Is gallbladder sludge linked to your gut bacteria?

Gallbladder sludge is an initial step in the development of gallstones. It causes many people pain but is arguably too early for surgery.  There are, of course, many natural ways to address this issue including a basic protocol, lecithin, and castor oil packs and research is indicating that probiotics might be helpful as well. While it stands to reason that a healthy digestive tract, i.e. one with a thriving colony of beneficial bacteria, will help protect against any digestive disease it is still nice to see the results on paper.

This study, published in the online journal PLoSOne, was actually conducted on different types of mice. These mice were from four groups of genetically related strains that were purchased from different vendors with a very different treatment of the mice in terms of their good bacteria. The researchers use genetically similar mice because genetics plays a role in gallbladder stone and sludge development so having similar genetics eliminates that variable and puts all the mice on an even playing field. The groups of mice differed mostly in their gut flora.  One vendor maintains the mice in a germ-free environment but doesn’t introduce any good bacteria. Another colonizes the mice with a healthy bacterial flora and then maintains a pathogen-free environment after that.

Good gut bacteria like these may be able to help prevent gallbladder sludge and stones. Image from Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH

Good gut bacteria like these may be able to help prevent gallbladder sludge and stones. Image from Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH

All of the mice were fed a “lithogenic diet”  meaning a diet that is known to induce gallstones. This diet was essentially similar to a high-fat human diet. Specifically 1% cholesterol, 15% triglycerides and 0.5% cholic acid (one of the components of bile – in humans we would produce this naturally). Results were based on gallbladder weight, the percentage of mucin (or mucus) in the bile, cholesterol crystal formation, sandy stone formation, and presence or absence of true cholesterol stones.




The study found that the mice with the good flora were more resistant to gallbladder sludge than the mice without the good flora. The total gallbladder weight was lower which is important because it represents a measurable way to test inflammation. Inflamed gallbladders grow thicker walls that have a higher content of immune cells and inflammatory particles.  Also the mice without the good flora showed higher percentages of mucin and researchers were able to determine that the good bacteria actually influence the gene expression of those mice.  Healthy gut bacteria is able to down-regulate the action of mucin genes, which contribute to mucus formation in the digestive tract.

Actual cholesterol crystal formation, sandy stone formation and cholesterol stones were also all significantly less in the mice with healthy gut flora.

What Does This Mean for Humans With Gallbladder Sludge?

Mice aren’t people, and although this is certainly something to think about, we can’t jump to the conclusion that gallbladder sludge can be prevented by good bacteria.  We can, however, use common sense to say that chances are having healthy digestive bacteria can help our bodies to maintain healthy digestion. That means that gut inflammation will probably be lower with good flora, there will probably be less mucus, and digestive processes will run more smoothly.  Logically it makes sense that this would lead to less gallbladder sludge formation.

How Do I Get Healthy Gut Flora?

Of course, there are a million probiotic formulas out there all claiming to be the “best” and as a consumer, it can be very difficult to wade through unless there is specific research on a specific product for the specific issue you’re having (which happens only in a handful of cases). There are not any products currently on the market which are researched for gallbladder sludge.  There are a number of ways to increase your good bacteria, many of which are from food.

Increasing Your Good Gut Flora

Your gut bacteria are 100 trillion friends you didn’t know you had. Take care of them!

