It's an amazing thought.
The idea that you can avoid medications - avoid therapy - and cure your anxiety without something as simple as a daily vitamin. It sounds too good to be true.
Because it usually is.
Trust in Your Body
Your body is an amazing machine. It's a machine that is designed specifically to keep you alive and healthy as best it can. Your body is so efficient, in fact, that it can actually create vitamins out foods that do not have the vitamin and reduce its "need" for a vitamin when it's deficient.
Most people today do not get enough vitamins and minerals in their diet. And yet very few people suffer from any type of vitamin deficiency, because the body adapts. Yes, you still need to eat healthy - eating poorly is bad for your health - but if you get "some" vitamins and you eat "good enough," it's very hard to be deficient in any vitamin unless you're older, taking some type of medication, or are so extremely deficient that you never eat any healthy or vitamin rich foods at all.
Vitamin Deficiencies Lead to Anxiety
When people recommend natural anxiety treatments, they often say that taking vitamin supplements will help. That's because vitamin deficiencies, which is when your body is so low in a specific vitamin that it isn't working properly, are linked to severe anxiety. Without these important vitamins, your brain and body experience severe stress, and that stress is then translated into anxiety.
But vitamin deficiencies are rare, and require very specific conditions in order to occur. They're also accompanied by severe fatigue, vomiting/nausea, and a host of other health issues that make them feel even more like a true disease than something as simple as a vitamin. Doctors can also test for them fairly easily with a blood test.
If you're not deficient, it becomes very unlikely that you'll suffer from deficiency symptoms, and that means that your anxiety is unlikely to be reduced simply by adding a vitamin to your diet.
Your Kidney Works Too
In addition, despite what manufacturers will tell you, very few vitamins have any secret powers (like relaxation). Most are just necessary to keep your body healthy, and then your kidneys or liver take all of the vitamins that aren't needed and filter them out. If your kidney filters out all of the vitamin it doesn't need, it's impossible for it to give you relief.
Vitamins Are An Unlikely Cure
So with all of that information in mind, the likelihood that vitamins can help you cure your anxiety is pretty small. Sure, there's a chance that you're deficient, and certainly ensuring that you have the right nutrition in your diet is important, but you shouldn't expect that most vitamins that people claim will cure your anxiety will actually affect you.
The one exception to this rule may be magnesium.
Magnesium is one of the most abundant minerals on earth. While the exact number is unknown, it also plays a role in over 300 crucial enzymes in the body, it affects nerve conduction, and it plays a role in high blood pressure. Magnesium deficiency has been linked to such conditions as:
- Heart disease.
It also can create severe anxiety disorders.
But this is just a deficiency, and as mentioned above, all vitamin deficiencies - including magnesium deficiency - are fairly rare.
Yet there is more to it than that. While most people do not quality for acute deficiency (severely low magnesium that could be deadly), an incredible 40% to 80% of the population shows signs of chronic deficiency, which is when the levels of magnesium aren't severely low, but are lower than optimal for an extended period of time.
The reason for this is that modern food production and processing practices have completely stripped most magnesium from modern diets. Despite how abundant the mineral is, there are millions upon millions of people - especially in developed countries - that are consistently deficient in this important mineral.
But That's Not All
In addition to being deficient in magnesium from diet, there are other modern day behaviors that actually use up your stored magnesium as well. For example, alcohol - especially alcoholism - can use up any magnesium that you had in your body, leading to greater deficiency.
Furthermore, stress is actually known to use up magnesium as well, as is hyperventilation that may be caused by severe stress or anxiety. There is even the possibility that those that take calcium supplements may become lower in magnesium as well, although this isn't clear in the literature.
When you combine low dietary magnesium with behaviors and experiences that can reduce the magnesium you do have, there's reason to believe that today's population has significantly less magnesium than at any point in modern day history.
What This Means For Your Anxiety and Panic Attacks
So we have a scenario that supports the idea that magnesium levels are chronically low in today's society. The next question is whether or not it is believable that these low levels (but not clinically deficient) levels of magnesium could be affecting your anxiety.
It seems that this is absolutely possible, if not likely.
