Magnesium? Could It Really Help My OCD Symptoms?

It is common for people struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) to fear or excessively worry about leaving the stove or faucets on and/or the doors unlocked. To mitigate these concerns, these individuals may check and re-check that everything is turned off and/or locked before they can function – i.e., go to work or school, perform tasks, run errands, etc.

Although the most common way to treat OCD is with medication, specifically SSRIs (antidepressants), therapy (i.e., cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and exposure-response prevention (ERP) therapy) and/or lifestyle changes, and self-help tools, like Impulse Therapy, an online OCD treatment aid. Natural remedies, like magnesium, have also shown promise for the treatment of OCD.

Magnesium is not only beneficial for the body, but also for the mind. Low levels of this important mineral can lead to mood swings, anxiety, depression, and possibly OCD. So, for some OCD sufferers, magnesium could be the supplement that they have been looking for.

If you are looking for a way to supplement or ward off your OCD symptoms, you have come to the right place. This article will not only help you better understand the relationship between magnesium and OCD but also determine if it could help you get control of your obsessions and compulsions.

Content

What is Magnesium?

Magnesium, a mineral, is found in your cells, tissues, bodily fluids (i.e., blood, urine, salvia, etc.), and bones. Studies suggest that there is a biological component linking magnesium to stress and anxiety, especially in people, who struggle with OCD. Researchers have also found that low levels of magnesium can lead to personality changes. Magnesium may also inhibit or reduce oxidative stress in the body.

Magnesium, found in supplement form and in foods, helps “balance” your blood “sugar” glucose levels (reduced risk of type 2 diabetes), stabilizes your moods, converts foods into energy, aids in DNA and RNA formation and repair, regulates your central nervous system functions, helps your muscle contract and relax, helps convert amino acids into proteins, combats anxiety and depression, reduces inflammation in the body, improves sleep quality, calms PMS symptoms (i.e., water retention, migraines, abdominal cramps, fatigue, and irritability, bloating, anxiety, depression, etc.), supports bone health (i.e., protects you against fractures, weak and brittle bones, osteoporosis, etc.), and promotes heart health (i.e., lower blood pressure, healthy cholesterol levels, reduced risk of heart attacks and strokes, etc.).

Note: Approximately 50% of people, especially adults in the US, do not receive the recommended amount of magnesium in their diets.

How Can I Tell If I Am Low on Magnesium?

Besides experiencing symptoms of a magnesium deficiency (i.e., fatigue, muscle cramps, anxiety or depression, irregular heartbeats, etc.), a blood test can tell you if you are low on magnesium.

Are There Different Types of Magnesium? Which Ones Are the Safest?

Yes, there are different types of magnesium, such as magnesium gluconate, magnesium oxide, magnesium citrate, magnesium chloride, magnesium hydroxide, magnesium aspartate, and magnesium glycinate.

  • Magnesium gluconate is derived from gluconic acid’s magnesium salt. Researchers studied the absorption rates in rats and found that magnesium gluconate has the highest absorption rate when compared to other “types” of magnesium.
  • Magnesium oxide has the highest amount of elemental magnesium. However, this “type” of magnesium does not absorb well. In fact, researchers suggest that magnesium oxide is poorly absorbed in the body.
  • Magnesium citrate is basically magnesium in salt form. Magnesium citrate is combined with citric acid. This “type” of magnesium combines easily with liquid. Magnesium citrate comes in pills and laxatives.
  • Magnesium chloride absorbs well in the body. This type of magnesium is available as a topical oil, however, the jury is still out as to its true effectiveness when applied to the skin.
  • Magnesium hydroxide, also known as “milk of magnesia,” is commonly used as a laxative for gastrointestinal distress (i.e., to relieve constipation or “calm” heartburn, acid reflux, and/or GERDS).
  • Magnesium aspartate is highly absorbable in the body.
  • Researchers have found that magnesium glycinate is not only highly absorbable but does not have a pronounced laxative effect. This type of magnesium is absorbed in a different part of your colon (intestines), as compared to other magnesium supplements.

Note: Before selecting a magnesium supplement, research the absorption rates, effectiveness, and tolerance levels of the supplements.

Are There Any Side Effects Associated with Taking Magnesium Supplements?

Yes, there are some side effects that you should be aware of…

The National Academy of Medicine recommends that you not exceed 350mg of supplemental magnesium, per day (if you are healthy). However, if you are prescribed more than 350mg, per day, for a specific health condition, like OCD, it is important to consult with your doctor in advance, so he or she can monitor the amount of magnesium in your body.

Although rare, too much magnesium can lead to magnesium toxicity (i.e., nausea, diarrhea, lethargy, irregular heartbeat, upset stomach, abdominal cramping, or death). Magnesium supplements could also interact with your medications, especially if you are taking antibiotics and/or diuretics.

Can I Boost My Magnesium Levels with Foods?

Yes!

Listed below is a variety of foods rich in magnesium, such as:

  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Chia Seeds
  • Almonds
  • Flaxseeds
  • Bananas
  • Whole Grains
  • Soymilk
  • Kale
  • Collard and Mustard Greens
  • Spinach
  • Cashews
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Black Beans
  • Lima Beans
  • Edamame
  • Peanut Butter
  • Quinoa
  • Tofu
  • Shredded Wheat
  • Low-Fat or Non-Fat Milk and Yogurt
  • Brown Rice
  • Salmon
  • Halibut
  • Avocado

Note: It is always best to supplement your diet with healthy foods, rather than supplements (pills). Although many supplements are generally safe and well-tolerated, people, who take diuretics, heart medications, or antibiotics should refrain from taking them until they have had a chance to speak with their physician and/or pharmacist. Thus, if possible, combat low levels of magnesium with a variety of fresh foods.