  • Reduce Antibiotic Use. If at all possible, minimize or eliminate all antibiotics from your life.  Life-threatening illnesses are a different matter and some situations do require antibiotics but work with your doctor to minimize usage that is not absolutely necessary. Antibiotics kill off your good bacteria along with any bad bacteria and overuse is linked to obesity, serious digestive disease along with the more globally threatening antibiotic resistant bacteria.
  • Moderate Processed Foods. Processed foods are typically filled with preservatives, emulsifiers, stabilizers, colors and other chemicals that are foreign to your body and to your more fragile gut flora.  A whole food diet has been shown to foster a very different digestive environment than a processed food diet and so eating foods with fewer chemicals will help your host of tiny helpers.
  • Increase Dietary Fiber.  If you’ve read this blog before you probably know I’m a big fan of fiber. Fiber, especially soluble fiber, helps to feed the good bacteria and provides material for fermentation in your gut.  All of those good bacteria really like fermentation and need the “prebiotics” or bacteria food that the fiber provides.
  • Get More Fermented Foods. Naturally fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sourkraut and other fermented veggies like spicy kimchee are all rich sources of good bacteria and can help to reintroduce those good strains into your digestion.
  • Grow Some (Organic) Veggies. Many of our good bacteria are soil microorganisms that we are supposed to through contact with, well, soil.  We are supposed to have these good bacteria from the earth and historically we would have got plenty of them by gardening, harvesting, farming and eating vegetables that aren’t “sanitized” before being put on grocery store shelves or irradiated to prevent foreign plant diseases from entering the country with produce. So growing some of your own or buying from a good local organic grower.  Rinsing your veggies as you normally would won’t eliminate all of the healthy bacteria so as long as they haven’t been sprayed with pesticides and herbicides they’re a great source of some of your most potent good flora.
  • Take a Supplement.  The supplements are always an option if that is easiest for you, but don’t forget to do some of the rest of it too. In terms of supplements, every digestive tract is different so it can be helpful to rotate through different types of products with different strains of beneficial bacteria because there isn’t a great way to predict which strains will colonize best in your system.

 

 



MTHFR C677T Superpower: Prostate Cancer Protection.

There could be benefits of MTHFR C677T mutation. Who knew? © Patrimonio Designs Limited | Dreamstime Stock Photos

There could be benefits of MTHFR C677T mutation. Who knew? © Patrimonio Designs Limited | Dreamstime Stock Photos

I am so happy to report that the MTHFR C677T mutation now comes with a superpower, and it’s prostate cancer protection.  It’s not quite X-Men worthy and I have to admit mind control might be a bit cooler, but protection against one of the most common forms of cancer is nothing to scoff at.

The association between MTHFR mutation and prostate cancer has been unclear, with some studies showing increased risk, some studies showing no change and some showing decreased risk, so the information can be difficult to wade through. A recent research study conducted in Shanghai and published in Scientific Reports shows that C677T polymorphisms, whether they are homozygous or heterozygous, are actually protective against prostate cancer although they are quick to say that this study was conducted on the Han Chinese population in Shanghai and that the results may be different for different ethnic groups.

The study shows that intracellular homocysteine levels are slightly elevated when the C677T mutation is present and that elevated homocysteine actually helps to encourage damaged cells, such as precancerous and cancerous cells, to die off the way they should, rather than proliferating into full blown cancer. In unfortunate news, a recent meta-analysis published in Genetics and Molecular Research, showed that this association may not exist in caucasian males and that in this population C677T mutation may not have any effect on prostate cancer. Interestingly, this same meta-analysis showed that the A1298C mutation might have a slight protective effect against prostate cancer in European males.




The most important thing to remember, is that almost every mutation that exists in humans or animals has a double edge – it often has some drawbacks, but typically benefits too or the members of the population with that mutation would die out.  MTHFR seems to be, if anything, becoming more common so I suspect in years to come we will find many other benefits associated with it.



Am I Overmethylated? MTHFR Questions.

Overmethylated vs. undermethylated seems to be one of those things that everyone defines a different way, so let’s talk about it and see if we can bring some clarity. The terms overmethylation and undermethylation make the most sense to me as the Walsh Research Institute uses them.  These are general physical tendencies based on the sum of your genetics, nutritional status and body burden. There isn’t one gene or genetic defect alone that can account for them – so just because you have an MTHFR C677T mutation doesn’t actually mean you’re over or under methylated (although it would be one factor that might push the balance to undermethylation).  Dr. Walsh describes one’s methylation status as being like a tug of war between opposing factors. Many of those are genetic and some are nutritional or environmental.

Overmethylation MTHFR

This is less common than undermethylation. According to Dr. Walsh’s research, 70% of the population are normal methylators, 22% are undermethylators and 8% are overmethylators. Overmethylation in this context means that the methylation cycle as a whole is sped up, or downstream reactions that use SAMe (the ultimate product of the methylation cycle) are compromised in such a way that there is too much SAMe floating around wanting to methylate something.

