Magnesium & Mental Health

This guide looks at how the major functions of our brain & nerves need magnesium[1], and why magnesium deficiency is linked to mental & nerve diseases.

  1. Magnesium fuels our brain and nerves
  2. Magnesium develops our brain and nerves
  3. Magnesium develops our skills, intelligence and memory
  4. Magnesium protects our nerves and brain cells
  5. Magnesium creates new brain cells
  6. Magnesium facilitates nerve signalling
  7. Magnesium deficiency can contribute to mental and nervous system diseases (depression, Alzheimer’s, Parkinsons, Multiple Sclerosis, ADHD, etc.)

The solutions section then looks at actions we can take to restore and maintain healthy magnesium levels.

1. Magnesium fuels our brain & nerves...

Our brain and nerves are made of long thin cells called neurons which have branches at one end for receiving electric signals, and a terminal station at the other end for sending the signals to the next neuron. This passing of electric signals along sequences of neurons is what allows us to think, perform vital functions and experience life with our senses.

Because our neurons are constantly being used they need large amounts of energy. Neurons get energy by converting dietary sugar (glucose) into energy molecules called ATP (adenosine triphosphate)[2-4].

Both phases of this energy production need magnesium:

  1. First, our neurons need to absorb this glucose. This depends on the hormones insulin and glucagon, whose very creation[5-9] and function both require magnesium. [10-18]
  2. Second, our neurons now convert the glucose into energy molecules called ATP. This conversion is also a magnesium-dependent process. [19-23] In fact, each of the trillions of ATP molecules in your body needs to be bound to magnesium in order to be active.[24]

Magnesium and mental health are linked at the most basic level: Our brain and nerves need magnesium for their energy.

1. Summary

Our brain and nerves are made of cells called neurons whose transmission of electric signals regulates our body and facilitates our five senses.

Neurons need magnesium to convert the food we eat into usable energy molecules called ATP. Low magnesium means low energy levels. 

2. Magnesium develops our brain & nerves...

During pregnancy, as the baby’s cells replicate & multiply, they begin to then differentiate (transform) into more specific cells. Out of the baby’s trillions of cells, 100 billion of them differentiate into neurons: the cells that make up our brain and nerves. Both the cellular replication AND differentiation into neurons requires magnesium:

  1. Replication: For a cell to replicate, it first needs to make a copy of its DNA. This process uses DNA polymerase, a magnesium-dependent enzyme[25]
  2. Differentiation: The newly replicated cell now engages a process called protein synthesis which transforms it into a neuron. This process is also magnesium-dependent. [5-9]

We see again how magnesium and mental health are related at a fundamental level: Magnesium is critical for the initial creation and development of our neurons: the cells that make up the infrastructure of our brain and nerves. 

2. Summary

Our body develops and repairs our brain and nerves by replicating and developing neurons. 

This happens via protein synthesis, a process which requires magnesium.

3. Magnesium develops our skills and intelligence...

Protein synthesis occurs when a cell assembles the amino acids from the food we eat into special proteins. Hence the term protein synthesis: The synthesis (creation) of proteins. Our neurons also use this process for their daily repair and growth. This is because proteins are what give our cells and thus our organs their structure and function.

One example of how protein synthesis happens in our neurons is after exercise. As we perform a movement our brain sends a signal along a pathway of connected neurons which ends up at our muscles, where the signal activates them. The more of this signalling occurrs the stronger and more efficient the pathway of neurons grows – this is how we get better at the things we practice. This strengthening of neurons and their connections is called long-term potentiation, and protein synthesis is the process by which it happens [26], which we now know is a process that needs magnesium.

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However in order for long-term potentiation to take place, special receptors on our neurons called NMDA receptors must be activated.[27,28] Their activation allows an influx of positive charge into the neuron, which facilitates long-term potentiation.

The NMDA receptor is regulated by magnesium. [29-32] Magnesium sits bound to the receptor, preventing its over-stimulation which can otherwise damage and kill the neuron.

