Written by Dr. Savannah Muncy, Pharm.D on
July 27, 2021
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Medically Reviewed by our Medical Affairs Team

Written by Dr. Savannah Muncy, Pharm.D on:

Have you been diagnosed with ADHD?

A new study has found that magnesium, especially magnesium glycinate, may be the missing mineral in patients with ADHD.

Magnesium is a mineral that helps regulate over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, including those involved in neurotransmitter release and synthesis, muscle contraction, blood pressure regulation, nerve conduction and more.

This article will explore how magnesium could help address ADHD symptoms such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), impulsivity, anxiety and depression.

We’ll also discuss what other factors might contribute to low levels of this important nutrient.

Read on for more information about this interesting topic!

Low Magnesium Levels

Magnesium is a very important mineral that is involved in many different functions of the human body. It participates in more than 300 enzymatic reactions: in our DNA, neurotransmitters, bones, heart, and brain.1

This crucial mineral plays a very important role in every single cell of the human body.1

Magnesium is found naturally in many different foods such as beans, legumes, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.1

Unfortunately, many people have low levels of magnesium which can cause unpleasant symptoms such as headaches, irritability, anxiety, nervousness, difficulty concentrating, and difficulty sleeping.1,2

Many people are low in magnesium due to several different reasons:1

  • Soil Depletion: Magnesium is removed from the soil during agricultural uses and is not replaced, resulting in crops that are low in magnesium.
  • Food Processing: Magnesium is removed from foods during food processing. In fact, refined grains contain only 16% of the magnesium that is found in whole grains.
  • Stress: The body needs magnesium to effectively respond to everyday stress. Stress, both physical and emotional, can drain the body’s magnesium. 
  • Other Reasons: Some medications (such as ADHD medications), alcohol, caffeine, and soft drinks can deplete magnesium from the body. 
  • The result: More than 100 years ago, the average intake of magnesium was double or more than what it is today, meaning that two-thirds of the American population do not get the recommended daily allowance of magnesium. And low levels of magnesium can lead to declined health. Low levels of magnesium have been shown to contribute to atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, weight gain/obesity, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and even certain cancers. 

However, detecting whether or not a person’s magnesium levels are normal can be a challenge because most of the body’s magnesium is stored in the cells, bones, and other tissues.1,2 

Only 1% of magnesium is actually in the blood, so serum levels cannot definitively indicate an accurate total body magnesium level.1,2

That means a “normal” magnesium level may exist even if there is a true magnesium deficit.1

Therefore, paying close attention to a person’s clinical symptoms such as headaches, irritability, anxiety, nervousness, difficulty concentrating, and difficulty sleeping is important because they all point to a potential magnesium deficiency.1

The Rise of Low Magnesium Levels in Today’s Time

Over the last 100 years or so, magnesium levels have been depleted more and more from our food supply due to more processed foods, fertilizers, and soil depletion.1,2 

The consumption of soft drinks, alcohol, and caffeine can also deplete magnesium.1,2 It has been estimated that about 50% of Americans are low in magnesium.3,4

Magnesium: The Mineral for the Mind

Magnesium is important for brain health and neurological health.1,2 In fact, magnesium is found in high levels in the body’s central nervous system.1

Getting enough magnesium is important to properly support the neurotransmitter systems in the brain.1,2 

Magnesium is associated with gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors, promoting GABA’s calming effect.1,2 Magnesium also helps keep the excitatory neurotransmitter, glutamate, in check.1,2

People who have higher magnesium levels also tend to have more serotonin, a neurotransmitter that promotes mood and feelings of happiness, in their cerebrospinal fluid1.

Dopamine, another neurotransmitter that is responsible for feelings of pleasure, needs magnesium for its appropriate synthesis.

Magnesium also plays a key role in the pituitary glands and adrenal glands.1 In the pituitary gland, magnesium regulates the release of a hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) that promotes cortisol release in the adrenal glands and keeps the cortisol release within normal limits.1 

Because magnesium is involved in so many functions in the brain, neurological system, and hormonal glands of the human body, it’s no surprise that low levels of magnesium can lead to psychiatric problems.1

The good news is that restoring magnesium levels through supplementation can improve mood, cognition, stress, and sleep,1 making it potentially effective in improving symptoms of ADHD.1,2 

Low Magnesium Levels and ADHD

Unfortunately, many people, including people with ADHD, are low in magnesium.

In fact, it has been estimated that up to 95% of all ADHD patients are low in magnesium,2 causing symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and difficulty sleeping.1,2

But on the bright side, magnesium can be taken as a supplement to restore magnesium levels that may help improve some of the symptoms of ADHD.1,2 And although magnesium is present in many foods, only 30% – 40% is actually absorbed by the body.2

Therefore, taking magnesium supplements is the best way to increase magnesium levels in patients with ADHD.2 But high doses of magnesium can be dangerous and some medications may interact with certain supplements, so it is important that you talk to your doctor before starting any new supplements. 

