Magnesium takes part in over 300 different enzyme processes, some of which are relevant for the nervous system. Magnesium deficiencies are common, and there is a link to the increased prevalence of subjective anxiety and stress. Researchers from the University of Leeds in Great Britain have reviewed a number of studies that show how supplementation with magnesium may help in cases of mild anxiety, stress, and depression. Magnesium appears to be a precondition of a healthy and sturdy nervous system, and getting enough of this nutrient is therefore important for preventing these conditions.
Anxiety-related conditions are among the most common psychological diseases, which 15 percent of people experience at some time during their life. It is commonly known that stress can trigger anxiety and depression. In many cases, it is a vicious cycle. The relation between low magnesium and anxiety is something that interests scientists because of the serious side effects that are seen with benzodiazepines.
The team of researchers from the University of Leeds reviewed 18 earlier studies from different databases. They looked at how supplements of magnesium, alone or in combination with other nutrients, affected mild anxiety and other symptoms.
Widespread magnesium deficiency and known physical diseases
The intake of magnesium has fallen drastically in Western societies such as the United States and Europe. For instance, 68 percent of Americans and 72 percent of Frenchmen get less than the recommended amount of magnesium from their diets, and a similar pattern is expected to be found in other countries. At the same time, our modern lifestyle with stress, stimulant use, and medicine depletes the body’s magnesium stores.
It is already known that a low intake of magnesium is associated with different physical diseases such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Getting too little magnesium is also linked to psychological disorders.
Feelings in both humans and animals are rooted in the limbic system of the brain. An axis passes through the limbic system, hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the adrenal gland, and it functions as the body’s emergency call center. All parts of this axis are sensitive to magnesium and need sufficient amounts of the mineral to function optimally.
For instance, magnesium affects the pituitary gland’s production off ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone), which promotes the production of corticosteroids.
In mouse studies, provoked magnesium deficiency has resulted in conditions that resemble depression. These were effectively cured with anti-depressive drugs. Other mouse studies have shown that magnesium supplements could also reduce conditions that resembled depression, and it turns out that magnesium supplements are an effective adjuvant.
|When we are stressed, the brain sends signals to the adrenal glands, which prepare the body for an instant fight-or-flight reaction and have done so for as long as humans have existed. This process is highly energy-demanding. Modern lifestyle with chronic stress is extremely tough on the nervous system.|
Treating humans with magnesium
According to the studies, which the researchers from the University of Leeds reviewed, magnesium deficiency is associated with depression and suicide among humans. Studies conducted on older people with depression and diabetes show that daily supplementation with 450 mg of magnesium for four weeks was every bit effective at reducing symptoms of depression as the anti-depressive drug, Imipramine.
Other studies have shown that magnesium has a positive effect on mania, bipolar disorder, and symptoms of chronic fatigue, but more research is needed (also with regard to finding the optimal magnesium dosage). If the dosage is too low, magnesium therapy is not likely to produce good results. It is also vital to use high-quality magnesium supplements so the nutrient is absorbed properly and reaches the cells.
Blood samples and the distribution of magnesium in the body
60% of the body’s magnesium is stored in the bones, while 27% is found in muscle tissue. Only 1-2 percent is found outside the cells (extra-cellular magnesium). Only a so-called whole blood analysis is able to provide a reliable picture of the body’s magnesium status, where one can see how much magnesium is inside the cells.
Stress, anxiety, and depression
As mentioned before, there is often a relation between stress, anxiety, and depression. In mouse studies, provoked magnesium deficiency increases the amount of anxiety symptoms. Low levels of magnesium in the blood and brain are directly associated with anxiety-related behavior in mice. Supplements of magnesium have managed to reduce these symptoms.
Also, there is a clear link between low magnesium status and anxiety symptoms in humans. It has been demonstrated that individuals with a fear of exams excrete more magnesium in their urine, and that leads to lower levels of magnesium in their blood.
|When we are stressed, we excrete more magnesium in the urine.|
Magnesium prevents calcium poisoning of nerve cells
Scientific literature describes different biochemical relations between the nervous system, anxiety, and magnesium. Glutamate is known as a neurotransmitter in the science of neurology. A neurotransmitter is a chemical signaling substance, which nerve cells use to signal other cells.
