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Jennifer Grebow is editor-in-chief of Nutritional Outlook.
Here’s why magnesium is more than just a passing trend.
Magnesium is the mineral that just keeps growing. Nutritional Outlook has included magnesium in its annual Ingredients to Watch projections for a few years running-and reasons are strong for highlighting magnesium again in 2020.
First, sales: Market researcher SPINS (Chicago) reports that in the 52 weeks ending October 6, 2019, magnesium saw impressive sales growth that pushed the mineral, for the first time, to rank within the top-10 ingredients, in terms of dollar change, that SPINS tracks cross-channel (mainstream, natural, and specialty gourmet channels). Combining these channels, magnesium experienced double-digit sales growth last year of 11%, taking sales to $151 million by the period’s end. (For more insights on this cross-channel growth, click here.)
As many have predicted in years past, magnesium is set to overtake calcium as the mineral market’s superstar. Says Nick Dehnert, vice president of brand marketing for supplements company Nutranext, “The rapid growth of the magnesium category helped it recently surpass the size of the calcium category in the natural channel of trade, and we expect magnesium to continue its healthy growth trend as consumer awareness grows.”
Consumer interest in magnesium is on the rise. The Council for Responsible Nutrition’s (CRN; Washington, DC) latest Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements, conducted on more than 2000 U.S. adults in August 2019, ranked magnesium as one of the top-10 dietary supplements U.S. consumers take. In the 2019 survey, 18% of supplement users surveyed said they take magnesium. In fact, says Andrea Wong, PhD, senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for CRN, “According to CRN’s Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements, consumer usage of magnesium supplements overall has increased over the last five years.”
Andrea Rosanoff, PhD, is an expert on magnesium research. As the director of research and science information outreach for the Center for Magnesium Education & Research LLC (CMER; Pahoa, HI; www.magnesiumeducation.com), Rosanoff has been studying magnesium for 35 years. Until recently, she says, magnesium “has been a very underevaluated and underwatched nutritional supplement.” (CMER, soon to be a nonprofit organization, comprises independent scholars whose mission is to promote nutritional magnesium awareness and the peer-reviewed science behind magnesium.)
But while magnesium has been underrated in the past, she says, that is slowly changing. “I would say that in the last three to five years, people have come up to me and said, ‘Oh, I read about magnesium, and it’s really important,’ wanting to know a little bit more about it.” Interestingly, Rosanoff says, the dieticians that her Center speaks to are often less aware about the research and importance of magnesium-that, in fact, it is consumers who seem to be giving magnesium its boost. “It’s the consumer who seems to be interested in driving the desire for knowledge about magnesium,” she says.
Chalk that up to growing research and media attention on magnesium’s role in good health. Rosanoff says there is more than 50 years’ worth of research on magnesium by now. So, what does research show?
“Studies are revealing magnesium’s role in many body systems,” says Vanessa Pavey, ND, who is also an education scientist for supplements brand Life Extension. “Magnesium helps regulate heart muscle contraction and relaxes arterial smooth muscles to promote healthy blood flow. Magnesium aids in synaptic connections between neurons to support memory. It is also a cofactor for enzymes that regulate the neurotransmitters associated with mood. And, it is becoming common knowledge that magnesium supports more regular bowel movements.”
Given these benefits, it’s no surprise to see, per SPINS data, that magnesium sales were up in the following health supplement categories: digestive health (mainstream channel), brain health (natural channel), heart health (natural and specialty gourmet channels), mood (natural and specialty gourmet channels), and bone health (specialty gourmet channel). Magnesium is also linked to healthy blood sugar management.
Where is the scientific evidence for magnesium’s efficacy strongest?
Studies are long-reaching on magnesium’s benefits for heart health, especially its benefits for those suffering from high blood pressure. Rosanoff, who in 2003 co-authored a book called The Magnesium Factor together with her mentor, the late Mildred S. Seelig, MD, MPH, says that in the cardiovascular space, “the research is quite robust” on magnesium. And while pharmaceuticals and antihypertensive medications have taken over as treatments prescribed for heart disease and high blood pressure, Rosanoff says she believes that “the real cause of heart disease epidemic in the Western world and spreading globally is a low-magnesium diet.”
“The whole heart disease epidemic is the symptom…[T]hey have all these treatments for it, and we’ve been spending all this money on it, but there seems to be a reluctance to take a look and say that the core issue is really a low magnesium intake that happens chronically, and it’s happening to the entire population,” she adds. “What we are doing is treating the symptoms of what is in fact a nutritional deficiency in most cases-not all cases.” In 2016, CMER was instrumental in the submission of a qualified health claim petition to FDA linking magnesium to lowering blood pressure. The petition is still in review.
