Choosing the Best Magnesium Supplement (and Form) for Brain Health and Beyond
Have you ever wondered why magnesium is so important for brain health? It certainly doesn’t get as much attention as other major minerals like calcium or electrolytes like sodium and potassium, but it’s important to keep in mind that magnesium is the 2nd most abundant metal ion (after potassium) in our body’s cells. It’s no wonder why it’s so abundant, since it plays a critical role in 300 bodily functions, contributing to energy production, muscle and nerve function, making new proteins, and blood sugar regulation.1,2
Unfortunately, up to 50% of Americans consume less than the recommended intake of magnesium, and close to 80% of the elderly are deficient.3 You may be wondering, why is there such a deficiency? First, in America we generally don’t eat foods rich in magnesium, such as spinach, chard, nuts, and seeds. Also, when we do eat those foods, we generally cook or process them in a way that leaches out the magnesium (think of boiling spinach and all the magnesium dissolving into the water). Finally, commercial farming is depleting magnesium from our soil. Magnesium helps support muscle function and bone health, regulate blood pressure and blood sugar and reduce risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.1 When it comes to brain health, low intakes of magnesium have been associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease in several studies.4-6 Additionally, low levels of magnesium have been found in patients already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.7
Understanding the Role of Magnesium in Your Brain
Magnesium is especially important for brain health as it regulates parts of the brain involved in learning, memory formation, and mood stabilization.8 Therefore, low levels of magnesium can impact cognitive health in many ways due to its role in many aspects of brain health. Magnesium is critically involved in the production of ATP (form of energy) that the brain uses to maintain proper signaling between cells.9 This is crucial because the brain uses the most energy of all organs in the body, requiring 20-25% of the body’s energy usage while only making-up about 2-3% of the body’s weight. In fact, a recent study showed that higher magnesium intake was associated with larger brain volumes.9
Magnesium has also been found to be effective at supporting cognitive function in the following areas:
Neuroplasticity: The ability of the brain to change and adapt is called neuroplasticity, and magnesium supports this ability by helping the brain form new connections between cells. Neuroplasticity supports cognitive function and learning.11
Supports Memory and Learning: Magnesium plays an important role in the function of a receptor called NMDA involved in learning and memory. In order for new memories to be formed properly, magnesium has to be involved at the receptor. Low levels of magnesium can disrupt this process.11
Supports Mood: A lot of recent research has focused on the link between magnesium and depression. Magnesium has significant impacts on mood through its role in regulating the release of stress hormones.12
Improved BBB (blood-brain-barrier): Magnesium supports BBB function by reducing excessive permeability, or the ability for things in the bloodstream to enter the brain. It’s critical that the BBB doesn’t allow harmful chemicals and toxins into the brain and magnesium helps the BBB keep out these damaging substances.12
Regulates Production of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF): Magnesium has been shown to increase BDNF.13 BDNF is an important contributor to neuroplasticity, and thus cognitive function. Low levels of BDNF have been found in numerous brain-related disorders including Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, depression, and many more.
Reduces Risk of Age-Related Cognitive Decline: Magnesium has been associated with a reduced risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease, which may be attributed to anti-inflammatory mechanisms that magnesium supports which help keep the brain healthy with age.11
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Magnesium Supplement: A Matter of Form and Function!
If you’re looking for a magnesium supplement, you may find that there are countless types and forms available. It can be difficult to distinguish between the different types and decide which one may be best for you. The good news is that different forms of magnesium have specific uses and we’ll help break it down for you.
Bioavailability: Various forms of magnesium have differing degrees of bioavailability, which is the amount of magnesium that enters the bloodstream and exerts an effect on the body. Thus, bioavailability is a good measure of absorption rate, but high bioavailability is not always better. Sometimes, as you will see, magnesium with low bioavailability can be beneficial for very specific purposes.
Here are several common forms of magnesium and the differences between them:
- Magnesium Oxide: This form of magnesium is most commonly used for digestive purposes as it is an effective laxative. It has low bioavailability, and thus, is not recommended for increasing magnesium levels in the brain. Low bioavailability in this case is helpful, especially to alleviate constipation.
- Magnesium Citrate: Citrate is also used as a laxative, as it increases the amount of water in the intestines. In this case, citrate’s low bioavailability works as an asset, keeping it in the intestinal tract to exert its effect there, rather than absorbing into the bloodstream.
- Magnesium Bisglycinate Chelate: Glycinate makes this form of magnesium more bioavailable and it has the ability to cross the blood brain barrier and exert an effect on the brain.14 It effectively increases magnesium levels, while at the same time, it is not hard on the stomach and avoids the laxative effect. Magnesium glycinate has been shown to have the highest bioavailability out of all the salt forms of magnesium.15
- Magnesium L-Threonate: This is a newer form of magnesium that was originally designed specifically for brain benefits as it can cross the blood brain barrier and contributes to neuroplasticity specifically in the hippocampus which is the part of the brain involved in memory formation.8 While L-threonate may be more targeted for the brain, the dosages needed are higher than all other forms of magnesium due to the size of the molecules.
- Magnesium Chloride: This form has better bioavailability than oxide and citrate and has many benefits including antioxidant properties. It is used to increase magnesium levels in those that are deficient and to support muscle and joint health.16
- Magnesium Malate: Malate has high bioavailability and is used to improve mood, enhance exercise performance, and relieve chronic pain. It has less of a laxative effect than oxide and citrate forms.17
- Magnesium Taurate: This form has high bioavailability and is thought to play a role in regulating blood sugar levels, supporting cardiovascular health, and lessening tiredness.17
- Magnesium Sulfate: Have you ever heard of Epsom salts? A few cups of this in a bath will help with muscle aches and pains, as it is absorbed through the skin, making for a pleasant and relaxing experience. Magnesium chloride can also be used in baths, and it may even absorb better.
