Understanding magnesium for depression
Effects of magnesium in depression
Magnesium is a mineral which has an important role in assisting various processes in the body including strengthening bones, regulating blood sugar, and muscle functions. The recommended daily levels of magnesium are 300mg and 270mg for men and women between the ages of 19 and 64, respectively. Low levels of magnesium can cause symptoms such as tiredness, poor appetite, and muscle cramps. In addition, several studies have linked low levels of magnesium to an increase in depression. Studies suggest that people with depression are more likely to have low levels of magnesium than people without.
One symptom of depression that is commonly reported is difficulty sleeping, alongside low energy levels. Magnesium, specifically oral magnesium, can improve sleep in two ways: by making falling asleep easier and by making sleep deeper and more restful. Theories suggest that magnesium helps with sleep by relaxing the central nervous system and increasing the production of melatonin, one of the most important hormones in the control of the sleep-wake cycle. Magnesium has also been found to be able to reduce the severity of the experience of depression across various studies. These studies show that after taking magnesium for six weeks, people with depression saw significantly improved scores on the 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), dropping the ratings of moderate depression to mild and minimal depression.
Although magnesium does have many beneficial effects for depression, there are some circumstances in which the effects of magnesium are not useful and can possibly worsen it. Taking additional magnesium can be detrimental as taking high doses regularly over a long period of time can cause toxicity, which leads to low mood and depression. Some studies suggest that magnesium is not beneficial to depression in over 65s, or to the health of older people in general. Ageing naturally decreases the absorption of magnesium in the gut. It also causes an increase in the amount of magnesium that is excreted through urine, so any additional magnesium may not be used by the body at all.
The usage of magnesium supplements for depression is overall beneficial, however, stopping its use inappropriately takes away the beneficial effects gained after about two weeks.
How does magnesium affect depression?
Although there is no agreed upon mechanism for how magnesium affects depression, there are some prominent theories. Magnesium has an important role in brain signalling, and low levels of magnesium can cause damage to neurons which could manifest as depression. This means that increasing magnesium levels would treat depression by reducing neuronal damage and maintaining the functioning of brain signalling. Additionally, magnesium plays an important role in many pathways and neurotransmitters that are involved in mood regulation; this means that low magnesium levels will negatively affect mood regulation, possibly causing depression.
Best sources of magnesium for depression
Magnesium can be taken as an over-the-counter dietary supplement and these supplements come in a few different forms. They can be taken as capsules, tablets, or as liquids. The tablet forms of magnesium are magnesium oxide and magnesium sulphate, and the liquid forms are magnesium citrate and magnesium chloride. The capsule forms of magnesium include magnesium taurate and this has been found to be one of the most effective sources of the supplement for helping depression, having a short recovery time of just seven days.
For those who don’t want to take supplements, magnesium can be found in various foods, including vegetables such as spinach, nuts, and whole grains. Nuts that provide a good source of magnesium include peanuts, almonds, and cashews. Whole grains such as brown rice, oatmeal, and wholemeal bread provide a good source of magnesium. Ensuring and maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is essential to the upkeep of magnesium levels. Increasing the amount of magnesium through the diet can be easily done by introducing more magnesium-rich foods.
Is magnesium as good as antidepressants?
Some studies suggest that the effect of magnesium on depression has the same level of effectiveness, however many of these studies take place over a small amount of time so the long-term benefits of magnesium on depression are not clear. Results across studies vary quite largely, as some studies suggest that magnesium is beneficial whereas others suggest that there is no effect at all. Eby GA and Eby KL found that some types of magnesium, including magnesium taurate, can help with recovery from symptoms of depression.7 Additionally, other studies have found that healthy magnesium levels can help with the response to and uptake of antidepressant treatments.
How quickly does magnesium work for depression?
The times it takes for magnesium to improve the symptoms of depression are varying; however, most studies find that people taking additional magnesium see improvements within a few weeks, depending on the type of magnesium taken. Magnesium taurate worked for depression in less than seven days, whereas magnesium chloride worked for some people within two weeks.
How much magnesium should I take for depression?
As the recommended daily levels of magnesium are 300mg and 270mg for men and women respectively, the amount of magnesium needed to aid depression is between 125mg and 300mg. It is important to avoid taking too much magnesium daily, as taking more than 400mg daily can have a laxative effect causing diarrhoea.
An increased intake of magnesium can be very beneficial to some people who are suffering from depression, especially those who are experiencing low levels of magnesium alongside depression. Although the usage of magnesium for depression can be helpful, it is important to ensure that too much is not being taken as this can worsen the feelings of depression as well as cause other health problems, such as diarrhoea or vomiting. Ensuring a magnesium-rich diet is relatively easy and very beneficial to the prevention of low levels and should provide the recommended daily amount, though supplements should be taken with caution. It is important to discuss the usage of magnesium supplements with a doctor if there are signs of low levels of magnesium.
- Eby GA, Eby KL, Murk H. Magnesium and major depression [Internet]. Vink R, Nechifor M, editors. PubMed. Adelaide (AU): University of Adelaide Press; 2011. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507265/
- Harvard School of Public Health. Magnesium [Internet]. The Nutrition Source. 2019. Available from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/magnesium/
- Tarleton EK, Littenberg B. Magnesium intake and depression in adults. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine : JABFM [Internet]. 2015;28(2):249–56. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25748766
- Tarleton EK, Littenberg B, MacLean CD, Kennedy AG, Daley C. Role of magnesium supplementation in the treatment of depression: A randomized clinical trial. Song Y, editor. PLOS ONE. 2017 Jun 27;12(6):e0180067.
- NHS Choices. Vitamins and Minerals [Internet]. NHS. 2020. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/others/
- Ichim F. Magnesium—a Supplement for Treating depression? [Internet]. Byrdine F. Lewis College of Nursing and Health Professions. 2022 [cited 2022 Dec 15]. Available from: https://lewis.gsu.edu/2022/01/04/magnesium-a-supplement-for-treating-depression/
- Eby GA, Eby KL. Rapid recovery from major depression using magnesium treatment. Medical Hypotheses. 2006 Jan;67(2):362–70.
- Deans E. Magnesium for Depression | Psychology Today United Kingdom [Internet]. www.psychologytoday.com. 2018 [cited 2022 Dec 15]. Available from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201801/magnesium-depression
- Held K, Antonijevic IA, Künzel H, Uhr M, Wetter TC, Golly IC, et al. Oral Mg(2+) supplementation reverses age-related neuroendocrine and sleep EEG changes in humans. Pharmacopsychiatry [Internet]. 2002 Jul 1;35(4):135–43. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12163983/
- Summer J. Using Magnesium for Better Sleep [Internet]. Sleep Foundation. 2021. Available from: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/magnesium
- Eby GA, Eby KL. Magnesium for treatment-resistant depression: A review and hypothesis. Medical Hypotheses. 2010 Apr;74(4):649–60.