This is your brain on magnesium

Magnesium has positioned itself to be the next dominant mineral in the health and nutrition marketplace.

Connor Lovejoy

May 1, 2019

6 Min Read
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In the marketplace, calcium has forged the trail for magnesium. Walk around any grocery store and you’ll notice just how many products are infused with calcium: orange juice, milk, bottled water, energy bars, etc. This bone- and teeth-fortifying mineral was first isolated in 1808. Once formulators figured out how to include it in normal consumer products, it took off like wildfire. Located one square up on the periodic table from calcium, magnesium is poised to break out in 2019 and one-up calcium.  

Magnesium was also first isolated in 1808 but became popular for its derivative magnesium sulfate, also called Epsom salt after the area in England where it was historically produced. Epsom salt was coveted for its ability to cure internal and external ailments, so much so that it’s on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines, the most important medications needed in a basic health system. With researchers regularly uncovering more ways in which magnesium plays a vital role in the human body and formulators combating “pill fatigue,” it’s becoming clear magnesium is primed to take center stage.

Magnesium is found naturally in plant and animal foods, including spinach, nuts, legumes, seeds and whole grains. It might not seem too difficult to ensure magnesium in a normal diet but consider that Americans eat less than the recommended amounts of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy products and oils1 and a nutritional problem begins to arise. Add in that more than 23 million Americans, including 6.5 million children, live in food deserts—areas that are more than a mile away from a supermarket2—and a perfect storm for magnesium deficiency begins to form.

Although magnesium’s usefulness includes a long list of benefits, suppliers and researchers have begun to focus on its role and effects on brain and nervous system function.

“In order for magnesium to benefit brain health, it has to actually reach the brain,” explained Samantha Ford, business development manager, AIDP. “Most magnesium [ingredients] on the market have low ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. Because of its chemical structure, Magtein® has been shown to effectively raise the brain’s magnesium levels.”  

Magtein is a patented magnesium l-threonate differentiated by its chemical composition, according to AIDP. Developed with the help of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientists, Magtein it is backed by scientific study.

One such study demonstrated the ingredient’s ability to increase synaptic density and restore aging neurons—i.e. help brain cells more effectively communicate with one another.3 Then in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, Magtein supplementation for 12 weeks led to significant improvements in memory, stress and anxiety in middle-aged and older adults.4 Cognitive assessments also showed improvements equivalent to a nine-year reduction in “brain age.”5

Albion Minerals also tackles the challenge of bioavailability with their magnesium bisglycinate chelate. Magnesium supplementation has a tricky history of not fully being absorbed by the body, so Albion’s approach was to make their magnesium as soluble as possible without any of the laxative effects associated with it. Company scientists bonded magnesium with amino acids, which the body easily recognizes and absorbs. These chelated forms of magnesium are highly functional nutritionally as they have been shown to provide increased bioavailability, tolerance, and the stability to remain intact throughout the gastrointestinal system.

“There is an increasing interest in magnesium for supporting brain health and emotional wellness,” says Todd Johnson, senior director of marketing, Albion. “While the mechanisms of the antidepressant actions of magnesium are not fully understood, the mineral influences several systems associated with depression.”

Albion highlighted several studies that support magnesium’s effect on the brain. In one recent study, magnesium was demonstrated as a valuable tool in the management of depression.6 Another study found a direct effect of magnesium on mood, emotions and reactions to stress, and found that low levels of the mineral could contribute to hyper-emotionality.7 Another study suggested that magnesium deficiency may be a major cause for treatment-resistant depression.8 

Remember the aforementioned “mineral king” calcium? Well, Jost Chemical offers a proprietary calcium magnesium citrate co-salt in a 2:1 Ca:Mg molar ratio. The micronized product is designed for customers that desire aqueous suspensions of calcium and magnesium with comfortable mouth feel.

Given magnesium impacts more than 360 biomechanical functions and untold effects on the brain, formulators are doing everything in their power to ensure maximum absorption of magnesium in the human body. Up until recently, pills have been the primary way that supplements were taken. AIDP’s Ford suggested consumers are becoming a bit tired of pill delivery forms, which she termed “pill fatigue.” It’s no surprise “pill fatigue” has played a part in the growing creativity in magnesium formulation. Fortunately, magnesium is readily available, not just in pills, but in a variety of delivery forms.

Solubility remains a high priority for magnesium formulators. Solubility benefits the formulator, the brand and the consumer by allowing the magnesium to be placed into liquid products like drinks and be absorbed at a higher rate by the human body.

“Magnesium properties are different, depending on your application,” explained Julie Imperato, marketing manager, Nexira. “If you want to make food and beverage, you need an extract that is 100 percent soluble, preferentially in powder for an easy incorporation. If you want to make tablets and capsules, you probably need a fine powder. And finally, if you want to make tablets, you need a granulated powder for better compression.”

With increased solubility and development of alternative delivery forms, formulations face challenges with taste, texture and organoleptic properties. And there are regulatory considerations when it comes to supplements vs food.

Despite several challenges, magnesium is still primed to make leaps and strides in 2019 and beyond.

“The magnesium market is growing immensely and expected to outpace calcium, in terms of mineral sales, within the next few years—less than optimal magnesium status among the population is more widespread than previously thought, and consumer awareness is really mounting,” said AIDP’s Ford.

It should come as no surprise that consumers are noticing and taking control of how supplements can improve their health and well-being. The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) found that 76% of U.S. adults perceive the dietary supplement industry as trustworthy—an all-time high.9 As the industry star continues to rise, look for magnesium to play a leading role for years to come.


  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. Available at:

  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Creating Access to Healthy, Affordable Food. Available at

  3. Sun Q et al. “Regulation of structural and functional synapse density by L-threonate through modulation of intraneuronal magnesium concentration.” Neuropharmacology. 2016;108(5):426-439.

  4. Liu G et al. “Efficacy and Safety of MMFS-01, a Synapse Density Enhancer, for Treating Cognitive Impairment in Older Adults: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial.” Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. 2016;49:971-990.

  5. Slutsky I et al. “Enhancement of Learning and Memory by Elevating Brain Magnesium.” Neuron. 2010;28;65(2):165-177.

  6. Serefko A et al. “Magnesium in depression.” Pharmacological reports. 2013;65(3):574-54.

  7. Sartori SB et al. “Magnesium deficiency induces anxiety and HPA axis dysregulation: modulation by therapeutic drug treatment.” Neuropharmacology. 2012; 62(1):304-12.   

  8.  Eby GA et al. “Magnesium for treatment-resistant depression: a review and hypothesis.” Medical hypotheses. 2010;74(4):649-60.

About the Author(s)

Connor Lovejoy

Connor's first foray into the global nutrition industry was in 2018. Since then he's dived into a wide variety of  topics, including product formulation, vitamins and minerals and botanicals. A graduate of Arizona State University; outside of work you can find him spending time with his wife, Maddy, and their two rabbits Puck and Winnie. 

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