Medically reviewed by, Russell Braun RPH
You have probably heard that magnesium is good for you. If so, you heard right.
Magnesium is a key element required by the body for a host of different processes. It is estimated to exist in more than 300 enzymes in the body. Enzymes are complex proteins that perform tasks including breaking down food, creating energy, allowing nerves to function properly and many other important functions.
Magnesium is found mostly in your bones, but is also inside cells and is a critical factor in maintaining your heart rhythm. Overall it is one of the most abundant minerals in the body.
Maintaining adequate levels of magnesium is critical to overall health. This can be achieved this through diet. However, magnesium deficiency is common today due to a lack of balanced diets.
How to tell if magnesium is low?
Symptoms of low magnesium levels are not specific and could be caused by other factors. Therefore, the best way to know for sure is to get your blood drawn and the magnesium level tested.
Symptoms may include:
- Loss of appetite
The most common reference range for magnesium levels in the blood is 1.5-2.5mEq/L. Many patients can see there labs via a portal that their doctor offers through their electronic medical record. If you notice symptoms and your magnesium level was low or on the low end of the range, you should talk to your doctor about next steps.
Certain medications can lower the levels of magnesium in the body. The best practice would be to ask your doctor if you should supplement magnesium if you take any of the following:
- Antacid drugs (proton pump inhibitors, histamine blockers, Tums, even milk of magnesia)
- Blood pressure medications (diuretics and ACE inhibitors)
- Immunosuppressants (Cyclosporine, Tacrolimus)
- Aromatase inhibitors (Anastrozole)
Getting Magnesium from your diet
Magnesium is one of the most abundant elements on the Earth’s crust. It is abundant in almost all creatures on the earth as well. That means finding natural sources of magnesium should be an easy task.
Millions of years ago people obtained much more magnesium from their diet than people do today. It is estimated our ancestors had an intake of around 600mg of magnesium per day. Compare that to the diet of today where 48% of the U.S. population consumes less than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) that is established by the Institute of Medicine.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average magnesium intake is just below 300mg per day and typically less in women. A healthy adult male should consume 420mg of magnesium per day and a female around 320mg.
Not all magnesium is absorbed
Even if you eat a better diet than the average American it does not mean your magnesium levels are in range. Only 30% to 40% of the magnesium humans ingest is typically absorbed. As explained below the amount of magnesium that is absorbed depends on the salt form the magnesium is in.
Eating a variety of foods high in magnesium can help you ensure your diet provides adequate amounts. This would include green, raw vegetables of different types. Magnesium is found in chlorophyll which is used by green plants in the photosynthesis cycle.
What foods are high in magnesium threonate?
|Food||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Shredded wheat cereal||2 biscuits||15|
|Black beans||1/2 cup||15|
|Peanut butter||2 tblsp||12|
|Whole wheat bread||2 slice||12|
|Kidney beans||1/2 cup||9|
|Chicken breast||3 ounces||6|
|Ground beef||3 ounces||5|
Kidneys regulate magnesium levels
The majority of magnesium in the body is stored in bones and soft tissues. In fact, less than 1% is found in the blood and serum. However, that is what gets tested when a magnesium lab level is drawn.
Our bodies prevent magnesium deficiency by having the kidneys monitor the amounts in our blood and if the level is low, magnesium is retained. Otherwise, it would be excreted in the urine. Therefore, magnesium deficiency due to a poor diet doesn’t show up as frequently as one would think given the low dietary intake.
Our kidneys do the best then can, but when certain situations arise magnesium deficiency can appear. These would include health conditions, medication use, immune system overactivity, drug and alcohol use.
Which form of magnesium is best?
Magnesium is a cation. Don’t worry I won’t take you back into high school chemistry, just pointing that out to provide some background on why there are so many types of magnesium.
A cation has a positive charge and is looking for ions with a negative charge to form a salt. The resulting salts are the various forms of magnesium that are available. The different types of salts are absorbed differently and will have different amounts of magnesium that each one provides.
Wouldn’t it be easier to just use plain magnesium with no salt?
Magnesium that is not in salt form would not be able to be absorbed by your body. In addition, the salt “chelates” the magnesium. That prevents it from binding with other minerals in your stomach and intestines. Without that it would just bind to those minerals and be lost in your stool.
Pros and cons of each form of magnesium
|Magnesium Carbonate||-Has antacid properties|
-Contains almost 40% magnesium
|-Can cause diarrhea and flatulance|
-Helps increase vitamin B12 absorption
|-Only about 12% elemental magnesium|
|Magnesium Citrate||-Has laxative properties that are effective to treat constipation|
-Cheaper than other forms
|-Only contains 16% magnesium|
-Not an effective magnesium supplement
|Magnesium Glycinate||-Absorbed very well bound with amino acid glycine|
-Less likely to cause GI issues
-Glycine provides calming effect
|-Some preparations contain aspartame and or alcohol|
|Magnesium Oxide||-Nearly 60% elemental magnesium|
-Think Milk of Magnesia stool softener
|-Not an effective supplement because less than 10% absorbed|
|Magnesium malate||-Naturally occurring found in fruits|
-Best Magnesium to help with energy production
-May help regulate blood sugar
|-Nausea and diarrhea|
|Magnesium Orotic acid||-Also called Vitamin B13|
-Aids in muscle recovery
|-Sold as an athletic performance supplement and price is high|
|Magnesium Sulfate||-Also known as Epsom salts, mix of magnesium and sulfuric acid|
-Good as a laxative
|-Not effective for supplementation orally due to diarrhea|
|Magnesium Taurate||-Combines Magnesium and amino acid taurine|
-Said to help reduce anxiety
-May slightly lower blood pressure
|-May cause lowering of blood sugar that could be dangerous in a diabetic patient|
|Magnesium Threonate||-Very well absorbed|
-Few GI side effects
-Crosses blood brain barrier which could lead to certain positive effects
|-Can cause headaches|
-Feeling of increased bloodflow to the head
What is magnesium Threonate?
