Magnesium can prevent and attenuate depression
Depression is one of the largest health burdens worldwide. Although depression can be caused by a number of different things, a new Taiwanese study published in Nutrients suggests that having high blood levels of magnesium is linked to fewer signs of depression. The scientists describe how magnesium supports different enzymatic processes that are involved in the nervous system, the hormone system, and in brain receptors with a key role in depression. Unfortunately, there are things that deplete our magnesium levels such as stress, poor diets, and the use of different types of medicine. To make matters worse, having less magnesium impairs our ability to utilize vitamin D that is important for our mood.
Studies of the body’s magnesium in relation to depression have come out with different results and science has yet to investigate if chronic magnesium deficiency is linked to depression. In the new study, researchers from Taiwan wanted to look at how dietary magnesium and levels of magnesium in serum affect symptoms of depression. They used data from a large national population study known as the Nutrition and Health Survey in Taiwan (NAHSIT). The scientists also used the 5-item Brief Symptom Rating Scale to assess symptoms of depression among the participants.
They only found a vague relation between dietary magnesium and serum levels of magnesium. Nonetheless, the researchers observed that having higher serum levels of magnesium was linked to a lower score on the depression scale and a lower risk of developing depression. Based on their observations, they concluded that there is an inverse relation between serum magnesium levels and depressive symptoms. The fact that the dietary magnesium content plays a minor role suggests that our need for magnesium may be individual with regard to optimizing serum levels of the nutrient. It is also worth mentioning that nearly all magnesium in the human body is found inside the cells.
How magnesium affects our nervous system and mood
Magnesium is one of the most abundant minerals in humans and is involved in at least 300 different enzymatic processes that regulate things like blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and stress. They are also involved in regulating neurotransmitters in the central nervous system.
A magnesium deficiency may result in a dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. This can trigger the release of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) from the hypothalamus. CRH causes the pituitary gland to secrete ACTH (corticotropin), which stimulates the production of cortisol from the adrenal cortex.
It is commonly known that stress and dysregulation of specific neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine play a vital role in the development of depression. The scientists behind the new study mention that neural receptors for N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) play a key role in depression. NMDA receptors are activated by glutamate that is the primary neurotransmitter in the brain. The NMDA receptors also cause calcium ions to stream into and the neurons and activate them.
Elevated neuronal activity, however, can cause neurological disturbances and damage. It also appears that magnesium can block the NMDA receptors and the uptake of calcium ions in the neurons, which has a calming and normalizing effect
The new study is published in Nutrients and supports an earlier randomized clinical study published in PLoS One. In this study, it was seen that supplementation with magnesium (248 mg daily) for six weeks attenuated mild to moderate depression in adults. The treatment also had a positive impact on mood in a matter of two weeks.
Moreover, magnesium is needed to activate the form of vitamin D that we synthesize in our skin when we are exposed to UV-light, or which we get from supplements. This function is extremely important because nearly all cells, including neurons and the cells in the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland have vitamin D receptors that regulate a number of different gene activities. Vitamin D also regulates inflammatory processes in the brain that may contribute to the development of depression.
Magnesium sources and widespread deficiency problems
We get magnesium by eating a coarse and green diet with wholegrains, vegetables, kernels, and nuts. The typical Western diet is far too refined and does not contain all that much magnesium. Moreover, factors such as stress, too much coffee, alcohol abuse, birth control pills, diuretics, antacids, and other types of medicine can impair the body’s magnesium uptake or deplete its magnesium stores.
Insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes can also leach the body’s magnesium levels. Many of the above-mentioned factors can even reinforce one another. Our need for magnesium may easily be much higher than the official recommendations. According to the new study, one should strive to have optimal serum magnesium levels to ensure that the different magnesium-containing enzymes are able to carry out their functions in the central nervous system and other places in the body.
If you cannot get enough magnesium from your diet or have an increased need for the nutrient, you may want to consider taking a high-quality magnesium supplement that has good absorption.
Ming Hui Chou et al. The Association of Serum and Dietary Magnesium with Depressive Symptoms. Nutrients Feb. 2 2023
Emily K Tarleton et al. Role of magnesium supplementation in the treatment of depression: A randomized clinical trial. PLoS One 2017
Tuomas Mikola, et al. The effect of vitamin D supplementation on depressive symptoms in adults: A systematic review and meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trials. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 2022.
Anne Marie Uwitonze, Mohammed S Razzaque. Role of Magnesium in Vitamin D Activation and Function. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. 2018
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