How Magnesium Affects Anxiety Symptoms
Confirming this theory with the research can be difficult, because vitamin supplements are rarely studied by educational institutions or pharmacies. But what studies have been published appear to support the idea that magnesium is important. Consider the following:
A study in Japan attempted to confirm magnesium's effect on norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in anxiety. They found that magnesium does in fact reduce norepinephrine release by blocking calcium channels.
A study in the 1950's found that nerves were less excitable when they received a healthy amount of magnesium and calcium, rather than calcium alone.
A study in several universities found that magnesium and depression had an inverse relationship, where the higher magnesium intake in a given community, the lower the depression levels. Depression and anxiety are different conditions, but can be linked in a variety of ways.
A study at the University of North Carolina looked that the effects of stress and imbalances in dietary intake and found that those that were low in magnesium (or consumed too much calcium) seemed to experience problematic stress responses.
All of these are a small sample of examples of anxiety symptoms that appear to be related to magnesium.
Now, the issue here is not that magnesium causes anxiety directly. It's not clear if it causes anxiety unless a person is woefully deficient. There's reason to believe that it might, but that part is not entirely clear. What it appears that magnesium does is make anxiety symptoms worse, and possibly lead to physical symptoms that cause their own anxiety.
Anyone that has experienced anxiety and panic attacks is familiar with some of the physical sensations that can cause significant increases in anxiety. These include:
- Strange nerve feelings and general unease.
- Headaches, light headedness, and memory issues.
- Mild aches and pains in various areas of the body.
Magnesium appears to play a role in many of these different types of experiences, in addition to the potential increase in anxiety. Thus there is reason to believe that increasing your magnesium intake to healthier levels should improve your ability to cope with anxiety and decrease the frequency of severe symptoms.
Research Supports Magnesium's Anti-Anxiety Effect
It's not just the link between anxiety symptoms and magnesium that's important. Research also seems to locate anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects in magnesium as well. One study found that magnesium affects the same receptors as benzodiazepines, a common and powerful anti-anxiety drug.
We already know that anxiety may decrease norepinephrine release, and there is reason to believe that the enzymes that affect serotonin may also be affected by low magnesium levels. All of this is supported by the research.
Once again, it's well known that excess magnesium is filtered out by the kidneys. They are incredibly efficient at ensuring you only get as much magnesium as you need. But getting this magnesium may be more important than previously believed. Thus even if you're not deficient, if you have anxiety it may be more important to get proper dietary levels of magnesium, and these supplements allow you to achieve those levels.
Not a Cure, But A Support System
Magnesium shouldn't be looked at as a cure for anxiety. There's actually more reason to believe that magnesium simply makes it considerably harder to live with anxiety, but is unlikely to truly cause it alone. So magnesium shouldn't be seen as a complete cure for anxiety.
But unlike many other anxiety vitamins and supplements, there is actual, genuine research that appears to support the idea that magnesium really can act as an anti-anxiety agent - often providing symptomatic relief that can help you cope with your anxiety symptoms better. If you also consider combining any magnesium supplement with some type of coping treatment, you may be vastly increasing the likelihood of fighting your anxiety and panic attacks.
Shimosawa, Tatsuo, et al. "Magnesium inhibits norepinephrine release by blocking N-type calcium channels at peripheral sympathetic nerve endings." Hypertension 44.6 (2004): 897-902.
Adelman, William J. "The effect of external calcium and magnesium depletion on single nerve fibers." The Journal of general physiology 39.5 (1956): 753-772.
Jacka, Felice N., et al. "Association between magnesium intake and depression and anxiety in community-dwelling adults: the Hordaland Health Study." Australasian Psychiatry 43.1 (2009): 45-52.
Seelig, Mildred S. "Consequences of Magnesium Deficiency on Enhancement of Stress Reactions; Preventive and Therapeutic Implications." Journal American College of Nutrition 13 (1994): 429-429.
Poleszak, Ewa. "Benzodiazepine/GABAA receptors are involved in magnesium-induced anxiolytic-like behavior in mice." Pharmacological Reports 60.4 (2008): 483.
Poleszak, Ewa, et al. "Antidepressant-and anxiolytic-like activity of magnesium in mice." Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior 78.1 (2004): 7-12.