotal accounts on the interwebs as well.

In a piece called “Magnesium and the Brain: The Original Chill Pill,” psychiatrist Emily Deans, M.D., discusses both her and her colleagues’ experiences with patients who were instructed to take magnesium. Among the cases cited:

A 23-year-old female with a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Following the injury, the patient developed depressive symptoms from a combination of factors, including stressful work environment, bad diet, and poor academic performance. After just one week of magnesium treatment, the patient’s depression resided, and both her IQ and short-term memory improved.

A 35-year-old female with postpartum depression history.

Upon discovering that she was pregnant with her fourth child, the patient took 200 mg of magnesium glycinate before each meal. She reported no adverse effects throughout the pregnancy and after that.

A 40-year-old male with a history of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

After taking just 125 mg of magnesium taurinate four times a day, the man reported no cravings for alcohol, drugs, or tobacco. He also ate healthier and lost excess weight.

A 59-year-old male with a history of manic-depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

After prescription drugs like lithium and antidepressants failed to provide any benefit, The patient took 300 mg of magnesium glycinate with each meal. The participant’s insomnia subsequently disappeared, and he reported a reduction in his anxiety and depressive symptoms.

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The daily recommendation for magnesium is 400 to 420mg for men and 310-320 for women. Here are 15 delicious dietary sources that you can add to your diet

1 - Pumpkin seeds

One ounce of pumpkin seeds is a whopping 74 mg of magnesium. That’s almost a fourth of the daily recommendation for magnesium for women. Eat pumpkin seeds sprinkled in your morning oatmeal or sprinkled on top of your lunch salad.

Or eat them straight-up as an afternoon snack. You can roast your own pumpkin seeds. Buy them raw from a reputable market or store that carries organic products.  Non-organic seeds are often grown and processed with chemicals. Spread the pumpkin seed out on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.

Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle kosher salt over them. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes. Store your roasted pumpkin seeds in a container to keep them fresh.

2 - Almonds

Dry roasted almonds are so yummy. They have 80 mg of magnesium per ounce. Dry roasted almonds also contain fiber, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. Throw a handful of chopped almonds into your brown rice and bean bowl at lunch. Yummy!

You can purchase unroasted almonds and roast them yourself. Spread 1 cup of almonds out on a  baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Drizzle olive oil over the almonds. Then sprinkle kosher salt over them. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes.

3 - Spinach

This leafy green veggie is packed calcium, folic acid, and vitamin C. It also has a healthy 78mg of magnesium per ½ cup. Saute spinach and add to soup or stews. Or eat the spinach raw mixed romaine lettuce or other lettuces and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar to make a salad. Top with sauteed bacon and a boiled egg for a complete meal.

4 - Peanuts

Peanuts get overlooked in nutrition circles. But these little oval-shaped nuts boast fiber, healthy fat, magnesium, and fiber.  Just one ounce of peanuts has 48 mg of magnesium. They’re so versatile, you can add them to stir-fry dishes, desserts, salads, or eat them alone. Next time you’re looking for a healthy snack, skip the chips, and grab some peanuts. Your body will be healthier for it.

5 - Cereal

Start your day right with one-half cup of whole wheat bran cereal. It boasts a huge 112 mg. Add milk for 27 mg of magnesium in one cup. You can use bran cereal in desserts, chopped up as toppings over salad or mac and cheese. Read the labels on the cereal before you buy it. Avoid cereals that contain a lot of sugar. Choose naturally processed cereals. Organic cereals are processed without chemicals.

6 - Dark chocolate

Eating dark chocolate is no sacrifice, especially when you know you’re getting 50mg of magnesium in every ounce.  Dark chocolate is packed with antioxidants. Researchers are still studying the entire health benefits of dark chocolate. Some suggest it can help protect you against heart disease and cardiovascular disease. Dark chocolate with a high cocoa count is the healthiest. Buy dark chocolate with at least 75% to 85% cocoa.

7 - Avocados

Avocadoes are super nutritious and delicious. You can eat them plain or mix them up into a guacamole dip. One cup of avocado has 44 mg of magnesium. One popular lunch idea using avocados is avocado toast. Here’s the recipe.

    8 -  Potatoes

    Baked potatoes are yummy with 43 mg of magnesium. Of course, who can eat a plain baked potato? Add an ounce of grated cheddar cheese and 1tablespoon of sour cream for an extra 10 mg more magnesium.

    Did you know you can grow your potatoes in the back yard? Cut up a potato with cubes with little “eyes” on them. Let the cubes set on a paper towel for a week to dry out. Then plant each cube that has an eye. The eye will turn into a new potato plant.

    Water and watch it grow. It takes 100 days till your potatoes are ready to harvest. Usually the above the ground flowers will dry up. Pull up the stem and you’ll see lots of potatoes on the roots. Eat some potatoes and save some potatoes for next year’s crop. Plant the potato cubes in the early spring.

