Is a Mineral Deficiency Making You Sad? – T Nation Content – COMMUNITY

Magnesium vs. Depression

If you’re low in this mineral, it could bring on the symptoms of depression. Let’s prevent that.

More and more evidence is pointing to the relationship between depression and low magnesium. Could a magnesium deficiency cause mild depression, or least be exacerbated by low levels of this mineral?

Maybe, but first let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, a woman walked into a doctor’s office. The woman told the doctor that she felt irritable and confused. She suffered from mood swings and anxiety. She couldn’t remember things clearly, couldn’t concentrate. Her legs moved uncontrollably at night and she felt tempted to eat the soil out of her houseplants.

The doctor told her not to worry. The year before, an esteemed neurologist had won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for developing a simple procedure that would cure all her ills. The woman, foggy-headed and desperate, agreed to the procedure.

Unfortunately, this was 1950, and the simple procedure was called a lobotomy.

Most unfortunately, all her “crazy” emotions and behaviors are common symptoms of something else: iron deficiency. She didn’t need to have her prefrontal cortex turned into hamburger; she just needed to eat some hamburgers.

Are some modern doctors making this same mistake with magnesium deficiencies and prescribing harsh drugs for depression?

But First, Nutrition

A study of doctor-patient interactions found that the white coats give patients only about 11 seconds to explain their ailments before interrupting them. Sadly, many doctors are probably thinking of which prescription drugs to prescribe based on what they’ve heard in those 11 seconds.

What don’t they do? They don’t stop and think, “Hmm, what nutritional deficiency can cause those same symptoms? Let’s test for that before we go the drug route.”

We talked here about how low levels of omega-3s seem to be associated with an increased risk of anxiety disorders. Now let’s talk about magnesium and depression.

The Study

One-hundred and twenty-six people with mild-to-moderate depression were each given a bottle of pills. They were told to take one tablet per day as a depression treatment.

Two weeks later, half of those people reported feeling a little better. Four weeks later, those same people reported feeling way better. Their depression symptoms had lessened. The other half of the group? No improvements at all.

The half that felt better took magnesium (on Amazon). The other half, the control group, took a placebo.

Why Would Magnesium Help?

Well, despite the solid study above, we can’t say for sure that it does. Researchers will only say that magnesium deficiency and depression are associated.

A study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry found that magnesium levels were significantly lower in people with depression compared to people without depression. That’s just observational, not causal, but it’s enough to raise an eyebrow or two.

However, we also know that magnesium plays a big role in neurotransmitter regulation, including serotonin, which regulates mood. Low levels of magnesium disrupt neurotransmitter function and might contribute to symptoms of depression.

Also, magnesium deficiency leads to increased inflammation and oxidative stress – both linked to the development of depression. And finally, magnesium is involved in regulating cortisol, which is usually elevated in depressed individuals.

Based on all of that, it sounds like we need to at least cover our bases and get enough magnesium.

But, Do I Have a Magnesium Deficiency?

Full-blown magnesium deficiencies are usually found in older folks, alcoholics, and those with certain medical conditions. But the usual cause is just a crappy diet. Common signs of extreme magnesium deficiency include fatigue, low energy, muscle cramps and twitching, irregular heartbeat, headaches, tingling and numbness in the hands and feet, and sleep problems.

However, mild-to-moderate deficiencies are increasingly common. The average American lives on boxed foods and fast foods, not Swiss chard and pumpkin seeds. And even healthy eaters can develop deficiencies. Low-carbers might avoid magnesium-rich whole grains. Plus, modern agriculture can strip out the magnesium in food. You don’t get nutrient-rich food from nutrient-stripped soil. Your great-grandpa’s spinach contained more magnesium than yours.

Stress also causes our bodies to “waste” magnesium. When you’re stressed out, your body excretes higher amounts of magnesium through urine. Chronic stress and cortisol also affect the absorption of magnesium in the gastrointestinal tract.

So can you get a test for this? Yes, you can do a fasted blood test to access magnesium levels, but serum magnesium levels may not always accurately reflect total body magnesium status. The “red blood cell (RBC) magnesium test” is more accurate. But given all the things working against your body’s magnesium status, supplementation is the best fix and preventative.

The Best Way to Supplement Magnesium

Experts would never say that magnesium “cures” severe depression. It’s too complex of a condition. But more and more of those experts are taking a holistic approach to mild-to-moderate depression and occasional depressive episodes. They’re thinking, “But first, nutrition,” as they should.

At the very least, keeping your magnesium levels up might act as a prophylactic to mild or episodic depressive symptoms. Being sad because of a personal tragedy is normal; being sad because of a nutritional deficiency is unnecessary and preventable.

Men need about 400 milligrams of magnesium per day, and women around 315. But there’s one catch: common magnesium supplements aren’t easily absorbed and utilized by the body. To work properly, the mineral needs to be bound to an organic molecule called a chelating agent to increase absorption and bioavailability. Biotest’s Elitepro Vital Minerals (on Amazon) includes 400 mg of chelated magnesium along with four other hard-to-get minerals.

We need to take care of our mental health, and part of that involves taking care of the physical body by feeding and supplementing it with the nutrients it runs on. It sure beats taking a possibly unnecessary prescription drug… or getting a lobotomy.

ElitePro Minerals at Amazon



  1. Tarleton EK et al. Role of magnesium supplementation in the treatment of depression: A randomized clinical trial. PLoS One. 2017 Jun 27;12(6):e0180067. PubMed.

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