  • Clinically overmethylators are more likely to have agitated or anxious conditions. Frequently panic or anxiety attacks (64% of panic/anxiety clients at the Walsh Research Institute), paranoid schizophrenia (52% of paranoid schizophrenic clients at WRI were overmethylators), ADHD (28%), behaviour disorders (23%), depression (18%). Depression  can occur in under, normal or over methylators but 18% of depressed clients of Dr. Walsh are overmethylators.
  • Mutations most likely to contribute to overmethylation are AGAT, GAMT, CBS and MT. MTHFR mutation usually pushes towards undermethylation (but I myself am compound heterozygous MTHFR and an overmethylator) Remember that the presence of one or more of these mutations isn’t enough to say if you’re an over or under methylator. The combination of all of your genetic factors as well as your nutritional state must be taken into account. The best way to determine is through symptoms and traits.
  • Other contributing factors are impaired creatine synthesis. This is because Approximately 70% of the SAMe from the methylation cycle is used by creatine synthesis, so if this is impaired the SAMe is used more slowly. This can be due to genetic factors (AGAT or GAMP) or due to deficiencies of arginine or glycine. Also impaired cystathione synthesis, or other polymorphisms in methyltransferase SNPs that account for the rest of the SAMe use.
  • Overmethylation leads to excessively high activity of dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine in the brain.

    If this reminds you of you, you could be overmethylated. A photograph of Robin Williams taken by Michael Dressler in 1979, later used as a cover photo for Time magazine to highlight Williams.

    If this reminds you of you, you could be overmethylated. A photograph of Robin Williams taken by Michael Dressler in 1979, later used as a cover photo for Time magazine to highlight Williams.




  • Symptoms and traits of overmethylation include:
    • High anxiety
    • Sleep disorder
    • High energy, restless, must move and fidget
    • Verbose or talkative
    • Often high artistic or musical ability
    • Antihistamine intolerance (makes anxiety or restlessness worse)
    • Overly empathetic with others
    • Non-competitive in sports
    • Tendency towards food and chemical sensitivities
    • Less likely to have seasonal allergies
    • Histamine Intolerance (or HIT – this is essentially a food sensitivity to high-histamine foods)
    • Low libido
    • Dry eyes and mouth
    • Adverse reaction to SSRI drugs, SAMe or methionine (typically all make anxiety or depression much much worse.
    • An easy way to picture this type is by using Robin Williams as an example.

Is Overmethylated the Same as Over-supplemented?

No, although it seems that in a lot of popular literature on the subject people use the term interchangeably. So often you’ll see someone say that you might  be “overmethylated” if you are taking too much 5-MTHF or SAMe.  I feel that these are different things entirely.  If you have a tendency to be overmethylated then certainly you would probably feel worse taking something like SAMe, but even without that you are still an overmethylator (in my opinion).  Likewise taking too much 5-MTHF, doesn’t make you suddenly “overmethylated” it just means you’re taking too much.

Okay! I’m Overmethylated. Now What?

Interestingly the best way to balance the consequence of overmethylation, is still 5-MTHF.  This seems strange, because it is also the answer if you’re’ undermethylated, but the effects are actually coming from a different mechanism. Folate actually reduces activity at serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine synapses. 5-MTHF is the active form of folic acid, and you can also get it from foods, especially if you have some trouble taking the supplement.  Trouble taking the supplement is surprisingly common, although I think less common clinically in overmethylators (in my experience) than in undermethylators. Niacin or niacinamide can also be helpful for overmethylators as they quench some of the excessive methylation. Again, start slowly.

I Want to Start Taking 5-MTHF. How Do I Make This Easy?

Any time you start taking 5-MTHF, or increase your dose, there will be an adjustment period.  Here’s a whole post on it.  Just remember, start with a low dose and increase really slowly. This is changing the way your neurotransmitters work and doing some heavy detox work, so it’s vital not to overdo it because that is crazy-making. Start low and go slow.



Methylfolate Makes Depression WORSE! How Is This Possible?

Finding out you have an MTHFR mutation can be exciting, in it’s own strange way, because all of a sudden there is hope that you can actually help yourself and fix how you’re feeling, so it really feels like being kicked in the gut if you start taking 5-LMTHF and the methylfolate makes depression worse.  Have no fear, there is an explanation and also some possible solutions. Read on my friends.

