Depression and magnesium deficiency

Depression and magnesium deficiencyMore and more people are affected by depression, and many do not benefit from medical therapy, which may even cause serious side effects. It is already known that magnesium supplementation can relieve symptoms of depression, but science does not fully understand the exact mechanisms, and it is uncertain magnesium levels in the blood can be used to predict the outcome of therapy. A team of scientists from University of Vermont, USA, wanted to study this closer and they managed to find a relation. It is important to remember not to consume too much calcium in relation to magnesium, as this may stress the cells and set the stage for depression and variety of diseases. The question is how much of these two essential nutrients do we need?

It is only natural for our mood and energy levels to vary. Depression, however, is a serious ailment that manifests itself as persistent sadness, lack of interest and desire, and increased tiredness that is often linked to impaired sleep quality. Depression has nothing to do with being lazy or not being able to pull yourself together. Things and experiences that used to make a person happy suddenly seem unimportant, and the person fails to feel any pleasure from being with other people, working, or taking part in free-time activities. Even the pleasant memories glide in the background and no longer seem to matter. Some people with depression may feel a sense of guilt and self-reproach, and it vital to take any signs of suicidal behavior seriously.
The majority of people manage to recover from their depression, but once you have tried suffering from depression, you are more likely to experience depressions in the future. A depression is quite a burden for the patient, the patient’s family, and society, and it is often difficult to treat. It is therefore important to look at ways to prevent it and ways to improve current therapies.

  • Depression is a public disease
  • One in five Danes will get a depression sooner or later
  • Women are twice as likely as men to feel depressed
  • Depression among children and teenagers has become more common
  • 10-15 percent of people with severe depression commit suicide if they are left untreated
  • There are often many things that cause depression
  • Depression develops through imbalances in the collaboration between different parts of the brain
  • The most common therapies are talk therapy, anti-depressive medicine and electroshock therapy in severe cases
  • The nutritional status of patients with depression is often overlooked

Lack of specific nutrients should always be dealt with

A depression should be treated as soon as it is diagnosed. However, it may take weeks before the effect of talk therapy and anti-depressive medication kicks in. In many cases, there is no effect, and many people do not wish to take anti-depressive drugs because of the many side effects.
Looking at the patient’s nutritional status, including levels of various biomarkers, may help in the tailoring of useful therapies. Needless to say, if the brain and nervous systems lack specific nutrients that it needs to get back in balance, you won’t get very far with any kind of therapy.

Magnesium affects your health and nervous system in a variety of ways

Magnesium is a co-factor in over 300 different enzymes, and the lion’s share of or magnesium is stored inside our cells. A sufficient magnesium intake is vital for cellular energy turnover, for calcium signaling in nerve cells, and for regulation of blood pressure and blood glucose levels. Magnesium is also important for the calcium uptake in bones and for activation of vitamin D. Lack of magnesium is associated with many chronic problems like cardiovascular disease, neurological disorders, diabetes, cramps, and chronic pain. According to the most recent review articles, magnesium has a positive effect on depression, but science does not know enough about the relation between magnesium levels in the blood and the severity of depression. That is what the University of Vermont scientists wanted to take a closer look at in their study

Study methods and results

The study was conducted on 3,604 adult participants that had been diagnosed with mild to moderate depression in the period 2015-2018. Their degree of depression was measured by means of special questionnaires (PHQ-2 and PHQ-9). Serum magnesium levels were measured in all participants, and the scientists also looked at age, race, diabetes, and the presence of kidney ailments.
The researchers found a clear link between lack of magnesium in serum and the degree of depression. According to the scientists, lack of magnesium may also prevent the anti-depressive medicine from working properly. They therefore conclude that lack of magnesium increases the risk of depression, and that increased magnesium intake from dietary sources of supplements is an inexpensive way to prevent depression and improve therapies.

How does magnesium affect depression?

Science does not know how the exact link between magnesium deficiency and depression, which is because magnesium supports several hundred different enzymes, hormones, and neurotransmitters that are all involved in energy levels, mood, and sleep pattern. The scientists from University of Vermont specifically explain that a magnesium supplements affect the following functions.

  1. Increases the production of BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor), which is a growth factor for the brain’s hippocampus. Levels of BDNF are low in people with depression
  2. Works as a calcium antagonist in neurons, muscle cells, and other tissues
  3. Blocks the NMDA (N-Methyl-D-aspartate) channel that leads calcium into the neurons. Too much calcium and glutamate in the neurons stresses them and disrupts their functions in the synapses
  4. Inhibits mild brain inflammation, which is involved in many types of depression

Furthermore, magnesium activates vitamin D, which also has a number of functions in the nervous system, supports insulin sensitivity, and helps control inflammation. If you take a magnesium supplement before bedtime it may have a relaxing effect on your muscles and make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep, a problem which many depressed people have.

More about magnesium’s vital interaction with calcium

Interactions between calcium and magnesium are fundamental for all living cells. Our bones and teeth store around 99 percent of the body’s calcium, while cells in our soft tissues such as nerve tissue and muscle tissue should ideally be virtually devoid of calcium. Magnesium works as a “door bolt” in the calcium channels of cell membranes, which is how it is possible to prevent too much calcium from entering these cells. If we lack magnesium, the calcium channels are left open with the risk of calcium flooding of the cells. This stresses the cells and may cause cramps and inflammatory conditions that are often seen with depression and lifestyle diseases.

Magnesium is vital for the proper distribution of calcium throughout the body

Magnesium also prevents the loss of calcium if you are calcium-deficient. This means that the body needs less calcium, when levels of magnesium are optimal.

The relation between magnesium and calcium

The scientists still disagree on the optimal relation between magnesium and calcium. In Denmark for instance, the reference intake (RI) level for magnesium is 375 mg and it is 800 mg for calcium, which is close to being a 1:2 ratio. In a country like Japan, the ratio is closer to being 1:1, which is because the Japanese don’t consume dairy products and therefore only get around 400-500 mg of calcium daily. On the other hand, they get more magnesium from vegetables and they have a lower rate of osteoporosis.

  • In our part of the world, many people get far too much calcium (in relation to magnesium) from dairy products and supplements
  • This may have grave health consequences and increase the risk of depression

Magnesium deficiencies are a widespread

Some of the best magnesium sources are kernels, almonds, nuts, whole-grain, cabbage, and other compact vegetables. An estimated 50-80 percent of the American population lacks magnesium, and we most likely have a similar problem in Denmark. Magnesium deficiency is typically caused by poor eating habits and too many refined foods. Overconsumption of alcohol and other stimulants, diuretics and stress may also drain the body’s levels of magnesium, and insulin resistance with poor glucose uptake in cells may deplete magnesium levels. Many of the factors listed above can even have a reinforcing effect on each other.

If you suffer from depression you should make sure to get plenty of B vitamins, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids.


Emily K. Tarleton. The association between Serum magnesium Levels and Depression in an Adult Primary Care Population. Nutrients 2019

Andrea Rosanoff et al. Essential Nutrient Interactions: Does Low or Suboptimal Magnesium Interact with Vitamin D and/or Calcium status. Advances in Nutrition 2016

Mark J Bolland et al. Vascular events in healthy older women receiving calcium supplementation: randomised controlled trial. BMJ 2008

Cao Y et al. Magnesium Intake and Sleep Disorder Symptoms: Findings from the Jiangsu Nutrition Study of Chinese Adults at Five-Year Follow-Up. Nutrients 2018

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