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How to Maximize Magnesium Absorption

Magnesium is an essential nutrient and one of the most common minerals individuals don’t get enough of.

Fact checked by Nattha Wannissorn
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This may be from simply not consuming enough through food and supplements or from not effectively absorbing what they consume. If you’re investing in the best magnesium supplement, you want to make sure you’re absorbing it all. Today we’re looking at the common causes of suboptimal magnesium absorption and what you can do about it!

Your body also doesn’t tend to retain magnesium, so it’s important to consume enough and make sure you absorb it every day.

Make sure to read through this article completely to learn the simple mistakes you might be making which inhibit magnesium absorption every day. If you don’t avoid these then you’re likely missing out on many benefits that come when you have optimal magnesium levels.

eating chocolate

Factors Affecting Magnesium Absorption

It turns out that many factors and variables impact how well you absorb magnesium. These include:

  • Certain foods and drinks we consume
  • Isolated nutrients that can interfere with magnesium absorption
  • Your gut health status
  • Pre-existing medical conditions which make magnesium absorption more of a challenge 

We’ll cover many of these different scenarios and situations here to give you a complete picture of what’s going on.

Dose and Timing of Magnesium Intake

Breaking up magnesium supplements into smaller doses throughout the day can help to increase the amount absorbed. Rather than one large dose, taking it in smaller doses throughout the day can improve absorption and prevent symptoms of excessive dosing like diarrhea. Furthermore, if you take magnesium on an empty stomach, it encourages better absorption.

Part of the reason to avoid taking magnesium with meals is that food can slow the absorption of the mineral through the digestive tract. If you take your magnesium capsules after a large meal, chances are you are going to severely limit absorption. For this and other reasons, the best practice is to take your main dose before bed on a relatively empty stomach. If you take multiple doses daily, upon waking would be the next best time to ensure maximized absorption.

Nutrient Interactions

The magnesium your body uses is in divalent form, which is why you often see the magnesium ion written as Mg2+. This means it can compete with the same transporter proteins that transport other divalent minerals, such as calcium and zinc, especially if they’re present in the gut at the same time.

Calcium (decrease ↓)

When taking magnesium, you need to be aware of what nutrients it might interact with so that you don’t inhibit absorption. Calcium for instance can compete with magnesium so if you want to get the most absorption possible, do your best to take it on its own, away from calcium. This also goes for calcium-containing beverages so be mindful of that if you regularly drink milk or almond milk beverages.

It’s important to note that calcium-magnesium combined pills and liquids will never produce the best absorption. This is crucial to know because there are dozens of these kinds of products on the market vying for your valuable attention. Better to opt for an optimized magnesium-focused product and get your calcium and other minerals through other means. If you need to take a calcium supplement, then it’s best to take it at least 2 hours away from magnesium.

Zinc  (↓)

Zinc, another essential mineral that is important for immune health, is another one we need to be aware of. Thankfully, data shows that only very high doses of zinc (>120 mg elemental zinc)  were able to significantly reduce magnesium absorption. This 120mg is 3x more than standard daily intakes so keep doses reasonable if you take zinc and magnesium together.

hand holding a sign zinc mineral

Protein (↑)

In at least one study, protein may improve magnesium absorption. In a study with boys fed different combinations of protein and magnesium, the high protein option resulted in greater retention and prevention of magnesium loss through the bowels. If protein supports magnesium retention, then it’s one more reason to consume quality protein shakes and magnesium after a good workout. 

Health Conditions Which Worsen Magnesium Status

Health conditions that can reduce magnesium in your body include

  • Digestive disorders, such as Crohn’s, celiac, and surgical removal of small intestine tissue
  • Kidney disorders and diuretic use that can result in magnesium wasting 
  • Endocrine and metabolic disorders such as diabetes and parathyroid gland disorders
  • Alcoholism, which can cause gut damage, magnesium loss from kidney flushing, and poor nutritional intake

If you experience any of the above conditions, it’s wise to check your serum and red blood cell magnesium levels regularly. This way, you’ll know where you stand and whether you need to take more targeted action to raise your levels. Whether digestive disorders limit absorption due to unhealthy gut or kidney issues cause flushing through urine, you need to adapt accordingly.

