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Magnesium can help reduce Anxiety

Micah Abraham, BSc
Magnesium can help reduce Anxiety

Some people today do not get enough essential nutrients in their diet, such as vitamins and minerals. Generally, if you get "some" vitamins and you eat "good enough," it's very hard to be deficient in any vitamin. However, certain types of diets (or lack thereof), medications and ailments can lead to deficiencies of these nutrients, causing harmful effects on our body and indeed, the mind.

When people recommend natural anxiety treatments, they often say that taking vitamin/mineral supplements will help. There is some truth to that; more specifically, Magnesium deficiency is said to be related to anxiety.

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:

Very low magnesium levels are also linked to severe anxiety. But the symptoms above are related to a true magnesium deficiency, which is rare.

While most people do not qualify for acute deficiency (severely low magnesium that could be deadly), an incredible 40% to 80% of the population shows signs of CHRONIC magnesium 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 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, like the United States - that are consistently deficient in this important mineral.

Supplements 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/minerals that people claim will cure your anxiety will actually affect you.

The one exception to this rule may be magnesium.

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, consuming alcohol seems to reduce the amount of stored magnesium in the body, which in turn means less magnesium and greater deficiency.

In perhaps an ironic twist, stress is actually known to use up magnesium as well. That means if you already have some stress and anxiety, you may be using up some of the magnesium your body saved.

There is even the possibility that those that take calcium supplements may become lower in magnesium as well, because calcium and magnesium are opposites, and compete for space in the body.

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 (but not clinically deficient) levels of magnesium could be affecting your anxiety.

It seems that this is quite possible.

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:

All of these are a small sample of examples of anxiety symptoms that appear to show a link between magnesium and anxiety, where those with low levels of magnesium have more anxiety than those with the recommended levels of magnesium.

Now, the theory here is not that magnesium causes anxiety directly. Most likely, if you developed anxiety, it was through your experiences, your genes, stress, and more. Anxiety is believed to develop on its own, unless of course you are extremely deficient.

But what does appear to be true is that:

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:

Low magnesium can possibly make the symptoms worse, or that higher magnesium seems to calm these symptoms. So while it's not clear if low magnesium is a cause of anxiety, research appears to confirm that getting the right amount of magnesium in your diet should have an effect on your anxiety 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.

That means that magnesium may be one of the few real anti-anxiety supplements.

We already know that magnesium may decrease norepinephrine release, and there is reason to believe that the enzymes that affect serotonin may also be affected by low magnesium levels. 

Not a Cure, But A Support System

Magnesium shouldn't be looked at as a cure for anxiety, since it's unlikely that low magnesium caused your anxiety to develop. What is more likely is that magnesium is related to anxiety severity, and higher levels of magnesium may have an effect on how severe or manageable your anxiety is.

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, and possibly provide anti-anxiety benefits.

If you also consider combining any magnesium supplement with some type of coping treatment, you may be increasing the likelihood of fighting your anxiety and panic attacks.

Article Resources
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Poleszak, Ewa. "Benzodiazepine/GABAA receptors are involved in magnesium-induced anxiolytic-like behavior in mice." Pharmacological Reports 60.4 (2008): 483.
  6. Poleszak, Ewa, et al. "Antidepressant-and anxiolytic-like activity of magnesium in mice." Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior 78.1 (2004): 7-12.
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