Magnesium – Better for Depression than Prescription Drugs

Do you have enough magnesium in your diet? Magnesium has been shown to help muscle cramps, as well as constipation, kidney stones, osteoporosis, insomnia, fibromyalgia and asthma, and recent studies have shown that magnesium can be very effective as a treatment for depression and possibly PTSD, ADHD and stress or anxiety. What can you do to make sure you have enough magnesium in your daily diet? 

Recent studies show that magnesium may be a safe and effective treatment for depression. Antidepressants can have harmful side effects, and magnesium is a much safer alternative. It is highly likely that most adults are deficient in magnesium.

A small recent study (Tarleton, 2017) of 126 adults with mild or moderate depression showed that people taking magnesium supplements in addition to their existing treatments, reported an improvement in depression symptoms. Participants were given 2000mg (248mg of elemental magnesium) each day for six weeks. Participants then stopped taking it for six more weeks, but continued their current treatment for depression. The study was not blinded, meaning people knew that they were taking magnesium. Depression scores on average over the trial dropped by 6 points.  Anxiety scores also improved. In addition to improvement with depression, participants also reported improvement in other physical symptoms known to be signs of magnesium deficiency (constipation, muscle cramps, pains, and headaches).

Researchers concluded:

“Daily supplementation with 248 mg of elemental magnesium as four 500 mg tablets of magnesium chloride per day leads to a significant decrease in depression and anxiety symptoms regardless of age, gender, baseline severity of depression, or use of antidepressant medications.”


Most magnesium is naturally found in some edible plants.

  1. almonds
  2. cashews
  3. pumpkin seeds
  4. black beans
  5. dark chocolate
  6. dark leafy greens
  7. flaxseed
  8. salmon
  9. yogurt
  10. bananas

Plants absorb magnesium through the bacteria in the soil. Pesticides that kill bacteria, potassium-based fertilizers, herbicides, food processing, antacids, sodas, sugars, diuretics, caffeine, and alcohol affect our ability to absorb magnesium, so many people are chronically depleted of magnesium.

Most of us need more magnesium. Magnesium is needed to keep the heart beating and is helpful to keep blood levels stable during times of critical illness, trauma or severe stress.  Pregnant women and those with diabetes have low levels of magnesium. Standard recommended daily allowances (RDA) for magnesium (Mg) are provided in the table below.

Image Credit: “Macro- and Microelemental Composition and Toxicity of Unsweetened Natural Cocoa Powder in Sprague-Dawley Rats” – Research Gate  2016, [accessed 2 Oct, 2018]

Tired woman
Symptoms of mild to severe magnesium deficiency may or may not include:

  1. muscle twitches and cramps
  2. anxiety or stress
  3. apathy or mental numbness
  4. delirium
  5. coma
  6. depression
  7. osteoporosis
  8. fatigue
  9. muscle weakness
  10. high blood pressure
  11. asthma
  12. irregular heartbeat
  13. constipation
  14. insomnia
  15. headaches

There are many types of magnesium available such as magnesium aspartate, bicarbonate, carbonate, chloride, citrate, gluconate, hydroxide, lactate, malate, orotate, oxide, taurate, threonate, and trisilicate.  Magnesium can be taken orally as a tablet, or capsule. Other types of magnesium can be absorbed into the body through a spray, lotion, balm, salve or as an oil.


Many practitioners believe that the safest form of magnesium is in the form of product applied externally to the skin (such as a spray, oil, balm or lotion) so that it does not affect the digestive system (diarrhea). Some of the more popular types of magnesium are:

  1. Magnesium threonate – brain health, helpful with depression, anxiety, memory, brain injuries, PTSD, hyperactivity, significantly increases magnesium in the brain
  2. Magnesium glycinate – promotes relaxation, easily absorbed, may help with nerve pain and leaky gut, helps with relieving stress
  3. Magnesium malate – reduces muscle pain, improves lethargy, gives energy, may be helpful with fibromyalgia pain
  4. Magnesium sulfate – best used in Epsom salt baths, to aid in detoxification, relaxation, improve sleep, can be a laxative when taken internally, but not well absorbed internally
  5. Magnesium oxide – relieves constipation, helps regulate blood pressure, may reduce cholesterol, is poorly absorbed, and hence likely to cause diarrhea
  6. Magnesium taurate – cardiovascular, good for heart palpitations, well absorbed
  7. Magnesium chloride – helpful for nervous system, and detox
  8. Magnesium orotate – well absorbed, improves cardiovascular, irregular heartbeat and palpitations
  9. Magnesium citrate – pulls water into intestines, can relieve constipation but may cause dehydration or diarrhea. It may help with restless leg syndrome, if it is taken long term, it can lower your ceruloplasmin levels, which helps regulate iron and copper. Some brands of magnesium citrate (such as Natural Calm) were reported to contain arsenic
  10. Magnesium chloride – bioavailable when naturally absorbed while swimming in sea water. It is helpful for detoxing, improving metabolism, and kidney function. Oil of magnesium, which is magnesium chloride, is effective when rubbed onto the skin.

Chelated minerals have been bonded or combined with amino acids to form “complexes.” Magnesium aspartate and glutamate is combined with those two amino acids, such as magnesium diglycinate.  When magnesium is bonded to an organic compound, as opposed to such as an amino acid, it is often referred to as a chelate. In general, all common chelated forms of magnesium, including magnesium citrate, are better absorbed than those not chelated, such as magnesium oxide.

People with kidney failure, bowel obstruction, myasthenia gravis, or heart block should not take magnesium supplements.  Always check with your trusted doctor, practitioner, or nutritionist for more information.  Lack of other vitamins and minerals can affect absorption or even lead to more deficiencies. Vitamin and minerals work together, so you might want to be tested for other vitamin deficiencies and to tell your trusted practitioner what other supplements you are taking.

Some supplements and products that can help with magnesium absorption are:

  1. Vitamin B6
  2. Vitamin D
  3. Vitamin K2
  4. Bicarbonates (baking soda)
  5. Potassium (found in sweet potatoes, avocados, lima beans and white potatoes with skin).


Arnarson, A, “7 Signs and Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency,” Healthline Newsletter, December 15, 2017, accessed online 10/2/2018

Deans, E, “Magnesium for Depression, A controlled study of magnesium shows clinically significant improvement,” Psychology Today, Posted Jan 28, 2018, accessed 10/2/2018

Howland, G, “Which is the Best Magnesium Supplement?”  August 22, 2018, accessed 10/2/2018

“Over-the-counter magnesium tablets can banish the blues in just TWO WEEKS without the side effects associated with antidepressants.” Mail Online, June 28 2017

Serefko A, et. al, “Magnesium in depression.” Pharmacol Rep. 2013;65(3):547-54. PubMed, accessed 10/2/2018

Tarleton, EK, Littenberg B, “Magnesium Intake and Depression in Adults,” JABFM, March-April 2015 vol. 28 no. 2 249-256, , accessed 10/2/2018

Tarleton EK, Littenberg B, MacLean CD,  et al, “Role of magnesium supplementation in the treatment of depression: A randomized clinical trial, ” PLoS Onev.12(6); 2017PMC5487054, accessed 10/2/2018


Jean E. DartJean Dart, M.S. Special Education from Illinois State University, is a published author and has written hundreds of health articles as well as hosting a local television program, “Making Miracles Happen.” She is a Registered Music Therapist, Sound Therapist, and Master Level Energetic Teacher, and is the Executive Director, founder, and Health and Wellness Educator of the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance, a 501(c)3 health education nonprofit organization. All photos used in this article are by unless otherwise noted. To find out more about the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance visit 

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