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Why Magnesium Matters to Mental Health

Have you been feeling irritable, anxious, and impulsive recently? Have you struggled with sleep disruption, mood dysregulation, or emotional outbursts?

You may be low on magnesium.


Magnesium Importance

Magnesium is an essential nutrient which performs hundreds of vital tasks in the body.   It serves to sustain regular nerve and muscle function, supports a strong immune system and helps maintain healthy bones.  Virtually every organ is affected by the body’s magnesium balance.  The brain and the heart are particularly affected as they contain the highest concentrations of magnesium in the body.

The magnesium to calcium ratio is particularly important in several ways.  First, they work cooperatively to regulate electrical impulses within the cells.  The magnesium present keeps the calcium from building up in the cell.  Over-calcification, hyper-excitability, cell-dysfunction and cell death is prevented.  If that weren’t so, spasms and contractions that would happen as a result may manifest as minor tics or as something more significant like asthma symptoms or a a cardiac arrhythmia.

Second, magnesium regulates the decrease in calcium.  In this way, magnesium helps our parasympathetic nervous system operate smoothly, promoting a calm, relaxed state.  It is here that diet and mental cognition are positively correlated. Moreover, relaxation and overall well-being result from this nutrient. Magnesium is an often overlooked macro-mineral that is critical for mental health, reasoning and clarity.


Magnesium Deficiency

Just as a magnesium deficiency can affect virtually every organ system of the body, the central nervous system is markedly affected by magnesium levels. In regards to behavioral health, depression is associated with systemic inflammation and a cell-mediated immune reaction. Likewise, magnesium deficiency displays the same traits.

Magnesium deficiency symptoms include insomnia, anxiety, hyperactivity and restlessness with constant movement, panic attacks, agoraphobia and irritability.

Many people are magnesium deficient.  In fact, dietary surveys show that a majority of tested American adults are significantly lacking in magnesium.

Magnesium deficiency doesn’t happen overnight.  Many factors have contributed to the decline of magnesium stores in the modern American body.  Here are a few reasons you could be feeling it, too:

Causes of Magnesium Deficiency

Municipal Water:

Urban water has the potential to be a rich source of magnesium.  That is, if it is sourced from something like a glacier run-off or a very deep well.  The trouble with city water is that it’s treated with fluoride, which binds with any magnesium present, and creates a compound that enters the bones, making them brittle.

Modern Farming:

Modern farming processes deplete the soil of its natural magnesium, so what is grown on our farms is not as enriched as it once was. Moreover, many hybrids are selectively bred to survive low levels of magnesium and most conventional fertilizers use nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, and do not replenish magnesium levels.

Standard American Diet (SAD):

The Standard American Diet is full of processed food, caffeine, alcohol, produce from depleted soil, and foods high in phytic acid.  As such, it can contribute to a loss of magnesium.  In 1905, the Average American was consuming approximately 400 mg of magnesium daily.  A corresponding 1% of Americans experienced depression before they turned 75 years old.  However, in 1955, 6% of Americans had depression before the age of 24. What changed was the mass-consumption of processed white bread which is practically devoid of magnesium.  Also, Americans began consuming more calcium which inhibits the absorption of magnesium, creating a magnesium deficiency.

Too Much Sugar in the Diet:

Extra sugar consumption utilizes more magnesium stores: 28 molecules of magnesium are used to metabolize a single glucose molecule.

Stress Levels:

Stress depletes magnesium stores from the body.  The adrenaline-driven mode of sympathetic nervous system response, like fight or flight, uses up a large amount of magnesium stores held in the body.


Restoring Magnesium in the Body

In addition to the mental health benefits, adding supplemental magnesium might help prevent and/or alleviate ADHD, heart disease, stroke, depression, diabetes, osteoporosis and many other disorders. “The best way of ensuring enough magnesium is to eat a variety of whole foods, including whole grains, nuts, seeds and vegetables, preferably food grown on naturally composted soil. The green color of green vegetables is due to chlorophyll, which is a molecule that contains magnesium.”- The Importance of Magnesium to Human Nutrition.

There is no coincidence that my own anxiety, depression, mood swings, impulsivity, irritability were entirely unmanageable during the height of my magnesium deficiency and related malnourishment.

Magnesium Diet

Diet adjustment and magnesium supplementation has notably helped with the management of select cognitive symptoms.  After six weeks, I experienced the following results: magnesium levels in blood within the appropriate range, improved mood regulation and well-being, decreased impulsivity, sensitivity to noise, jumpiness, and irritability.  I feel strongly that there must be a positive correlation between my behavioral health and magnesium levels.

With that being said, I am certainly motivated by these results to explore more holistic, nutrition-based symptom management solutions such as dietary changes and adding supplements for my own mental health.  You can also learn as much as you wish while working concurrently with your healthcare provider, gaining both insight and knowledge into your own symptoms.

The information herein is based on personal experience and anecdotal in nature. It is not intended to substitute for medical or mental health advice.

I am not a licensed therapist, psychologist, registered dietitian, nutritionist or medical doctor. The views I express are mine alone, based on my own research and experiences, and should not be taken as medical or mental health advice.  Please speak with a medical or mental health professional before making any changes to your diet and always exercise caution. 


Czapp, Katherine.  “Magnificent Magnesium: The Neglected Mineral We Cannot Live Without.”  The Weston A. Price Foundation.  23 Sep 2010.  Accessed 16 Dec 2016. http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/abcs-of-nutrition/magnificent-magnesium/

“Magnesium: Fact Sheet For Health Professionals.”  National Institutes Of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements.  11 Feb 2016.  Accessed 17 Dec 2016. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/

Rodale, J.I. and Harald J. Taub.  Magnesium, The Nutrient That Could Change Your Life.  Magnesium Online Library.  3 Jan 2001.  17 Dec 2016. http://www.mgwater.com/rod09.shtml

Schachter, Michael B., M.D., F.A.C.A.M., Dana Godbout Laake R.D.H., M.S., L.D.N., and Pamela J. Compart, M.D. “The Importance of Magnesium to Human Nutrition.” The ADHD and Autism Nutritional Supplement Handbook, Quarto Publishing Group USA, 2013.  Accessed 14 Dec 2016. www.mbschachter.com/importance_of_magnesium_to_human.htm

Torsten Bohn, Lena Davidsson, Thomas Walczyk, and Richard F Hurrell.  “Phytic acid added to white-wheat bread inhibits fractional apparent magnesium absorption in humans.” The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition.  Mar 2004.  Accessed 14 Dec 2016.  http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/79/3/418.full

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