Magnesium’s NMDA regulation of long-term potentiation allows us to selectively strengthen the neural connections involved in the tasks we practice most (practice makes perfect), while preventing the unnecessary development of other less used neural connections we may not want to strengthen. In fact, NMDA dysregulation has been linked with the development of various mental disorders including epilepsy. [33]

Magnesium is critical for both NMDA receptor function and the protein synthesis needed for developing our skills via long-term potentiation. 

Magnesium helps make us smarter

Long-term potentiation makes us better at physical and mental tasks: As we engage mental tasks, they activate various parts of our brain and the neurons in those areas send signals between each other in the same way that happens during exercise. Similarly, repetition of these mental tasks stimulates long-term potentiation, thus making that area of our brain better at what it does. Because long-term potentiation requires protein sysnthesis (which requires magnesium), we see how increasing our mental skills requires magnesium in the short and long term. [34]

Magnesium also helps us improve our skills by facilitating memory formation (which happens largely during REM sleep).[35] Magnesium does this via its role in creating DHEA from cholesterol[36-38]. DHEA is a powerful youth-preserving hormone which increases our REM sleep, thus increasing the window of opportunity for memory formation.[39]

Deep sleep (slow wave sleep) is even more critical to memory formation,[40-44] and magnesium supplementation is known to increase our deep sleep[45], thus increasing the opportunity for memory formation and boosting overall mental function.

3. Summary

The reason practice makes us better, is because the constant use of our neurons results in long-term potentiation: 

When our neurons and their connections grow stronger via protein synthesis.

The more we use the specific neurons for the task we practice, the more they grow, making us better. Remember: we need magnesium for this protein synthesis!

Long-term potentiation also works in response to repeated mental tasks.

We need magnesium to become better at physical tasks, and to become smarter.

Magnesium also helps boost our REM and Slow wave-sleep, which are both critical for memory development.

4. Magnesium protects and repairs nerves...

Our brain and nerve cells incur damage from oxidative stress and inflammation. When we experience these two for extended periods of time, they lead to physical deterioration, malfunction and sometimes debilitating disease. Magnesium helps prevent and reduce both:

Magnesium vs oxidative damage

Much oxidative damage occurs when iron builds up in our tissues[46,47] instead of circulating in our blood. Free iron in our tissues rapidly oxidizes. This is another way of saying that it causes our tissues to rust.

Magnesium prevents this toxic build-up of iron in our tissues via its role in the creation and function of an enzyme called ceruloplasmin.[48] This enzyme loads iron from our cells onto the transporter molecules that carry it in our blood.[49,50] When ceruloplasmin doesn’t work, iron builds up in our nerve and brain cells, leading to high rates of oxidative stress and physical damage. As mentioned this can lead to various neurodegenerative diseases.

Magnesium vs inflammation

All cells including neurons experience inflammation from stress. This can be environmental or psychological stress, or simply the stress from daily wear-and-tear. Because neurons engage our environment, psyche, and daily use more than any other cells, they also incur more stress and inflammation. Fortunately our body makes molecules called anti-oxidants to fight inflammation. Apart from carbon dioxide, our most abundant anti-oxidant is glutathione, whose creation requires magnesium-dependent ATP [51,52] which helps explain why magnesium and glutathione levels are related.[53,54]

In fact magnesium has such powerful anti-inflammatory properties that it directly reduces the death of neurons[55], while its deprivation causes their inflammatory death.[56] This is why higher magnesium intake is shown to result in healthier people with less inflammation [57,58] and why magnesium deficiency is associated with a wide array of diseases.[59-63] Magnesium’s anti inflammatory effects are so powerful that it has even been shown to stimulate the regeneration of a crushed sciatic nerve.[64] 

Simply put magnesium keeps our brain and nerves healthy by fighting inflammation, preventing neuronal damage and death, and repairing our neurons. 

4. Summary

Excess iron in our neurons causes RUST and damage in our brain & nerves. Magnesium stops this: it keeps iron flowing in our blood instead of building up in our cells.

