Magnesium may help reduce stress-related issues such as anxiety and tension, but only in cases of suboptimal magnesium levels.
Magnesium is an essential nutrient needed to support optimal health. Magnesium has been suggested to alleviate stress by:
- Supporting a healthy stress response. Magnesium helps the body’s main stress response system function properly.
- Relaxing muscles. Magnesium reduces muscle tension by counteracting the effects of calcium.
- Promoting cognitive relaxation. Magnesium relaxes the mind by suppressing stimulating and supporting calming neurotransmitters.
Magnesium is one of the most abundant minerals in the human body. Involved in the function of over 300 different enzymes, this mineral is critically important to overall health. Some of the key processes that require magnesium include the synthesis of DNA, RNA and the antioxidant glutathione, energy production, and muscle relaxation. The average person has about 25 g of magnesium, most of it found in the bones.
Like other essential nutrients, all of our magnesium needs are met by our diet. Particularly abundant sources of magnesium include cereal, nuts, and green leafy vegetables. Although magnesium deficiency is rare, insufficient intake of magnesium as quite common. According to estimates, as many as 45% of Americans have insufficient intake.1
Magnesium is one of the most popular dietary supplements, taken for a wide variety of issues, including high blood pressure, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, migraines, and even as a way to boost testosterone. In addition, there has been increasing interest in the use of magnesium as an anti-stress and anti-anxiety mineral. This use is backed by research demonstrating reduction of stress-related issues with magnesium supplementation.
Foods High in Magnesium
|Food||Serving Size||Amount per serving (mg)|
|Cereal (all bran)||½ cup||112|
|Brown rice (cooked)||1 cup||86|
How Magnesium Might Help With Stress
Magnesium has a variety of research-supported mechanisms that can help reduce stress:
Supporting the HPA axis
The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is the major system responsible for controlling our response to stress. Activation of this system results in effects such as increased anxiety. Magnesium is needed for the proper function of this axis, and magnesium supplementation has been demonstrated to reduce HPA activity, resulting in reduced levels of stress hormones ACTH and cortisol.2 3
Calcium (Ca) causes muscles to contract by binding to muscle proteins such as myosin.4 Magnesium counters this action by competing with Ca for binding sites, resulting in muscle relaxation.5 In doing so, magnesium can help reduce stress since tense muscles often contribute to the feeling of both psychological and physiological stress.
Blocking NMDA receptors
Glutamate is the brain’s main excitatory (stimulating) neurotransmitter. One of the ways that glutamate promotes its effects is by binding to N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors. Magnesium blocks these receptors, which counteracts excess neuron excitement caused by glutamate, reducing anxiety and stress.6
Supporting GABA activity
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the main inhibitory (relaxing) neurotransmitter in the brain. Magnesium helps support the activity of GABA by enhancing its availability and interacting with its receptors, counteracting the stimulatory effects of glutamate and resulting in reduction of anxiety and stress.7
Supporting mGluR receptors
The so-called mGluR receptors are involved in the function of both glutamate and GABA. Magnesium help these receptors function, which can in turn help reduce the body’s responses to fear, anxiety, and panic, which are all related to stress.8
Magnesium Uses & Benefits for Stress
Magnesium is a popular natural remedy for stress and related issues such as anxiety, tension, irritability, and mood swings. It is reputed as one of the safest, natural ways to promote relaxation, especially in individuals prone to anxiety.
Although there is currently a lack of definitive, high-quality studies on the effects of magnesium on stress, researchers propose that the “behavioural effects of stress exposure such as anxiety could be attenuated by Mg supplementation.” 9 In particular, there is evidence that magnesium helps reduce stress in individuals suffering from anxiety issues and premenstrual syndrome.
However, it should be noted that magnesium supplementation only appears to work in cases where the body’s magnesium stores are reduced or depleted. This explains why it seems to work best in cases of significant stress.
