Mental Health

The Magnesium Hype Is Hard To Swallow. I Did Anyway.

Can magnesium really cure anxiety? We sent a reporter (and med student) to find out.

by Rachael Branscomb
Originally Published: 
Close up of anxious man grabbing his neck.
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Although I’ve never pursued an actual diagnosis, I suspect I’ve had anxiety since at least as early as my college years. But lately it’s become all too much, and zoning out with video games, a workout or two a week, and a few impersonal therapy sessions haven’t been enough to keep me from worrying too much about the little things, and it’s been driving a wedge in my relationship. Something obviously had to change — and then I came across several TikToks suggesting a simple over-the-counter supplement, magnesium, was essentially a wonder drug for anxiety.

“Dude, I feel like I took a Klonopin,” one guy said in a TikTok, referring to a type of benzodiazepine used to treat panic order and anxiety. “I’ve been on this stuff for, like, four days, and every single day I have not had any anxiety, and I haven’t taken Klonopin.”

Another man on TikTok said that after taking magnesium and vitamin D3, “I don’t have anxiety anymore. Thirty years — anxiety my whole life; I don’t have it anymore.” A commenter added, “This is the first thing to actually help me,” and another chimed in, “Dude I started the exact same thing a few months ago. IT WORKS!!!!”

And it’s not just a TikTok fad. I’m a medical student (yeah, now you know why I have anxiety), and I recently worked with a doctor who prescribed it for an anxious patient. Of course, I also know that anxiety isn’t something you try to cure just with an over-the-counter supplement; crippling or chronic anxiety may require therapy and a measured approach to lifestyle changes — all things I plan on doing.

But in the meantime…I was curious. Could this supplement work? So, considering that taking magnesium at a normal supplement dose doesn’t pose any serious health risks for most people — diarrhea with nausea and cramping is the worst case scenario, and I could easily just stop taking it if it messed up my GI system — I decided to give it a try.

There are nearly a dozen over-the-counter magnesium supplement options — magnesium glycinate and citrate, taurate and carbonate, oxide and malate — but magnesium glycinate is the one most often taken for anxiety. Josh Corn, N.D., a naturopathic doctor and medical educator, said on TikTok, “In my clinical experience, I find that magnesium glycinate is best for anxiety because it’s easily absorbed, and it can also help with muscle tension and stress, which often comes along with anxiety.” It’s also one of the gentlest on the stomach, so it sounded like a great choice to me.

For four weeks, I took two capsules of NatureMade high absorption magnesium glycinate every night, for a daily total of 200 mg. Some experts and people who’ve tried magnesium boast that it can improve anxiety symptoms as early as a few days into treatment, but I didn’t immediately feel like a new person. Even as the weeks passed, I didn’t notice much change. I kept a daily journal documenting how I felt, what my mood was like, and fluctuations in my anxiety, and I didn’t see any significant differences over the course of the month.

My partner, however, did report that I seemed less stressed, had much less difficulty forgiving and forgetting in arguments, and seemed to be in an overall better mood. And luckily, I didn’t get diarrhea either. So...success?

Does Magnesium Help With Anxiety?

Without a formal anxiety assessment from a psychiatrist both before and after I started magnesium, there’s no way to know if it truly worked for me. And since I didn’t get a blood test, I don’t know whether I had a magnesium deficiency to begin with. If I did, I would have expected the supplement to make more of a difference, but if my levels are already fine, then maybe boosting my levels wouldn’t solve my anxiety.

Basically, I’m not concluding that magnesium for anxiety is a sham just because I’m not sure if it worked for me. Because, although the scientific evidence isn’t perfectly clear, it does indicate that magnesium is probably effective for treating anxiety (and it might help with sleep, too). In his TikTok, Corn cites, for example, a 2017 review of 18 studies in which magnesium supplementation was found to improve subjective symptoms of anxiety, although the quality of the evidence was poor.

And it makes sense that taking magnesium would work as a chill pill, as it’s known to “play a role in many of the pathways, enzymes, hormones, and neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation,” says Emily Tarleton, Ph.D., a registered dietician and researcher at Northern Vermont University. But although many studies propose potential pathways for the beneficial effects of magnesium to mental health, experts aren’t sure yet exactly how it works to ease anxiety, if it does.

Since the 2017 review was released, Tarleton has published another study investigating magnesium supplementation in people with depression. Her research team found that daily supplementation with 248 milligrams of elemental magnesium led to a significant decrease in depression and anxiety symptoms regardless of age, sex, severity of depression, or use of antidepressants — which is especially good news to people on these meds who having lingering symptoms of depression and anxiety. Study participants also reported positive effects of taking magnesium unrelated to mental health, including fewer headaches and muscle cramps. Another piece of evidence in favor of using magnesium for anxiety.

So, should you rush to Costco to buy the biggest bottle of magnesium on the shelf? Well, no. Tarleton warns that people with certain health conditions, such as kidney issues, shouldn’t take magnesium, nor should people on several medications such as antibiotics, so you should talk to your primary care provider before taking it. And vitamins and supplements aren’t regulated in the same way medications are, so it can be difficult to determine the amount of elemental magnesium in a supplement — no matter what the bottle claims.

Anxiety is a complex and deeply personal experience, and what works for some guys on TikTok may not work for you or me. And, although it seems to have at least improved some aspects of my anxiety, a holistic approach to well-being, including a balanced diet, regular exercise, and mindfulness practices, is essential for lasting results.

Even if I’m not positive magnesium has touched my anxiety, I’ll keep taking a supplement. I haven’t experienced any side effects, and it’s not expensive. And if my partner thinks me taking magnesium has improved our relationship, then by all means, I’ll keep taking it.

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