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Are Magnesium Supplements an Effective Alternative to Antidepressants?


Here’s another to add to the growing list of safe and effective alternatives to traditional drugs: A new study has found that magnesium rivals traditional antidepressants.

These drugs already come with a hefty price tag, but even more costly are the side effects associated with conventional antidepressant drugs.

Magnesium plays an important role in an array of body functions. It regulates blood pressure and heart rhythm, as well as promotes bone strength, boosts immunity and reduces inflammation. The mineral is also needed for nerve function and muscle contraction.

While previous studies have found the mineral capable of alleviating depression, few clinical trials have assessed the usefulness of the supplement, comparatively. Therefore, scientists at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine conducted a randomized cross-over trial to compare the efficacy of magnesium to SSRIs, which are the class of antidepressants most commonly prescribed.

The participants in the new study were 126 adults being treated for mild to moderate depression in outpatient primary care clinics. Their mean age was 52, and 38 percent were male. Some of the individuals received 248 mg of magnesium per day for six weeks, while the control group received no treatment. Evaluations to measure depression symptoms, such as appetite, mood and thought patterns, were conducted on all of the adults biweekly.

Magnesium May Be As Effective As Prozac

Of the 112 participants with enough data to analyze, those who took the magnesium supplements showed a significant improvement in anxiety and depression symptoms at the two-week point. In addition, the benefits were manifested consistently regardless of gender, age or the use of antidepressants. No side effects were noted. Most remarkably, the researchers concluded the supplements might be as effective as SSRI antidepressants like Prozac. The findings were published in the journal PLoS One.

“This is the first randomized clinical trial looking at the effect of magnesium supplementation on symptoms of depression in U.S. adults,” said lead author Emily Tarleton, MS, RD, CD, a graduate student in Clinical and Translational Science and the bionutrition research manager in the University of Vermont’s Clinical Research Center. “The results are very encouraging, given the great need for additional treatment options for depression, and our finding that magnesium supplementation provides a safe, fast and inexpensive approach to controlling depressive symptoms.”

What is next for Tarleton and her colleagues? They intend to test the magnesium on a larger, more diverse group of people.

Although the recent study dealt with magnesium supplements, some health experts say eating magnesium-rich foods regularly might help ward off depression. These include dark, leafy greens like spinach, kale and Swiss chard. Other good sources are bananas, avocados, whole grains, fish, seeds, nuts and beans.

Live in the Now consulted one of the country’s foremost experts on magnesium, Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, Medical Advisory Board Member, Nutritional Magnesium Association. In a fascinating interview, she explains why magnesium supplements can help people suffering from depression.

Live in the Now: What specific properties does magnesium have that make it useful for depression?

Dean: “Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that elevates mood and is artificially boosted by Prozac. Serotonin depends on magnesium for its production and function, whether it’s made in the brain or in the intestines. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s pleasure and reward centers, utilizes magnesium in several steps in its biochemical pathway. A magnesium-deficient brain is also more vulnerable to allergens and foreign substances, which in some instances can lead to symptoms similar to mental illness.

“Magnesium supports our adrenal glands, which can be overworked by stress. When the glands are taxed, it causes combined magnesium deficiency symptoms and adrenal exhaustion symptoms of depression, anxiety, fatigue, muscle weakness, eye twitches, insomnia, apathy, anorexia, apprehension, confusion, poor memory, anger, rapid pulse and nervousness.

Magnesium deficiency has also been strongly associated with sleep disorders, which can either cause or exacerbate anxiety.”

Live in the Now: You believe that depression is often merely one of the consequences of a magnesium deficiency. Please elaborate.

Dean: “Magnesium is not a drug that treats depression; however, people who are magnesium depleted can exhibit signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety.

“We are a nation suffering a 32-percent incidence of depression, anxiety and drug problems. Instead of treating stress responses properly with magnesium, each year millions of people are subjected to the merry-go-round of psychological counseling and psychiatric drugs for symptoms that may in fact stem from magnesium deficiency.

“A recent study in the Archives of General Psychiatry showed a doubling of depression in women from 1970 to 1992, with the use of psychiatric drugs skyrocketing as a result.[1] Depression and anxiety are often nutrient-deficiency diseases and chemical sensitivities, certainly not drug-deficiency diseases.”

Live in the Now: What research supports your belief?

Dean: A remarkable study of almost 500 depressed people by Drs. Cox and Shealy found that most sufferers were magnesium-deficient. The researchers told clinicians that a therapeutic benefit from the use of magnesium therapy in chronic depression is a distinct possibility.[2]

A 2016 study titled “Dietary Magnesium Intake and the Incidence of Depression: A 20-Year Follow-up Study” declared itself the first prospective study with 20 years of follow-up to show the link between magnesium intake and the rate of depression in men.[3] I think it’s worth looking up this study to see the impressive list of references. It seems that researchers have been proving the connection between depression and magnesium for a long time, but the medical world hasn’t been paying attention. An earlier study in 2009, published by the same group, found an association between magnesium intake and anxiety as well as depression.[4]

Live in the Now: This is quite compelling. Why is it that we haven’t heard more about the value of magnesium for depression?

Dean: Unfortunately, the reason is because the FDA will not allow manufacturers of magnesium to explain these links. The FDA mandates that if you treat a disease with a dietary supplement, then you place that dietary supplement in the drug category, which requires millions of dollars of testing to prove its safety and efficacy.

That’s why researchers (in the 2016 study) will not shout their conclusions from the rooftops that ‘magnesium intake may have an effect on the risk to develop depression.’ They mildly and merely say, ‘Further studies are needed to investigate whether sufficient magnesium intake could have implications for prevention or treatment of depression.’


1. Murphy JM, “A 40-year perspective on the prevalence of depression: the Stirling County Study.” Arch Gen Psychiatry, vol. 57, no. 3, pp. 209–215, 2000.

2. Cox RH, Shealy CN, Cady RK, Veehoff D, Burnetti Awell M, Houston R, “Significant magnesium deficiency in depression.” J Neurol Orthop Med Surg, vol 17, pp. 7–9, 1996.

3. Teymoor Y, et al. Dietary Magnesium Intake and the Incidence of Depression: A 20-Year Follow-up Study. Journal of Affective Disorders. March 15, 2016. Volume 193, Pages 94–98.

4. Felice N. Jacka, Simon Overland, Robert Stewart, Grethe S. Tell, Ingvar Bjelland and Arnstein Mykletun. Association between magnesium intake and depression and anxiety in community-dwelling adults: the Hordaland Health Study. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. 2009, Vol. 43, No. 1, Pages 45-52.

Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.

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