Magnesium and 3 Other Natural Treatments for Anxiety and Depression

Magnesium is one of the many natural remedies for depression and anxiety.  Although 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health problem or an ongoing illness in their lives, many are unaware of the treatment options that exist for them. 

Antidepressants are the most widely known treatment for these illnesses, and there are a variety of different types. However, there are also many natural remedies for mild to moderate depression that patients may use in addition to their pharmaceutical treatment.

Even if patients have to take antidepressants, there are ways that they can start supporting a healthy mood naturally. Some patients take magnesium or other supplements to help with side effects from antidepressants, and others simply take them in addition to pharmaceutical treatments. 

The prescribed medications for a number of mood disorders, including both anxiety and depression, fall under the category of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These SSRIs have been proven to have certain side effects including insomnia, skin rashes, headaches, joint and muscle pain, stomach upset, nausea, or diarrhea. While these medications are undoubtedly necessary in many cases, it’s useful to also consider natural treatments for anxiety and depression. 

In this post, we’ll share four natural depression and anxiety remedies preferred by naturopaths, along with what they are, how they work, and how to use them effectively. 

Magnesium Supplementation for Depression

Although the causes of many mood disorders are not yet understood, low blood magnesium concentration can induce anxiety and related symptoms including: 

    • nervousness
    • agitation
    • low stress-tolerance
    • weakness
    • depression

Studies show magnesium can help downgrade anxiety by regulating cortisol (the fight or flight and stress hormone) levels, which keeps the nervous system calm and helps to manage stress. 

Increased magnesium intake can also balance hormonal activity in the areas of the brain that control anxiety and fear, and influence the activity of the adrenal system (the body’s main stress response system).

Depression as a Side Effect of Hypothyroidism — and How Magnesium Could Help

Generally, magnesium deficiency can also increase the risk of depression. More specifically, magnesium regulates thyroid hormone production, and an underactive thyroid can lead to depression

A familiar example is when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones for the body, a condition called hypothyroidism. While research is still lacking, it is entirely possible that some patients may experience symptoms of depression as a side effect of hypothyroidism. 

The shared symptoms include:

    • Depressed mood
    • Fatigue
    • Weight gain
    • Reduced sexual desire
    • Trouble concentrating

Adding magnesium to your supplements can help alleviate these symptoms whether or not they come from a thyroid condition. This essential mineral can promote hormone production to moderate mood regardless of whether the issue is hypothyroidism or depression. 

Treating the Side Effects of Depression with Magnesium

For patients who experience insomnia as a symptom or side effect, magnesium can also be really beneficial in helping with sleep. It helps control and increase GABA levels, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in promoting healthy sleep. (Which is why GABA is included in Calmful Sleep.)

By helping GABA to bind with the proper brain receptors, magnesium offers an all natural alternative to prescription sleep medication (with many of the same benefits!), without risking any side effects. Once GABA receptors have been activated and bound, they calm your nervous system and get your body and mind ready for restful sleep. 

ATP, or adenosine triphosphate, is a chemical compound within our bodies that transports chemical energy within cells. For ATP to be produced and effective, it depends on magnesium. Since both depression and anxiety can result in low energy levels, the partnership between magnesium and ATP is important for those struggling with these mood disorders.  

With enough magnesium to support ATP in becoming biologically active, many metabolic processes can be improved, including those that are necessary for natural energy production. 

Generally speaking, magnesium has the potential to ease many of the symptoms associated with both anxiety and depression. Patients who seek natural alternatives to antidepressants often find magnesium to be exactly what they need. That said, as always it’s best to talk to your doctor or naturopath before adding to your medication regimen.

5-HTP: Your Body’s Natural Mood Booster

5-HTP, or 5-Hydroxytryptophan, is an amino acid that your body creates naturally. It is converted to serotonin, which is a substance in your brain that keeps track of appetite, pain and sleep

Since some doctors believe that depression is a result of an imbalance in serotonin, 5-HTP supplements could help treat depression symptoms by raising serotonin levels naturally. 

Additionally, serotonin can be converted into melatonin, a key hormone in regulating sleep. Your melatonin levels go up in the evening to help you sleep, and down in the morning, helping you wake up. As 5-HTP promotes the production of melatonin, it has the potential to be a great help in the improvement of sleep duration and quality.

Things to Consider before Taking 5-HTP

Generally, 5-HTP can be safely combined with other medications without negative effects.

However, there are potential side effects to take into consideration. The severity and frequency of side effects depends on individual dosage, and can generally be avoided by scaling up to your full dose.

To minimize nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain when taking 5-HTP supplements, start small with 50–100 mg two times per day and increase to the appropriate dose over a two-week period. 

Because 5-HTP produces serotonin easily, taking it in combination with other serotonin promoting medications can be risky. To be sure, it’s always best to consult with your doctor before starting a new medication or supplement.

Overall, studies suggest that 5-HTP can treat depression and anxiety by increasing serotonin in the brain. It is a viable option for those looking to treat mild or occasional depression and anxiety, or in addition to other natural or allopathic medications.