Animal studies highlight the link between magnesium levels and anxiety & stress. Specific findings indicate that:
- Hypomagnesemia (magnesium deficiency) can cause or increase anxiety in rodents 11 12
- Magnesium supplementation can reduce depression and anxiety in mice 13
Magnesium supplementation has been demonstrated to decrease stress, anxiety, and related issues. However, it only appears to work in situations where the body’s magnesium stores are low due to physical, psychological, or illness-related stress.
This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study looked at the benefits of magnesium for reducing premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms on women. PMS is a disorder that can reduce the body’s magnesium levels and includes anxiety and tension as its symptoms. A total of 32 women were given placebo or magnesium (360 mg) for 2 months, and then magnesium only for another 2 months. The supplementation improved PMS symptoms, including tension and anxiety.
- The researchers concluded that “These data indicate that Mg supplementation could represent an effective treatment of premenstrual symptoms related to mood changes.” 14
This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study tested the benefits of magnesium orotate supplementation in competitive triathletes. Twenty-three athletes completed a triathlon after 4 weeks supplementation with placebo or magnesium orotate (17 mmol daily). Compared to placebo, the supplemented group showed improved triathlon times and had lower blood cortisol (stress hormone) levels before and after the event. These findings suggest that intense physical performance can reduce the body’s magnesium stores, resulting in increased stress, and that supplementing magnesium to maintain optimal levels can improve the body’s stress response.
- The researchers concluded that “The stress-induced modifications of energy and hormone metabolism described in this study indicate altered glucose utilization after Mg-Orotate supplementation and a reduced stress response without affecting competitive potential.” 15
This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study examined the effects of magnesium plus vitamin B6 on premenstrual syndrome-related anxiety. A total of 44 women were given placebo, magnesium( 200 mg), vitamin B6 (50 mg), or both for one whole menstrual cycle, and repeated the supplementation 3 more times so that all women tried every treatment. Only the magnesium plus B6 group showed significant reduction of anxiety-related premenstrual symptoms, such as tension, mood swings, irritability, and anxiety.
- The researchers concluded that “A small synergistic effect of a daily dietary supplementation with a combination of Mg + vitamin B6 in the reduction of mild premenstrual anxiety-related symptoms was demonstrated during treatment of 44 women for one menstrual cycle.” 16
This randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study examined the effects of magnesium on anxiety. A total of 147 university students were given placebo or magnesium (300 mg) daily for 5 days before final exams to test its effects on test anxiety. There was no difference in anxiety between the two groups.
- The researchers concluded that “The level of self-reported anxiety before final exams did not differ between the placebo and Mg++ groups (p= 0.69).” 17
Dosage for Stress
- Magnesium is most commonly taken in dosages of 200-360 mg in stress-related studies
- Standalone magnesium supplements typically provide 150-400 mg dosages
- Multi-ingredient stress-reducing supplements typically include smaller magnesium dosages (50-150 mg)
- Magnesium Amino Acid Chelate. A chelate is a combination of a mineral and an amino acid which may improve magnesium absorption.
- Magnesium Oxide. The cheapest and generally least-effective (low absorption) form of supplemental magnesium.
- Magnesium Citrate. Having been demonstrated to have superior absorption to both oxide and chelate, Mg Citrate is one of the most potent forms of magnesium. We recommend this form for stress. 18
- Magnesium Orotate. A form of magnesium bound to orotic acid that is advertised to have superior absorption, but with no clinical evidence to back these claims.
- Magnesium Sulfate. Also known as Epsom salts, Mg sulfate has a strong laxative effect and is often added as a muscle relaxant.
- Magnesium Chloride. Commonly found in topical lotions, gels, and oil preparations, and less commonly in dietary supplements.
- Magnesium L-Threonate. This form appears to be ideal for cognitive-related uses, which makes it another good option for stress.
- Magnesium Glycinate. Another solid option for stress alongside citrate and L-threonate.
- ZMA. A patented combination of Zinc Monomethionine Aspartate, Magnesium Aspartate, and Vitamin B6 (as Pyridoxal HCl) used primarily as a sports recovery supplement.
