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Can magnesium treat depression?

New research suggests over-the-counter magnesium supplements could be a safe and effective alternative to prescription depression meds.

If the Senate health bill passes, a predicted 22 million Americans could lose their health insurance. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, more than 15 million Americans suffer from depression. You don’t have to crunch the numbers to see that millions of people would have to make do with alternative treatment options

It’s unclear how patients suffering from severe psychiatric disorders, from manic depression to schizophrenia, would cope with losing access to treatment. 

But for Americans experiencing mild-to-moderate depressive symptoms, new research published in the journal PLoS One suggests there may be a cheap, safe and effective alternative to prescription meds, such as SSRIs: over-the-counter magnesium supplements. 

Emily Tarleton, MS, RD, CD, a graduate student in Clinical and Translational Science, and a team of researchers at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine conducted a clinical trial which found that one oral magnesium tablet daily alleviated patients’ depressive symptoms.

The research team analyzed 126 adults, average age of 52, who were currently seeking treatment for mild to moderate depression in outpatient primary care clinics. They gave half of them 248 mg of magnesium daily over six weeks, while the other half served as the control group and didn’t receive any treatment. Participants reported their symptoms via biweekly phone calls.  

The results showed that the first group reported improvements in mood in as quickly as two weeks, without side effects. Age, sex, use of antidepressants did not prove to be factors.

"This is the first randomized clinical trial looking at the effect of magnesium supplementation on symptoms of depression in U.S. adults," Tarleton said in a statement. "The results are very encouraging, given the great need for additional treatment options for depression, and our finding that magnesium supplementation provides a safe, fast and inexpensive approach to controlling depressive symptoms."

Magnesium, a mineral naturally occurring in the human body, helps regulate blood pressure, maintain a steady heartbeat and good bone strength. Low levels of magnesium have been tied to inflammation, which can cause depression, diabetes and heart disease. The recommended daily amount of magnesium for adults age 19 and older ranges between 310 and 320 mg daily for women, and between 400 and 420 mg daily for men. Green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, and whole grain cereals are good sources of magnesium. According to WebMD, adults choosing to supplement shouldn’t take more 350 mg/daily.