By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 5 February 2015)
Magnesium is critical to more than 300 of the human body’s enzymatic reactions. Certain stress hormones, such as catecholamines and cortisol, can deplete the body’s magnesium stores.
Studies have found that those with agoraphobia and certain other phobic disorders often have lower levels of magnesium in their bodies. Increasing magnesium in the diet through natural sources or supplements may reduce the symptoms of anxiety for some people.
Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency
Magnesium deficiency can adversely affect all body systems. Symptoms of magnesium deficiency may include:
- Heightened startle reflex
- Anxiety/panic attacks/agoraphobia
- Noise sensitivity
- Balance problems
- Facial tics
- Heart palpitations or arrhythmias
- Angina pain
- High blood pressure
- Tightness in the chest
- Lack of energy
- Muscle cramps, twitches, soreness, or tension
- Jaw joint dysfunction (TMJ)
- Difficulty swallowing/feeling of “lump in the throat”
- Increased PMS symptoms
- Tingling or other abnormal sensations
- Intense craving for salt and/or carbohydrates
It should be noted that these symptoms can be caused by a variety of other conditions as well. However, a magnesium deficiency is possible if many of these symptoms are present and there is no medical condition to explain them.
Studies have linked magnesium supplementation to reduced anxiety, though these studies used magnesium in varying combinations with zinc, calcium, vitamin B6, and other supplements. Although the findings suggest that magnesium may be a promising remedy, more research is required to confirm its effectiveness for treating anxiety (Lakhan, 2010). At the moment, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence (people saying that magnesium has been helpful in reducing their anxiety) and indirect evidence (the link between magnesium deficiency and anxiety symptoms), but little research-based evidence for magnesium supplementation on its own.
Natural Sources of Magnesium
Magnesium is ideally consumed via food sources. Natural sources of magnesium include:
- Nuts and seeds (particularly walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds)
- Whole grains
- Peanuts/peanut butter
- Dark green leafy vegetables
For maximum benefit, produce should be grown in naturally composted soil. Refined white flour and sugar should be avoided because most of the magnesium has been extracted from them.
Magnesium supplements are used as an adjunct therapy to treat a variety of medical and psychological conditions. The best type of magnesium to take is chelate, because other types are not well absorbed.
A therapeutic dose of magnesium is safe for most people who don’t suffer from kidney problems, though high doses can cause diarrhea, and very high doses can be toxic. Those planning to take magnesium supplements should consult a medical practitioner who is aware of their medical history and any medications they are taking to establish a safe and effective dose.
Calcium works with magnesium to maintain optimal health and functioning, and it’s important to maintain a good balance between the two. Moreover, there is some evidence that low levels of calcium may trigger anxiety.
Natural sources of calcium include:
- Dairy products
- Fish such as sardines and salmon
- Dark green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, and arugula
If you think you may need to take a calcium supplement, consult a doctor beforehand to ensure safe and appropriate dosing.
Magnesium and/or calcium supplementation, while possibly beneficial, are not sufficient to treat panic disorder on its own. Nutrition therapies should be combined with other effective therapies, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy, to treat panic disorder.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical consultation. Those with health concerns should consult a qualified practitioner.
- Bourne, Edmund J., PhD. (2005). The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
- Hoffman, Ronald L., MD, CNS. (2003). “Panic Attacks and Anxiety.” Mental-Health-Matters.com.
- Lakhan, S. E., & Vieira, K. F. (2010). “Nutritional and Herbal Supplements for Anxiety and Anxiety-Related Disorders: Systematic Review.” Nutrition Journal, 9, 42.
- Schachter, Michael B., MD, FACAM. (1996). “The Importance of Magnesium to Human Nutrition.” MBSchachter.com.
- Women’s Health Services. (n.d.). “Anxiety and Panic Attacks: Nutrition.” WHS.org.au.