Posted on: July 19, 2017 at 1:17 pm
Last updated: May 8, 2018 at 10:57 am

All of us like to opt for a nutritious diet that supplies us with adequate levels of vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, with our busy lifestyle, sometimes this ideal cannot be met which can lead to the development of micronutrient deficiencies. For decades, surveys and studies highlight that up to 80% of American adults are not reaching optimal daily levels of magnesium!


Though you may not know it, deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals can result in seemingly unrelated symptoms that wreak havoc in our body. But before we look at the symptoms lets understand the role that it plays and why we need it.

What role in does magnesium play in the body? 

Magnesium is a mineral that is vital to our body and is involved in a multitude of functions. Most importantly, this mineral is a cofactor in more than 300 enzymatic reactions that regulate many of our biological functions in our body such as energy production,  protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood sugar and blood pressure regulation. Because of its relationship to calcium, magnesium also contributes to normal bone development and a deficiency can be a risk factor for osteoporosis.


Symptoms of magnesium deficiency include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy and excessive fatigue
  • Muscle pain, cramps, numbness and tingling
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Depression, anxiety and apathy

Why might you be deficient?

When up to 80% of a nation is magnesium deficient, the population’s overall health will eventually start declining. According to a 2012 study published in Nutrition Reviews, researchers found that about 48% of Americans were magnesium deficient. If that’s true, it’s great news! However, the combination of depleted soils, genetically modified foods, and unhealthy lifestyle habits could very well drive that magnesium deficient number up.

Magnesium deficiency can be caused by a number of different factors. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, your risk is higher if the following apply to you:

Some health conditions can lead to deficiencies, including:

  • Gastrointestinal diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and ulcerative colitis
  • Diabetes
  • Pancreatitis
  • Hyperthyroidism (high thyroid hormone levels)
  • Kidney disease
  • Taking diuretics

Other factors that can lower magnesium levels include:

  • Drinking too much coffee, soda, or alcohol
  • Eating too much sodium (salt)
  • Heavy menstrual periods
  • Excessive sweating
  • Prolonged stress

What are good sources of magnesium?

Magnesium can be obtained from both plant and animal sources, but are higher in plant foods. Examples include green leafy vegetables such as spinach, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. For a more comprehensive list of the top magnesium-rich foods, refer to Dr. Axe’s list of the top 10 magnesium rich foods.

In general, the Institute of Medicine recommends between 400-420 mg of magnesium for females and 310-320 mg for males, per day. These numbers do change in children, pregnant and lactating women.

Table 1: Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Magnesium [1]
Age Male Female Pregnancy Lactation
Birth to 6 months 30 mg* 30 mg*
7–12 months 75 mg* 75 mg*
1–3 years 80 mg 80 mg
4–8 years 130 mg 130 mg
9–13 years 240 mg 240 mg
14–18 years 410 mg 360 mg 400 mg 360 mg
19–30 years 400 mg 310 mg 350 mg 310 mg
31–50 years 420 mg 320 mg 360 mg 320 mg
51+ years 420 mg 320 mg

*Adequate Intake (AI)
Table Source

What is the connection between magnesium deficiency and depression, specifically?

Magnesium is involved in the active transport of calcium and potassium ions across cell membranes, making it a key factor for nerve impulse conduction (the ability for nerve cells to “speak” to one another and pass on information). For this reason, many of the biological pathways that are affected in depression are also modulated by magnesium (1).

Because of its relationship to calcium and potassium, magnesium is important in stimulating our nerve cells and increasing the rate at which they “speak” to one another. In a deficiency, the cross talk between our nerve cells is significantly reduced, which can potentially explain the psychiatric disturbances associated with hypomagnesemia, which includes apathy, depression, and nervousness, to name a few.

Magnesium and depression: the evidence 

Deficiencies in magnesium have been associated with increased risk of depression (3) and conversely, magnesium supplementation has been demonstrated to reduce the risk of depression (2).  In a sample of 8894 US adults, a significant association was found between very low magnesium intake and depression, particularly in younger adults (2). Even in samples of treatment-resistant depressive patients where other forms of treatment have rendered modest to no results, 4 g of magnesium per day for 8 days significantly reduced depressive symptoms (4).

A 2006 scientific review of case studies  published in the journal of Medical Hypotheses summarizes key findings in magnesium supplementation for a wide number of conditions. Lead researcher, G.A. Eby writes:

“Case histories are presented showing rapid recovery (less than 7 days) from major depression using 125-300 mg of magnesium (as glycinate and taurinate) with each meal and at bedtime. Magnesium was found usually effective for treatment of depression in general use.

Related and accompanying mental illnesses in these case histories including traumatic brain injury, headache, suicidal ideation, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, postpartum depression, cocaine, alcohol and tobacco abuse, hypersensitivity to calcium, short-term memory loss and IQ loss were also benefited…The possibility that magnesium deficiency is the cause of most major depression and related mental health problems including IQ loss and addiction is enormously important to public health and is recommended for immediate further study.

It is important to mention that like all other disorders of the body, depression warrants a visit to your medical health professional if you feel it is impacting your quality of life. Proper analysis can determine whether a magnesium deficiency is present and you can work with your doctor to correct it. As we know, mental health issues should never be ignored!

Read More

  • Jacka FN, Overland S, Stewart R, Tell GS, Bjelland I, Mykletun A. Association between magnesium intake and depression and anxiety in community-dwelling adults: the Hordaland Health Study. Aust New Zeal J Psychiatry. Sage Publications Sage UK: London, England; 2009;43(1):45–52.
  • Rude RK. Magnesium Deficiency: A Cause of Heterogenous Disease in Humans. J Bone Miner Res [Internet]. John Wiley and Sons and The American Society for Bone and Mineral Research (ASBMR); 1998 Apr 1 [cited 2017 Jul 17];13(4):749–58. Available from:
  • Tarleton EK, Littenberg B. Magnesium intake and depression in adults. J Am Board Fam Med [Internet]. American Board of Family Medicine; 2015 Mar 1 [cited 2017 Jul 17];28(2):249–56. Available from:
  • Mehdi SMA, Atlas SE, Qadir S, Musselman D, Goldberg S, Woolger JM, et al. Double-blind, randomized crossover study of intravenous infusion of magnesium sulfate versus 5% dextrose on depressive symptoms in adults with treatment-resistant depression. Psychiatry Clin Neurosci [Internet]. John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd; 2017 Mar 1 [cited 2017 Jul 17];71(3):204–11. Available from:

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