Furthermore, if you have issues with parathyroid hormone (PTH) which helps regulate calcium levels and bone metabolism, you’ll need to pay extra attention. If PTH is wildly dysregulated then you will want to pay close attention to supporting mineral levels and hormone balance.

The same is true if you drink alcohol regularly as it causes magnesium depletion through the kidneys, while inhibiting absorption through the gut. It’s safe to say that if magnesium absorption is a priority for you then it’s best to skip the booze.   

Best Forms of Magnesium for Higher Absorption 

Research has shown that amino acid chelates of magnesium, especially bisglycinate, seem to be better tolerated and absorbed than cheaper forms that are available. In a study on patients with surgically restructured small intestine, a condition which can lead to decreased absorption of magnesium, bisglycinate was better absorbed and tolerated compared to magnesium oxide. The bisglycinate form looks like a dipeptide (2-amino acid peptide) and can get absorbed like a dipeptide, bypassing other requirements to absorb magnesium such as stomach acid, even in a compromised gut. 

This makes intuitive sense for anyone who has taken therapeutic doses of magnesium oxide because it triggers loose stool, even though some of it gets absorbed. Poorly absorbed forms draw water into the colon, throw off the balance of minerals/electrolytes and then trigger a bowel flushing movement. Not exactly what you’re going for to fix your magnesium deficiency!

One distinction to be aware of is sucrosomial magnesium which is magnesium oxide bound inside a phospholipid matrix. This form actually gets absorbed without interacting with the gut lining and results in much higher bioavailability. 

Knowing this, it becomes important to choose magnesium supplement in forms like bisglycinate, chelate, orotate, sucrosomial, taurate, citrate etc. Not only because they are better absorbed, but also because they have different affinity for different parts of the body. 

For example: 

  • Magnesium taurate, which means it’s bound to the amino acid taurine, may have enhanced benefits for the heart. 
  • Magnesium bisglycinate, which is a magnesium bound to two glycines, may have enhanced calming effects and immune system benefits. 
  • Magnesium malate, bound to malic acid, may be one of the best absorbed and have an extra affinity for the nervous system. 

You can see why having a range of highly absorbed forms of magnesium is beneficial for covering all of your bases. You can also see that investing your health dollars into these quality forms will give you the greatest benefits possible.

Things to Avoid that Inhibit Magnesium Absorption

Now that you’re clear on what forms are best absorbed, you need to know what else can prevent absorption from taking place. This way you can avoid those things that you might never have known would sabotage your magnesium absorption. These include:

  • Antacids (stomach needs to be acidic to absorb minerals optimally)
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).
  • Coffee and tea drinking (increased excretion)
  • Soda
  • Fluoride in tap water.
  • Excessive sweating without mineral replacement
  • Chronic mental and emotional stress

Like most minerals, magnesium is best absorbed in a strongly acidic gut; this means we need healthy digestion at the foundation. It also means we want to avoid acid-reducing drugs like PPIs or antacids which are designed to neutralize stomach acid.

man training sweating after working out

How stimulants like caffeine, coffee, and tea affect magnesium

Coffee, tea, energy drinks, and sodas are next up on the list of potential sabotaging substances. The diuretic action of caffeine increases urination, causing you to lose more magnesium. These beverages may also be high in other antinutrients such as tannins and oxalates, which can inhibit mineral absorption. Not only that, but the stress hormone secretion associated with stimulant use can also cause increased magnesium release from tissues into urine.

Energy drinks and sodas have another factor that can inhibit magnesium absorption and that’s their phosphoric acid/phosphorus content. Phosphorus, like calcium, can potentially inhibit absorption and phosphoric acid is used to add flavor and lower pH. 

If you need more reasons why moderating caffeine, soda, and energy drinks is a good idea, let these be them. Let your desire to maintain optimal magnesium levels and the life-enhancing benefits of that inspire you towards wiser health choices.

