Magnesium for Anxiety: Helpful or Health Myth?

McKenna Princing Fact Checked
Different foods that contain magnesium.
© bojanstory / Getty Images

So you’re feeling a little anxious, stressed out, overwhelmed — whatever you want to call it, it’s not fun and you’d like something to make it go away now, please and thanks.  

Enter magnesium. It’s been all over social media lately, with people claiming it helps with sleep issues, stress and anxiety. But not all that glitters is gold — is magnesium actually the key to relaxation it’s made out to be?  

What are the health benefits of magnesium? 

Magnesium is an essential nutrient for your body — in fact, all of your cells need it to function properly. It helps with countless bodily processes that keep you alive. 

Most adults should get between 310 and 400 mg of magnesium per day, depending on sex assigned at birth and whether someone is pregnant, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“Most people usually do not need to supplement magnesium if they have a plant-based, diverse diet,” says Dr. Iman Majd, a UW Medicine integrative medicine physician and director of the Osher Center for Integrative Health.

Majd recommends first getting extra magnesium through what you eat. However, he does prescribe magnesium supplements to some people. A magnesium supplement may be beneficial if you have regular constipation or high blood pressure, plus it may help prevent type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.

Research has shown, though, that many people do not get enough magnesium through their food alone, so if you’re not eating a lot of magnesium-rich foods — like spinach, avocados, bananas, tofu, pumpkin seeds, nuts and yes, dark chocolate — taking a supplement might be a good thing to ask your doctor about so you can learn the right amount to take for your body’s needs. 

For most people, taking a magnesium supplement is safe. One word of caution: If you have heart disease, kidney stones or poor kidney function, you should for sure ask your doctor before you try it, because it might not be safe for you. 

Does magnesium help anxiety? 

There are some pretty hope-inspiring claims out there — especially on social media — that magnesium can basically cure anxiety.  

Not trying to burst your bubble, but there is no “cure” for anxiety — even prescription medications won’t do that (though they can make a huge difference).  

Though some research has suggested that magnesium can promote relaxation and ease anxiety, most studies have been based on participants’ self-reported experiences, not controlled data, or have looked at anxiety in combination with other treatments, Majd explains. He does not prescribe magnesium for anxiety. 

That being said, magnesium has some benefits that could help promote relaxation. First off, it’s a muscle relaxant, so if you’re tense all the time it could help you loosen up. It may help relieve other things that can contribute to anxiety, such as aches and pains, insomnia, migraines and headaches — so if your personal flavor of anxiety involves these things, it’s possible magnesium could help you.  

Magnesium deficiency could be mistaken for the physical effects of anxiety, with symptoms like muscle twitching, fatigue, muscle weakness and an irregular heartbeat. In this case, a supplement would definitely help, so if you think you could have a magnesium deficiency, ask your doctor about a blood test to check.  

For more serious anxiety like an anxiety disorder, magnesium isn’t a replacement for something like medication or therapy, though.  

Which magnesium supplement should I take? 

Not all types of magnesium are created equal.

“If you look at magnesium, there are different types such as citrate, oxide, glycinate and more. People hear the name and think it’s just magnesium so they take it, but the form of the supplement might not be the right one for that person,” Majd says. 

For example, if you have acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), taking magnesium oxide or citrate will make it worse. And since most types of magnesium can cause loose stools and abdominal cramps, it’s not always a great idea if you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or irritable bowel disease like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis.

And no, you don’t need to take vitamin D in order for magnesium to work. The only reason you need a vitamin D supplement is if you have a vitamin D deficiency — which, yes, is pretty common here in the Pacific Northwest, but you’d need a blood test to confirm it. 

Keep in mind that in most cases, there isn’t enough research to say that any specific type of magnesium is guaranteed to help with certain medical conditions. If someone tries to tell you otherwise … well, they’re probably trying to sell you something.  

Ultimately, if you’re interested in trying a magnesium supplement, the best thing to do is get your doctor’s advice — or maybe just search Pinterest for some yummy recipes that include spinach (we promise they exist).