There is a reason why magnesium is called nature’s original chill pill. The mineral has a calming effect on your nervous system, which helps you sleep better, reduce your stress levels, makes you less anxious and even improves your mood. Studies show that magnesium can be immensely helpful in treating depression, including cases that are resistant to conventional treatment.
While you may have heard about and even experienced magnesium’s benefits in painful muscle cramps, its role in stress, anxiety and depression is not widely known. So, what is it about the mineral that reduces stress levels and lessens feelings of anxiety? Can it really help with improving your symptoms of depression? Let’s find out.
Magnesium deficiency and its effects on the nervous system
Even a mild magnesium deficiency is believed to disturb the workings of your nervous system. Magnesium plays an important role in healthy transmission of nerve impulses and even protects nerves from excessive excitation. Due to these functions, there have been significant interest around using magnesium in the prevention and management of various neurological disorders such as migraine, anxiety and chronic pain. 
Magnesium deficiency has been associated with increased stress perception, migraine, anxiety, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and depression.
Magnesium benefits in stress
The relationship between magnesium and stress is a two-way street. On one hand, magnesium influences and regulates your stress hormones, and this helps you respond to stress more effectively.
On the other hand, your magnesium levels become depleted when you are chronically stressed. In fact, you tend to lose more magnesium in urine during stress. This creates a spiteful cycle where low magnesium levels affect your ability to deal with stress (by unregulated release of stress hormones) and make you feel more stressed out. This, in turn, makes your magnesium levels dip down further (as the stress hormones lower magnesium concentration through urinary elimination).
How magnesium helps in stress? When you face a stressful situation, a part of your brain called hypothalamusactivates the sympathetic nervous system and HPA axis (hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands) to release stress hormones.
- The hypothalamus activates adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline
- The hypothalamus also signals the pituitary glands to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)
- ACTH goes to the adrenal glands and triggers the release of cortisol.
While this in-built stress response originally evolved as a mechanism to react to life-threatening situations, your stress hormones are also released in response to everyday situations that are not life-threating. These daily stressors could be anything ranging from traffic jams, a deadline at work orperhaps persistently worrying about your finances, relationships or a chronically sick family member.
Exposure to environmental toxins also stresses out your body.
With everyday stress, your brain continues to sense danger and it keeps your Hypothalamic Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) system in an activated mode. You have no means to disperse this energy and hormonal release like our ancestors did who would fight or flee the threat that could kill them. The kind of stress you feel is more emotional and mental distress and less (directly) life threatening.
However, the health risks are very real. Persistent stress and incessant secretion of stress hormones lead toinflammation, hormonal imbalances, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, poor digestive health, inability to sleep well, anxiety, panic attacks, weak immunity, weight gain and obesity, increased blood sugar levels and increased risk of heart disease.
So, how does magnesium fit in this equation? Magnesium:
- supresses hypothalamusactivity to release stress hormones
- regulates ACTH release by the pituitary gland. ACTH is responsible for communicating with the adrenal glands to release cortisol and other stress hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenaline.
- makes the adrenal glands less sensitive to the stimulating effects of ACTH.
- reduces the access of stress hormone to the brain
A 2018 study found that supplementing with magnesiumand vitamin B6reduced stress in healthy adults with low magnesium levels.  It reported that:
- Both a magnesium-B6 combination and magnesium alone reduced stress.
- Mg-B6 combination was better in reducing stress in people with extremely high levels of stress and low magnesium levels.
The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for triggering the flight or flee response and prepares the body to respond to a perceived threat. The parasympathetic nervous system calms and relaxes the body once the threat is over. The study also found that magnesium is helpful in preventing “restlessness, irritability, lack of concentration, sleep disorder or depression.” 
Magnesium helps your mind relax
Magnesium also regulates the activity of calcium and glutamate, that have excitatory effects on the nervous system. Let’s see how magnesium helps you relax.
Magnesium and calcium
You need calcium for building strong bones, muscle contraction, nerve impulse transmission and release of neurotransmitters among other things. And magnesium, in perfect partnership, regulates the movement of calcium in and out of the cells. It allows calcium and potassium ions to enter the cells when needed and exit when their job is done.
When your body does not have enough magnesium, calcium has the freedom to enter the cells without any restriction. Unregulated entry of calcium into the cells means ongoing contraction in the muscles and constant firing of nerve cells, leading to muscle spasms causing painful leg cramps, migraine, asthma and abdominal cramps during menstrual cycles.
It can also cause abnormal contraction of the heart muscle, leading to arrhythmia and angina. In fact, excessive calcium in the cells and tissues can create all sorts of health problems such as kidney stones, atherosclerosis and constipation. And given that you are not relaxed when your nerves are constantly firing, this makes you anxious and hyper. All these issues do not happen when you have healthy levels of magnesium in the body.
Magnesium and glutamate
Glutamate is one of the most important neurotransmitters,the chemical messengers that sends signals between the nerve cells in the brain. It plays an important role in learning and memory by binding to and activating N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor on the nerve cells.
Activation of NMDA receptors is an important event to ensure a well-functioning nervous system and healthy cognitive functions. Glutamate is a powerful excitatory hormone and excess of it can cause abnormal activation of NMDA receptors. This affects the function of your nerves, which become unusually or excessively excitable – leading to stiff muscles, twitches, migraines, anxiety, panic attack, mood issues and neuropathic pain such as in fibromyalgia.
