Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Cambria, PharmD
Magnesium is essential to every organ in the body, especially the heart, kidneys, and muscles. It plays a role in enzyme activation, energy production, and regulating other nutrients in the body. Magnesium is a mineral found in many foods, including green leafy vegetables, whole grains, and nuts. Still, many people fall short of their daily magnesium needs.
While true magnesium deficiency is rare, low levels of the mineral can have adverse effects on the body. Symptoms may include sleep disorders, irritability, confusion, muscle spasms, and low blood pressure. Decreased levels of magnesium have also been linked to anxiety and stress.
Anxiety is characterized by worried thoughts and feelings of tension, typically focused on future-oriented concerns. Anxiety can manifest in physical symptoms like dizziness, increased blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, and excessive sweating.
Many people turn to magnesium supplementation to better manage stress and its symptoms. But what does science say about using magnesium for anxiety?
Benefits of Magnesium on Anxiety
Magnesium may help reduce anxiety symptoms through multiple mechanisms.
Magnesium can help control the neurotransmitters or chemical messengers of the brain, resulting in a calming effect on the body. Magnesium is an intracellular ion, but it can shift to the extracellular compartment as a protective mechanism upon exposure to a stressor. In the extracellular space, magnesium can inhibit excitatory neurotransmitters that ultimately contribute to stress in the body.
For example, glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter with receptors throughout the central nervous system. It plays a role in cognition, memory, and mood. Magnesium interacts with the N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor, which is necessary for glutamatergic excitatory signaling. Hypomagnesaemia, or magnesium deficiency, can lead to abundant excitatory signaling, triggering stress and anxiety.
Promoting GABA Activity
Gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. It can block signals in your central nervous system, slowing your brain and producing a calming effect—a welcomed relief in times of anxiety.
So, where does magnesium come in? In addition to inhibiting glutamatergic transmission, magnesium has been shown to promote GABA activity.
Regulating Muscle Tension
Magnesium is an essential nutrient for optimal muscle function and relaxation. Unfortunately, a common symptom of anxiety is muscle tension. So, a magnesium deficiency can lead to increased muscle tension and cramping, exacerbating anxiety symptoms. On the other hand, adequate magnesium levels can help reduce tension and mediate that symptom of anxiety.
Best Forms of Magnesium for Anxiety
Dietary supplements can fill in the gaps for those unable to meet their magnesium needs. But what are the best forms of magnesium for anxiety?
Magnesium citrate: Magnesium citrate is a popular supplement that combines magnesium and citrate ions. It is more bioavailable than other forms of magnesium, meaning it is more easily absorbed in the body. Additionally, recent research shows magnesium citrate can significantly improve many health markers, including anxiety levels.
Magnesium oxide: Magnesium oxide is one of the most common magnesium supplements formed with oxygen and magnesium ions. Magnesium oxide has been linked to improvements in reducing migraine headaches, a common symptom of chronic anxiety.
Magnesium Chloride: Magnesium chloride is typically more wholly absorbed than other forms of magnesium and has been linked to improved fasting glucose levels in those with type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, magnesium chloride has been linked to decreased anxiety and depression symptoms.
Magnesium Orotate: Magnesium orotate is a magnesium salt of orotic acid. Recent research has shown magnesium orotate may play an influential role in the microbiome-gut-brain access. A healthy gut-brain axis favors improved anxiety management.
Magnesium Acetyl Taurate: Magnesium acetyl taurate combines magnesium with the amino acid taurine. Research has shown it is absorbed rapidly and can pass through the brain easily, which may be beneficial for anxiety management.
Related: Which Type of Magnesium Is Best?
Other Forms of Magnesium
Magnesium Glycinate: Magnesium glycinate is a highly bioavailable form of magnesium supplementation that is said to be well-tolerated and less likely to cause unwanted gastrointestinal side effects.
Magnesium Sulfate: Magnesium sulfate is commonly found in multivitamins to help prevent or correct magnesium deficiency. Unfortunately, it isn't as easily absorbed as other forms of magnesium, meaning it may not be ideal for anxiety.
Magnesium L-Threonate: Magnesium L-Threonate was developed in 2010, with subsequent studies showing improved cognition and memory when it was used as a dietary supplement.
Magnesium Gluconate: Magnesium gluconate is a magnesium salt that may exhibit laxative effects. It draws water into the intestines and colon, stimulating gastric motility. There is limited research regarding magnesium gluconate and its relationship with anxiety.
Magnesium Malate: Magnesium malate combines magnesium with malic acid, commonly found in fruits and vegetables. Some research has shown that magnesium malate may offer pain-relieving properties, especially for those living with fibromyalgia.
There are many types of magnesium, some of which may serve different health concerns better than others. If you have questions about the best type of magnesium supplement, consider meeting with your doctor or registered dietitian.
How to Take Magnesium for Anxiety
Taking magnesium for anxiety may look different between individuals depending on their unique health and wellness needs. The Recommended Dietary Allowances for magnesium start at 400 milligrams and 310 mg for males and females between 19 and 30, respectively. The RDAs increase to 420mg for males and 320 mg for females over 30.
Healthcare providers may recommend magnesium supplementation for those consistently unable to meet their needs through diet alone and who are experiencing anxiety symptoms. Magnesium supplements can usually be taken at any time of day, with or without meals. Dosing will vary between brands, but most capsules or pills provide 100-150 mg of magnesium.
Taking a magnesium supplement is generally recognized as safe for the average adult. However, it's essential to understand potential side effects and medication interactions. People living with kidney disease may be more susceptible to elevated magnesium levels and toxicity risks. Additionally, magnesium supplements may cause gastrointestinal disturbances, such as diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal pain.
Some forms of magnesium, like magnesium chloride and magnesium oxide, are more likely to cause unwanted side effects. If you experience discomfort, talk with your doctor and consider decreasing your dose or switching supplements.
Other Ways to Manage Anxiety
Anxiety affects approximately 34% of the adult population in the United States. However, In addition to magnesium supplements, there are other ways to manage anxiety that involve various lifestyle changes:
Get adequate sleep.
Talk to a trusted source, such as a therapist or counselor.
Keep a daily journal.
Follow a well-balanced diet and maintain stable blood sugar levels.
Make time for physical activity.
Try stress management through yoga, meditation, or massage therapy.
Anxiety can affect many aspects of health and living. Therefore, the most sustainable anxiety management calls for a holistic approach that may call for multiple lifestyle adjustments. Seek guidance from trained and credentialed professionals who can support your management efforts.
A Quick Review
Anxiety, characterized by worried thoughts and feelings of tension, seems to be a growing concern. It currently affects more than 30% of the adult population, manifesting in mental and physical symptoms and affecting many avenues of health. Magnesium deficiency has been linked to anxiety, leading researchers to believe that magnesium supplementation is a proactive way to manage the condition.
There are many types of magnesium to choose from, some serving anxiety needs better than others. Magnesium chloride, citrate, and orotate have been shown to influence anxiety levels and symptoms. However, doctors are well-equipped to help navigate the many questions surrounding anxiety and magnesium's role in treatment.
And don't negate the importance of a holistic approach to anxiety management. Anxiety is often multi-factorial, meaning control may require more than one lifestyle change.
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