Lurie Center for Autism: Magnesium

Magnesium is sometimes discussed as a Complementary and Alternative Therapy (CAM) for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Lurie Center clinicians summarize current research on magnesium. We recommend that you also read about Vitamin B6.

Magnesium is an important element in multiple chemical reactions within cells, including neurons. Magnesium blocks NMDA (excitatory) receptors in nerves and brain in low doses and is known for its calming effect. Because of this, magnesium has been combined with vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) to avoid the irritability and activation that can be seen from high doses of pyridoxine. The use of magnesium in autism parallels that of vitamin B6.

Magnesium has sometimes been suggested as a supplement for getting to sleep along with zinc and melatonin, but it has been studied in sleep only in the elderly adult population.  Scientists know that people who are magnesium deficient have poor sleep, but it is not clear that giving magnesium at bedtime will help induce sleep or keep someone asleep.

The most recent review of vitamin B6 and magnesium was published in 2010 and found no clinically important results from randomized controlled trials, quasi-randomized trials or cohort studies about the effects of vitamin B6 and magnesium in children with autism.

See related information on Vitamin B6.


  1. Davenport VD, Davenport HW (1948) Brain excitability in pyridoxine-deficient rats. J Nutr 36:263-275.
  2. Molony CJ, Parmelee AH (1954) Convulsions in young infants as a result of pyridoxine (vitamin b6) deficiency. JAMA 154:405-406.
  3. Lerner V, Miodownik C, Kaptsan A, Cohen H, Loewenthal U, Kotler M. (2002) Vitamin B6 as add-on treatment in chronic schizophrenic and schizoaffective patients: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study.  J Clin Psychiatry 63:  54-58.
  4. Scott K, Zeris S, Kothari MJ (2008) Elevated B6 levels and peripheral neuropathies. Electromyogr Clin Neurophysiol 48:219-223.
  5. Coan EJ, Collingridge GL (1985) Magnesium ions block an N-methyl-D-Aspartate receptor-mediated component of synaptic transmission in rat hippocampus. Neurosci Letters 53:21-26.
  6. Olpe H-R, Steinmann MW, Brugger F, Pozza MF (1989) Excitatory amino acid receptors in rat locus coeruleus: a extracellular in vitro study. Naunyn-Schmiedeberg’s Arch Pharmacol 339: 312-314.



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