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Maximizing Your Magnesium Intake

6 July 2012 - Posted by Ashley under ,

We receive a lot of questions from our customers asking essentially “How do I know how much magnesium my body is actually absorbing?”

Well, you don’t.

100mg Applied, Does Not Equal 100mg Absorbed

Often, what people don’t seem to acknowledge is that whether you’re taking magnesium orally or applying it topically, your body will never absorb 100% of that chosen application. In fact, the body only absorbs 20-50% of ingested magnesium at best – meaning that even magnesium that is being obtained through food sources will not be fully assimilated by the body. Reasons for this are diverse and plentiful, ranging from improper stomach pH or digestive disorders to an unhealthy stratum corneum (outermost skin layer).

Did you know… A healthy person will absorb nutrients at a different rate than someone who is sick or fighting a disease?

There are simply too many factors involved to say with any amount of certainty exactly how much each person is absorbing per 100mg rubbed on, eaten, swallowed…etc.. Even more frustrating is that the amount of elemental magnesium in the specific compound being used will not offer up any insight either. A common example that we use is magnesium oxide – holding, by far, the highest percentage of magnesium. However, for some reason, this compound is very poorly absorbed by the human body – sometimes as little as 4% making its way into your system.

Modern science often runs into this issue when trying to determine magnesium absorption in clinical research. When using oral supplementation, the common practice is to test to see how much is being excreted in comparison to how much is being taken orally over a measured length of time. However, if you are applying it topically and not through the GI tract, this system is not exactly applicable. The conclusion is that there would need to be significant advances in science before such a thing can be studied with any degree of accuracy.

So, given these circumstances, what can be done to ensure you’re getting the most out of each dose?

Maximizing Your Magnesium Absorption

Due to how fickle our bodies can be in the absorption of nutrients, we have to become creative (and certainly more intuitive) on how we go about meeting our daily requirements. In other words, we cannot depend strictly on the amount of magnesium we are using and assume that our body is hitting that ideal threshold.

There are a number of ways that you can make sure that your body is absorbing sufficient amounts of your chosen application and that the magnesium is getting where it needs to be (this is key!).

As you may know, calcium goes hand in hand with magnesium – one does not function effectively without the other. What you may not know is that Vitamin D, Selenium (found in Brazil nuts), and Thiamine (B1; found in whole grains) are also key components by aiding in the absorption, routing, and storage of magnesium. Without these other nutrients, the body simply won’t know what to do with the magnesium that you are flooding it with.

Oral Magnesium Absorption

Stomach pH, as mentioned, plays a large role in the proper absorption of many oral magnesium supplements – but not all of them! Amino acid chelates of magnesium do not require the same acidic state in order to be broken down and absorbed by the body. In fact, they are often so well absorbed that there is little worry of incurring diarrhea by taking your daily requirement (RDA) in one sitting. The down side? These types of magnesium supplements are often more costly and not commonly found on grocery store shelves. If you are stuck purchasing a less than optimal compound due to accessibility, try to go for a magnesium citrate, as that form is still relatively well absorbed by body but won’t hit your wallet as hard.

The average magnesium supplement would be best taken with food*, so that you can reach the optimal acidity levels – in other words, acid neutralizers such as Tums and other OTC antacids (as well as PPI’s) will essentially hinder or block the uptake of magnesium. It’s also a good idea to split the dosages into small amounts taken 2-3 times per day to help prevent the laxative effect mentioned above. If your dosage is immediately resulting in diarrhea that means that the magnesium is leaving your body before it can be absorbed.

Spreading out your dosages will also provide your body with a more natural interval of nutrients, allowing them to be utilized more effectively. Taking any large quantity of dietary supplement in one sitting is going to be less than ideal and, in some cases, unnecessarily confuse and tax the body.

*Certain foods will block the uptake of magnesium, which will be covered in a later post.

Transdermal Magnesium Absorption

Due to the fact that this is strictly a topical application, skin health is going to be one of the most crucial aspects of absorption. This means that you may need to take extra steps to ensure that your skin is clean, clear and functioning at its peak. Those steps can include:

  • Daily dry skin brushing
  • Infrared sauna use (also, steam room & dry sauna)
  • Limiting (or stopping) use of cosmetics with toxic ingredients (See EWG Cosmetic Database)
  • Consuming adequate amounts of water
  • Exfoliating regularly

Those are some of the external ways to increase skin health. However, since your skin is often a reflection of your internal health, nutrition will always play an important role.

Additional factors to consider when using topical magnesium are the length of exposure, amount applied, size of area covered, and medium utilized. Much of this information can be found in our application instructions, however, keep in mind that the best way to increase your intake is to cover us much area as possible, for as long as possible, as often as possible. This means not limiting yourself to simply rubbing a couple of sprays of magnesium oil onto your feet once in a while, but covering your legs, arms, stomach, back, shoulders, chest, etc. on a daily basis.

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This won’t be the last post on this rather lengthy subject, but hopefully this will provide a good foundation on how to increase your magnesium absorption rather than focusing on the relatively unanswerable question of “How do I know how much magnesium I’m absorbing.”

If you have any questions or comments, let us know!

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  • M.W.

    Just curious, but why only “once in a while” on the feet?  I have been applying it to my feet 2x/day for a few years since it doesn’t result in any stinging.  Thanks.

  • Ashley

    Hi M.W.,
    Applying the magnesium to your feet is certainly a viable way to absorb magnesium. However, it is only a small surface area of your skin and therefore will only be able to absorb so much at a time. Since this post is specifically about “Maximizing” your magnesium intake, that would not be considered the best way to do so.

    On a separate note, if you find that your skin is sensitive to the itching/tingling of the original magnesium oil, you may find that you prefer the magnesium oil Ultra (which is a blend of our oil and OptiMSM). Feedback from our customers indicates that they don’t experience that itching sensation, nor does it leave any residue.

  • Ernest

    Does the body absorb the same amount of Mg from the Ultra product? I have purchased Ultra and it is certainly a much better feel on the skin than Original. It doesn’t feel as oily and it feels “softer”.

  • Ashley

    Hi Ernest,
    Our goal in creating the Ultra was to assist the body in absorbing the magnesium by adding the MSM – known for its ability to enhance cellular uptake – while also creating a more mild and less irritating version of the oil.

    As for whether you are able to absorb as much from the Ultra as you are from the Original, that I cannot say for sure. Each person’s skin will be different in terms of permeability – for some, they may receive more from the Original, and for others they may respond better to the addition of the MSM and lower magnesium concentration.

    I personally prefer the Ultra for the rapid uptake that I experience when I apply it to areas that are experiencing pain/inflammation.

  • Ladysgone47

    I am trying to find a product Ancient Salts Magnesium Flakes to take orally for balancing body after an attack of Ulcerative Colitis…does anyone know were to find this?

  • DelicateMelodies

    Here’s something annoying, for -some reason- my body naturally refuses to absorb magnesium / zinc, vitamin D, and calcium. I am deficient in all 3. When you try to search about lack of ability to absorb all three nothing comes up, so I have to try one at a time. Which of course the advice is always: You can’t absorb magnesium? Take vitamin D! Your body can’t absorb vitamin D? Take calcium! You can’t absorb calcium? You’re missing magnesium! Cured!

    AHHH! Why is it impossible to find out what to do when your body rejects specifically these 3 vitamins and why it happens?

  • Ashley

    I’m so sorry to hear that, and I can’t imagine how frustrating that must be.

    I’ll send you an email so I can answer you more thoroughly.

  • Ethelean Stanford

    Hi there, since you posted the same question that I was going to ask today I was wondering if you could share what the answer was, please