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Anxiety was already a major public health concern before the pandemic, now concerns are heightened even further, as prolonged periods of stress and uncertainty continue. In this article, we take a closer look at anxiety, some possible underlying causes and how magnesium may be of some help.

When anxiety becomes a problem

Everyone feels anxious at times, it’s part of the body’s fight or flight response and prepares you to act quickly in the face of danger. It’s normal to feel anxious in response to uncertainty, trouble or feeling unprepared, such as waiting for exam results, sitting in a job interview, or even going on a first date! If anxiety becomes so severe and persistent however, that it interferes with daily life, it can be a real problem. People living with an anxiety disorder can find themselves in a constant state of intense worry/fear/panic with common physical symptoms such as sweating, rapid heart rate, breathlessness, nausea, shaking and diarrhoea. Anxiety disorders are generally categorized under six different types; generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, specific phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Is anxiety a bigger problem than depression?

Until fairly recently, conversations around mental health have tended to focus on depression, yet a review of 48 studies led by the University of Cambridge and published in Brain and Behaviour, suggested that anxiety may now be an even bigger problem, with more than 60 million people affected across the EU. The review found that anxiety disorders are common across all population groups, but women and young people seem to be disproportionally affected1. The latest COVID-19: Mental health and wellbeing surveillance report has shown that self-reported mental health and wellbeing has worsened since the start of the pandemic.9

Is imbalanced cortisol at the root of anxiety?

Cortisol is secreted by your adrenal glands as a normal part of the stress response. It often gets a bad press, yet is actually essential to your health. Levels increase in response to stress and also follow a strong circadian rhythm – cortisol is usually at its highest first thing in the morning to help you ‘get up and go’, declines throughout the day and is at its lowest later in the evening to help you relax before sleep. There are associations between anxiety disorders and disruptions to this natural cortisol rhythm2,3. Research on anxiety is generally accepted to be woefully inadequate, however, it is often suggested that high cortisol levels and an altered circadian rhythm may contribute to anxiety disorders.

Does magnesium deficiency contribute to anxiety?

Investigations have demonstrated a relationship between stress reactions such as anxiety, and magnesium deficiency. The National Diet and Nutrition Survey (2016) has shown that 37% of teenagers and 12% of adults have very low dietary intakes of magnesium4. Mental and physical stress cause an increase in magnesium elimination from the body5. In a 2012 animal study published in Neuropharmacology, researchers tested the theory that magnesium deficiency induces anxiety and disrupts the normal circadian rhythm of stress hormones. Compared with controls, magnesium deficient mice displayed anxiety-like behaviour. Researchers also noted that magnesium deficiency caused an increase in adrenal hormones pointing to an imbalanced stress response6. Additional data supports a relationship between low magnesium levels and both anxiety-related behaviour and a modulated stress axis7.

Sleep patterns are often disrupted in individuals with heightened anxiety; a 2001 study published in Behaviour Genetics found optimal magnesium to be necessary for normal sleep regulation8.

Magnesium – nature’s tranquiliser

Magnesium is often referred to as nature’s tranquiliser – which hints at just how important this key mineral is for supporting balanced mood, relaxation and deep sleep. Magnesium works particularly well to help you unwind when it is supplied in a high strength powder form of bisglycinate and combined with B vitamins, vitamin C, taurine and theanine - a calming amino acid found naturally in tea.

Naturally support peace and calm

Anxiety is fast becoming a modern epidemic and it is likely that an imbalanced stress response with elevated cortisol has a part to play. A typical Western diet fails to supply magnesium in high enough quantities to fully support health; especially when chronic stress is added into the mix. Supplementing with high strength magnesium and synergistic calming nutrients is a great first step towards naturally supporting a reduction in anxiety.

1. Remes, O et al. A systematic review of reviews on the prevalence of anxiety disorders in adult populations.  Brain and Behaviour; 6 June 2016; DOI: 10.1002/brb3.497
2. Adam EK, Kendall AD et al. Prospective Associations between the cortisol awakening response and first onsets of anxiety disorders over a six year follow up – 2013 Curt Richter Award Winner.  Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2014 Jun; 44: 47-59 published online 2014 Mar 12. Doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.02.014
3. Vreeberg SA, Zitman FG et al. Salivary cortisol levels in persons with and without different anxiety disorders.  Psychosom Med. 2010 May; 72(4):340-7. Doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181d2f0c8. Epub 2010 Feb 26
4. National Diet & Nutrition Survey. Results from Years 5 and 6 (combined) of the Rolling Programme (2012/2013-2013/2014) https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/551352/NDNS_Y5_6_UK_Main_Text.pdf
5. Tarasov EA, Blinov DV et al. Magnesium deficiency and stress: Issues of their relationship, diagnostic tests, and approaches to therapy]. Ter Arkh 2015; 87(9):114-22
6. Sartori SB, Whittle N et al.  Magnesium deficiency induces anxiety and HPA axis dysregulation: modulation by therapeutic drug treatment.  Neuropharmacology. 2012 Jan:62(1): 304-12. Doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.07.027. Epub 2011 Aug 4
7. Laarakker M.C., van Lith H.A., Ohl F. Behavioral characterization of A/J and C57BL/6J mice using a multidimensional test: association between blood plasma and brain magnesium-ion concentration with anxiety. Physiol. Behav. 2011;102:205–219.
8. Chollett D, Franken P et al. Magnesium involvement in sleep: genetic and nutritional models. Behav Genet 2001 Sep; 31(5):413-25
9. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-mental-health-and-wellbeing-surveillance-report

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