Magnesium – The Simple Nutrient That Can Treat Depression

Does Magnesium Help Depression Symptoms?

Depression is a frustrating and debilitating illness, one that is often difficult and expensive to treat.

In fact, as many as 60% of depression cases are treatment-resistant, with some people trying many different approaches without seeing success (1,2).

This creates a clear need for additional solutions, particularly ones that aren’t medication-based. One such option is magnesium.

A recent study asked the question, does magnesium help depression symptoms? To do so, they used magnesium supplements and considered what impact these had. And the results were extremely encouraging.

Research into Magnesium and Depression

Magnesium supplements

The study itself examined the impact of magnesium supplements for depression. In the study, participants took 248 mg of magnesium each day for six weeks (in the form of magnesium chloride) and their symptoms were monitored through regular phone calls.

The authors found that the magnesium significantly improved depression and anxiety scores – with 61% of participants stating that they would use magnesium again.

Interestingly, the observed effects were consistent, regardless of gender, age, initial magnesium levels or depression severity. Whether or not a person was currently undergoing depression treatment also didn’t affect the outcome.

This means that the magnesium lowered depressive symptoms, without the side effects normally associated with antidepressants. As a result, magnesium is a safe alternative to medication and doesn’t need to be closely monitored to prevent toxicity.

The outcomes also suggest that magnesium can be combined with current treatment approaches, even for patients who are on medication. 

Study Limitations

The research study was interesting, but it did have key limitations. One was the type of magnesium. The study used magnesium oxide, which is a relatively stable compound. As a result, it won't always provide sufficient free magnesium. 

The overall design was relatively good, but it was not double blinded and involved 126 patients. The sample size is better than many studies but is still not ideal.

In the end, the study provided valuable evidence that supports using magnesium supplementation to treat depression. It is also one of the most powerful studies to date. Even so, it's clear that more research is needed before we can be confident about the role of magnesium.  

Why Does Magnesium Help Depression?

The link between magnesium and depression isn’t unheard of either.

Multiple studies have indicated that magnesium intake may be connected to depression (3,4), especially for people with very low magnesium intake (5). Likewise, magnesium deficiency is associated with depression (6). 

Animal studies have also shown that magnesium deficiency can result in depression-like behaviors (7).

  • That pattern suggests that magnesium deficiency may play a role in depression development. Researchers have proposed that this could occur because magnesium has been removed from many processed foods (8).
  • Furthermore, there is a biological mechanism by which magnesium can improve brain chemistry and lower depressive symptoms (9). Some proposed mechanisms include the inflammatory pathway, HPA axis and glutamate homeostasis (10).

Case histories have also found that magnesium supplementation can promote rapid depression recovery for individual patients (11), and some studies have found magnesium supplements do aid in depression treatment (12,13).

However, there have been relatively few studies specifically looking at magnesium supplementation and depression, with this current study offering the most pertinent information (14).

One recent review stated that much more research is needed into the field before there are conclusive answers (15).

Even though there isn’t much evidence yet – there is enough to make magnesium worth trying. If nothing else, it is a safe supplement that may just help. And, if it doesn’t, then you haven’t lost much.

Challenges of Medication for Depression

Teenager with Depression

A key problem with depression is that medication is over-prescribed. Antidepressants are often the first course of treatment, long before other alternatives are even considered.

And, there are certainly cases where antidepressants may be necessary. For some people, they are even lifesaving. But, for many others, they’re simply not.

To make matters worse, medication is expensive and comes with a wide range of side effects.

  • This includes sexual problems, weight gain, sleepiness and anxiety (16).
  • In fact, antidepressants may even increase suicide risk in some patients, especially in teenagers and young adults (17)

There are also cases where antidepressants may increase depressive symptoms in the short-term (18) and potentially lead to worse long-term outcomes.The site Psychology Today offers a detailed examination of that pattern, along with recent evidence.

Natural Solutions for Depression

With all of these issues, it’s no wonder that people look for natural treatments instead. And, the connection between magnesium and depression is one key area. So, magnesium supplements like the ones below may significantly help to reduce depression symptoms.

