Magnesium is something our bodies depend on for over 300 fundamental cellular processes (1). Why this is important is because how a cell operates or rather how many cells operate determine organ and tissue function which in turn determines overall health and wellness. A large part of mental wellness depends on nerve conduction, neurotransmitter status and glucose metabolism, all of which depends in part on mineral status which includes that of Magnesium.
Magnesium is depleted with stress and age. Its use within the body, like everything else relies on genetic material and functional expression of genes. Genetic mutations in the TRPM6 gene have been associated with low status of magnesium, as this gene is important for magnesium absorption and homeostasis (2). Current studies also suggests that on average people’s diets under reach the magnesium RDA by several hundred mg per day, setting the stage for chronic magnesium deficiency (4).
Dietary sources of Magnesium include legumes, green leafy vegetables, nuts and animal protein. As always, getting nutrients from food requires the foods being eaten actually contain the nutrients in adequate levels, are regularly consumed as part of a whole food diet and there is functional digestive capacity.
Magnesium deficiency can contribute to the development of anxiety / panic attacks. One theory supposes that deficiency of magnesium leads to a high lactate to pyruvate ratio which can result in symptoms of anxiety. (2) Use of Magnesium has been used to help relive anxiety in patients hospitalized the psychiatric illness as well as those in which symptoms are the result of cardiac issues. (4)
Magnesium status, as demonstrated through and blood and hair analyses were routinely high in those diagnosed with ADHD (2,3,5). Those who took Magnesium along with their treatment also faired much better in decreasing their symptoms of hyperactivity then children who did not (2)
The theory that depression is caused by excess cortisol caused by chronic stress that impairs the function of the hippocampus and ultimate perpetuates ongoing stress / depression and neurotoxicity, suggest magnesium may help (4). With increases in cortisol, the kidneys release magnesium. Long term cortisol stimulation may therefore lead to low levels of magnesium (among other things) and putting the right amount back in may be protective. Magnesium is also believed to help decrease the release of stress hormones and protect the brain from the effects of stress hormones. (4)
Of course it’s never that simple. Magnesium doesn’t act alone but in concert with many other nutrients, pathways and enzymes. Magnesium may also not be suitable for people with compromised kidney function or who are taking certain medications. It is however food for thought and something to consider if your lifestyle, environment or genes precludes adequate Magnesium intake / use. Make sure to discuss Magnesium status and possible supplementation with your health care provider. (also I merely skimmed the surface of possible uses for magnesium, there are many many more).
1.Natural Medicine Comprehensive Database 2013 compiled by pharmacists letter and prescribers letter
2.Prousky J. Principles and Practice of Naturopathic Clinical Nutrition. 2008 CCNM Press: Toronto
3. Mousain-Bosc, M et at. Improvement of neurobehavioral disorders in children supplemented with Magnesium – vitamin B6. Magnesium Research, Vol 19, no 1, 53-62 March 2006
4.Deans, E. Magnesium and the brain: the original chill pill. psycologytoday.com. 2002-2014
5. Gaby, A. Nutritional Medicine. 2011. Fritz Perlberg Publishing Concord NH.
Dr. Sarah Kent blends traditional knowledge with current scientiﬁc understanding to generate wellness within her patients. She has received specialized training in naturopathic sports medicine, applying the principles and tools of naturopathic care in treating athletes. With these skills she’s helped patients improve their sport performance, rehabilitate & prevent injury.