    9 - Brown rice

    Brown rice is healthier than white rice. Brown is a whole grain with more fiber. If you replace white rice with brown rice, you lower your chances of getting type 2 diabetes by 36%. One-half cup of brown rice gives you 42 mg of magnesium. Brown rice needs a little more cooking time than white. Use it as a side dish or your main dish served with black beans and chopped cilantro. Yummy.

    10 - Kidney beans

    These little orb-shaped beans are packed with 35 mg of magnesium per ½ cup. Bake them, put them in chili or make the star of your three beans salad. Don’t know what three bean salad is? Here’s the simple recipe.

    Three bean salad recipe



    Mix all the ingredients together. Chill for an hour. Taste the bean salad, add extra spices or salt and pepper if needed.

    11 - Banana

    The humble banana is everybody’s friend. Sweet and extremely versatile, bananas can be baked, roasted, make into smoothies, or eaten straight up. One medium banana offers you 32 mg magnesium. Bananas are also rich in potassium and fiber.

    12 - Salmon

    Salmon is super healthy. Wild-caught salmon has more omega3 than farm-raised salmon. Researchers suggest that farm-raised salmon often has more chemicals from raising and processing of it.  Eating 3 ounces of salmon will give you 26 mg of magnesium. Grill it, bake or saute it. Drizzle your salmon with lemon juice if you don’t care for the fishy taste.

    13 - Halibut

    Halibut is considered the world’s favorite whitefish. No wonder it’s sweet with a delicate flavor. Halibut has 24 mg of magnesium per every 3 ounces.  Drizzle lemon and olive oil over a halibut and grill it for 20 minutes. Serve with brown rice and spinach salad for magnesium-rich dinner.

    14 - Broccoli

    Broccoli is a dark green veggie has a pungent flavor. It has 12 mg magnesium per ½ cup. Broccoli is packed with vitamins and minerals such as

    Stir fry broccoli for Asian dishes, roast it for a side dish or eat in dip and eat it raw.

    15 - Carrots

    Carrots are simple veggies with big health benefits. High in beta-carotene and fiber, carrots are sweet, especially when baked. One carrot has 7 mg of magnesium, so imagine the great amount of magnesium you get in a bowl of carrots. Carrots can be used in desserts, stews, soups, or eaten raw. Carrots are great for juicing or throwing into your breakfast smoothie. They add sweetness plus hearty nutrition.

    Magnesium is an important mineral for your body. Fortunately, there are many magnesium-rich foods to choose from. Pair magnesium foods together whenever possible for an extra magnesium boost in your daily meals.

    Holistic Anxiety and Depression Treatments

    It's quite clear from the evidence – and numerous personal accounts – that magnesium is at least promising as a potential natural treatment for anxiety.

    And if there's one condition where some sort of alternative treatment is needed, it's for anxiety. Because as it stands now, doctors seem all too eager to scratch a prescription for Xanax, Valium, Ativan, or some other highly-addictive, frequently abused substance. In fact, besides opioids (e.g., Percocet, Oxycontin, etc.), anti-anxiety medications and sedatives are the most abused prescription drug.

    According to the Mayo Clinic, anti-anxiety medicines can cause serious side effects such as low blood pressure, memory problems, and disrupted breathing. Stopping the medication ties to severe withdrawal symptoms, including hyperactivity of the nervous system and even seizures.

    Caution: Overdose often leads to coma or death.

    Doctors also commonly prescribe antidepressants for anxiety. While antidepressants certainly have a purpose, patients find it challenging to stop using these drugs. Many individuals who have attempted to do quit antidepressants say, in essence, that "It's not worth it." The side effects are that bad.

    This all begs the question: is taking some mind-altering drug the best that we can come up with? Especially now, when many countries still seeing a record number of people killed by prescription drug overdose?

    The majority of this article explores the effects of the mineral on anxiety and its disorders. However, evidence suggests that magnesium may also be an effective treatment for depressive disorders. That includes the one that doctors diagnose most commonly, major depressive disorder, or MDD.

    magnesium and anxietyFinal Thoughts About Using Magnesium to Lower Your Anxiety

    Well, the science is crystal-clear: there are natural, holistic alternatives that at least deserve a good look. Many natural substances have shown incredible promise in the treatment and relief of both anxiety and depression.

    A shortlist of said alternatives: magnesium, Valerian root, Ginseng, Chamomile, Lavender, Kava, St. John's Wort, and Passionflower, just to name a few. Finally, let's not forget to mention the demonstrably effective, natural treatments like aromatherapy, meditation, massage therapy, and yoga.

    We need holistic options for the things that ail us now more than ever. Fortunately, we've got plenty of choices.
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