All major nerve pathways use glutamate, and the substance is used in different parts of the brain’s network for cognitive functions like memory and language.
Glutamate binds to the NMDA (N-Methyl-D-aspartate) receptors of cell membranes, thereby increasing cellular calcium uptake. This is not always desirable. Ninety-nine percent of the body’s calcium should be stored in our bones and teeth, while cells in our soft tissues like the muscles and the brain must be practically devoid of calcium to prevent them from convulsing and stressing. In fact, NMDA is involved in anxiety and panicky conditions because calcium literally “poisons” the nerve cells. We need sufficient quantities of magnesium, because the mineral counteracts the activity of the NMDA receptors in cell membranes, thereby preventing cells in the soft tissues from taking up more calcium than necessary.
It is very important to have the right balance between calcium and magnesium. If the balance is disturbed, there is a risk that the nerve cells absorb too much calcium, which stresses them and increases the risk of anxiety and panicky conditions.
Magnesium corrects imbalances between neurotransmitters
Scientists also believe that magnesium can relieve anxiety by increasing levels of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain and central nervous system.
Imbalances characterized by too much glutamate in relation to GABA are associated with neurological tension, a condition linked to morbid fear.
Magnesium is also determining for the activity of other receptors such as mGluRs-G-protein, which is involved in reactions to fear, anxiety and panic.
Magnesium generally appears to correct several biochemical imbalances in the nervous system, and it lowers the risk of morbid fear, referred to earlier as “bad nerves”.
In most studies, magnesium supplements have been administered for 6-12 weeks.
Magnesium inhibits inflammation that is often seen with depression and anxiety
Depressive patients often have elevated levels of a protein called CRP (C-Reactive Protein) that is a biomarker for inflammation. During brain inflammation, which is not felt directly, the production of serotonin is blocked. Serotonin is vital for our good mood and well-being. Instead, something called quinolinic acid is produced, and that may trigger anxiety and irritability.
A study published in Current Pharmaceutical Design reveals that magnesium reduces levels of CRP and therefore has an anti-inflammatory role.
Some of magnesium’s biochemical effects on the nervous system
Magnesium sources and things that deplete your magnesium levels
Good sources of magnesium are kernels, whole-grain, almonds, nuts, seeds, beans, cabbage and other vegetables, dark chocolate, and seaweed. Most people are unable to get enough magnesium from eating fruit and vegetables, and whole-grain is often replaced by white flour. The modern lifestyle with stress and a large intake of alcohol, tea and other stimulants depletes the body’s magnesium stores. The same is the case with birth control pills, diuretics, and various other kinds of medicine.
How much magnesium do we need?
As mentioned, there is a very intricate interplay between magnesium and calcium, which is why it is vital to ingest the minerals in the right balance. In a country like Denmark, the official recommendations (Reference Intake) for magnesium and calcium are 375 mg and 800 respectively. In other words, a 1:2 ratio (approximately). However, the Danish diet provides the two minerals in what looks more like a 1:4 ratio, which means that we get far too little magnesium and far too much calcium.
In Asia where the majority of people do not consume dairy product but tend to eat more vegetables, the ratio is more like 1:1 (500 mg of magnesium and 500 mg of calcium). Newer studies suggest that this distribution of calcium and magnesium is not only better for bone health but also for the nervous system.
Important note: Because milk contains 11 more calcium than magnesium, and cheese contains 23 more calcium than magnesium, eating a lot of dairy products creates an imbalance between the two minerals. This may affect the nervous system, among other things.
Neil Bernard Boyle, Clare Lawton and Louise Dye. The Effects of magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress – A systematic Review. Nutrients 2017
With health care cuts looming, low-cost magnesium a welcome option for treating depression – ScienceDaily
Role of magnesium supplementation in the treatment of depression: A randomized clinical trial
Fujita T, Fukase M. Comparison of osteoporosis and calcium intake between Japan and United States. PubMed. 2002
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