An estimated 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression, a disease with huge economic and human costs. Not everyone benefits from the traditional medical treatment, which can even cause various side effects, so there is every reason in the world to aim for more prevention and better therapies. A new study that is published in PLoS One shows that magnesium supplements are effective as an adjuvant in mild or moderate depression. The researchers have also discovered which biochemical effect magnesium has on mood.
Magnesium supports over 300 biochemical processes in the body that are vital for our energy turnover, nervous system, muscle function, blood sugar levels, fluid balance, and bones. In the new study as well as in earlier published research, magnesium also plays a role in inhibiting brain inflammation, which is linked to depression. However, there are only few studies that show what effect magnesium has on patients suffering from depression.
Emily Tarleton and her colleagues at the University of Vermont, USA, contacted 1,340 adults with mild to moderate depression. 126 of them volunteered for the study, which was carried out while they continued taking their regular medicine. The average age was 52 years, and the study included slightly more women than men. For the first six weeks, half of the subjects received 248 mg per day of supplementary magnesium chloride, followed by another six “control weeks” without any supplements. Conversely, the remaining half did not get any magnesium supplements during the first six weeks of the study period but got 248 mg of magnesium chloride during the last six weeks. The participants knew if and when they were taking magnesium supplements (open-label study)
During the twelve-week study period, Tarleton and her colleagues assessed the participants’ symptoms using a standard scale (PHQ-9) that employs a number of questions to classify mild, moderate, and severe depression.
It turned out that those participants who took magnesium for six weeks scored on average six points lower on the scale, a result that is considered clinically important. The researchers also observed a rather rapid and positive effect after two weeks only, and the magnesium supplements were generally well-tolerated by the volunteers, regardless of age, sex, use of anti-depressive medication and other factors. Upon completing the study, 61% of the participants said that they would continue taking magnesium.
According to Tarleton, it is the first randomized, clinical study of magnesium supplements on mild and moderate depression. The results are promising, and the researchers’ next step is to conduct an even larger population study.
Meanwhile, critics of the study argue that it could have been a placebo effect, as the participants knew what they were taking and when. On the other hand, earlier studies show that magnesium has the potential to lower inflammation in the brain. Therefore, the relevant thing to do for Tarleton and her colleagues is to conduct a placebo-controlled study.
Under all circumstances, patients with mild to moderate depression can easily consider taking magnesium supplements, as other studies point to the positive effect of this nutrient on the brain’s biochemistry and mood in general.
Depressive patients have elevated levels of inflammation biomarkers
It turns out that depressive patients have elevated levels of inflammatory biomarkers. Inflammatory messengers like CRP (C-reactive protein) and interleukins can influence the neurochemical signals involved in depression. Altogether, the pro-inflammatory messengers convey undesirable information to the nervous system.
Inflammation inhibits serotonin, which is important for our mood
Inflammation is associated with the activation of some specific brain cells (microglias) that represent the immune system throughout the entire central nervous system. When this happens, enzymes inhibit the production of serotonin, a substance that is vital for feeling in a good mood, and also melatonin that is important for a good night’s sleep. Instead, the body produces quinolinic acid, which is involved in a number of psychological disorders and may trigger irritability and nervousness.
Anti-depressive medicine does not correct inflammation
As seen, inflammation can lower serotonin levels. Many anti-depressive drugs (SSRI – stands for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) work by regulating serotonin levels in the brain. However, these drugs do not address the inflammation that may be the underlying cause. This could explain why many depressive patients do not benefit from their anti-depressive drug therapy.
Magnesium supplements counteract inflammation
Researchers from Mexico, Iran, and Australia collected data from a number of different studies that looked at levels of CRP – or C-Reactive Protein – which is a marker of inflammation in the body. According to the scientists, magnesium supplements significantly reduce levels of this protein. The study, which is published in Current Pharmaceutical Design, therefore shows that magnesium has anti-inflammatory properties. This fits in nicely with earlier research demonstrating that too little magnesium, especially combined with too much calcium, increases the risk of inflammation.
Magnesium deficiencies are common
Good sources of magnesium are kernels, almonds, nuts, whole-grain, cabbage, and other compact vegetables. An estimated 70-80% of the American population lacks magnesium. Magnesium deficiencies, which are also widespread in countries like Denmark, are often a result of eating an unhealthy diet with too many refined foods. A large consumption of sugar, alcohol, and other stimulants, diuretics, and stress may also deplete the body’s levels of this essential nutrient. Insulin resistance, where the cellular uptake of glucose is impaired, may also lower levels of magnesium, and it is often a combination of the listed factors that accentuates the problem.
Important: Alarming increase in depressions and ineffective therapies
With health care cuts looming, low-cost magnesium a welcome option for treating depression – ScienceDaily
Role of magnesium supplementation in the treatment of depression: A randomized clinical trial
Magnesium found to treat DEPRESSION better than antidepressant drugs: New science – NaturalNews.com
Study finds magnesium may ease depression symptoms
Can magnesium help depression – or is it just a placebo? - Health News - NHS Choices
L-.E. Simental-Mendia et al. Effects of magnesium supplementation on plasma C-reactive protein concentrations: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Current Pharmaceutical Design. 2017
Stephen Daniels. Magnesium supplements show potential anti-inflammatory effects: Meta-analysis. 2017
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