When you lie in bed at night staring at the ceiling and pick up your phone looking for a miracle cure for your insomnia, you will soon come across magnesium supplements. In countless articles and TikTok videos, people can’t stop talking about the superpowers of this mineral. It is said to provide relief from anxious feelings and make insomnia disappear like snow in the sun. It is true that magnesium plays an important role in your body, but is it really such a miracle cure?
Does magnesium help with anxious feelings?
Magnesium is an essential mineral for a healthy body. For example, it helps with the absorption of vitamin D. But a magnesium deficiency is rare in the Netherlands. Only one to two percent of the Dutch population has a magnesium deficiency in the blood, according to figures from Radboud university medical center. You can find this mineral in many products: from spinach and avocados to dark chocolate and even popcorn.
Does it make sense to take magnesium supplements? For some people yes, says psychiatrist Gregory Scott Brown. “More and larger-scale research is needed, but there are signs that magnesium helps against mild anxiety and even mild forms of depression,” says Brown, who works at the University of Texas Dell Medical School in Austin. “If someone is feeling restless and wants to try a natural supplement, magnesium is a good option.”
This is what science says about magnesium
In 2017, a small study involving 126 adults showed that magnesium supplements have a positive effect on mild symptoms of anxiety disorders and depression. That same year, scientists from the University of Leeds published a study that showed a less euphoric picture of magnesium. It concluded that although half of previous studies into magnesium and anxiety disorders showed a positive association, the studies were of poor quality.
“If you have suicidal thoughts or complaints that severely limit your daily life, such as fears that are so intense that you no longer leave the house or meet with family or friends, I would not start with magnesium,” says Brown. ‘In that case, it is really advisable to seek help from a psychologist or psychiatrist.’
Does magnesium help you sleep better?
It is therefore difficult to say whether magnesium can actually provide relief from mild anxiety symptoms. But does the mineral help night owls sleep? Do you sleep better if you take magnesium supplements?
That evidence is also weak, says Muhammad A. Rishi, an associate professor of medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. ‘These are mainly observational studies that show a positive link between sleep and magnesium. But that does not mean that there is a causal relationship.’ That sounds complicated, how does it work? The fact that someone who takes magnesium sleeps better can also be caused by other factors, such as a lot of exercise and other healthy habits, Rishi explains. You cannot then say that the better night’s sleep is the result of taking magnesium.
‘Few doctors will prescribe magnesium to patients with insomnia because we simply don’t have data showing that it works. Most people who take magnesium do so without consulting a doctor,” says Rishi, who advises against this. ‘Whatever supplements you take, make sure your doctor is aware: they can also affect the way other medicines work.’