If nothing else, magnesium is inexpensive and safe to try, much more so than antidepressants.

As for dose, the 248 mg of magnesium used in the study is around four 500 mg MgCl2 (magnesium chloride) tablets each day (19). That may sound like a lot but the study did find it was safe and the total is below the upper tolerable limit.

You can also take other forms of magnesium too and some of the examples above are. However, magnesium chloride was the one in this particular study - so there is more certainty about the benefits.

Additionally, magnesium chloride is beneficial if you want to take large doses of magnesium, as this form has a lower risk of diarrhea. ​​But, magnesium chloride does tend to absorb water in the pill form, which can make the supplements difficult to store. ​

If you're uncertain about the dose, you could always start at the high level and and change it over time based on what works for you. You could also use a lower dose and increase the magnesium in your diet.

Other Natural Approaches

Basket filled with healthy food

There are also many cases where depression may be caused or made worse by food choices.

  • For example, various nutrient deficiencies have symptoms that are similar to depression, including vitamin D deficiency.
  • In fact, the site Everyday Health offers a list of 10 different nutrient deficiencies that can, in some cases, cause depression.
  • Zinc deficiency is a particularly well-studied deficiency that may contribute to depression. Research also suggests that zinc supplementation may help reduce symptoms (20,21

Likewise, there are other natural options that may help to fight depression, including St. John’s Wort and fish oil supplements.

Finally, research suggests that there’s a connection between mental health and gut bacteria.

  • As a result, increasing the healthy bacteria in your gut may reduce depressive symptoms, helping you to feel better overall (22,23,23,24).
  • Relying on probiotics may be one way of doing this, which includes using fermented foods, like kefir.

Eating Patterns and Depression

In a similar way, some patterns in our modern diets may increase depression risk.

  • For example, many people feel that sugar is linked to depression and that blood sugar spikes can make depressive symptoms worse (25,26,27).

With these patterns in mind, one powerful way to combat depression is to change your overall diet approach. Doing so can help you reduce the amount of sugar and processed foods that you consume while increasing your nutrient intake and helping to avoid any deficiencies.

There are various ways to achieve this outcome.

  • One option is a low-carb or a ketosis diet, where you are cutting out most sources of carbs. For many people, this can improve depressive symptoms (28,29), although some find that it makes depression worse (30) and others have found no effect (31).
  • Some authors suggest that the Mediterranean diet may help resolve nutrient deficiencies, especially as this also relies on whole foods. However, one study into the topic failed to find the association, perhaps because patients were not adhering to the diet (32).

Final Thoughts

These patterns come back to the individualized nature of depression and of diets. Basically, each person responds differently, which makes finding your own balance so important.

Depression can also have many different underlying causes, as the site Beyond Blue explains.

As a result, a treatment approach may work for one person and not for another. So, for some, magnesium supplements may relieve symptoms, for others a keto diet might and for others, something else could be needed.

Other diet and lifestyle options include the paleo diet, intermittent fasting and the Mediterranean diet. For that matter, you could just focus on eating whole foods and cooking your own meals as much as possible.

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Better health starts in the kitchen, with the food that you eat and the meals you prepare. Getting the best outcomes involves making good choices about the food and the ingredients that you use. 

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The Simple Nutrient That Can Treat Depression

2 thoughts on “Magnesium – The Simple Nutrient That Can Treat Depression”

  1. Please carefully re-read the article. Participants were given magnesium chloride 2000mg (248mg of elemental magnesium). 248 of a combination supplement willl not be sufficient for depression.

    • You’re right about the dose in the study, which I mention in the article as well. I never specified the best dose for individuals because the research isn’t there yet. There haven’t been many studies on this topic and it’s unclear whether a lower dose would offer the same benefits (the study didn’t test that). You would need to take multiple doses of some of the listed supplements to get that amount, yes. But, some people may want to start smaller and see if they get benefits. After all, some people won’t be deficient in magnesium to begin with.


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