Methylfolate makes depression worse! Don't worry - there is a solution. Great photo by © Philippe Ramakers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Methylfolate makes depression worse! Don’t worry – there is a solution. Great photo by © Philippe Ramakers | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Why Does Methylfolate Make Depression Worse?

We recently talked about the terms “undermethylated” vs. “overmethylated” and although there aren’t great lab tests to show your status, typically you can determine your general tendency through their symptom picture.  Depression, however, can be ambiguous because it can happen in people who are undermethylated, overmethylated or people with totally normal methylation.  Although having the MTHFR mutation pushes many people into the undermethylated category, having the mutation itself isn’t enough to tell you if you’re under, over or normal. I myself am a compound heterozygous MTHFR mutant, but happen to have other genetic factors that make me an overmethylator – go figure.




5-L methyltetrahydrofolate (5-LMTHF) is suggested for everyone with a methylation issue – over or undermethylators.  It’s the first line of defence because it can actually help both groups to balance their methylation in different ways.  Also for depression specifically, folic acid or 5-LMTHF supplementation can be extremely helpful even without a known methylation issue because folate deficiency is a common cause of depression – so really for most people folate is beneficial. There is one group, however, who doesn’t respond well at all that that is undermethylated people with depression.

Let me clarify – anyone starting 5-LMTHF for the first time, or even increasing a dose, may notice some side effects for the first few days.  Starting to methylate differently can be messy and so this first few days isn’t enough time to know if you actually have a bad reaction. This is why we talk so much about starting with a low dose and easing your way up. If you’ve started with a low dose and you’re easing into it, but your depression gets worse and stays worse beyond the first week or so, then chances are you have undermethylated depression. This means methylfolate, folic acid and even folate rich foods are probably always going to make your depression worse.    Here’s why:

The link between Methylfolate and Serotonin

This is complicated because typically boosting your methylation cycle also helps your body to make more neurotransmitters via BH4 (we don’t need to go into it, but if you want a refresher you can read about it here). So 5-LMTHF is supposed to fix depression by boosting levels of serotonin, dopamine and other key neurotransmitters.  The problem is that 5-LMTHF, folic acid and folate all have a second effect on neurotransmitters, which is to depress serotonin through an epigenetic mechanism.

Epigenetics is essentially the study of how external factors (like nutrition, stress, oxidative damage, etc…) influence the way our genes express themselves. Folate and folic acid, according to the Walsh Research Institute, have an epigenetic effect on the SERT transporter.  The SERT transporter helps to reuptake serotonin after it’s been released. SERT is the target for many pharmaceutical antidepressants (SSRIs, or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). SSRIs work because they interfere with SERT and so serotonin stays active longer, which means you get more benefit from this happy neurotransmitter. Methylfoate, folate from foods and folic acid, while they increases serotonin production through BH4, also increase SERT via an epigenetic effect.  This means they help your brain to clear out serotonin faster, thereby reducing the amount of serotonin that is available for you to use. Essentially this makes folate the anti-anti-depressant.  Sigh.

As a brief reality check – Walsh Research Institute is convinced this is happening (see the link to their presentation above), many MTHFR websites are convinced this is happening, and it certainly explains a lot of what I’ve seen clinically, but for whatever reason I can’t find any published research that says definitively that this is happening so please take this with a grain of salt.

Methylfolate Makes Depression Worse For Me – Now What?

Don’t worry – you have a couple of options.  If you’re sure this isn’t just your body adjusting to methylfolate (the symptoms last beyond the first week of moderate supplementation) then it’s time to check to see if you fit the profile of an undermethylator. If that sounds like you, and your depression is getting worse, then let’s look at your choices.

  • SAMe – Ultimately the end product of the entire methylation cycle is SAMe, so it can be a helpful work around for people who can’t take 5-LMTHF.  This is where all that methylfolate is going and although it doesn’t entirely cover the necessity for methylated folate, it does help with the depression. This is partly because SAMe is a very slow acting serotonin reuptake inhibitor – just like the pharmaceutical drugs only much less powerful. As with any methylation issue, start with a low dose and work your way up.
  • Methionine – This amino acid is a direct precursor to SAMe in the body, and uses the MATI/II enzyme (coded by the gene of the same name) to go through the conversion.  Because this turns into SAMe it can be a much more cost effective way to get the same benefits, which again is as a slow acting serotonin reuptake inhibitor.  The only situation in which that isn’t going to be helpful is if your MATI/II gene has an issue or something is interfering.  Most people find methionine to be effective though, so this can be a far less expensive solution. Again, start with a lower dose and work your way up.
  • St. John’s Wart – This has nothing to do with methylation, only with serotonin.  Happily, St. John’s wart shows similar effectiveness to SSRI medications for major depressive disorder, with significantly fewer adverse events.  Here’s the research study, from the Annals of Family Medicine that compares St John’s Wart (referred to by it’s latin name, hypericum) with SSRIs and other anti depressant medications as well as placebo. Go nature!

