Best Forms of Magnesium Supplements for Anxiety, Depression, and More
Low magnesium levels can get in the way of you dealing well with stress. It can cause increased anxiety and contribute to many ailments and health problems.
Your body needs magnesium for hundreds of chemical reactions—including those that help you deal with stress—but most people don't have enough magnesium for those reactions to run smoothly.
Many of my clients have seen fast improvement in their sleep quality, increased ability to deal with stress, less anxiety, reduced pain, and many other health benefits from supplementing with magnesium.
What's in This Article
|How Much Magnesium Per Day|
|2 Types of Magnesium Supplements|
|The Effects of Too Much Magnesium|
|How to Use Transdermal Magnesium Supplements|
|Relaxing DIY Foot Soak Recipe|
|Oral Magnesium Supplements (including 3 to avoid)|
|Who Should Not Take Magnesium Supplements|
For the benefits of magnesium, related research, and list of conditions that it can help with, check out this post: Magnesium Supplement Benefits for Anxiety, Depression, and More
This post should not be taken as medical advice. It is always advisable to consult with your personal medical professionals.
How Much Magnesium Per Day
There is no UL (Upper Limit) for magnesium.
The magnesium RDA (Recommended Daily Amount) in mg/day:
- Men 19–30 years old: 400
- Men over 30: 420
- Women 19–30 years old: 310
- Women over 30: 320
Supplementation dosage recommendations (mg/day) for men and women:
- PDR for Nutritional Supplements recommends 100–350
- Nutrition Essentials for Mental Health recommends 100–400
2 Types of Magnesium Supplements
Magnesium can be taken:
- orally (pills, capsules, or powders) or
- transdermally through your skin (oils, gels, baths).
There are some doubters about magnesium being absorbed through skin, but I know for sure that it works because I've witnessed the results.
I had chronic neck pain for a decade after a roll-over car accident. After I started using transdermal magnesium, I noticed my neck pain went away, which makes sense because magnesium is a muscle relaxer. If I slack off on using magnesium oil or footbaths, my neck pain returns after about three days. When I start using them again, the neck pain goes away within a few hours.
The Effects of Too Much Magnesium
Magnesium is a muscle relaxant. If you take too much magnesium, it will potentially relax your intestines and you'll get diarrhea.
An advantage of using transdermal magnesium sources is that you are going to get your blood level of magnesium up before it hits your intestines with its relaxing effect. With oral magnesium, it hits your intestines first -- so your blood level might still be deficient even if you are getting diarrhea.
Oral magnesium can be more or less diarrhea-causing depending on what it is bound to. (More about this in a minute.)
For a long time, I was suggesting that my anxiety clients who already tended toward loose stools avoid magnesium supplements, but more recently I am getting feedback from clients who had suffered for years with diarrhea that taking magnesium made their diarrhea go away. My assumption is that it had a calming effect on a cramping intestinal tract or that their diarrhea was anxiety-induced. (Magnesium calmed the anxiety and in turn that calmed their intestines.)
How to Use Transdermal Magnesium Supplements
Transdermal magnesium involves sprays or lotions you apply to your skin, or flakes/salts added to a foot or body bath.
Because magnesium helps relax your body and your mind, soaking in a magnesium-enriched foot or body bath before bed can be a great way to wind down and improve your sleep. A full-body bath gives you more skin exposure so it has the potential of increasing the amount you absorb, but also requires more of your magnesium source than you need for a foot bath because of the greater water volume.
For even more relaxing effect, you can add lavender or other calming essential oils to your bath along with the magnesium flakes or salts.
There are two compounds of magnesium for transdermal use:
- Magnesium sulfate
- Magnesium chloride
1. Magnesium sulfate
Magnesium sulfate is also known as Epsom salts. The name Epsom comes from the British town where it was first created in the 1600s by boiling down spring water. Epsom salts are quite inexpensive and easy to find in grocery stores, drug stores, and online. This is the salt used in most of the floatation tanks that have become popular for relaxing and relieving tension. It can be used in foot and body baths.
