Magnesium for Anxiety: What to Know
If you are like me, you probably know that you should be taking vitamins or supplements, but you’re not quite sure which ones or why. That’s why I thought I’d put together this article about the reasons “why” you should be taking magnesium for anxiety. When you know the “why,” it’s much easier to stick to actually doing it.
You might think that you should be able to get all the magnesium you need from the food you eat (after all, cavemen weren’t taking vitamin supplements and they survived, right?). The truth is that we as a society just aren’t getting enough magnesium through our diet anymore. And that’s important because the correlation between magnesium and anxiety is a strong one.
So strong in fact that researchers have been able to induce anxiety in laboratory animals just by depriving them of magnesium. Let that sink in!
What’s more, research has shown that use of magnesium can have a beneficial effect in terms of anxiety. All of this is to say that it’s a mineral you should not be ignoring if you live with social anxiety, or other mental health concerns including other types of anxiety, depression, etc. So, let’s take a more in-depth look at some of the good reasons to be taking magnesium for your anxiety.
Common Nutritional Deficiency
Like I already mentioned, you’re probably not getting enough magnesium from what you are eating, particularly if you eat a lot of processed foods. Magnesium deficiency is the second-most prevalent nutritional deficiency in the modern world (developed countries) and intake of magnesium has dropped over the last 100 years. Why is this the case?
There are several reasons including the lack of minerals in our soil, the addition of fluoride to our water (which binds to magnesium, making it harder for your body to use), and constant stress (which pulls magnesium from your body). Yes, when you are stressed you might as well be flushing magnesium down the toilet. There are also certain groups that are at higher risk for problems with magnesium such as people with stomach troubles (e.g., Celiac disease, Crohn’s, IBS, etc. which prevent magnesium from being absorbed).
Curious what some of the signs of a magnesium deficiency are? I list some of the big ones below
- foggy brain
- caffeine addiction
- dark circles
- startle response
- feeling tired but unable to sleep
- weak after working out
- migraines or headaches
- heart palpitations
- trouble managing stress
- sleep issues/insomnia
- trouble focusing
- low blood pressure/blood sugar
- cramps/tightness in muscles
- not feeling rested even after a full night’s sleep
- restless leg syndrome
- craving salt
One way that magnesium helps your anxiety is by binding to your GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors in the brain and “waking them up” so that your GABA is increased.
GABA helps to slow down your brain activity and when it’s depleted, it’s like your brain is an engine that’s revving on high all the time.
In this way, GABA is like the antidote to overwhelm.
If you feel like your life is out of control, you can’t control your worrying or your thinking, it could be that it’s not your imagination!
Our biology affects our thinking (it’s all connected after all), and though you can do things to manage worried thoughts, it’s often best to go to the source of those thoughts and make sure that your body chemistry isn’t working against you.
Reduces Stress Hormones
Do you have a lot of brain fog, mood swings, insomnia, etc?
If so, you might be experiencing an excess of cortisol, which is the hormone that is released when you are under a lot of stress.
Guess what? Magnesium works to prevent that cortisol from being released and also helps it not to get into your brain.
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But also, when you are stressed out, your body starts to shed magnesium.
That’s why it’s extra important to take a supplement to make sure you are not deficient.
If you become deficient, then you might experience side effects like tight muscles, which can actually trigger panic responses and in turn create more stress hormones.
This is a vicious cycle that can be managed with magnesium supplementation.
Protects Against Inflammation
Did you know that you can have inflammation in your brain just like you do in your body?
One way that magnesium can help your anxiety is through its ability to reduce inflammation.
In fact, research has also shown that having low levels of magnesium is linked to high levels of markers that indicate inflammation.
These markers called “cytokines” are sent out by your immune system and tell your brain to start inflammation as a way to control a threat.
But at the same time, they are affecting your brain function.
If you want to read a great first-hand account of what this is like, I recommend the book “Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness” by Susannah Cahalan.
Heal Your Brain
Another good reason to take magnesium is that it promotes greater brain plasticity; in other words, the ability of your brain to heal, create new cells and make new connections.
In fact, if you’re already receiving a treatment such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) then taking magnesium could help to boost the effectiveness of that treatment.
Why? Because during therapy your brain needs to start forging new pathways and new connections. Magnesium can make it easier for your brain to do that.
Protect Against Hypoglycemia
Have you ever experienced the sensation of low blood sugar? I know I have. It’s that feeling if you haven’t eaten for a while and you start to feel shaky, anxious, dizzy, etc.
Your brain operates on glucose and when it doesn’t get what it needs (i.e., low blood sugar), your body releases stress hormones (like cortisol and epinephrine), which cause stored sugar to be released so your brain can use it.
