Can Magnesium Help Lift Mood?

Got the blues? A reported 350 million people worldwide suffer from varying degrees of depression, spending billions on prescription pharmaceuticals to get relief. But a new study shows that magnesium supplementation is a safe and effective way to help lift mood, and may even have the power to replace medication and psychotherapy in certain cases.

Magnesium has long been known as nature’s “chill pill,” and good research backs that claim. Participants in the clinical trial out of the University of Vermont received 248 mg of over-the-counter elemental magnesium per day over six weeks, with results showing magnesium is comparable to prescription SSRI treatments in effectiveness.

“Magnesium deficiency can be part of the story [of depression] and can definitely help if it is found deficient in patients,” says Jackie Fields, MD, a functional medicine practitioner based in Fort Collins, Colorado. “My first choice for depression will always include looking at a patient’s deficiencies and stressors before I prescribe a medication. Treating the root cause of a problem will always be better than a medication.”

Getting Enough Magnesium

By some estimates, up to 80 percent of Americans are not getting enough magnesium and may be deficient. Other research shows only about 25 percent of U.S. adults are getting the recommended daily amount of 310 to 320 milligrams for women and 400 to 420 milligrams for men. Several studies have shown that magnesium deficiency is a biomarker for chronic stress.

Magnesium has numerous health benefits, including helping to remove heavy metals from the body and reducing inflammation (brain inflammation is linked to anxiety, depression and memory loss). It also helps ease depression and anxiety by raising levels of the mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin and normalizing stress hormones.

Eating magnesium-rich foods like avocados, almonds, spinach and soy and drinking mineral water is important, but almost everyone can benefit from magnesium supplementation.

“Only one percent of magnesium in your body is distributed in your blood, making a magnesium blood test not very useful,” says Fields. “It’s quite possible to be deficient and not know it, which is why magnesium deficiency has been dubbed the ‘invisible deficiency.’”

There are many forms of magnesium, but not all of them are created equal.

For the best absorption, look for magnesium citrate, like that found in Natural Vitality’s Calm. This highly absorbable, water-soluble magnesium in ionic form (having molecular charge that allows the mineral to easily bond with water) is ready to go to work right away.

If you decide to use any type of magnesium supplement, Fields strongly recommends increasing your intake of calcium, vitamin K2 and vitamin D to achieve well-balanced nutrient levels. “Ideally, your calcium-to-magnesium ratio should be 1:1,” says Fields. Foods like dark leafy greens contain both calcium and vitamin K, which helps the body to absorb calcium. Soaking up some warm sunshine can increase vitamin D naturally.