What magnesium does is that it attaches to NMDA receptors but doesn’t excite or activate them. It acts as a temporary substitute for glutamate and blocks the receptors, keeping the level ofnerve ‘excitability’ caused by glutamate in a helpful, well-meaning range.
Magnesium benefits in depression and sleep
Magnesium also helps in the production of important neurotransmitters such as serotonin, gamma amino butyric acid (GABA), and brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF).
Serotonin regulates mood, sleep and stress response and GABA works as a brake and slows down the activity of nerves, calming down the nervous system. While glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter, GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. Low levels of serotonin and GABA are associated with depression, anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks and irritability. GABA also offsets the excitatory action of glutamate, thus helping you relax.
Magnesium also works with BDNF to block the activity of a certain class of enzymes such as GSK-3. Dysregulated activation of GSK-3, such as in stress and neuroinflammation, is related to depression, mood swings, impaired memory and learning, bipolar disorder andschizophrenia. Antidepressants also target this family of enzymes to improve symptoms in people suffering from depression and sleeping issues.
There are credible scientific studies that show how magnesium is nearly as effective as conventional antidepressants in treating depression, and certainly with no damaging side effects.
Low magnesium levels may increase depression and stress perception in people. And emerging clinical research show magnesium supplements can be a safe, useful and low-cost strategy to treat depression. One open-label randomized cross-over trial found that magnesium supplements improved symptoms of depression and anxiety. 
Another study showed that magnesium is useful for nearly all depressive disorders and may also benefit people who have developed resistance to conventional therapy in treating depression, without any adverse side effects  Severely low magnesium levels cause NMDA-calcium channels to open, which induces hyperexcitability and injury in nerve cells and neurological dysfunction. This manifest in to symptoms of major depression.
In fact, magnesium has been found as effective as imipramine, a common tricyclic anti-depressant drug, in treating depression in people with diabetes and without any side effects which caused by that drug.
Magnesium benefits in Insomnia
Many clinical trials have found that magnesium can improve symptoms of insomnia. 
And a recent study found that dietary magnesium intake may help in sleep disorder symptoms and may reduce the likelihood of women to fall asleep in the daytime. 
Magnesium benefits in pain
Low magnesium levels cause your muscles to contract and tighten up. This can lead to painful muscle cramps. In addition, magnesium deficiency as well as emotional and physical stress results in tensed muscles in the shoulders, neck and scalp – leading to migraines and tension headaches.
Magnesium can help reduce pains through several mechanisms:
- Doesn’t allow excessive calcium build-up in muscle cells, thereby preventing sustained contractions that cause pain and spasms.
- Reduces inflammation and associated symptoms such as pain and swelling
- Dilates the blood vessels, which improves blood flow (oxygen and nutrients) to the muscle cells.
- Blocks pain receptors
- Increases the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, GABA and melatonin. These hormones help relieve anxiety, promote healthy sleep and improve mood. Painful muscle spasms often interfere with healthy sleep, leading to more pain and depressive symptoms.
Magnesium works as a co-factor in more than 600 biochemical reactions and plays an integral role in various processes such as:
- Regulating ions transport thus regulating calcium levels within cells
- Regulating metabolism
- Energy production
- Synthesis of proteins, DNA and RNA
- Regulating levels and action of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, gamma amino butyric acid (GABA), brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF).
- Synthesis of glutathione
- Activation and absorption of vitamin D
1. Supports heart health
- Lowers inflammation
- Reduces calcium build-up in the arteries, lowering the risk of atherosclerosis
- Dilates blood vessels and reduces blood pressure in people with magnesium deficiency
- Reduces stress
- Prevents platelets stickiness
- Regulates calcium levels in the blood
- Converts vitamin D into its active form and activates enzymes required to metabolize vitamin D 
- Reduces risk of fractures, especially in the elderly 
- Relaxes bronchial smooth muscles
- Inhibits the activity of mast cells. These cells release chemicals that cause allergies and inflammation.
- Helpful in treating asthma symptoms in children, especially those who have developed resistance to standard asthma treatment
- Reduces the use of inhaled corticosteroids and reduces the frequency of asthma flare ups  
- Improves insulin resistance in both diabetics and non-diabetics 
- Reduces the risk of developing metabolic disorders 
- Reduces the risk of diabetes progression in people with pre-diabetes 
Other health benefits
Magnesium has also been found helpful in
- Chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia
- PMS symptoms
It is clear you can’t afford to have poor magnesium levels if you are looking to enjoy all-rounded health.
Eat magnesium rich foods
Food such as nuts, seeds, grains and legumes are an exceptionally rich source of magnesium. It is also found in avocado, banana, strawberries, unprocessed dark chocolate, eggs, seafood and vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, cabbage and Brussel sprouts.
Since many factors, including chronic stress, unhealthy diet, ageing, type 2 diabetes and gastrointestinal conditions cause magnesium deficiency in the body, you may need an additional source of magnesium to maintain healthy levels. In addition, today’s farming practices have depleted magnesium and other nutrients from the soil. As a result, the magnesium content in the food we consume has significantly decreased.
Try Liposomal magnesium supplements which will provide you a far better absorption rate than regular magnesium supplements. Magnesium oils spray is another alternative to give your body a quick boost in magnesium.
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