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Magnesium & Mood: Can It Help?

Magnesium is the second most abundant mineral in the body, after potassium.

Among the plethora of functions magnesium has in our optimal well-being, it plays a pivotal part in our mental health and brain function.

It’s involved in more than 600 enzymatic reactions in humans, but unfortunately, most of us are not obtaining sufficient amounts due to our highly processed food diet and mineral-depleted soil.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Part 1: Magnesium and Brain Health

Magnesium promotes optimal brain health in several key ways:

Energy Production

Of all the organs in the human body, the brain is by far the most complex. To protect it, we must live an active, healthy lifestyle fueled by essential vitamins and minerals - such as magnesium.

One of magnesium’s primary duties in our body is fostering healthy levels of natural fuel. It helps us achieve this by fortifying Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), a vital molecule in charge of storing and transferring energy.

To properly fuel our body’s organs, including the brain, magnesium ions bind themselves to ATP in a process that fuels and supports all our vital cognitive processes.

Neuron Activity

Beyond energy production, magnesium is also partially responsible for promoting the healthy activity of neurons inside our brain.

According to peer-reviewed research, magnesium helps regulate proper neurotransmission by supporting the functions of GABA and glutamate - two primary neurotransmitters - and ensuring ideal calcium levels in brain cells.

In addition to this essential regulation, magnesium can also enhance the brain’s ability to learn and store information by boosting synaptic plasticity, which is crucial to keeping your mind sharp as you age.

And, as if these weren’t impressive enough, proper magnesium levels in the brain can also increase the healthy generation of neural stem cells. Many scientists believe this promotes neurogenesis in adults, aiding your brain’s capacity to adapt, maintain stable moods and remain flexible as you age.

Protection from the Effects of Aging

A burgeoning research area in brain studies is the effect of magnesium on shielding the brain from the harmful effects of age.

Some recent studies show a correlation between low magnesium levels in cerebrospinal fluids and hair and higher rates of developing Alzheimer's. At the same time, similar research finds that healthy magnesium levels can help stave off the development of dementia.

Part 2: Magnesium and Mood Disorders

A magnesium-rich lifestyle can also benefit your mood:

Alleviated Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are widespread; over 40 million Americans - ~19% of the population - suffer from some type of anxiety disorder that disrupts their mood and quality of life.

One way magnesium can minimize anxiety is by supporting the functions of GABA - the essential neurotransmitter we discussed earlier - in the brain. When adequately attached to proteins and stimulated fully, GABA induces a sense of calm that can ease feelings of anxiety.

Similarly, magnesium reduces anxiety symptoms by inhibiting the flow of the hormone ACTH. This inhibition further reduces the overflow of cortisol, the infamous stress hormone behind many anxiety attacks, making it easier to handle stressors over a long period. 

Lastly, magnesium curbs anxiety by fighting inflammation, a critical source of anxiety many people fail to consider. Though chronic inflammation can occur all over the body, it is especially threatening to the brain, as it is often linked to anxiety and other serious conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

Lower Risk of Depression

Depression and anxiety often coexist, but magnesium helps symptoms of depression in a unique way.

According to extensive research from the National Institute of Health (NIH), the involvement of magnesium in “several core mechanisms of depressive physiopathology” makes it an excellent candidate to aid a wide range of depressive orders.

Magnesium is primarily helpful in this capacity because it can stunt the effects of glutamate - another neurotransmitter we discussed earlier - on NMDA receptors (N-methyl-D-aspartate). This process is beneficial as it reduces the likelihood of overstimulation or cell damage caused by unrestricted access to NMDA receptors, helping treat current depressive episodes and prevent future occurrences.

To see the benefit of this, one only has to understand the correlation between mood disorders like chronic depression and low, unhealthy levels of magnesium. 

When combined with traditional treatments for depression - like therapy and other medications - magnesium can be a powerful weapon in the fight against current and future instances of this mood disorder

photo by Lisa Jubilee

Part 3: Obtaining Optimal Levels: Diet & Supplements

Now that we better understand the value of magnesium on your mood and general mental health, let’s explore the best ways to incorporate it into your life:

Diet

The ideal way to reach the recommended daily amount (RDA) of magnesium - 310-320 mg for women, 400-420 mg for men - is through healthy dietary sources.

While you may not realize it, magnesium is present in a wide variety of delicious, nutritious foods.

Here at Living Proof, some of our favorites sources of magnesium include:

  • Nuts & Seeds: almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, pumpkin and flax seeds
  • Legumes: black beans, edamame, white beans, kidney beans
  • Whole Grains: buckwheat, quinoa
  • Fish: salmon, mackerel, halibut
  • Greens: spinach
  • Dairy: low sugar yogurt and kefir

As you can extrapolate from this very short list of magnesium-rich foods, there are numerous diverse ways to incorporate the mineral into your daily diet. 

We recommend focusing on the dietary sources of magnesium you enjoy most, as this will make it easier to stay consistent with your consumption.

Supplements

Another way to boost your body’s supply of magnesium is supplementation.

While often less delicious than the food sources of magnesium above, supplements can be a simple way to consume this essential mineral.

The two primary categories of magnesium supplementation are a high potency multivitamin-mineral and magnesium supplements. These options are available in tablet, powder or liquid form, with the later 2 easier for the body to absorb, making them the preferable choices. 

The range of magnesium dietary supplements include:

  • Magnesium Aspartate
  • Magnesium Citrate
  • Magnesium Lactate
  • Magnesium Glycinate
  • Magnesium Carbonate

These supplements can support a healthy lifestyle, but it’s important to note that supplements are not a one-to-one replacement for a diet rich in magnesium or other essential minerals. 

For this reason, it’s critical to find a balance between supplements and a nutritious meal plan - ideally with the help of a healthcare professional.

For any questions about nutrition, self-care or other healthy living protocols, feel free to contact us at any time.

About the Author: Lisa Jubilee

Lisa Jubilee

Lisa Jubilee is a New York State Certified Dietician-Nutritionist, who has been counseling individuals on sustainable weight management and disease prevention for over 20 years. Her mission is to empower individuals to obtain healthy food relationships and to clearly understand the concept of food as medicine. Lisa chose to create a functional nutrition practice where what, why and how we eat are all part of the conversation. There is no One-Size-Fits-All dietary approach, but Ms Jubilee has experienced great success utilizing specific dietary protocols such as intermittent fasting, time restricted eating, low carb/ketogenic dietary regimens and AIP (autoimmune protocol) in her practice.

In 2005, Lisa co-created Living Proof Nutrition Strength Pilates, a private nutrition, HIST (high intensity strength training) and Pilates studio, located in midtown Manhattan. The inspiration behind Living Proof was to create a private fitness and wellness space, where the importance of nutrition and functional movement are emphasized in tandem.

As of March 2020, in order to continue to service her clients and the public at large during the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms Jubilee is offering all of her nutrition counseling and support services remotely. Feel free to contact Lisa with any questions: Lisa@livingproofnyc.com