The pressures of the developed world is hardly conducive of a stress free existence, and poor mental health has become a global pandemic. Numerous external aspects of the 21st Century are considered to play a part in our declining emotional well being. Most of us consider our mobile devices as a third arm. Expected to respond to vast forms of communication instantly, whether via: social media, text, email or talking on the telephone. Taking a break from the outside world is increasingly difficult. Consumerism, and pressure to climb the social and financial ladder is also prevalent. Widely encouraged to always want more, frowning upon contentment. The ethos of many is live for the future and rarely stop to enjoy the present.
In May 2019 the World Health Organisation reflected on this when it included burn-out, in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases. Defining it as:
“a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”World Health Organisation
Could there be another internal factor involved in our overall declining mental health? Scientists have noticed a correlation between rising anxiety and plummeting magnesium intake in the last half century. To strengthen this theory, researchers have discovered they can induce anxiety in laboratory animals by simply depriving them of magnesium (apologies to animal rights activists, I am only the messenger). Involved in more than 300 biochemical reactions magnesium has two roles directly related to stress.
- Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands and is mainly released at times of stress. It has various important functions and is directly responsible for the necessary fight or flight response required to deal with imminent danger. However to much cortisol contributes to: mood swings, anxiety, insomnia, depression, brain fog, concentration issues, dementia, mental illness and memory loss. Magnesium acts as a filter, restricting the release of cortisol and preventing it from entering the brain.
- Gamma Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) is a naturally present amino acid. Its role as an inhibitory neurotransmitter is to slow brain activity. Magnesium is essential for GABA to work effectively, by binding to and stimulating the receptors in the brain to counteract stress. Not enough GABA makes it impossible to relax, causing people to become: disorganized, easily overwhelmed, suffer with racing thoughts and excessive worrying.
An intricate balance is essential for these biochemical reactions to be effective. The whole process is a bit like the snake chasing its own tail. Increased stress requires more magnesium, but prolonged stress depletes the body of its magnesium.
So how much magnesium does the body need?
Recommended Dietary Allowance of Magnesium in (mg)
|Birth – 6 months||30mg||30mg|
|7 – 12 months||75mg||75mg|
|1 – 3 years||80mg||80mg|
|4 – 8 years||130mg||130mg|
|9 – 13 years||240mg||240mg|
|14 – 18 years||410mg||360mg||400mg||360mg|
|19 – 30 years||400mg||310mg||350mg||310mg|
|31 – 50 years||420mg||320mg||360mg||320mg|
The mineral is found naturally in the body, and is present in many foods including: green leafy vegetables, fruit, seafood, legumes, nuts and seeds. Certain medicines such as laxatives and antacids contain magnesium. It is added to certain foods and is available as a supplement (but always seek professional advice before taking).
One positive thing to come from increasing poor mental health is societies increasing willingness to speak out about this once taboo subject, gradually prioritizing mental and emotional well being in much the same way as physical health. Currently medical professionals encourage a combination of talking therapies and medication to improve mental health. Could tackling magnesium deficiency be added to the list.