By Francine Ichim, Coordinated Program in Nutrition
Depression is one of the most common mood disorders and can affect the way you feel, think, and handle day-to-day life. Depression is the leading cause of disability and affects about 322 million people around the world. If you or anyone you know has ever struggled with depression, you know that it can greatly affect quality of life and can cause symptoms like changes in appetite, lack of energy and focus, sleeping difficulty, and a loss of interest or pleasure in things.
Treatment for depression include a variety of medications and different methods of therapy. Although many people have success treating their depression by these methods, treatment can be costly, which limits access for many. Additionally, medications can cause unwanted side effects. Because of this, researchers have been exploring different treatment options for depression including dietary interventions and the use of various supplements. Magnesium supplements are one of few alternatives that have recently been looked to for use in the treatment of depression.
The link between magnesium and depression.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that we need as part of a balanced, healthy diet. It has many different functions in the body, including an important role in brain signaling—which partly explains its link to depression. The association between magnesium and depression has been observed in several studies. Some studies have found promising effects of magnesium supplementation in the treatment of depression.
A 2017 study found that magnesium supplements improved symptoms of depression in adults. This study included 112 individuals who were diagnosed with depression and had current mild-to-moderate symptoms. Each participant’s depression symptoms were measured throughout the course of the study using a validated test called the Patient Health Questionnaire-9. The study lasted 12 weeks and involved each participant going through 6 weeks of magnesium supplementation and 6 weeks without. Symptoms were compared between the two 6-week periods for each participant and researchers found that symptoms of depression significantly improved during magnesium treatment periods. These improvements were seen in just two weeks of supplementation and occurred regardless of whether participants were taking depression medications.
Although the results were promising, there were a few limitations to this study. There was no use of placebos during the 6-week periods without magnesium, which could introduce bias and may cause a placebo effect. Additionally, there was no blinding used in the study, meaning that both participants and researchers were aware of when they were taking magnesium and when they were not. This could also influence the results.
Researchers have also looked into whether low magnesium levels may be a possible cause of depression. Another recent studyfound that people with depression were more likely to have low levels of magnesium. Research suggests that while not all people with depression have low magnesium, those that do might be more likely to see symptom improvement with magnesium supplements. This may also suggest that getting enough magnesium in your diet can possibly help to prevent depression. More research is needed to determine whether low magnesium levels actually cause depression, or if they are simply seen with depression due to other underlying issues.
Should people with depression take magnesium supplements?
Not necessarily. Research is still being done to determine whether magnesium supplements can truly be used to treat depression. While there seems to be a clear link between magnesium and depression, it is still not clear whether taking magnesium can have significant and long-term benefits. Magnesium supplements can also cause side effects including nausea and diarrhea and may not be suitable for everyone. It is important to talk with a doctor if considering magnesium supplements, especially if you are taking any medications.
One thing you can do if you are struggling with depression (or if you’re not) is make sure you are getting enough magnesium in your diet. Natural sources of magnesium will not cause unwanted side effects and may also be beneficial for your mental health. Some magnesium-rich foods that you can add to your diet include whole grains, leafy green vegetables, milk, nuts, seeds, and legumes. While it is never a bad idea to add more variety to your diet, remember that seeing a physician is the best place to start when seeking help for depression.