Magnesium also prevents damage and mental disease by fighting inflammation, and making antioxidants. 

It also directly reduces the death of our neurons and helps regenerate them.

5. Magnesium creates new brain cells...

Only a decade ago it was believed that we couldn’t make new neurons. This meant that as our brain and nerve cells died, their numbers and our mental force declined permanently.

Fortunately new evidence has found that neurogenesis – the creation of new brain cells – can happen in humans past the developmental stages of life. [65-68] While this is a new field of study that requires more research, initial findings are both promising and empowering.

The creation of new neurons requires DNA replication and protein synthesis, which as we already know are both magnesium-dependent. 

6. Magnesium and nerve signalling...

Magnesium & neurotransmitters

In addition to our neurons’ growth and repair, magnesium is also critical to their function, ie: their ability to transmit electric signals throughout our body so we can experience the world with our five senses. Besides regulating NMDA receptors[69], magnesium is needed for several other phases of nerve signalling. To better understand, let’s first look at how neurons send signals:

  1. Neuron A sends a messenger molecule called a neurotransmitter, to neuron B.
  2. The neurotransmitter interacts with neuron B’s receiving branches (dendrites).
  3. This creates an electric signal that passes from neuron B’s receiving end to its terminal end.
  4. When this signal arrives at the terminal end, it stimulates neuron B to send neurotransmitters towards the dendrites of the next neuron in the nervous pathway. So the process continues.

Our nervous system can’t function without neurotransmitters. Magnesium is critical because neurotransmitters are made via protein synthesis, a process which we already know needs magnesiumThis leads to another component of nerve function for which magnesium and protein synthesis are needed:

Magnesium & nerve insulation

Our neurons receive neurotransmitters via their dendrites, and they send neurotransmitters from their terminals.  The long body of the neuron along which the electric signal travels from the dendrites to the terminals, is called the axon.

The axons of our nerves have a special coating called the myelin sheath, which insulates them from electrically active molecules and facilitates their transmission of these electric signals. Magnesium is critical to the formation and maintenance of the myelin sheath:

The myelin sheath is nearly 40% water. The remaining portion is 70-85% cholesterol [70] and 15-30% protein called myelin basic protein.[71]

We already know that proteins – including myelin basic protein – need magnesium to be made via protein synthesis. Yet magnesium is also involved in the regulation of cholesterol production via a pathway known as the Mevalonate pathway. [72,73]

Magnesium and mental health are thus linked in another vital way: the facilitation of proper nerve signalling via magnesium’s role in our neurons’ myelin sheath.

6. Summary

Our neurons use neurotransmitters to send their signals. We need magnesium to make these molecules.

Magnesium also regulates receptors on our neurons which facilitate the healthy passing of signals.

Magnesium also helps create & protect  our myelin sheath: the material that helps our neurons pass signals.

7. Magnesium deficiency & disease:

Simple logic tells us that if our brain and nerves need magnesium daily for:

  1. physical repair and maintenance,
  2. protection from inflammation and prevention of neuron death,
  3. synthesizing neurotransmitters & myelin sheath and transmitting electric signals,
  4. becoming stronger and smarter with practice,

then being severely deficient in magnesium for long enough can eventually lead to some form of debilitating disease of the brain and nerves. Below we look at magnesium deficiency’s relations to epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, depression, ADHD, headaches & migraines, and other nervous system disorders.

Magnesium deficiency & epilepsy...

We know that magnesium’s role in regulating NMDA receptors is critical to the health of our brain and nerve cells. When this system fails and the receptors are over-activated, the development of epilepsy and other disorders may ensue.[33,74]

Magnesium also prevents degenerative mental diseases like epilepsy by helping our brain detoxify, via its role in the production of one of our most potent anti-oxidants: melatonin.

