If you have been diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety, chances are that you are receiving one or a combination of the following treatments: anti-depressant medication, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and lifestyle interventions. Your healthcare provider will carefully consider treatment options and prescribe them for your specific needs, while also keeping in mind their limitations.
As for limitations, finding the most suitable anti-depressant medication may involve some trial-and-error and a great deal of patience, since medication often takes several weeks to show its full effect. Medication can also have unpleasant side effects; having to deal with them while trying to figure out whether your symptoms will actually improve often lead depression sufferers to toss out the pills. While CBT is highly effective, it requires many months of therapy sessions and access to a highly trained therapist. Lifestyle interventions such as cutting back work hours or reducing stress may not always be possible to the extent necessary.
Would it not be wonderful to have more weapons in your arsenal available for the fight against depression? Ideally, such a weapon should be inexpensive, easily available, proven to be effective, without risky side effects, and easy to combine with other treatment options. Rather than interfering with medication and therapy, it should support them and make them even more effective. Over the past decade, many scientific research studies have demonstrated that magnesium supplements may in fact serve as such a weapon.
Scientists have long known that low magnesium levels are associated with depression, even though the exact mechanisms are not yet understood. Found in enzymes, hormones and neurotransmitters, magnesium plays a significant role in mood regulation. Various scientific studies had shown that people with low magnesium levels have a greater likelihood of experiencing depressive symptoms. Yet, despite these findings, much scepticism still existed until recently. This was because various studies with different sample sizes and parameters yielded contradictory results.
Between 2007 and 2010, researchers at the University of Vermont conducted a survey that achieved more conclusive results. The study included many more study participants—8,894, to be exact. This allowed the results to be more generalizable and representative of almost 180 million US adults. Over the course of four years, the scientists observed the participants and collected data on their food intake and supplements. The estimated average requirement of magnesium is 350 mg for men over 30, 330 mg for men under 30, 265 mg for women over 30, and 255 mg for women under 30. They found that adults below age 65 who consumed less than 184 mg of magnesium per day were 50 percent more likely to experience depressive symptoms.
Following up on this earlier study, the same group of researchers in 2015 and 2016 conducted the first-ever clinical trial in the US to test whether over-the-counter magnesium chloride supplements could improve depressive symptoms. The 126 participants in the 12-week-long trial were adults above the age of 18, diagnosed with depression and receiving anti-depressant medication, therapy, or no treatment at all. For the first 6 weeks, the participants consumed 248 mg of elemental magnesium per day. At a later point, they spent another 6 weeks consuming no magnesium at all. This allowed the researchers—who monitored the participants’ well-being with the help of questionnaires—to compare symptoms with and without supplements. In the end, the research conclusively showed that within two weeks magnesium supplementation significantly decreased depression and anxiety, regardless of gender, age, severity of symptoms, or use of anti-depressant medication. Even more encouraging, two-thirds of the participants found magnesium supplementation so easy and effective that they planned to continue it after the trial.
Could magnesium—as a supplement and in the form of leafy greens, banana, avocado, nuts and seeds—help with treating your depression? The research summarized above strongly suggests that magnesium could be a fast, safe, and easy-to-access alternative to other treatment options. Or, it may enhance the effectiveness of your anti-depressant medication. It is up to you to take the initiative and talk to your healthcare provider about adding a magnesium supplement to your treatment plan.
- G.A. Eby and K.L. Eby. 2006. “Rapid Recovery from Major Depression Using Magnesium Treatment.” Medical Hypotheses 67(2).
- Emily Tarleton and Benjamin Littenberg. 2015. “Magnesium Intake and Depression in Adults.” Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine 28(2).
- Yary, S.M. Lehto et al. 2016.“Dietary Magnesium Intake and the Incidence of Depression: A 20-Year Follow-Up Study.” Journal of Affective Disorders 193.
- Emily Tarleton, Benjamin Littenberg et al. 2017. “Role of Magnesium Supplementation in the Treatment of Depression: A Randomized Clinical Trial.” PLOS One 12(6).
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