If you are using Epsom salts, try to find a brand that talks about its purity. (One example on Amazon is Ultra Epsom Premium Epsom Salt. ) You don’t want to be absorbing toxic stuff when you’re trying to do your body good.
Use about 2 cups of Epsom Salt in a 20-minute footbath. More in a full-body bath. (For more on foot bath how-to's see Relaxing DIY Foot Soak Recipe below.)
Note: I include product links for your convenience. As an Amazon Associate, I may receive a small commission on sales from these links, but it doesn't influence my suggestions or affect your cost.
2. Magnesium chloride
Dr. Mark Sircus, author of Transdermal Magnesium Therapy, prefers magnesium chloride over magnesium sulfate:
"Epsom Salts are wonderful for many applications and one can put hundreds of pounds of it in isolation chambers so you can float easily in them. . . . For some reason magnesium chloride is hugely more absorbable through transdermal means than magnesium sulfate (Epsom Salt)."
My personal experience is that I get way better results with Magnesium chloride flakes than I do with Epsom Salt.
Magnesium chloride flakes can be used in foot or body baths. Because it seems to absorb better than Epsom Salt, you can use less: about 1 cup magnesium chloride flakes per footbath compared to twice as much for Epsom Salts. (For more on foot bath how-to's see Relaxing DIY Foot Soak Recipe below.)
Magnesium chloride can also be applied to the skin as magnesium oil, gel, or lotion.
Magnesium oil is not really an oil. It is a water solution of magnesium chloride but it feels slippery like an oil. You simply spray it on your body.
There is one catch: some of the solutions available can make you itchy until you build up your magnesium level and they may leave a residue that you have to wipe off. Don’t apply it right after shaving, or you’ll definitely feel an itchy burn. I spray it on my abdomen, arms, and legs morning and night, and gently rub it in. I’ve never had any residue problems.
If you do become itchy after using magnesium oil, try diluting it half and half with water. Build your way toward higher concentrations.
Like with Epsom salts, purity can be an issue with magnesium chloride. Dr. Sircus and others raise concerns about environmental contamination of sea and lake sources. The purest source appears to be a deep ancient mine in Northern Europe known as the Zechstein Seabed.
The Ancient Minerals brand of magnesium chloride uses the Zechstein mine as their source and is the brand recommended by Dr. Sircus and Dr. Carolyn Dean, author of The Magnesium Miracle. They have flakes, oils, and gels.
Relaxing DIY Foot Soak Recipe
Here's a quick summary of how to make an easy stress-relieving foot bath.
Doing your foot bath in the evening helps reduce stress and improve sleep.
Foot Soak Recipe:
- Get out a container that is big enough to place your feet into. (You can use a large bowl or dishpan. I use a plastic dishpan that I purchased for foot soaks. Don't use with a foot spa unless it can handle the magnesium salts or flakes.)
- Put a couple of inches of warm water in the container so that your feet will be covered up to about your ankles. (The water doesn't have to be hot-hot. Make it hot enough so that it won't be annoying as it cools off, but not so hot that it is uncomfortable.)
- Add either 1 cup of Magnesium chloride flakes or 2 cups of Epsom Salts. Stir it into the water with your hand so that it dissolves.
- Optional: If you like, add a calming essential oil. (See the list below.)
- Soak your feet for 20 minutes or longer. (I put a towel down on the floor in front of my favorite chair, place a dishpan of the magnesium soaking water on the towel and watch TV while I soak. My soak usually ends up being more like 40 minutes just because by then I notice that the water has cooled off.)
Calming Essential Oils:
- Lavender (L. angustifolia),
- Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus),
- Sweet orange (Citrus sinensis),
- Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens),
- Bergamot (Citrus bergamia),and
- Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata).
