The U.S. National Institutes of Health classify magnesium as "an essential mineral for human nutrition." Many people, however, don't get enough of it. Research shows that a magnesium deficiency can have serious consequences, including low serotonin. That's right: a lack of magnesium can make you sad. Magnesium and serotonin don't just help to regulate your mood, they also can affect your physiology in ways you might not have realized.
Significance of Magnesium
Magnesium is a mineral found in dark leafy green vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes and whole grains. It serves important functions in the body, including muscle and enzyme function and production of proteins. It also aids in the conversion of tryptophan, an amino acid, to the neurotransmitter serotonin. If you abuse alcohol or have a poor diet, you may have a magnesium deficiency that can result in low levels of serotonin.
Function of Serotonin
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, meaning that it sends signals from the brain to the body. According to the Hypoglycemic Health Association of Australia, serotonin "conveys the positive sensations of satiety, satisfaction and relaxation." It also helps to regulate the appetite and influences sleep cycles. A lack of serotonin can lead to depression, eating disorders and possibly insomnia. It also seems to be related to migraine headaches. During a migraine, serotonin levels are very low, theoretically causing inflammation and irritation. This may be the origin of migraine sufferers' throbbing pain, nausea and distorted vision or speech.
Magnesium and Migraine
If the theoretical connection between serotonin and migraine is true, then magnesium is a logical treatment for the chronic affliction. A 1999 article published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture explored the link between magnesium and migraine. About half of migraine sufferers have low blood magnesium levels, the article claimed. A German study found that daily magnesium supplements caused a 41.6 percent drop in migraine frequency and a noticeable decline in intensity. Their conclusion was that high dosage of magnesium is an effective treatment for migraines.
Magnesium and serotonin have also been studied in relation to premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, a collection of symptoms that affect women before the beginning of their monthly period. A 1991 study found that women who took magnesium supplements for two weeks before their period experienced less pain and significantly fewer negative mood changes. The study's authors recommended magnesium supplementation as an effective, and safe, treatment for PMS.
The National Institutes of Health recommends that an adult male get at least 400 mg of magnesium per day and women should have at least 310 mg per day. Magnesium is naturally abundant in a variety of foods, but oral supplements can also help if your intake is low. Very large doses of magnesium can be dangerous, but this is rare. Focus instead on getting enough magnesium to ensure your good mood and healthy appetite from day to day.
- MedlinePlus: Magnesium in Diet
- The Hypoglycemic Health Association of Australia: The Serotonin Connection
- Michigan State University: The Chemistry of the Brain
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Migraines, Sleeplessness, Heart Attacks - Magnesium?
- "Cephalalgia"; Prophylaxis of Migraine with Oral Magnesium; Peikert A; Jun 1996
- "Obstetrics and Gynecology"; Oral Magnesium Successfully Relieves Premenstrual Mood Changes; Faccinetti F et al.; Aug 1991
- National Institutes of Health: Magnesium Fact Sheet