Depression is one of the most widely diagnosed conditions of our time, with over 3 million cases in the U.S. every year, and 350 million believed affected worldwide.1 Conventional medicine considers antidepressant drugs first-line treatments, including the newly approved injected postpartum drug costing $34,000 a treatment, to the tune of a 16 billion dollars in global sales by 2023. Despite their widespread use, these drugs are fraught with a battery of serious side effects, including suicidal ideation and completion — the last two things you would hope to see in a condition that already has suicidality as a co-morbidity. For this reason alone, natural, safe, and effective alternatives are needed more than ever before.
While research into natural alternatives for depression is growing daily — GreenMedInfo.com’s Depression database contains 647 studies on over 100 natural substances that have been studied to prevent or treat depression — it is rare to find quality human clinical research on the topic published in well-respected journals. That’s why a powerful study published in PLOS One titled, “Role of magnesium supplementation in the treatment of depression: A randomized clinical trial,” is so promising. Not only is magnesium safe, affordable, and easily accessible, but according to this recent study, effective in treating mild-to moderate symptoms of depression.
While previous studies have looked at the association between magnesium and depression, this is the first placebo-controlled clinical study to evaluate whether the use of over-the-counter magnesium chloride (248 mg elemental magnesium a day for 6 weeks) improves symptoms of depression.
The study design was a follows:
“ An open-label, blocked, randomized, cross-over trial was carried out in outpatient primary care clinics on 126 adults (mean age 52; 38% male) diagnosed with and currently experiencing mild-to-moderate symptoms with Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) scores of 5–19. The intervention was 6 weeks of active treatment (248 mg of elemental magnesium per day) compared to 6 weeks of control (no treatment). Assessments of depression symptoms were completed at bi-weekly phone calls. The primary outcome was the net difference in the change in depression symptoms from baseline to the end of each treatment period. Secondary outcomes included changes in anxiety symptoms as well as adherence to the supplement regimen, appearance of adverse effects, and intention to use magnesium supplements in the future. Between June 2015 and May 2016, 112 participants provided analyzable data.”
The study results were as follows:
“Consumption of magnesium chloride for 6 weeks resulted in a clinically significant net improvement in PHQ-9 scores of -6.0 points (CI -7.9, -4.2; P<0.001) and net improvement in Generalized Anxiety Disorders-7 scores of -4.5 points (CI -6.6, -2.4; P<0.001). Average adherence was 83% by pill count. The supplements were well tolerated and 61% of participants reported they would use magnesium in the future. Similar effects were observed regardless of age, gender, baseline severity of depression, baseline magnesium level, or use of antidepressant treatments. Effects were observed within two weeks. Magnesium is effective for mild-to-moderate depression in adults. It works quickly and is well tolerated without the need for close monitoring for toxicity.”
For perspective, conventional antidepressant drugs are considering to generate an “adequate or complete treatment response” with a PHQ-9 score “decrease of 5 points or more from baseline.” At this level of efficacy, their recommended action is: “Do not change treatment; conduct periodic follow-up.” The magnesium’s score of -6.0, therefore, represents the height of success within conventional expectations for a complete response, which is sometimes termed “remission.” In contradistinction, conventional antidepressant drugs result in nearly half of patients discontinuing treatment during the first month, usually due to their powerful and sometimes debilitating side effects.
To summarize the main study outcomes:
There was a clinically significant improvement in both Depression and Anxiety scores.
61% of patients reported they would use magnesium in the future.
Similar effects occurred across age, gender, severity of depression, baseline magnesium levels, or use of antidepressant treatments.
Effects were observed within two weeks.
The study authors concluded:
“Magnesium is effective for mild-to-moderate depression in adults. It works quickly and is well tolerated without the need for close monitoring for toxicity.”
Beyond Depression: Magnesium’s Many Health Benefits & Where To Source It
Magnesium is a central player in your body’s energy production, as it’s found within 300 enzymes in the human body, including within the biologically active form of ATP known as MG-ATP. In fact, there have been over 3,751 magnesium binding sites identified within human proteins, indicating that it’s central nutritional importance has been greatly underappreciated.
Research relevant to magnesium has been accumulating for the past 40 years at a steady rate of approximately 2,000 new studies a year. Our database project has indexed well over 100 health benefits of magnesium thus far. For the sake of brevity, we will address seven key therapeutic applications for magnesium as follows:
Fibromyalgia: Not only is magnesium deficiency common in those diagnosed with fibromyalgia but relatively low doses of magnesium (50 mg), combined with malic acid in the form of magnesium malate, has been clinically demonstrated to improve pain and tenderness in those to which it was administered.
Atrial Fibrillation: A number of studies now exist showing that magnesium supplementation reduce atrial fibrillation, either by itself or in combination with conventional drug agents.
Diabetes, Type 2: Magnesium deficiency is common in type 2 diabetics, at an incidence of 13.5 to 47.7% according to a 2007 study. Research has also shown that type 2 diabetics with peripheral neuropathy and coronary artery disease have lower intracellular magnesium levels. Oral magnesium supplementation has been shown to reduce plasma fasting glucose and raising HDL cholesterol in patients with type 2 diabetes. It has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and metabolic control in type 2 diabetic subjects.
Premenstrual Syndrome: Magnesium deficiency has been observed in women affected by premenstrual syndrome. It is no surprise therefore that it has been found to alleviate premenstrual symptoms of fluid retention, as well as broadly reducing associated symptoms by approximately 34% in women, aged 18-45, given 250 mg tablets for a 3-month observational period. When combined with B6, magnesium supplementation has been found to improve anxiety-related premenstrual symptoms.