For more info about essential oils, check out this post: 9 Best Essential Oils for Relieving Anxiety, Stress and Insomnia
Oral Magnesium Supplements
Magnesium has to be bound with some other biochemical. Oral magnesium can be more or less absorbable and diarrhea-causing depending on what it is bound to.
If you use oral magnesium, it is recommended that you not take it with a meal that is phytate-heavy (unsprouted whole grains, legumes, nuts, or seeds) or oxalate-heavy (spinach, Swiss chard, almonds, rhubarb, or beets) because these antinutrients may grab the minerals before they get a chance to enter your bloodstream.
3 Magnesium Supplements to Avoid
Before talking about some oral magnesium compounds that you might try, I'll mention 3 that you should avoid. Check supplement ingredient lists carefully to make sure manufactures aren't mixing these in with other magnesium compounds that may be named more prominently on bottles and in advertising.
Magnesium oxide is the cheapest form and widely used for supplements, but it is also the worst. It is poorly absorbed by your body, and it tends to cause diarrhea.
Magnesium aspartate is more absorbable than the oxide form but it is not good for people with anxiety because aspartate is an excitatory amino acid.
Magnesium carbonate is less soluble and absorbable than the compounds listed below.
Magnesium Citrate Supplements
Magnesium citrate is the most common form for oral supplementation but it is quite laxative.
Many of my clients experience a great improvement in sleep and reduction of anxiety with a Magnesium Citrate powder known as Natural Vitality CALM. It is readily available in stores and online. I use it occasionally when I know that I need some magnesium but don't feel like taking a footbath. I get good results with it too.
To minimize the diarrhea potential, start by taking it in the evening and follow the container's instructions for experimenting with small doses to find the level that works well for you.
Other Oral Magnesium Supplements
I have not had good personal experience with any magnesium pills or capsules. I've tried at least half a dozen formulations, but they all make me feel a little nauseous.
Here are some magnesium formulations you might try in capsule or tablet form if you want to see how they work for you.
Magnesium malate, taurate, lactate, succinate, fumarate, and gluconate are some middle-of-the-road oral magnesium supplements.
Magnesium L-threonate is a new kid on the block. Research on rats shows promising evidence that this form of magnesium has superior ability to enter the brain and improve learning and memory. Its ability to enter the brain might mean that it is particularly helpful for mental health as well. But, it is very expensive and may be more hype than extra benefit.
Magnesium glycinate has the advantage of including the calming neurotransmitter glycine. It is fairly well absorbed and less laxative than some other forms. (Watch out for supplements that say magnesium glycinate on the front but then reveal on the back that they have some other magnesium compounds, like oxide, as well. I got burnt on this myself.)
Magnesium bisglycinate is a slightly different glycine formulation that is promising. Thorne makes a powder version that can be used to make an evening drink to help with sleep. It is more expensive than Natural CALM but less likely to cause diarrhea. Many companies produce it in capsule form.
Who Should Not Take Magnesium Supplements
In The Magnesium Miracle Dr. Carolyn Dean mentions “four contraindications to magnesium therapy: kidney failure, myasthenia gravis [a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease], excessively slow heart rate, and bowel obstruction.”
Anxiety Diet Book
In Feed Your Calm, you'll learn:
- What's happening in your body as you try to deal with stress
- How specific vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins, probiotics, and herbs help you deal with stress
- 5 types of foods that add to your stress and hurt your ability to be calm
- 12 anti-anxiety foods for stress resilience
- 10 anti-anxiety supplements for stress resilience
"Anxiety is at epidemic levels today. In Feed Your Calm, Ann Silvers gives readers an approachable antidote to this epidemic."
--Dr. Megan DeBell, MD
No part of this post should be taken as medical advice. It is always advisable to consult with your personal doctors and medical professionals about your individual circumstances. Pregnant and nursing mothers and people on medications should take special care to check with their doctor regarding any potential counterindications for specific natural remedies.
- Ann Silvers