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “dietary supplements are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or alleviate the effects of diseases”.5

The FDA does not review or approve the safety and [effectiveness] of dietary supplements5, so make sure you talk to your doctor before starting any new supplements. If you have any questions or concerns about a supplement, you may contact the manufacturer of that particular supplement.5

Magnesium Glycinate for ADHD

Magnesium supplements can be found at most grocery stores, pharmacies, and on the internet. Although there are several different forms of magnesium supplements available, magnesium glycinate is one specific type of magnesium supplement1 that many people find helpful for their ADHD symptoms.

This form of magnesium is easier to absorb by the body and is not as hard on the stomach1,4 unlike magnesium oxide, which does not absorb well2,4 and can cause laxative effects.2

It has been found that taking magnesium glycinate with meals and before bedtime can help improve mood and sleep time1 in patients with ADHD.  

Magnesium glycinate may also help improve the symptoms of agitation and hyperactivity.6 It may help alleviate anxiety, depression, and stress.7

However, there is a lack of scientific evidence regarding the effects magnesium has on these uses, so more studies with more participants are required.7

Like with everything, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Too much magnesium can be toxic and can cause diarrhea, nausea, and cramps8, and some medications can react with certain supplements, so it is important to talk to your doctor before starting any new supplements. Your doctor can also recommend the best dose of magnesium for you.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

What are the benefits of taking magnesium glycinate?

Magnesium glycinate has been shown to help alleviate anxiety, improve bone health, and keep steady heart rhythms.

Is magnesium glycinate good for ADHD?

It has been shown that taking magnesium glycinate with meals and before bedtime improves mood and sleep time1 as well as agitation and hyperactivity in patients with ADHD.6

Where can I find magnesium glycinate?

Magnesium glycinate can be found in most grocery stores, pharmacies, and on the internet. However, dietary supplements are not reviewed or approved by the FDA for safety and efficacy5, and some medications may interact with certain supplements, so make sure you talk to your doctor before starting any new supplements.

In Conclusion…

After discussing low magnesium levels and the potential effects that magnesium supplements may have on treating symptoms of ADHD, there are some important points to keep in mind:

  1. Just because magnesium supplements can be found virtually anywhere, including the grocery store, pharmacy, or on the internet, does not mean they are safe or effective.
  2. The FDA does not review or approve the safety and [effectiveness] of dietary supplements5.
  3. Some medications may interact with certain supplements.
  4. Too much magnesium can be dangerous, causing unpleasant side effects such as diarrhea, nausea, and cramps.8
  5. There is a lack of scientific evidence regarding the effects magnesium has on these uses, so more studies with more participants are required.7
  6. Always, always, always talk to your doctor before starting any new supplements.

References:

  1. Greenblatt J. Magnesium: The Missing Link in Mental Health? The Great Plains Laboratory, Inc. Published November 16, 2017. Accessed June 24, 2021. https://www.greatplainslaboratory.com/articles-1/2016/11/17/magnesium-the-missing-link-in-mental-health.
  2. Greenblatt J. Finally Focused: Mineral Imbalances & ADHD (Part 2: Magnesium Deficiency). ZRT Laboratory. Published May 25, 2017. Accessed June 24, 2021. https://www.zrtlab.com/blog/archive/mineral-imbalance-adhd-magnesium/. 
  3. Study: Half of All Americans are Magnesium Deficient. Pharmacy Times. Published July 29, 2020. Accessed June 24, 2021. https://www.pharmacytimes.com/view/study-half-of-all-americans-are-magnesium-deficient.
  4. Ginta D and Grant C. Everything You Should Know About Magnesium Glycinate. healthline. Updated January 11, 2021. Accessed June 25, 2021. https://www.healthline.com/health/magnesium-glycinate.
  5. FDA 101: Dietary Supplements. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Content current as of July 15, 2015. Accessed June 25, 2021. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/fda-101-dietary-supplements.
  6. Newmark S. 10 ADHD Supplements and Vitamins for Symptom Control. ADDitude. Last reviewed February 28, 2020. Accessed June 25, 2021. https://www.additudemag.com/vitamins-minerals-adhd-treatment-plan/. Reviewed 
  7. Hill A. 10 Interesting Types of Magnesium (and What to Use Each For). healthline. Written November 21, 2019. Accessed June 25, 2021. http://www.healthline.com/nutrition/magnesium-types.
  8. Higuera V. What Supplements and Herbs Work for ADHD? healthline. Updated on September 9, 2019. Accessed June 25, 2021. http://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/supplements.

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