It should be said that while SAMe and Methionine will help to augment the methylation cycle, they still aren’t providing folate of any kind, so they won’t protect against the more folate dependent issues like neural tube defects in babies and issues with pregnancy and fertility.  If you have undermethylated depression and are considering getting pregnant it is vital to work closely with a doctor who can help you to get the folate that you need and also help you to offset the depressive symptoms that might come with that. Even though methylfolate makes depression worse,  in pregnancy it might still be necessary so please consult a physician.



If This Sounds Like You, You Might be Undermethylated

MTHFR mutation discussions can quickly turn into Greek and the topic of overmethylated vs undermethylated MTHFR is one of the Greekest. It seems like no two resources on the internet are talking about the same thing when they talk about it and so overmethylation and undermethylation are strange, kind of meaningless words because at the end of the day it feels like nailing jello to a wall. So let’s see if we can sort some of this out.

Whose Idea Is This? I’m Following The Walsh Research Institute

The terms overmethylation and undermethylation make the most sense to me as the Walsh Research Institute uses them.  These are general physical tendencies based on the sum of your genetics, nutritional status and body burden. There isn’t one gene or genetic defect alone that can account for them – so just because you have an MTHFR C677T mutation doesn’t actually mean you’re over or under methylated (although it would be one factor that might push the balance to undermethylation).  Dr. Walsh describes one’s methylation status as being like a tug of war between opposing factors. Many of those are genetic and some are nutritional or environmental.

Undermethylation MTHFR

This is the most common state. According to Dr. Walsh’s research, 70% of the population are normal methylators, 22% are undermethylators and 8% are overmethylators. Undermethylation indicates that the methylation cycle as a whole is slowed down enough that the end product, SAMe, is typically inadequate and thus causes symptoms.

  • Clinically undermethylators are more commonly autism spectrum (98% of autism spectrum clients at the Walsh Research Institute), antisocial disorder (95% of antisocial clients at WRI were undermethylators), schizoaffective disorder (90%), oppositional defiant disorder (85%), anorexia (82%), and depression (which can occur in under, normal or over methylators but 38% of depressed clients for Dr. Walsh are undermethylators).
  • Mutations most likely to contribute to undermethylation are MTHFR (C677T especially, but also A1298C), MS, BHMT, MAT and SAHH. Remember that the presence of one or more of these mutations isn’t enough to say if you’re an over or under methylator. The combination of all of your genetic factors as well as your nutritional state must be taken into account. The best way to determine is through symptoms and traits.
  • Other contributing factors are histamine overload and protein deficiency, as well as frank deficiency of folate.
Highly competitive? You might be undermethylated

Highly competitive? You might be undermethylated




  • Symptoms and traits of undermethylation include:
    • Strong willed
    • Highly competitive at sports or whatever matters to them
    • Obsessive/compulsive tendencies
    • Addictive tendencies (more likely to be addicted with less exposure than a normal methylator)
    • High sex drive
    • Tend towards high accomplishment and usually a high achieving family
    • Appear calm and well controlled (possibly over-controlled) but inner tension is high
    • Greater likelihood of seasonal allergies
    • Higher fluidity of tears, saliva, etc…
    • Perfectionist
    • Less likely to be compliant with therapies
Addictive behaviour? You could be undermethylated. © Francesco Bisignani | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Addictive behaviour? You could be undermethylated. © Francesco Bisignani | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Is Undermethylated the Same as Under-supplemented?