Flower Power, or St. John’s Wort 

A powerful medicinal plant, St. John’s wort has been used to treat mood disorders, along with other medical problems for hundreds of years. It’s native to Europe and Asia, and can be consumed in a number of different ways. The flowers are either pressed and used in oils and extracts, or dried and put into capsules or tea.

Much like magnesium, St. John’s wort can either be taken orally as a capsule or drink, or topically as an oil. Researchers believe that it’s effectiveness is thanks to its active ingredients hypericin, hyperforin and adhyperforin. 

Research suggests that these components of the flower raise serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline levels in the brain, which all influence mood

The Science Behind It

A 2016 study suggests that the effect the plant has on patients of depression is not altogether different from the effect of pharmaceutical antidepressants. The study indicated that St. John’s wort:

    • Lessened symptoms of mild to moderate depression more than a placebo
    • Decreased symptoms almost as much as prescription antidepressants
    • Seemed to have fewer side effects than prescription antidepressants
    • Didn’t seem to reduce sex drive, often a side effect of antidepressants

However, the study did not cover the effects of the plant on patients with severe depression. 

Another study concluded that fewer people stop taking St John’s wort than those who stop taking SSRI’s, or their antidepressants. This is likely the case because of its very minimal side effects. 

It’s possible that St. John’s wort may have other properties, including healing wounds to the skin, alleviating symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome), SAD (seasonal affective disorder), and OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), but research into these conditions is not yet extensive enough. 

St. John’s Wort for Anxiety

Although the bulk of the research done on the properties of St. John’s wort is related to depression treatment, there are still conclusions to be made around how it can treat anxiety. Since depression and anxiety are so closely linked, we can use what we know about how the plant treats depression to find out how it could treat anxiety. 

St John’s wort is thought to work by regulating the brain’s use of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and norepinephrine. This results in an effect similar to that of an antidepressant and a general “feel good” sensation for the brain. This “feel good” sensation could lessen the frequency and severity of anxiety and its symptoms. 

Most prescription anxiety medications (benzodiazepines such as Xanax and Ativan), are used to strengthen the effect of GABA neurotransmitters. Because St. John’s wort seems to affect GABA, it is thought to mitigate anxiety. 

Unfortunately, research is still somewhat lacking on St. John’s wort and anxiety. Doctors and researchers have made connections between the two because they know the effect that the herb has on the brain. However, these speculations are largely theoretical.  

Potential Side Effects of St. John’s Wort

Although the side effects of this plant are minute compared to those of antidepressants, there have been some reports of trouble sleeping, upset stomach, irritability, fatigue and skin rashes. 

In rare cases, St. John’s wort has been associated with a sensitivity to sunlight, for both the skin and the eyes. It seems that this is related to high dosages, meaning that it could likely be avoided by carefully scaling up to your full dosage. 

Of the reported side effects of the plant, the majority were also side effects of depression. This means that patients should take note of their mood before taking these supplements, as well as during. 

Saffron, the Sunshine Spice

What is it?

Made from the flower Crocus sativus, the brightly coloured stigmas and styles are collected and dried for many different purposes. Because growing and harvesting the flowers is so labour intensive, saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world. It takes more than 80,000 flowers to create just one pound of the esteemed spice, meaning each pound could cost up to $1830! 

Apart from its strong antioxidant properties, saffron is thought to ease depressive symptoms and boost mood, and has been used in traditional Persian medicine for many years.

In a re-examination of 5 studies, some saffron extracts were found to treat mild to moderate depression notably better than a placebo did. Much like other natural treatments, saffron has fewer side effects than conventional medications, and some studies say that it can be just as effective as a small dose of fluoxetine (Prozac), imipramine (Tofranil) or citalopram (Celexa).

Why It Works

Since the causes of depression and anxiety are still unclear, it’s hard to know how exactly our medications treat it. As we mentioned before, many antidepressants are SSRI’s — selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. They work by increasing the levels of our “feel good” neurotransmitter, and blocking the brain’s reabsorption of it, so that the higher levels of serotonin in the brain are maintained. 

Similarly, saffron is thought to increase serotonin levels in our brain, although exactly how it does this is unknown. What’s more, saffron could also prevent serotonin reuptake in synapses (a junction between two nerve cells, consisting of a minute gap across which impulses pass by diffusion of a neurotransmitter). If true, saffron could help serotonin remain in the brain longer before being reabsorbed. This process would augment the favourable effects of serotonin, and could help fight depression. 

This potential mechanism has animal studies to back it up, which have shown properties characteristic of antidepressants in extracts from several different parts of the saffron plant. The medicinal powers can perhaps be attributed to its compounds such as crocetin, crocins, and safranal, which among other properties are protective of inflammation and powerful antioxidants. However, further research is needed in order to determine which particular elements of the plant affect mood and improve symptoms of depression. 

Next Steps

All four of these remedies are promising natural solutions that can augment pharmaceutical medication, or help those with mild, occasional depression. They have next to no side effects, and can be helpful in treating the more serious side effects of antidepressants. 

Always speak with your naturopath about starting new supplements, and if you’re on prescription medication speak with your doctor, just to be sure that these are the right natural solutions for you. 

If you ever have questions about how Natural Calm magnesium can help you, let us know at info@naturalcalm.ca

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