Cardiovascular Disease and Mortality: Low serum magnesium concentrations predict cardiovascular and all-cause mortality. There are a wide range of ways that magnesium may confer its protective effects. It may act like a calcium channel blocker, it is hypotensive, it is antispasmodic (which may protect against coronary artery spasm), and anti-thrombotic. Also, the heart muscle cells are exceedingly dense in mitochondria (as high as 100 times more per cell than skeletal muscle), the “powerhouses” of the cell,” which require adequate magnesium to produce ATP via the citric acid cycle.
Migraine Disorders: Blood magnesium levels have been found to be significantly lower in those who suffer from migraine attacks. A recent Journal of Neural Transmission article titled, “Why all migraine patients should be treated with magnesium,” pointed out that routine blood tests do not accurately convey the true body magnesium stores since less than 2% is in the measurable, extracellular space, “67% is in the bone and 31% is located intracellularly.” The authors argued that since “routine blood tests are not indicative of magnesium status, empiric treatment with at least oral magnesium is warranted in all migraine sufferers.” Indeed, oral magnesium supplementation has been found to reduce the number of headache days in children experiencing frequent migrainous headaches, and when combined with l-carnitine, is effective at reducing migraine frequency in adults, as well.
Aging: While natural aging is a healthy process, accelerated aging has been noted to be a feature of magnesium deficiency, especially evident in the context of long space-flight missions where low magnesium levels are associated with cardiovascular aging over 10 times faster than occurs on earth. Magnesium supplementation has been shown to reverse age-related neuroendocrine and sleep EEG changes in humans. One of the possible mechanisms behind magnesium deficiency associated aging is that magnesium is needed to stabilize DNA and promotes DNA replication. It is also involved in the healing up of the ends of the chromosomes after they are divided in mitosis.
It is quite amazing to consider the aforementioned side benefits of magnesium consumption or supplementation within the context of the well-known side effects of pharmaceutical approaches to symptom management of disease. On average, conventional drugs have 75 side effects associated with their use, including lethal ones (albeit sometimes rare). When considering magnesium’s many side benefits.
and extremely low toxicity, clearly this fundamental mineral intervention (and dietary requirement) puts pharmaceutical approaches to depression to shame.
Best Sources of Magnesium In The Diet
The best source of magnesium is from food, and one way to identify magnesium-containing foods are those which are green, i.e. chlorophyll rich. Chlorophyll, which enables plants to capture solar energy and convert it into metabolic energy, has a magnesium atom at its center. Without magnesium, in fact, plants could not utilize the sun’s light energy.
Magnesium, however, in its elemental form is colorless, and many foods that are not green contain it as well. The point is that when found complexed with food cofactors, it is absorbed and utilized more efficiently than in its elemental form, say, extracted from limestone in the form of magnesium oxide.
The following foods contain exceptionally high amounts of magnesium. The portions described are 100 grams or a little over three ounces.
- Rice bran, crude (781 mg)
- Seaweed, agar, dried (770 mg)
- Chives, freeze-dried (640 mg)
- Spice, coriander leaf, dried (694 mg)
- Seeds, pumpkin, dried (535 mg)
- Cocoa, dry powder, unsweetened (499 mg)
- Spices, basil, dried (422 mg)
- Seeds, flaxseed (392 mg)
- Spices, cumin seed (366 mg)
- Nuts, brazil nuts, dried (376 mg)
- Parsley, freeze-dried (372 mg)
- Seeds, sesame meal (346 mg)
- Nut, almond butter (303 mg)
- Nuts, cashew nuts, roasted (273 mg)
- Soy flour, defatted (290 mg)
- Whey, sweet, dried (176 mg)
- Bananas, dehydrated (108 mg)
- Millet, puffed (106 mg)
- Shallots, freeze-dried (104 mg)
- Leeks, freeze-dried (156 mg)
- Fish, salmon, raw (95 mg)
- Onions, dehydrated flakes (92 mg)
- Kale, scotch, raw (88 mg)
Fortunately, for those who need higher doses, or are not inclined to consume magnesium-rich foods, there are supplemental forms commonly available on the market. Keep in mind, for those who wish to take advantage of the side benefit of magnesium therapy, namely, its stool softening and laxative properties, magnesium citrate or oxide will provide this additional feature.
For those looking to maximize absorption and bioavailability magnesium glycinate is ideal, as glycine is the smallest amino acid commonly found chelated to magnesium, and therefore highly absorbable.
For more information on natural solutions to resolving depression, download our free e-book on the topic “21st Century Solutions to Depression.”
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About The Author:
Sayer Ji is an author, educator, Steering Committee Member of the Global GMO-Free Coalition (GGFC), advisory board member of the National Health Federation, and the founder of GreenMedInfo.com – an open access, evidence-based resource supporting natural and integrative modalities. His writings have been published and referenced widely in print and online, including Truthout, Mercola.com, The Journal of Gluten Sensitivity, New York Times and The Well Being Journal.
In 1995 Sayer received a BA degree in Philosophy from Rutgers University, where he studied under the American philosopher Dr. Bruce W. Wilshire, with a focus on the philosophy of science. In 1996, following residency at the Zen Mountain Monastery in upstate New York, he embarked on a 5-year journey of service as a counselor-teacher and wilderness therapy specialist for various organizations that serve underprivileged and/or adjudicated populations. Since 2003, Sayer has served as a patient advocate and an educator and consultant for the natural health and wellness field.