Things to Do that Improve Magnesium Absorption 

  • If you eat dark green veggies like spinach and kale, steam and drain them to remove oxalates. Avoid eating them raw.
  • Soak and sprout your nuts, seeds, and legumes to improve digestibility and reduce phytic acid, oxalic acid and other anti-nutrients. Discard the soaking water and rinse the nuts, seeds, and legumes multiple times.
  • Chew and eat in a relaxed manner
  • Ensure adequate stomach acid (take HCL supplements if needed)
  • Reduce stress in general

The base of magnesium intake comes from food, so we need to prioritize magnesium-rich foods alongside everything else we’ve mentioned to get optimal results. This means eating plenty of greens, soaked/sprouted nuts, seeds, and legumes, and avoiding anti-nutrients that bind to magnesium or inhibit digestion. These antinutrients include oxalate and phytates, some of which can be removed with the right food preparations. 

medical practitioner with a reduce stress sign

Along with what we eat, how we eat also plays an important role, more than you might think. Stressed out, rushed eating doesn’t allow digestive juices and enzymes to flow effectively which leads to weak digestion and less absorption. Also, if we haven’t chewed foods up adequately then we have large pieces of undigested food that haven’t released their micronutrients. 

Not only does relaxing to breathe deeply and chew well create an optimal digestive environment, but it also lowers stress response which reduces magnesium loss. This in theory allows us to enjoy meals more, absorb more nutrition, and maintain higher magnesium levels through lowered stress. A perfect synergy of beneficial effects!

Replenish Stress-Related Low Digestive Juices with HCl Supplements

Chronic stress depletes magnesium levels faster and also inhibits the release of stomach acid which we require for proper digestion. Without stomach acid, we lack the environment necessary to absorb and utilize minerals like magnesium. Luckily, we have options like HCL Breakthrough that can help correct weak stomach acid levels and enhance magnesium absorption.

If you want a simple version of this to get started, try drinking a tbsp of raw apple cider vinegar in 2-4 oz of water. Take it 15-30 minutes before your main meals and observe how your stomach feels after eating. If you have struggled with acid reflux, this might be an easy fix, and if you need more support, take HCL Breakthrough. Either way, you’re going to absorb more minerals and digest food better when your gut is strongly acidic!

To reinforce why this is so important, follow this sequence to see how inadequate stomach acid can create a downward spiral of health challenges. 

The higher stomach pH results in less nutrient absorption which leads to lower levels of essential nutrients. These lower nutrient levels impact metabolism, energy, and cell functioning putting you further into an energy deficit. The cycle persists and can progress until you are constantly fatigued, depressed, and suffering from multiple food sensitivities. This is a very common pattern I see in clients and it’s very much preventable with proper interventions.

Taking Action – Where to Begin

As we wrap up, let’s look at the most important things to do to get started moving in the right direction. First, determine if you are experiencing any of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency which most commonly include but are not limited to:

  • Leg and foot cramps
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle and eye twitches
  • Poor sleep quality and low energy levels
  • Delayed muscle recovery after working out
  • Bone health challenges and faster age-related decline in bone density
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Muscle weakness

From there, assess what foods you’re eating that are high in magnesium and prioritize those daily. After that, look into a quality magnesium supplement to cover your bases and provide therapeutic levels of this essential mineral. If you don’t notice an improvement in symptoms, consider digestive support and make sure you’re following the info from this article. 

If you are addicted to caffeine or constantly eating in a hurry then you’ll need to make some changes there too. If you drink and bathe in tap water, get a filter to remove the harmful and toxic elements that inhibit magnesium absorption.

It can feel challenging to get enough of this essential mineral daily but I promise you, it is worth figuring out. When your magnesium levels are optimized, everything works better. From your brain to your body, your mood and your energy. This simple and powerful nutrient can and will make a massive difference for you across your life once it’s replenished. 

Always pay attention to your body and the signs it gives you, and know that you are on the path of BiOptimization. Keep it up!

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References
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  5. FDA Drug Safety Communication: Low magnesium levels can be associated with long-term use of Proton Pump Inhibitor drugs (PPIs). U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Accessed November 17, 2022. https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/fda-drug-safety-communication-low-magnesium-levels-can-be-associated-long-term-use-proton-pump
  6. Machoy-Mokrynska A, Szczeein P. Fluoride Magnesium Interaction. Fluoride. 10(4):175-177. Accessed November 17, 2022. https://fluorideresearch.org/284/files/FJ1995_v28_n4_p175-177.pdf
  7. Kynast-Gales SA, Massey LK. Effect of caffeine on circadian excretion of urinary calcium and magnesium. J Am Coll Nutr. 1994;13(5):467-472. doi:10.1080/07315724.1994.10718436
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