Melatonin is known for its sleep-inducing effects, however it is an extremely potent anti-inflammatory agent [75-78], with especially protective and beneficial effects on the central nervous system[79,80] in the short and long term.[81]

Our body makes melatonin by converting the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin and then into melatonin. This process requires several nutrient co-factors, including zinc, vitamin b6, and magnesium. [82,83]. This helps explain why magnesium deficiency can result in lower melatonin levels [84,85] and insomnia, and why magnesium supplementation improves primary insomnia. [86]

Magnesium deficiency & Alzheimer's...

Alzheimer’s is strongly linked with the build-up of beta-amyloid plaque in our brain and nerves.[87-90] New research also shows that beta amyloid exerts its neurotoxic effects before the build-up of plaque, via its binding to special PirB receptors on our neurons. [91]

This continued receptor-binding destroys the connections between our neurons, resulting in our inability to form memories – a primary characteristic of Alzheimer’s. How is magnesium deficiency related to the development of Alzheimer’s disease?

Magnesium is involved in melatonin and glutathione production, which both reduce the toxic effects of beta amyloid in our brain and nerve cells. [92-96] This helps explain why they’ve both been shown as beneficial to Alzheimer’s patients [97,98] and proposed as therapies.

Magnesium deficiency has been linked with Alzheimer’s since the 1990s [99,100] and studies now show a prevalence of magnesium deficiency in Alzheimer’s patients [101], with especially low levels in their brain[102] and cerebrospinal fluid. [103] 

While it’s no surprise that magnesium is shown to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s [104], and protect mental function in Alzheimer’s victims [105], preventative action is still the best option. Magnesium supplementation also helps prevent mental diseases and degeneration because of its role in preventing iron toxicity (ceruloplasmin), as high levels of iron are linked with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.[106-108]

Magnesium deficiency & Parkinson's...

Parkinson’s is the second most common mental disease after Alzheimer’s and they share several factors. Both are debilitating, both can result in dementia and both have a degree of beta amyloid plaque build-up [109,110]. 

Hence magnesium’s role in preventing beta amyloid toxicity (via glutathione and melatonin production) means that magnesium supplementation can serve as a preventative measure against the development of Parkinson’s.

Parkinson’s-specific research also identifies the buildup of molecules called alpha-synuclein as one of the primary correlations and problems of the disease. [111-113] Magnesium has been shown to play a very direct role in reducing the harmful build-up of alpha-synuclein.[114]

Findings also show that alpha-synuclein works together with dopamine, and calcium channels to cause the death of neurons in Parkinson’s.[115] This highlights the preventative power of magnesium in Parkinson’s because magnesium regulates calcium channels in all kinds of cells [116-122, 19], while also regulating dopamine levels in our cells.[123]

The importance of magnesium’s regulation of calcium has also been brought to light in a recent study which has linked calcium supplementation to brain lesions.[124] Similarly, magnesium’s regulation of iron (via its role in ceruloplasmin function) is another critical factor in prevention, because high levels of iron in our brain are also linked with Parkinson’s. [125]

Simply put, magnesium seems to reduce the main problematic factors in our nerve and brain cells which lead to Parkinson’s disease, which in turn helps explain why magnesium supplementation is shown to protect suffering and toxic neurons found in Parkinson’s disease. [126-128]

Magnesium deficiency & Multiple Sclerosis...

Remember our neurons’ myelin sheath? It’s the protective insulating material that surrounds their long bodies. Well, in multiple sclerosis, patients lose their ability to move because their nerves cannot properly transmit signals to do things like activate muscles to facilitate movement. A main cause of this inability of neurons to transmit signals is the degeneration of their myelin sheath. [129] As we have already learned, magnesium is needed for the process of protein synthesis which makes our myelin sheath’s main protein:  myelin basic protein.

Furthermore, several studies also reveal beta amyloid as a problematic molecule yet again, because it binds to white tissue:[130] findings suggest that beta amyloid plays a role in our neurons’ de-myelination by reducing myelin basic protein, which is a white tissue. [131,132] Thus magnesium helps prevent multiple sclerosis because its role in glutathione and melatonin production reduces beta amyloid which otherwise destroys our myelin sheath.