Stress management is also an evolving market for magnesium, reflecting consumers’ growing search for stress aids. And while the mental health research on magnesium is nowhere as robust as it is for heart health, Rosanoff says that magnesium “is crucial to optimizing how you face stress.” Because magnesium is involved in so many bodily reactions and even up to 80% of metabolism, “if you get low in magnesium, your reactions just can’t go as well as they optimally could,” she says.
“This is how basic magnesium is to life,” she points out, “and in some of these basic cellular metabolic reactions that make life run smoothly.”
Within the larger brain health category, magnesium supplementation and status is being investigated for everything ranging from neuroprotection, depression, and hyperactivity to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Pavey points to a 2016 study in older adults published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease that found that supplementation with one bioavailable form of magnesium, magnesium L-threonate-the Magtein ingredient from AIDP; City of Industry, CA-helped to improve supplemented subjects’ “brain age” by more than nine years.1
Stress management is a growing market for dietary supplements and natural alternatives, and Bonnie Hilton Green, founder and CEO of magnesium supplements brand OMG! Nutrition, says that “stress and sleep are driving the interest to supplement with magnesium.” OMG! Nutrition utilizes the patented TRAACS form of chelated bioavailable magnesium from Balchem Corp.’s (New Hampton, NY) Albion minerals line.
Dehnert from Nutranext, maker of Natural Vitality’s Natural Calm line of magnesium-containing supplements, says: “With stress levels rising for our consumers every year, we think this is the right area to focus on.”
“Magnesium is an all-natural solution,” OMG!’s Green says. “It calms your body and mind by activating the same neurotransmitters as prescription sleep aids-but magnesium is safe for everyday, long-time use.”
Indeed, says Rosanoff, “There’s very good evidence that oral magnesium is incredibly safe.”
That’s a good thing, given our general population’s underconsumption of magnesium from the diet. CRN’s Wong points out that the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans identified magnesium as a “shortfall nutrient.” USDA data from 2016 stated that 50% of Americans do not meet recommended levels of magnesium intake.
Making matters worse, the current RDA for magnesium may not be accurate because our population’s body weight has gone up, says Rosanoff. “We now know, and this is absolutely from recent research, that when you have a higher body weight, your magnesium requirement goes up.” Unfortunately, she says, current RDAs are built on a lower standard reference body weight. This means that our need for magnesium today may be even higher than what current RDAs reflect.
Why don’t we get enough magnesium in today’s diet? Many have reported a depletion of soil minerals as the culprit, but Rosanoff says it is actually something else that is impeding our ability to get as much magnesium as we used to from the food supply: the “huge” emphasis on high-yield food production, as well as food processing.
Each year, farmers set forth to grow plants that produce the highest crop yields. Because farmers are stretching their production from the same amount of soil (and nutrients in that soil), the level of nutrients, including magnesium, that we get in the food we eat is diminished. But even more so than that, Rosanoff says, current food processing strips out the magnesium that we’d otherwise get from good food. Up to 100% of the magnesium in oilseeds, for instance, which are otherwise good sources of magnesium, can be destroyed in food processing. Those oils are used to cook many of our processed foods. The same goes for sugar, where much of the magnesium is removed during processing.
Given all of this, says Rosanoff, it’s very difficult to get the magnesium your body desperately needs from the modern diet. Therefore, she says, “We’re lucky we have supplements.”
The supplements industry has an important role to play in the magnesium revolution that’s hopefully to come. Ingredient suppliers continue to churn out ingredient improvements (e.g., more bioavailable forms of the mineral, as well as easier-to-formulate-with options) and research.
Seeing the magnesium product wave that’s growing, magnesium brands are on the search for the best-quality raw materials (e.g., magnesium citrate versus oxide versus other options). These days, magnesium fortification can be gotten in everything from supplements (pills, gummies, etc.) and drink mixes to extended-release solutions. “Obstacles to supplementing with magnesium include large pills or poor-tasting powder, laxative effect, and low bioavailability,” OMG! Nutrition’s Green says. “Supplement manufacturers are working out ways to address these issues…”
Pavey says: “As continued research becomes available for magnesium, I think we will begin to see new forms, advanced delivery systems, and more health-targeted formulas.”
“Magnesium supplements will be on the industry’s radar well beyond 2020,” says Nutranext’s Dehnert. “Much of the magnesium category today is commoditized, so the brands that will build category awareness and adoption successfully will do it through compelling and modern brands that educate consumers about magnesium benefits and deliver a great, holistic consumer experience.”
Pavey adds: “More people are becoming aware of this important mineral due to more prolific discussion in health news outlets…Since magnesium can support multiple body systems, it is likely people are interested in being proactive for overall body health.”
Magnesium is more than just a passing trend, says Green: “Short-term, fad solutions come and go, but magnesium is on the rise because it’s meeting the consumer’s demand for a natural solution to their everyday problems stemming from today’s hectic lifestyle.”
2020 Ingredient Trends to Watch for Food, Drinks, and Dietary Supplements: