Work, money, kids – there could be many reasons you feel more anxious than usual. But it turns out, reducing your anxiety could be as simple as increasing your magnesium intake. Olivia Hartland-Robbins reports
Whether it’s a mild nervous feeling, a sense of increasing worry or all out panic attacks, feeling anxious is not a pleasant feeling. And, if it happens to you, one thing is certain, you’re not alone.
In fact, anxiety is among the most common mental health problems in the UK – with more than one in ten people experiencing disabling anxiety at some point in their lives, according to Anxiety UK.
There are many known reasons people suffer from anxiety, including stress, medication and illness. But while most of us are aware that there are effective treatments such as anti-anxiety medication and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – both available on the NHS – what most people don’t know is about the clear link between anxiety and magnesium deficiency.
anxiety is among one of the most common mental health problems in the UK
A recent study concluded that daily supplementation with magnesium can lead to a significant decrease in symptoms of anxiety, which suggests a probable link between the two.
The randomised cross-over trial was carried out on adults with mild to moderate depression symptoms. Six-week magnesium supplementation saw improvements in symptoms of depression regardless of age, gender or the use of antidepressants.
Most patients experienced improvements in just two weeks of starting supplementation.
Plus, researchers in 2017 published a study in the journal PLoS One, and found that adults who received 248 mg magnesium a day for six weeks saw a significant improvement in their levels of depression and anxiety.
Could you be magnesium deficient?
Despite the fact that magnesium is found in every day foods such as brown rice, leafy green vegetables, beans, avocados, almonds and even dark chocolate, it turns out, a staggering 70 per cent of us have low levels.
That’s according to one study that tested 8000 participants’ hair samples between August 2014 and January 2016, carried out by the testing company Mineral Check.
A natural relaxant, for both muscles and mind, magnesium is one of the body’s most essential minerals. It plays a crucial role in more than 300 different enzymatic reactions in the body each day including helping the muscles to relax for a restful night’s sleep, regulating the nervous system and reducing tiredness and mood swings.
Magnesium is also one of the best minerals for flushing out toxins and detoxing the cells in our bodies.
Indeed, one in five women aged 19 to 34 have magnesium intakes below the Lower Reference Nutrient Intake (LRNI), according to the British Nutrition Foundation.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of magnesium for adults is 375 milligrams (mg) daily although requirements are increased during pregnancy because of how your body absorbs vitamins and minerals whilst pregnant.
So how much do you have to eat to get your daily magnesium allowance? According to Keeley Berry, nutritional expert at natural health brand, BetterYou, here’s how:
- 160 grams of dark chocolate – roughly four small bars (Green & Blacks) or one and a half large bars of Lindt 70% but think of the sugar and fat…
- 470 grams of cooked spinach – a giant bowl wouldn’t be enough
- 870 grams of brown rice – it’s impossible to eat that!
Why are so many of us magnesium deficient?
‘Magnesium deficiency could be down to our western diets which contain processed foods and refined grains, often with minimal consumption of leafy green vegetables,’ says Berry.
But we don’t only have the western diet to blame, it seems that the amount of magnesium found in common foods has also declined over the years.
‘Decreasing nutrient levels in western diets have long been reported. This may be due to over-farming and increased pollution,’ adds Berry. ‘The amount of magnesium in most common foods has declined by 20 per cent since the 1950s.
Signs of magnesium deficiency include:
- Poor quality sleep
- Restless legs
- Joint discomfort
- Muscle tension
- Muscle or eye twitching
- Weak bones
- Low mood
- Poor concentration
So how does magnesium deficiency affect anxiety?
Among many others, poor sleep, exhaustion, feeling low and a weak immune system are all well-known symptoms of magnesium deficiency.
Often when experiencing such symptoms though, it’s unlikely that our first thought would be magnesium deficiency. Instead, we tend to blame lifestyle factors such as, family, hectic social lives and work pressures.
But actually, these common symptoms of magnesium deficiency could be the reason you feel so anxious.
Let’s have a look at which of these symptoms could be making your anxiety worse.
Symptom #1 You can’t sleep (or sleep badly)
Poor sleep is probably one of the main reasons you’re feeling so anxious.
When it comes to getting a restful night’s sleep, magnesium is instrumental in helping the body to relax, unwind, and in helping our brains switch off before bed.
The reason magnesium is beneficial for sleep is through its interaction with a neurotransmitter called GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). GABA is an amino acid responsible for reducing anxiety, promoting relaxation and preparing our body for sleep.
Magnesium helps the body relax by ensuring these GABA receptors in our brain and nervous system are working as efficiently as possible.
magnesium is instrumental in helping the body to relax, unwind, and in helping our brains switch off before bed
Plus, the GABA receptors are necessary to help our brains switch off, so that our minds don’t continue to race when trying to fall asleep. Think of them as hushing out those noisy late night thoughts that so many of us seem to experience.
It seems that sleep deprivation and anxiety create a vicious cycle, says Berry. ‘Research suggests that sleep deprivation can cause anxiety, yet experiencing anxiety can also cause sleeping problems – either one can come first,’ says Berry.
‘Some form of sleep disruption is present in nearly all psychiatric disorders and studies show that people with insomnia or sleep issues are at a higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder’.
Research from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Cambridge has shown that there is a relationship between our cells’ magnesium levels and the body’s ability to follow its sleep cycle efficiently.
This means that if we have the right levels of magnesium in our body, we will find it easier to fall asleep and wake up at the correct time.
Plenty of clinical trials have proven that magnesium can significantly increase sleep time, sleep efficiency and natural melatonin (a hormone critical for the regulation of normal sleep) levels.
A trial undertaken by Sensory Dimensions at Reading University, commissioned by health pioneers, BetterYou, showed that increasing magnesium levels using a magnesium lotion improved both the duration and quality of sleep.
BetterYou’s Magnesium Sleep Lotion, £9.95 was tested on 87 healthy people who identified as ‘struggling to sleep’ and were profiled using the NHS Sleep Assessment Questionnaire over a period of five weeks.
Conditions assessed included, how quickly they fell asleep, the number of sleep interruptions, their ability to stay asleep, how refreshed they felt upon waking, the quality of their mood and concentration during the day.
The results showed that a staggering 92 per cent found benefit from using the sleep lotion in at least one of the above conditions with 70 per cent saying that their overall quality of sleep was better after using the lotion.
Plus a double-blind randomized clinical trial was conducted on 46 elderly subjects, randomly allocated into the magnesium or the placebo group and received 500 mg oral magnesium or placebo daily for eight weeks.
The study found that the group who took 500mg of magnesium before bed for eight weeks had a positive improvement on insomnia levels.
So, magnesium before bed will help you get to sleep and stay asleep, which is likely to result in fewer feelings of anxiety.
Symptom #2 You’re exhausted
We all live increasingly busy lives, so feeling tired from time to time is perfectly normal.
But if you start to slow down and still feel exhausted, it probably isn’t only because you are physically tired but mentally tired too.
If you can’t escape feeling tired and seem to lack energy, look out for changes in your mood, memory and concentration as well as changes in your sleep patterns and appetite as these can all be signs of exhaustion.
magnesium helps to calm down the nervous system which is on high alert if you are feeling anxious all the time
‘Psychological causes of exhaustion are much more common than physical causes and people experiencing anxiety often feel tired as well as worried and irritable,’ says Berry.
‘Anxiety drives the sympathetic nervous system into overdrive. It raises our heart rate, blood pressure, increases muscle tension and releases toxins into our system that can cause inflammation, so we can actually feel exhausted from being anxious’.
Exhaustion leads to anxiety and anxiety can lead to exhaustion, like poor sleep and anxiety, they are the result of each other.
As mentioned above, magnesium helps to calm down the nervous system which is on high alert if you are feeling anxious all the time. It’s also essential for helping your muscles to relax, particularly after stress or exercise.
‘Low energy levels and fatigue have been linked to low magnesium levels within the body because magnesium is needed for the body to produce adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP), essential to creating energy,’ says Berry.
Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the body’s main source of energy found in our cells.
Magnesium is required to bind with ATP to form the Mg-ATP complex, a process essential for over 300 reactions that regulate blood pressure, muscle contraction as well as energy production, Berry asserts.
