Ask Gerda: How Could Magnesium Help with Memory and Constipation?
Gerda Endemann, our senior director of science and research, has a BS in nutrition from UC Berkeley, a PhD in nutritional biochemistry from MIT, and a passion for cherry-picking from our wellness shop. She spends a lot of her time interpreting research—established and emerging. And our wellness routines thank her for this. (Yours will, too. Send us your own questions for Gerda: [email protected].)
Dear goop, Magnesium seems to be the new favorite supplement that fixes everything from memory to constipation. So many benefits make me think of snake oil, but magnesium is an essential mineral. Is there anything to these claims? —Jen V.
Hi Jen, We know that magnesium is crucial for almost everything that goes on in the body. Over 300 chemical reactions need it. But unlike with other nutrients, there’s no easy way to tell whether someone’s eating enough magnesium. There is evidence that magnesium supplements can support healthy blood sugar, blood pressure, bone density, brain function, and regularity and that they have benefits for pregnant women.
If you do take a magnesium supplement, the form and dose of magnesium is important, and it’s hard to know which product to choose. Taking more than the recommended upper dose of 350 milligrams can cause diarrhea, and some forms of magnesium are more laxative than others. Magnesium oxide is not well absorbed and can be a little harsh. Magnesium citrate and malate are well absorbed and are good forms to look for in a supplement. But the downside of citrate and malate is that they take up a lot of room, so these forms tend to come in huge capsules. Here are two easy-to-take solutions that won’t get stuck in your throat:
From The Nue Co., there’s an ingenious new product that contains 350 milligrams of magnesium in the citrate form. You dissolve a packet in a little hot water, watch it fizz, and drink it. One of the things I like best about this is that it contains absolutely no color or sweeteners. It’s called Regularity Relief for a good reason—the right magnesium product is great for occasional constipation.
LivOn Labs makes a magnesium supplement targeted at your brain—Lypo-Spheric Magnesium L-Threonate. It’s a gel that you take in one quick shot. Preclinical research showed that unlike other forms of magnesium, magnesium threonate is unique in getting past the blood-brain barrier, increasing the number of neuronal synapses, and improving memory. I was amazed when the preclinical research was followed up by a clinical study demonstrating benefits for memory and brain function in people as well.
Here’s where it starts to sound like snake oil, because there is so much more to say about magnesium and magnesium supplements. Substantial evidence points to magnesium being important for healthy blood sugar regulation. In people with low levels of magnesium, supplements have helped support healthy insulin sensitivity. Magnesium is also an important component of bones, and a high enough magnesium intake can help ensure good bone density. (This is all particularly relevant during pregnancy.)
We don’t know how many people are deficient in magnesium because testing for it in the body is not straightforward, but the majority of Americans consume less than the recommended amount of magnesium from food. That’s to be expected, because we eat way too many refined foods from which magnesium—and vitamins, fiber, and other minerals—have been removed. Magnesium is found in whole foods, like vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. Alas, it’s not found in refined foods, like croissants, pasta, white rice, and sugar. I eat plenty of whole foods, but I don’t want to think about the percentage of my calories that comes from sugar in my 55 percent chocolate chips. We are not consuming the magnesium our bodies evolved in concert with.
A few other things to consider and discuss with a health care practitioner if they pertain to you: The magnesium we eat may not be well absorbed if we have diarrhea, use antacid drugs, or are simply older (damn). Some of the magnesium that the body absorbs from food is lost in the urine in older adults and in people with diabetes. And if you take blood pressure medications, ask your doctor if they cause magnesium to be excreted in the urine (some blood pressure medications do the opposite).
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.