What is the Relationship Between Magnesium and OCD?

Currently, the exact relationship between magnesium and OCD is unknown. Also, there are little-to-no studies on the effectiveness of magnesium on OCD symptoms. A 2010 study suggests that herbal supplements containing magnesium may ease stress, depression, and anxiety conditions like OCD, however, more research is needed to determine the exact relationship between magnesium and OCD.

How Does Magnesium Help OCD?

Magnesium not only helps supply you with energy (mitochondrial function) but also breaks down glucose “blood sugar” for energy (glycolysis). Cerebral energy (energy in your brain) metabolism is linked to anxiety and social behavior.

Stress is often the catalyst for OCD. Magnesium helps OCD by “calming” your “excited” stress-activated nervous system. More specifically, when your nervous system goes into hyperdrive and your brain reaches its maximum stress level, your brain is forced to respond in one of three ways: (1) fight, (2) flight, or (3) freeze.

When you are in one of these stages – fight, flight, or freeze, you are essentially in “survival mode” and your brain is unable to fully process information, focus, or virtually do anything besides “survive.” Thus, the main goal of your brain during this time is to reduce your stress by ignoring stimuli and focusing on “surviving” or “getting past” this stressful state.

Magnesium can help with this primarily because it is responsible for regulating central nervous system functions and reducing oxidative stress in the body. This mineral also “slows” or stops the production and release of “excited” neurotransmitters and boosts or encourages the production and release of serotonin, the “feel good” hormone.

People with OCD tend to have too many “excited” neurotransmitters, causing the brain to enter a non-stop OCD cycle of intrusive thoughts, urges, and/or mental images (obsessions), and/or ritualistic behaviors (compulsions). Magnesium eases your stress and “calms” your brain so you can think more without being bombarded with intrusive thoughts (obsessions).

More specifically, magnesium “quiets” your brain and reduces the amount of oxidative stress in your body (detoxification). Oxidative stress and inadequate detoxification are associated with anxiety conditions, like OCD. “Quieting” the “excited” neurotransmitter provides you with the tools you need to commit to cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure-response prevention (ERP) therapy, and/or acceptance commitment therapy (ACT). With a “calmer” brain you are less likely to have non-stop, involuntary obsessions and/or compulsions.

Magnesium also plays an important role in how neurotransmitters function – i.e., how neurotransmitters combine, how the nerves transmit messages to other cells in the brain and body, and how energy is transferred to motor neurons and muscle fibers (neuromuscular junction). Magnesium is needed to produce neurotransmitters that can properly “communicate” with your cells. Properly functioning neurotransmitters are important for sound mental health.

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The recommended daily intake of magnesium for healthy people is 400–420mg, per day, for men, and 310–320mg, per day, for women, however, researchers have recently found that people with mental health conditions, like OCD, need higher doses of magnesium, than originally thought, to reduce their symptoms. In this case, the daily intake of magnesium for anxiety, depression, or OCD can range between 400-1800mg for men and women.

What Happens If I Take Too Much Magnesium for My OCD Symptoms?

A magnesium overdose can lead to a host of side effects and complications, such as:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal Cramping
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle Weakness
  • Irregular Heartbeat
  • Facial Flushing
  • Hypotension or Low Blood Pressure
  • Urine Retention
  • Respiratory Distress
  • Cardiac Arrest

Note: If you take too much magnesium, your doctor will likely give you intravenous (IV) calcium gluconate to help reverse its effects. Also, you may be given IV furosemide to combat magnesium overload, if you have adequate kidney function. Dialysis may be required (to flush excess magnesium from your body) if you develop severe hypermagnesemia or poor renal function.

When Should I Take Magnesium Supplements for My OCD?

Magnesium supplements can be taken at any time of the day, just as long take them regularly. Some people with OCD may prefer to take magnesium supplements in the morning, while others may prefer to take them in the afternoon or evening. It just depends on your preference. The key to success is consistency. So, set a schedule and stick to it to ensure that you are getting the correct daily amount for your OCD.

Should I Take Magnesium Supplements with Food?

Possibly…

Although many people with OCD can tolerate magnesium, it can cause side effects or complications in some people. If you experience side effects or complications, you may want to take your magnesium supplements with food. But, if the side effects or complications persist or worsen, contact your doctor immediately.

How Long Will Take for Magnesium to Start Improving My OCD Symptoms?

Researchers have found that the longer you take magnesium or the more magnesium-rich foods you consume the higher the likelihood that it will improve your OCD symptoms. For instance, a 2012 study found that adults, who take 500mg of magnesium daily for 8 weeks, may experience a noticeable improvement in sleep quality (sleep time and latency) and fewer bouts of insomnia – a common side effect of OCD. A 2017 study also found that magnesium supplements improved anxiety and depression symptoms in adults after taking them for 14 days.

What Other Self-Help Tools Can I Add to My Magnesium Supplementation?

Well, lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of sleep and exercise, and utilizing stress management tools are always beneficial for the mind and body. Self-help tools like Impulse Therapy, an online OCD treatment program, can also provide you with the tools you need to get a grip on your OCD symptoms – in the comfort of your home and on the go. Yoga, mindfulness meditation, OCD books, and hypnosis are other possible alternative OCD treatments that can be combined with magnesium. Although magnesium is considered an alternative or holistic treatment or natural remedy, it can help you live a life devoid of OCD!

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Author

DR. R. Y. Langham

Dr. R. Y. Langham has a B.A. in English, an M.M.F.T in Marriage and Family Therapy (Psychology), and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology. She is currently a medical, health & wellness contributor, copywriter, and psychological consultant

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