Symptom #3 Low mood
If you are suffering from poor sleep, exhaustion, or both, it may become inevitable that your mood will start to suffer too. We know magnesium can aid poor sleep and low energy, and it can also improve your mood.
It’s completely natural for our mood to change or anxiety levels to rise when finding ourselves in a stressful or difficult situation. But if you feel considerably low or anxious it can start to interfere with day-to-day life.
Anxiety and low mood are experienced differently but can occur simultaneously – one in reaction to the other.
‘Persistent states of anxiety and low mood, like those experienced by people with clinical anxiety and mood disorders, involve changes in neurotransmitter function. Low serotonin levels are thought to play a role in both, as do other brain chemicals,’ explains Berry.
Positive neurotransmitters in the brain like serotonin and melatonin are regulated by magnesium, and such neurotransmitters are essential to balancing and boosting mood.
Adversely, low levels of this crucial mineral can leave you feeling down and irritable.
‘A magnesium deficiency in the brain may lower serotonin levels and previous research has suggested that inadequate dietary magnesium is a contributing cause of major depression, advising that medical professionals prescribe magnesium for its prevention and treatment’, says Berry.
Symptom #4 Frequent coughs & colds
Anxiety can trigger flight or fight responses which release a flood of chemicals into our bodies, including stress hormones such as adrenaline, into our systems.
‘While this can give the immune system a brief boost, repeatedly feeling anxious or prolonged periods of anxiousness means that the body cannot return to normal functioning and therefore weakening the immune system,’ explains Berry.
In fact, magnesium is one of many nutrients that can help to keep our immune defences strong.
‘Magnesium has a particularly strong relation with the immune system and depletion in this mineral can often manifest in many conditions including a sub-optimal immune system, as magnesium is an important co-factor for the formation of antibodies which target invading pathogens to keep us healthy,’ says Berry.
How can we increase our magnesium levels?
Supplementing with magnesium has never been easier and there are so many ways you can increase your levels.
There is a recommended daily intake of magnesium of 375mg a day, says Berry. ‘Research has shown that much higher levels than those recommended are safe to use, however oral supplementation using tablets or capsules can cause stomach upset and diarrhoea’.
Plus, if you suffer from problems such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) you might also have problems absorbing enough magnesium from an oral supplement.
When applied directly to the skin, magnesium will be absorbed directly into the skin tissue, entering cells and immediately
One of the most effective ways to absorb magnesium is through our skin (transdermal supplementation) as this avoids primary digestion.
When applied directly to the skin, magnesium will be absorbed directly into the skin tissue, entering cells and immediately replacing any magnesium lost through the stresses of modern life – and that includes feelings of anxiety.
A Magnesium absorption trial in association with Cardiff University showed that applying BetterYou Magnesium Oil Sleep Spray £12.95, provided an effective alternative to oral supplementation.
Plus, another study on transdermal magnesium found that using magnesium on the skin instead of taking it orally elevated cellular magnesium levels up to five times faster than traditional tablets or capsules.
The good news is there are so many ways you can absorb magnesium through your skin, including taking a bath in magnesium salts, or applying it to your skin through a magnesium lotion, spray or gel.
BetterYou’s range of transdermal magnesium products has something for everyone and includes: Magnesium Flakes £9.95, Magnesium Gel £12.65, Magnesium Skin Body Lotion £9.95 and Magnesium Skin Body Butter £9.95.
If you don’t have time for a long hot soak or to rub yourself in lotion, BetterYou also offers a Magnesium Oil Spray £12.95, which is scientifically formulated to deliver 200mg of magnesium direct to the skin in just ten sprays.
Berry advises gently massaging the ten sprays of the oil into clean, dry skin daily (ideally after showering or before sleep) to get 200mg magnesium (it’s particularly good if stress and anxiety cause you to wake in the small hours – rub a little on your belly and feel its calming effects in minutes).
This post has been sponsored by Better You. Find out more about this range at BetterYou.com.
WIN – Healthista has teamed up with BetterYou to give THREE lucky readers over £100 worth of magnesium health products – the perfect prize for any health lover.
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