The good news is that magnesium helps to stabilize your blood sugar levels. So if you’re prone to hypoglycemia or it makes your anxiety worse, magnesium could help.
Have I convinced you yet that magnesium is important to manage your anxiety? I know that I’ve convinced myself!
What if there was something you could easily do to restore your level of magnesium that didn’t require hours of work or expensive medications?
You’re in luck. Taking a magnesium supplement is one of the simplest things you can do to make sure that you are getting enough magnesium.
That being said, in doing my research on supplements, I found that it’s not as simple as purchasing a bottle of magnesium at the store.
There are actually some different types of magnesium so it’s good to know the differences.
Here’s the list of the types that I found:
Magnesium oxide: This is the kind you will probably find at the drugstore. In fact, I checked my bottle and this is the type that I have.
However, in doing research for this post, I learned that this type is actually less helpful for anxiety because your brain can’t use it easily. But it’s good if you have constipation and migraines.
Magnesium sulfate: This is the type that you will find in the Epsom salts you put in your bath.
It’s too strong to take internally. But, putting those salts in your bath could help to ease your anxiety.
Magnesium carbonate: This type is used in antacids and has a strong laxative effect.
Magnesium l-threonate: Not widely known, but the best for your brain.
Magnesium citrate: This is one of the most popular magnesium supplements that has a moderate laxative effect.
Magnesium gluconate: This type has good bio-availability.
Magnesium glycinate: This type is used to reduce muscle pain. It is calming and said to be good for sleep.
Magnesium hydroxide: This type is found in milk of magnesia and is used as a laxative or antacid.
Magnesium malate: This type is best for treating fatigue and insomnia.
Magnesium taurate: This type is used for high blood pressure and heart arrhythmia.
Magnesium chloride: This type is easily absorbed by the body.
Magnesium lactate: This type is used as a food additive.
Phew. Confusing, eh?
Let’s try to break this down a bit.
If you want something just to help your brain and your anxiety, choose magnesium l-threonate. It effectively crosses the blood-brain barrier.
If you suspect an overall magnesium deficiency (i.e., you have other symptoms like constipation), then maybe choose one of the others that is easy for your body to absorb, such as magnesium taurate, citrate, bluconate, glycinate, or malate.
What dose should you be taking? The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is around 320 mg for women and 420 mg for men.
But ifyou’re starting out deficient, you may want to work your way up to a higher dose. If you notice side effects (like upset stomach) then it’s time to cut back. Of course, it’s always best to consult your doctor before starting any supplement, especially if you are taking other medications as their effectiveness could be compromised.
Also—it’s important to note that your doctor can’t really test for your magnesium level in a meaningful way. There just isn’t a blood test that’s reliably able to show that.
Below are some recommended products:
- Life Extension Neuro-Mag Magnesium L-Threonate, 90 Vegetarian Capsules
- MagEnhance Best Magnesium Supplement, Magnesium-L-Threonate Complex with Magnesium Glycinate and Taurate
- Magnesium Citrate 400 mg – 120 Tablets
If you aim to get more magnesium through your diet, you’ll also probably end up eating healthier. That’s because, in order to maximize magnesium from your food, you should eat less refined carbs, and eat more protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats.
Some of the best foods for magnesium are listed below:
- leafy greens (e.g., spinach)
- nuts and nut butters (e.g., brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, peanut butter)
- soy milk
- black beans
- black-eyed peas
- whole grains (e.g., whole grain bread)
- dark chocolate
- seeds (e.g., sunflower, pumpkin seeds)
You can also ingest more magnesium by drinking mineral water such as San Pelligrino, Perrier, or FIJI water.
- San Pelligrino Sparkling Beverage, 24 count
- Perrier Sparkling Natural Mineral Water, Case of 12
- FIJI Natural Artesian Water, 48 Pack
How about you? Do you take vitamins and supplements to reduce your anxiety? Feel free to leave a comment below about what you take.
That’s it! Let’s recap all the reasons why you should be taking magnesium for your anxiety:
- it’s a very common nutritional deficiency
- it increases GABA in your brain
- it reduces stress hormones, protects against inflammation
- allows your brain to grow new pathways
- protects against hypoglycemia
- it’s easy to get enough through a supplement
I know I’ll start taking it regularly, how about you?
Are you feeling overwhelmed by all the info? I know that I will forget to take my vitamins if I don’t have a way of keeping track. To help you out, I created this vitamin tracker that also lists all the vitamins and supplements you might want to take for anxiety. I’d suggest starting with things like magnesium and making it habit! You can grab the tracker from my Etsy shop.
P.S. I also wrote a post where you’ll get need-to-know information on the best vitamins for social anxiety!
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