Why to choose magnesium bisglycinate and l-threonate for brain health:
If you’re looking for the best magnesium supplement for brain health, try focusing on the bisglycinate and l-threonate forms.
Magnesium bisglycinate is commonly used to support brain outcomes including anxiety, insomnia, and cognitive health. As mentioned, this form is able to cross the blood brain barrier and increase magnesium levels. Glycine is a neurotransmitter that the brain utilizes to transfer information between cells, and it supports sleep and memory through complex interactions with a type of receptor on neurons called NMDA receptors.18 Magnesium glycinate is gentle on the stomach and generally causes few side effects. Be aware that taking a magnesium supplement soon after taking antibiotics can result in the antibiotics not being as effective.
Magnesium L-threonate has been shown in some studies to have high absorption into the brain and is often used for specific brain benefits. Some early research suggests it may improve cognitive function by increasing magnesium levels in the brain, however, this research is limited, and more evidence would be helpful to understand its effects in humans better.
Dosage: Now that we’ve established the best forms of magnesium supplements for brain health, we look at determining the appropriate dosage for brain health benefits. A recent study showed that higher dietary intake of magnesium was associated with larger brain volume, suggesting that differences in dietary intake can lead to measurable brain differences.10 Other studies have shown a “happy medium” dosage of magnesium to have the greatest brain health benefits. Therefore, we recommend a dosage that is diet-achievable and not too high to best support brain health, around 50-500 mg/day, depending of course on how much magnesium rich food you eat.
Our nutritional supplement RELEVATE contains the magnesium bisglycinate chelate form. We chose this type of magnesium for many of the reasons explained above, being the most elegant way to provide bioavailability, brain benefits, and tolerability. The magnesium provides its diverse and energetic benefits, the glycine provides neurotransmitter benefits, and it also minimizes laxative effects and decreases the risk of dehydration and abdominal discomfort. You can read more about why we chose it by clicking on this essay here.
As you can see, magnesium is really important to support overall health and brain health. Whether you are looking for the best magnesium supplement for brain health, or trying to increase magnesium intake through diet, ensure you are getting enough of this critical nutrient.
- Jahnen-Dechent, W. & Ketteler, M. Magnesium basics. CKJ: Clinical Kidney Journal (2012). doi:10.1093/ndtplus/sfr163
- Volpe, S. L. Magnesium in Disease Prevention and Overall Health. Adv. Nutr. 4, 378S-383S (2013).
- Rosanoff, A., Weaver, C. M. & Rude, R. K. Suboptimal magnesium status in the United States: Are the health consequences underestimated? Nutr. Rev. (2012). doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2011.00465.x
- Lo, K. et al. Relations of magnesium intake to cognitive impairment and dementia among participants in the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study: a prospective cohort study. BMJ Open 9, e030052 (2019).
- Cherbuin, N., Kumar, R., Sachdev, P. & Anstey, K. Dietary Mineral Intake and Risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment: The PATH through Life Project. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience 6, 4 (2014).
- Ozawa, M. et al. Self-Reported Dietary Intake of Potassium, Calcium, and Magnesium and Risk of Dementia in the Japanese: The Hisayama Study. J. Am. Geriatr. Soc. 60, 1515–1520 (2012).
- Veronese, N. et al. Magnesium Status in Alzheimer’s Disease: A Systematic Review. American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and other Dementias (2015). doi:10.1177/1533317515602674
- Slutsky, I. et al. Enhancement of Learning and Memory by Elevating Brain Magnesium. Neuron (2010). doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2009.12.026
- Nagai, N., Fukuhata, T. & Ito, Y. Effect of Magnesium Deficiency on Intracellular ATP Levels in Human Lens Epithelial Cells. Biol. Pharm. Bull. 30, 6–10 (2007).
- Alateeq, K., Walsh, E. I. & Cherbuin, N. Dietary magnesium intake is related to larger brain volumes and lower white matter lesions with notable sex differences. Eur. J. Nutr. (2023). doi:10.1007/s00394-023-03123-x
- de Baaij, J. H. F., Hoenderop, J. G. J. & Bindels, R. J. M. Magnesium in man: Implications for health and disease. Physiol. Rev. 95, 1–46 (2015).
- Eby, G. A. & Eby, K. L. Rapid recovery from major depression using magnesium treatment. Med. Hypotheses 67, 362–370 (2006).
- Szewczyk, B. et al. Antidepressant activity of zinc and magnesium in view ofthe current hypotheses ofantidepressant action. Pharmacol. Reports 60, 588–599 (2008).
- Ates, M. et al. Dose-Dependent Absorption Profile of Different Magnesium Compounds. Biol. Trace Elem. Res. (2019). doi:10.1007/s12011-019-01663-0
- Hartle, J. W., Morgan, S. & Poulsen, T. Development of a Model for In-Vitro Comparative Absorption of Magnesium from Five Magnesium Sources Commonly Used as Dietary Supplements. FASEB J. 30, 128.6-128.6 (2016).
- Higdon, J., Drake, V. J., Delage, B. & Volpe, S. L. Magnesium. Oregon State University, Linus Pauling Institute, Micronutrient Information Center (2019). Available at: https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/magnesium#reference2.
- Uysal, N. et al. Timeline (Bioavailability) of Magnesium Compounds in Hours: Which Magnesium Compound Works Best? Biol. Trace Elem. Res. 187, 128–136 (2019).
- Kawai, N. et al. The Sleep-Promoting and Hypothermic Effects of Glycine are Mediated by NMDA Receptors in the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus. Neuropsychopharmacology 40, 1405–1416 (2015).