Supplements in Review Recommendation
- Magnesium citrate, 200-400 mg for stress.
We recommend giving magnesium a try for stress. Although we’d like to see more high-quality evidence before a conclusive recommendation, the existing studies do point to reduction of stress, anxiety, and related issues. As such, we recommend trying magnesium as a safe, natural option for stress relief.
Start with 200 mg magnesium citrate daily. We recommend taking 200-400 mg daily dosages of magnesium citrate as the ideal form for stress-related issues. However, magnesium L-threonate and glycinate may be just as effective.
- Fulgoni VL, et al. Foods, Fortificants, and Supplements: Where Do Americans Get Their Nutrients? J Nutr. 2011 Oct;141(10):1847-54. ↩
- Murck H and Steiger A. Mg2+ reduces ACTH secretion and enhances spindle power without changing delta power during sleep in men — possible therapeutic implications. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1998 Jun;137(3):247-52. ↩
- Held K et al. Oral Mg(2+) supplementation reverses age-related neuroendocrine and sleep EEG changes in humans. Pharmacopsychiatry. 2002 Jul;35(4):135-43. ↩
- Szent-Gyorgy AG. Calcium regulation of muscle contraction. Biophys J. 1975 Jul; 15(7): 707-23. ↩
- R Swaminathan. Magnesium Metabolism and its Disorders. Clin Biochem Rev. 2003 May;24(2):47-66. ↩
- Coan EJ and Collingridge GL. Magnesium ions block an N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor-mediated component of synaptic transmission in rat hippocampus. Neurosci Lett. 1985 Jan 7;53(1):21-6. ↩
- Poleszak E. Benzodiazepine/GABA(A) receptors are involved in magnesium-induced anxiolytic-like behavior in mice. Pharmacol Rep. 2008 Jul-Aug;60(4):483-9. ↩
- Niswender CM and Conn PJ. Metabotropic glutamate receptors: physiology, pharmacology, and disease. Annu Rev Pharmacol Toxicol. 2010;50:295-322. ↩
- Neil Bernard Boyle et al. The Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress—A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2017 May; 9(5): 429. ↩
- Eby GA and Eby KL. Rapid recovery from major depression using magnesium treatment. Med Hypotheses. 2006;67(2):362-70. ↩
- Sartori SB et al. Magnesium deficiency induces anxiety and HPA axis dysregulation: modulation by therapeutic drug treatment. Neuropharmacology. 2012 Jan;62(1):304-12. ↩
- Pyndt Jørgensen B et al. Dietary magnesium deficiency affects gut microbiota and anxiety-like behaviour in C57BL/6N mice. Acta Neuropsychiatr. 2015 Oct;27(5):307-11. ↩
- Poleszak E et al. Antidepressant- and anxiolytic-like activity of magnesium in mice. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2004 May;78(1):7-12. ↩
- Facchinetti F et al. Oral magnesium successfully relieves premenstrual mood changes. Obstet Gynecol. 1991 Aug;78(2):177-81. ↩
- Golf SW et al. On the significance of magnesium in extreme physical stress. Cardiovasc Drugs Ther. 1998 Sep;12 Suppl 2:197-202. ↩
- De Souza MC et al. A synergistic effect of a daily supplement for 1 month of 200 mg magnesium plus 50 mg vitamin B6 for the relief of anxiety-related premenstrual symptoms: a randomized, double-blind, crossover study. J Womens Health Gend Based Med. 2000 Mar;9(2):131-9. ↩
- Mathew H. Gendle and Krysten P. O’Hara. Oral Magnesium Supplementation and Test Anxiety in University Undergraduates. Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis Vol. 11, No. 2, 2015. 1539-8714. ↩
- Walker AF et al. Mg citrate more bioavailable than other Mg preparations in a randomised, double-blind study. Magnes Res. 2003 Sep; 16(3): 183-91. ↩