It's an amazing thought.
The idea that you can avoid medications, avoid therapy, and cure your anxiety with something as simple as a daily vitamin is something that every anxiety sufferer dreams about. 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. That means that even if you're not eating the vitamin, your body will create it practically out of thin air.
Most people today do not get enough vitamins and minerals in their diets. 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 low in vitamin intake 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 VERY rare, and require very specific conditions in order to occur, such as food deprivation (starvation) or medications that block specific vitamins from being absorbed into the body.
They're also accompanied by severe fatigue, vomiting/nausea, fainting, fever, and a host of other health issues that are often so severe that anxiety is usually the least of your concerns, almost like you have a disease. Doctors can also test for them fairly easily with a blood test, so if you have been to the doctor for a blood test in the past few years and they have not found any vitamin deficiency, chances are you are not deficient.
And 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. For most vitamins, only a true vitamin deficiency will cause anxiety.
Your Kidney Works Too
In addition, despite what vitamin 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.
In other words, adding extra vitamins to your diet can't really do anything, because your kidney will simply turn it into waste.
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.
Very low magnesium levels are also linked to severe anxiety.
But the symptoms above are related to a true magnesium 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 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.
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 magneisum 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.
Hyperventilation, which is also caused by stress and anxiety, also appears to cause lower magnesium levels. 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 absolutely 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:
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 are 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 show a link between magneisum 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:
- Low magnesium levels seem to be related to an increase in anxiety symptoms.
- Greater levels of magesium in the diet appear to be related to fewer anxiety symptoms, and possibly more manageable 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.
- Rapid heartbeat and fast breathing.
There is reason to believe these symptoms are somehow linked to magnesium. It may be that low magnesium makes 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. 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 severe anxiety there is reason to believe it may be more important to get proper dietary levels of magnesium, through supplements or food.
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 magneisum 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 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.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.