Magnesium’s key role in iron regulation is also once again a factor in prevention, as iron dysregulation is also linked with the development of multiple sclerosis,[133] as well as the development of another nerve-degenerating and debilitating disorder called Friedreich Ataxia.[134]

Even more specifically, magnesium has been shown to protect oligodendrocytes: the cells that manufacture our nerves’ myelin sheath.[135,136]  It is then no surprise that low levels of magnesium are found in multiple sclerosis patients [137-138].

Multiple sclerosis is extremely debilitating and maintaining healthy magnesium levels is critical in the prevention of this life-altering condition.

Magnesium, depression, anxiety, ADHD, migraines etc...

The first beneficial effects of magnesium supplementation on depression were observed nearly 100 years ago. [139] Perhaps the simplest connection between magnesium deficiency and problems in mood and depression can be found when we look at three important neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine and GABA.

Abnormal levels of these neurotransmitters, and/or the over-excitation of their receptors is found in depression, and it is widely accepted that magnesium is involved in the regulation and/or synthesis of all three.

This helps explain why low levels of magnesium in the cerebrospinal fluid of our nervous system are associated with depression and suicide. [140] Furthermore magnesium imbalance is often observed in people with depression[141-145], and higher dietary intake of magnesium is associated with lower depression symptoms.[146]

Very low magnesium intake has an even higher association with depression, and this is especially seen in young adults.[147] What is particularly astounding is that magnesium supplementation has been shown to reverse major depression in as fast as 7 days[148].

Magnesium deficiency is also strongly correlated with migraines and headaches [149,150] which is why supplementation has been shown to help substantially[151-153]. In fact magnesium infusion often eliminates symptoms instantly[154], with some scientists even concluding that:

“all migraine patients should be treated with magnesium.”

It comes as no surprise that magnesium deficiency is related to a variety of other mental problems which magnesium supplementation has been shown to help with, including anxiety[155], irritability and aggression[156-160], ADHD [161-166], suicidal ideationinsomnia, postpartum depression, and abuse of cocaine, alcohol and tobacco.[144] Researchers who have assessed these findings have concluded that:

“The possibility that magnesium deficiency is the cause of most major depression and related mental health problems including IQ loss and addiction is enormously important to public health and is recommended for immediate further study.”

These same findings also highlight that magnesium is low in our food and water supply. Now that we see just how critical magnesium is to the structure, fuel, and function of our brain and nerves, it becomes even more important to be aware of how our modern environments are impacting our ability to maintain healthy magnesium levels:


All the main functions of our brain & nerves depend on magnesium:

  • Energy production
  • Physical repair and maintenance
  • Fighting inflammation and preventing death of brain cells
  • Creation of neurotransmitters and myelin sheath
  • Regulation and transmission of nerve signals
  • Increase in skill and intelligence from practice

Maintaining healthy magnesium levels is a key requirement for mental health. Severe and prolonged magnesium deficiency can lead to mental health complications, including a wide range of neurodegenerative diseases. Because the modern world makes it difficult to satisfy daily magnesium requirements from diet alone, magnesium supplementation is often advised by scientists for therapeutic and preventative mental health measures.


Solutions to restore magnesium

While restoring and maintaining healthy magnesium levels may not resolve all mental and neurodegenerative health conditions on its own, based on magnesium’s essential roles in brain and nerve function, it is still a major requirement for optimal mental health.  A complete magnesium restoration protocol can include:

  • Eating a magnesium-smart diet. Learn more.
  • Reducing the environmental, psychological and physical stressors that deplete magnesium from your body. Learn more.
  • Using a quality trans-dermal magnesium supplement to restore whole-body magnesium levels. Consider combining this with an oral magnesium-taurate or a magnesium l-threonate supplement which are both helpful for mental health. Learn more. 


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    133. The role of iron dysregulation in the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis: an Egyptian study.
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    163. Magnesium VitB6 intake reduces central nervous system hyperexcitability in children.
    164. Improvement of neurobehavioral disorders in children supplemented with magnesium-vitamin B6. I. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorders.
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