For people with mild depression, magnesium, a common safe supplement can make a difference within just two weeks, according to a 2017 study. \That’s a quick effect. The common medications for depression can take much longer to kick in, or not work at all.
It was a small study, with around a hundred participants, but was reported in the prestigious journal PLOS One. Volunteers suffering from mild-to-moderate depression, with an average age of 52, took 248 mg of magnesium chloride daily for six weeks. A comparison group received no treatment. The supplement gave the volunteers a significant improvement in measurable depression and anxiety symptoms, beginning at two weeks.
People who had been taking an antidepressant saw a bigger jump, which the researchers argue suggests that the magnesium boosted its effect. If your current antidepressant isn’t working well enough, their research suggests you might add magnesium rather than increasing the dose or adding a second drug.
The study builds on previous research that found low magnesium levels in the cerebral cord and brains of people with treatment-resistant depression. Giving animals magnesium has a strong effect on depression symptoms. A magnesium deficiency in the brain may lower serotonin levels, while antidepressants raise brain magnesium.
You might especially want to try this if you have any of the other classic symptoms of magnesium deficiency: muscle spasms and cramps, all-over muscle pain, tics, and eye twitches. In the study, volunteers taking magnesium also reported a decline in headaches and muscle aches.
Why might you be short of magnesium? A gastrointestinal problem like irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, or celiac disease can lower magnesium levels in the body. Diabetes, kidney disease, and stomach viruses that cause vomiting and diarrhea also can have that effect. Do you drink carbonated or caffeinated beverages regularly? Do you drink alcoholoften? Those drinks can reduce your magnesium levels, and so can some medications.
But you don’t have to have low magnesium blood levels to be depressed—or, possibly, to benefit from more magnesium. Other research has found that depressed people with higher-than-normal magnesium blood levels had a better response to antidepressants. A blood test may not tell the whole story: You could still lack magnesium in your cells, some argue.
You can also up the magnesium in your diet, consuming more dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, and fish.
Whole wheat flour, for example, has a 160 mg of magnesium per cup. Swap out white flour for whole wheat when you bake. A cup of boiled spinach has nearly the same amount of magnesium. Quinoa has around 120 mg per cup; you can substitute it for rice in many recipes, which will increase the protein in your meal as well.
Many people watching their weight are afraid of the calories in nuts, but they’re actually an ideal snack and associated with weight loss, not gain. Almonds and cashews are high in magnesium.
Black beans, which are also high in protein and fiber, have 60 mg of magnesium per cup.
Milk products are high in magnesium, and the calcium will help you absorb it.If you are restricting foods to avoid kidney stones, you’ll find that don’t-eat items are also foods high in magnesium: spinach, avocado, and dark chocolate. That might be a reason to take a supplement instead but speak to your doctor.
Should you opt for a supplement, stick to less than 350 mg daily. If you overdo it, the side effects of magnesium include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
A version of this story appears on Your Care Everywhere.