All the different forms of magnesiums are just salts as noted above. However, the ion that you combine with the magnesium makes a big difference on how well it is absorbed. Due to the likelihood of magnesium to cause diarrhea when not highly absorbed finding a salt form that would be well absorbed is job number one for a supplement maker.
Job number two is to make sure the drug separates from that salt so it is available for chemical processes in the body. That is why more and more research is being done to find a supplement that does both of these things.
After many years of study it has been determined that magnesium plays a huge role in numerous functions in the brain. Therefore, a new job of supplement makers is to find a combination that will cross the blood brain barrier as well.
The birth of the threonate salt
That was the reason magnesium threonate was created in 2010. A team of neuroscientists at MIT and Tsinghua University in Beijing were responsible for creating the threonate salt. They derived l-threonate from a vitamin C metabolite.
The original brand name product called Magtein provides 144mg of elemental magnesium when you take 3 capsules per day.
The hypothesis was that this salt form would provide much more magnesium to the brain. In animal studies those effects were in fact seen. Magnesium threonates ability to cross the blood brain barrier makes it much more likely to deliver magnesium in the brain that other salt forms.
What are the benefits of magnesium threonate?
Brain changes are being hyped for magnesium threonate because of its ability to cross the blood brain barrier. At this point the results do look promising in mice and rats. However, to date there has only been one trial done in humans.
That study done by Stanford University which enrolled patients in 2014 and stopped enrolling in 2016. The study was to see if learning and memory was improved in patients with dementia. To date the study has still not been published.
This more than likely means they did not find significant improvements in brain functions from the supplement. However, it does take time for research to be published so stay tuned.
What do we know so far?
There are many websites and online stores that claim miraculous findings for magnesium threonate. Given only one study done on humans and it has not been completed yet it is hard to be sure of any actual benefits.
Here are the benefits seen thus far in mice and rats
- Improve sleep
- Reduce anxiety
- Increase brain plasticity, which is the ability to grow connections that are required for memory and learning
- Alzheimer’s disease improvements
- Parkinson’s disease symptoms
- Depression improvement
Other non brain benefits of magnesium
Positive effects of threonate and other forms of magnesium on a host of diseases have been reported. The below have some form of clinical proof in humans.
- Improve energy production
- Decrease insulin resistance
- Lower blood pressure
- Prevent arrhythmias
Is magnesium threonate safe?
Magnesium supplements in general are considered safe. The main concern comes if they cause diarrhea that leads to dehydration.
Magnesium Threonate does not have a lot of clinical safety data from studies in humans. Most are claims from the manufacturer of these products. Remember, to sell a dietary supplement the FDA does not require efficacy and safety testing like is done for prescription drugs and over the counter medications.
Therefore, we don’t have a lot of good data on safety. Side effects reported from patients taking these dietary supplements were headache and a feeling of excess blood flow to the head. You should always discuss your magnesium supplementation with your doctor and pharmacist.
How to take magnesium threonate
Most supplements of threonate suggest using 3 capsules per day. Typically doses are twice a day with 1 in the morning and 2 at night.
Taking magnesium products without food is best so they do not chelate other ions in your stomach. However, this rule can be broken if diarrhea occurs when taking the magnesium. In that case, try taking it with food to see if that will lessen the diarrhea. As with most medications taking your magnesium threonate with plenty of water is a good idea.
What brand is the best value?
Magtein was the first brand to create magnesium threonate. Other manufacturers have since entered the market, or resell Magtein under a different brand name.
Below are some brands and their cost:
- 90 pills $30
- 90 pills $30
- 90 pills $23 (recurring sale price)
- 90 pills $21
- Offer 180 pill value $41
Walmart selling Life extension brand
- 2 bottles 90 pills each $45
If you are sure you want to use magnesium threonate then all of these products are seemingly equal. They all still reference the Magtein brand in some way. Online is your best source to find this form of magnesium. Many pharmacies do not carry these specific brands. More health and wellness stores are carrying it in store if you would rather buy it from a brick and mortar store.
The bottom line
Magnesium threonate is a novel form of magnesium that crosses the blood brain barrier. If that translates into substantial positive effects for patients with various disease states remains to be seen.
Other forms of magnesium are much cheaper and can also provide adequate magnesium supplementation. Avoiding those high in propensity to cause diarrhea is going to be an important factor in your decision.
Eating a diet that is high in magnesium might be your best bet. Talking with your doctor and letting them know about any supplements you take is a must. Read my top 5 reasons for bullet journaling medication effects to determine if they are really helping you.
Click here to get Dr. Jason Reed’s exclusive list of medication questions you MUST ask your doctor, for FREE!
Share your story!
Have you used one magnesium threonate? How well did it work for you? Please chime in below with your comments and thoughts below