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According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than 40 million adults in the United States have some sort of anxiety disorder. Yes, there are medications to help relieve the symptoms, but medications aren’t always necessary, available, or the right choice for everyone.
Here’s how magnesium may offer some anxiety relief.
In short: Maybe. The research isn’t quite there, but the science suggests magnesium could help ease anxiety.
Magnesium is kind of a big deal. It performs hundreds of functions, including converting food into energy, helping your muscles contract and relax, and helping your brain communicate with the rest of your body.
Magnesium also plays an essential role in your body’s response to stress. In times of stress or anxiety, your body actually ramps up magnesium excretion. So it makes sense that if those stores aren’t replenished, it could have a serious effect on your mood.
Human studies haven’t shown definitive results from supplemental magnesium alone. But in some cases, researchers have seen positive effects from supplementing magnesium in combination with other nutrients, like vitamin B-6.
While these studies don’t provide the strongest evidence, they do shine a light on magnesium’s potential to relieve symptoms of anxiety. Because magnesium plays a role in some very important brain functions, increased amounts of magnesium may help keep anxiety at bay.
Because of its calming effect, magnesium has become an increasingly popular remedy for sleep issues. Magnesium’s relationship with sleep lies mainly in its regulatory duties. In addition to managing your brain’s phone lines (neurotransmitters), magnesium regulates melatonin production.
Melatonin is an essential hormone for getting some serious shut-eye, and it activates the parasympathetic nervous system (aka the “rest and digest system”). This is the system that kicks in after you stress out and helps calm you down.
This probably won’t come as a shock, but including a variety of whole foods in your diet is the best way to get enough magnesium.
Some of the best food sources of magnesium are:
- Vegetables: dark leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard
- Fruit: bananas, dried apricots, and avocado (yup, it’s a fruit!)
- Nuts: almonds and cashews
- Legumes: peas, black beans, and peanuts
- Seeds: pumpkin, sesame, and watermelon
- Soy: soybeans and tofu
- Whole grains: brown rice, teff, wheat bran, oats, and quinoa
- Dairy: plain low fat yogurt and milk
Some processed foods are fortified with magnesium (think cereals and other grains), but the processing often reduces its magnesium content.
Even though we absorb only 30 to 40 percent of the magnesium we get from food, it’s better to incorporate more of the foods that naturally contain magnesium to reach your quota.
If it’s too hard to get enough of this stress-busting mineral through food alone, you can turn to supplements.
There’s a variety of magnesium supplements to choose from, but they all serve two similar functions: restoring low levels of magnesium to normal and helping to relieve stress (physically or psychologically).
Following daily health habits like taking a supplement may also be linked to healthy dietary choices. One study found that people who reported taking magnesium supplements also tended to have higher intakes of magnesium from food.
Here are some magnesium supplements that may work for you:
Magnesium is bound to glycinate, a byproduct of glycine, which is an amino acid touted for having a calming effect on the brain. It’s one of the most bioavailable forms of magnesium on the market and is easy on the stomach. If your anxiety is keeping you up at night, this is for you.
Better known as the main ingredient in milk of magnesia, magnesium oxide is often used as an antacid to relieve heartburn, indigestion, or constipation. It’s also used to help relieve migraines.
Typically better absorbed than some other forms, mag-citrate is most often used to treat constipation. Many forms of mag-citrate are marketed as having a calming effect, but the jury’s still out on that. Think of it as a chill pill (or powder) for your gut.
Our bodies typically absorb this kind of magnesium well. It’s often taken as a tablet or capsule to treat heartburn and constipation. It can also be used topically in a lotion to soothe and relax muscles (but there isn’t much research to suggest you can absorb it that way).
Less popular as a supplement and more often used as a food additive, this form of magnesium is gentle on the stomach and very well tolerated by people who have difficulty with other forms or who need to take higher doses.
Try: EpSoak Epsom Salt
Most notably recognized as Epsom salts, this form is dissolved in water and used to soothe achy muscles. It probably won’t help your magnesium levels, but it will make you feel good (treat yo’self!).
Choosing a supplement
Most of the studies on magnesium and anxiety have focused on magnesium lactate or magnesium oxide. Some supplements may upset your stomach, so your choice will depend heavily on which type you tolerate best.
Research suggests that nearly half the U.S. population doesn’t get enough magnesium. The problem is that a magnesium deficiency is often difficult to detect.
Your body is good at keeping magnesium levels where they need to be by stealing it from places such as your bones. (That’s why you’ll see the bone-friendly mineral calcium in a lot of magnesium supplements.) Older adults and people with gastrointestinal disease, type 2 diabetes, or alcohol dependence are at greater risk for magnesium deficiency.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of magnesium for adults ranges from 310 to 420 milligrams, depending on age and gender. (There are also adjustments for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding.)
It’s important to remember that these numbers are requirements for nutritional adequacy, not a hard stop for optimal health.
|19–30 years||400 mg||310 mg||350 mg||310 mg|
|31–50 years||400 mg||320 mg||360 mg||320 mg|
|51+ years||420 mg||320 mg|
Can you take too much?
Your kidneys will get rid of any excess magnesium you’ve gotten from food, so no need to worry about overdoing it there. But supplemental magnesium does have a recommended tolerable upper intake level (TUL) of 350 milligrams for all adults (read those labels!). Signs of excessive magnesium intake are mostly gastrointestinal and include diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal cramping.
If you have chronic kidney disease or reduced kidney function, talk with a doctor before taking any magnesium supplements. In folks with normal kidney function, too much magnesium can lead to diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal cramping.
Although it’s rare, magnesium toxicity can happen with supplements that contain very large amounts of magnesium. This most often happens in people who use laxatives or antacids daily, which can result in intakes of nearly 5,000 milligrams per day — about 12 times the recommended amount.
Some signs of magnesium toxicity:
- low blood pressure
- heart arrhythmias
- muscle weakness
If you’re taking a magnesium supplement and experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your doctor or head to the ER A-S-A-P.
Also, if you’re taking any medications or other supplements, there’s a risk of negative interactions. Read labels and check in with your doctor before taking any magnesium supplements.
Supplemental magnesium for anxiety may not be a scientific knockout just yet, but some research suggests a relationship (and relief) may exist. Regularly eating magnesium-rich foods is still the best way to get your magnesium in, but there are supplements you can take too.
If you plan to go the supplement route, read labels and check for interactions with any other supplements or medications you’re taking. And always check with your doc before starting a supplement regimen.