Magnesium is one of the most abundant minerals in the human body and an essential cofactor for over 300 physiological processes.
Found in various green vegetables and some lentils, magnesium works to support bone mineralization, muscular contraction, protein synthesis, nerve impulse transmission, and immunity.
A typical Western diet lacks a nominal amount of magnesium due to low intake of leafy green vegetables like spinach.
Magnesium deficiency (hypomagnesemia) can lead to various health issues such as: muscle weakness, constipation, twitching, and cramps.
Hence, adequate consumption of this vital mineral is imperative for health and longevity.
When isolated, magnesium is not well absorbed by the body, and thus supplements often contain magnesium bonded to a transporting substance.
Unfortunately, many over-the-counter magnesium supplements rely on a form that is poorly absorbed by the body – called magnesium oxide.
In fact, magnesium oxide has a bioavailability of roughly 4%, making it practically worthless for reducing anxiety.
In general, the three most bioavailable forms of magnesium include:
- Chelated Magnesium (i.e. magnesium bound to amino acids )
- Magnesium Orotate (most bioavailable form of magnesium available)
- Magnesium Citrate (note that high doses of this form have a laxative effect)
Rather compelling research has demonstrated that treatment with a magnesium supplement can rapidly attenuate anxiety and depressive episodes, suggesting this mineral does indeed have nootropic properties.
Read on as this article goes in depth on how magnesium works, its research-backed benefits, how it may help reduce anxiety, how to supplement with it, and any potential side effects and safety concerns to be aware of.
How Magnesium Works
Magnesium is the eleventh most abundant element (by weight) in the human body.
Adults carry roughly 14 to 16 grams of magnesium in their bones, which is approximately 60% of all magnesium found in the body.
Skeletal muscles contain a large proportion of magnesium as well (about 20% of total body magnesium).
As mentioned earlier, magnesium is a crucial cofactor for some 300 enzymatic reactions in the body.
Cofactors are non-protein chemicals that are required for proteins to work biologically.
In this sense, magnesium is a sort of “assisting mineral” that drives enzymes and other proteins to be active in the body.
Moreover, magnesium interacts with phosphate in many cellular reactions, making it essential for synthesis of ATP, DNA, and RNA.
Magnesium that is not absorbed (either through diet or supplementation) is excreted in feces; magnesium that is absorbed is filtered out by the kidneys and excreted via urine and sweat.
Benefits of Supplementation with Magnesium
The current recommended daily intake (in the United States) of magnesium is 400mg for adult males and 320mg for adult females.
It is estimated that only 32% of the adult US population reaches the recommended daily intake of magnesium.
Given this, over-the-counter magnesium supplements have become very popular in recent years.
As aforementioned, individuals who don’t consume sufficient amounts of magnesium are prone to constipation, muscle cramps, dehydration, anxiety/depression, and feelings of lethargy.
Research has demonstrated that magnesium supplementation (especially with well-absorbed forms) can help restore healthy magnesium status in adults, thereby helping to alleviate symptoms of magnesium deficiency.
Furthermore, magnesium supplementation helps support immune function and fight excessive oxidative stress, both of which are known to promote overall health and longevity.
Clinical research cited herein suggests the benefits of magnesium supplementation may include:
- Reduce anxiety and support proper stress management
- Promote relaxation and cognition
- Help maintain healthy bowel function
- Support the immune system and reduce oxidative stress
- Help maintain hydration and reduce risk of muscle cramps
Use of Magnesium for Improving Anxiety Symptoms
Interestingly, research has found that magnesium deficiency (hypomagnesemia) has negative effects on feelings of well-being and can even induce anxiety.
The mechanisms behind how magnesium plays a role in anxiety remain unclear at the time of this writing, but preliminary data suggest it has ties to the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis.
The HPA axis is a key regulator of stress hormones (i.e. catecholamines) production, thus making it a major factor in anxiety and depression.
It is plausible that magnesium promotes proper cortisol rhythms, as irregularities in secretion of this particular hormone are associated with panic attacks and high levels of anxiety.
More research is needed, however, to confirm the exact interactions of magnesium with the HPA axis.
Given this, do not replace any of your current anxiety medications with magnesium supplements until you’ve consulted with your licensed physician.
Ideally, use of this mineral should be monitored by the physician/specialist you work with if you’re using it for anxiety/mood disorders.
Recommended Forms and Dosages
The amount, form, and potency of magnesium supplement(s) you should use will depend on the desired affects you want and conditions you wish to treat.
The dosage suggestions are as follows:
For Reducing Anxiety and Enhancing Mood: 75mg elemental magnesium taken one to two times daily with water.
For Enhanced Cognition: 40mg elemental magnesium taken one to three times daily with water.
For Immune, Anti-inflammatory, and Antioxidant Properties: 25mg elemental magnesium taken up to three times per day with water.
For Constipation: 200mg elemental magnesium taken as needed on an empty stomach.
For Reducing Muscular Cramps and Keeping Hydrated: 50mg elemental magnesium taken as needed.
Note: Magnesium needs calcium for proper absorption and utilization in the body, so it is best to take it with either a calcium supplement or calcium-containing foods. Many magnesium supplements come with calcium included in the formulation which may be the best bang for your buck.
Safety and Potential Side Effects
Magnesium tends to be a well-tolerated and safe for over-the-counter supplementation, particularly when used in proper doses.
Toxicity from magnesium is rather rare, as the kidneys rapidly filter excess magnesium from the blood so it can be excreted.
On that note, if you have any degree of renal impairment, it is advised to consult with a licensed physician before using any magnesium supplements.
Extremely high doses of magnesium may induce acute side effects such as:
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Nausea and vomiting
- Death from cardiac arrest
Note that these side effects are very rare if you have kidneys that function properly (and aren’t using exorbitant amounts of magnesium supplements).
If you begin to feel undesirable side effects after taking magnesium, simply stop further use and they will go away.
You can then try using a lower dose and see how you respond.
Magnesium has rapidly become a popular over-the-counter option thanks to its many roles in the body.
There is certainly a large body of evidence to support health claims in favor of magnesium supplements, but the nootropic effects of this mineral await further investigation at the time of this writing.
That being said, it appears that the magnesium supplements due promote cognitive function and alleviate anxiety, purportedly through regulation of the HPA axis (and possibly as a cofactor in the formation of various neurotransmitters).
Research will hopefully dial in on this magnesium’s specific nootropic mechanisms in the near future.
Since many individuals who follow a typical Western diet are prone to magnesium deficiency, supplementing with this mineral can provide holistic health and well-being benefits on top of anxiety relief.
Moreover, this particular mineral is exceptionally affordable, making it worthwhile for many individuals who fear they’re not getting enough magnesium in their diet.
All things considered, magnesium is a great low-risk starting option to enhance cognition and alleviate anxiety (with a multitude of other general health properties).