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Magnesium and Zinc Are Essential for Healthy Brain Function

Studies show that both minerals have beneficial effects on mood and memory.

Magnesium deficiency is widespread in Western countries and may be associated with cardiovascular disease, depressed immune functioning, depression, diabetes, insomnia, and other disorders. Case histories suggest that oral magnesium in the form of magnesium glycinate or taurinate (125 to 300 mg per day) may result in rapid recovery from severe depressed mood and may ameliorate symptoms of anxiety, irritability, insomnia, postpartum depression, and short-term memory. A study on elderly depressed persons with diabetes suggested that hypomagnesemia, defined as serum magnesium levels less than 0.74 mmol/L, might be an independent risk factor for depression in this population. Magnesium supplementation at 500 to 1,500 mg per day may improve neuropsychological deficits associated with chronic alcohol abuse by improving cerebral blood flow, which is often diminished in this population.

Zinc is an essential trace element for normal brain function and may mediate anti-inflammatory effects via several cytokines. Zinc has general neuroprotective effects, is involved in hippocampal neurogenesis, and modulates the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary axis. Increased risk of depressed mood associated with abnormal low zinc serum levels may be mediated by dysregulation of the immune system. In a cross-sectional study of the relationship between dietary zinc intake and depressed mood, low serum zinc levels were strongly correlated with increased risk for depressed mood. Low brain zinc levels may cause diffuse neuronal damage through increased free radical formation and exacerbate N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) excitotoxicity, resulting in increased susceptibility to alcohol withdrawal seizures. Preliminary evidence from randomized controlled studies supports the antidepressant efficacy of zinc supplementation used as an adjuvant to prescription antidepressants.


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About the Author
James Lake, MD

James Lake, M.D., a clinical assistant professor at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, works to transform mental health care through the evidence-based uses of alternative therapies.

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