From my interview with Women’s Health Magazine
Why do you think interest in magnesium supplements has spiked so much recently? Is it people talking about them on Instagram? Concerns about sleep and other health issues hitting an all-time high? Magnesium feels like such a trend; I’d love to explore the why/how!
-Magnesium has long shown benefits for many “relaxation” processes in the body. We are seeing an increase in magnesium deficiency, being linked with the rise of inflammatory conditions in our modern society. We as a whole seem to lack this important mineral, based on symptoms and bloodwork results/lab analyses. This is why more and more conventional and alternative practitioners have started to recommend supplementation to keep up with the growing demand.
There have been many opinions and studies to look into what form of magnesium is most effective and best absorbed and utilized by the body. There are many forms out there on the market now, with varying degrees of evidence behind them – oral tablets, capsules, topical sprays, baths (Epsom salt contains magnesium!). Magnesium oxide, citrate, chloride, chelated forms are the most common oral forms available without a prescription.
A study in rats comparing the bioavailabilities of magnesium sulfate, magnesium oxide, magnesium acetyl taurate, magnesium citrate, and magnesium malate showed that the oxide and citrate had the lowest bioavailability, while the acetyl taurate form was rapidly absorbed, able to pass through to the brain easily, had the highest tissue concentration level in the brain .
Another pharmacokinetic double-blind placebo human study showed statistically significant superiority of Mg citrate as compared to the bioavailabilities of the oxide and amino-acid chelate forms . (“Chelated” means forming a loosely bonded ring-like complex of organic components such as protein/amino acids around the mineral, which is theoretically the best type for oral absorption.)
Still other studies have shown the greatest water solubility and oral bioavailability from organic magnesium salts (gluconate, aspartate, lactate) versus inorganic (chloride, oxide, sulfate) .
Magnesium oxide is notorious for poor bioavailability and promoting laxation – which is why it’s also been touted as a method to “detox” the bowels and shed some extra pounds in waste! Any excess magnesium that’s not absorbed ends up “pulling” water into the colon as part of the process of osmosis, which promotes a laxative effect.
Transdermal absorption of magnesium has also been studied, albeit with contentious evidence. One study found that topical application is an effective method of magnesium ion transport across the skin membrane, especially in the presence of hair follicles . This is probably the reason Dead sea salt and Epsom salt therapy have long been recommended for both skin and internal inflammatory conditions.
What does magnesium do in the body—and why is it so important?
-That’s a loaded question, because like many vitamins and minerals, it’s a necessary cofactor for many bodily functions. “Magnesium is the fourth most abundant cation in the body and is present in more than 300 enzymatic systems, where it is crucial for adenosine triphosphate (ATP) metabolism .” In a lot of pathways, its action opposes that of calcium, and together these two minerals balance each other out to establish homeostasis.
As I mentioned above, I think of magnesium as the master mineral for eliciting downstream reactions that ultimately lead to relaxation across many physiological systems. It helps promote the parasympathetic state and keep an overactive “Fight or Flight” response in check. For example, it’s used for constipation, restless legs syndrome, migraines, asthma, depression, pre-eclampsia, and high blood pressure. It allows for release of tension, and promotes relaxation in blood vessels, bronchi, visceral organs and muscles. In extreme cases, intravenous magnesium is indicated for emergency conditions affecting the heart, blood pressure, and lungs.
How many women fall short? How common is it for women to need more magnesium?
-It’s become evident that many people today are increasingly deficient in many vital minerals and nutrients, and magnesium is no exception. Magnesium is especially depleted in people with cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Other factors contributing to deficiencies are poor nutrition (including the fact that modern conventional farming practices are depleted the soil and produce of nutrients), alcohol intake, stress, and gut and kidney diseases .
In what circumstances are magnesium supplements really helpful? In what circumstances are they a waste of money? How can women navigate if it’s truly worthwhile for them to try a supplement?
-I prefer the whole food/whole herb approach when it comes to supplementation. I recommend consuming organic and locally (whenever possibly) sourced foods high in magnesium such as cacao (or a piece of dark chocolate works too!), pine nuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, spinach, avocado, whole grains, fish and beans. Consuming herbs rich in magnesium in the form of teas or even tinctures can be super helpful in boosting magnesium levels, for example red clover blossoms, nettle leaf, alfalfa leaf, horsetail herb.
Magnesium is one of the best therapies for muscle cramps, and iontophoresis of magnesium is used in physical therapy to treat painful muscle spasms. Iontophoresis is “a form of transdermal drug delivery (TDD) that utilizes electrical current to drive or push ionized drugs through the skin’s outermost layer (stratum corneum) which is typically the main barrier to drug transport .”
I have also had success with topical magnesium therapies including Epsom and dead sea salt baths, and magnesium sprays applied to the skin. It does create an itching sensation during the first few days of treatment as your skin gets used to the magnesium, but it goes away with daily application and building tolerance.
I recommend various magnesium supplements and topical products to women frequently, for issues like leg cramps, migraines, and constipation. The best therapy is prevention, so make sure to eat nutrient dense local and organic foods, especially produce, and include those high in magnesium. Magnesium topical and internal supplementation may have additional benefits to certain patient populations, in addition to a healthy diet and physical exercise regimen.