No! Although it seems that in a lot of popular literature on the subject people use the term interchangeably. So often you’ll see someone say that you might still be “undermethylated” if you aren’t taking enough 5-MTHF.  I feel that these are different things entirely.  If you have a tendency to be undermethylated then certainly you will probably need to take 5-MTHF, but even once you’re taking enough you are still an undermethylator (in my opinion), you’re just taking the right protocol.  Likewise taking too much 5-MTHF, doesn’t make you suddenly “overmethylated” it just means you’re taking too much.

Okay! I’m Undermethylated. Now What?

Absolutely the best way to enhance the methylation cycle is by taking 5-MTHF, or 5-L methyltetrahydrofolate.  This is the active form of folic acid, and you can also get it from foods, especially if you have some trouble taking the supplement.  Trouble taking the supplement is surprisingly common, typically it is an adjustment reaction to actually enhancing the methylation cycle because this changes neurotransmitter levels, encourages detoxification and encourages more than 80 reactions in the body that are methylation dependent. So some adjustment reaction when you’re first taking 5-MTHF is normal and actually a good sign that things are changing in your body.   There is one BIG EXCEPTION TO THIS, and that is if you are undermethylated and have depression.

I Want to Start Taking 5-MTHF. How Do I Make This Easy?

Any time you start taking 5-MTHF, or increase your dose, there will be an adjustment period.  Here’s a whole post on it.  Just remember, start with a low dose and increase really slowly. This is changing the way your neurotransmitters work and doing some heavy detox work, so it’s vital not to overdo it because that is crazy-making. Start low and go slow.

HELP! I’m An Undermethylator and I Have Depression.

My next post is going to be all about this because UNDERMETHYLATORS WITH DEPRESSION DUE TO LOW SEROTONIN CAN’T TOLERATE 5-MTHF, FOOD SOURCES OF FOLATE OR FOLIC ACID AT ALL. That’s a really big deal! Depression is typically characterized by low serotonin states and unfortunately 5-MTHF (or any folate or folic acid). The short explanation for this is that folate, 5-MTHF and folic acid all increase the activity of the transport protein that re-uptakes serotonin into the cell. Essentially this is the opposite of a serotonin reuptake inhibitor (like prozac), it’s a serotonin reuptake promotor – meaning it makes the serotonin you have far less effective because it clears it out more quickly. There will be a whole post on this – I promise!



Lifehack for Weight Loss: Imaginary Food

The easiest life hack for weight loss ever! Imaginary food. Image: Plate, Saucer, And Bowl © Brett Stoltz | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The easiest life hack for weight loss ever! Imaginary food. Image: Plate, Saucer, And Bowl
© Brett Stoltz | Dreamstime Stock Photos

This study is truly a case for mind over matter. The study shows that if you’re having a food craving, imagining yourself eating that food gives you the same level of satisfaction as does actually eating that food.  So if you’re at a party staring down a chocolate cake, and you imagine yourself eating and enjoying it, you are less likely to actually eat it.  Also if you do have a piece, you will be more satisfied by a smaller piece than you would be if you hadn’t imagined eating it. Talk about a life hack for weight loss!




Basically this means that imagining eating something is almost as satisfying to your body as actually eating something and the more you imagine eating it the less of it you are likely to eat.  Imagining eating something else doesn’t help.  So if you go to a party and have the choice of chocolate cake and chips, imagining eating the chocolate cake will give you some protection from the temptation of eating chocolate cake, but won’t protect you from eating the chips. Also the more you imagine eating it the less likely you are to actually eat it, so involving yourself in a nice long fudge fantasy can be your anti-fudge vaccine.

Please enjoy this food fantasy and lose weight.

Please enjoy this food fantasy and lose weight.

I think for a long time dieters have tried to never think of the foods they crave for fear that the cravings will get worse, but this study actually shows us that the opposite is true.  Daydreaming about the food you crave actually gives you some satisfaction, brings you some joy and makes that craving less. For once this is great news for weight loss!

For every dieter who is dreading this holiday season, just imagine those yummy Christmas cookies. Have a Christmas cookie fantasy date.   Go ahead and roll around in the cheese dip at the office party (um… in your imagination only.  In real life it doesn’t look good on your resume).  Imagine eating and loving whatever is in front of you right now and then either have a small piece, or move on to the next food daydream because hey – your imagination is your best life hack for weight loss and you’re helping yourself to weight loss success. Because science says so.



The Best Magnesium Supplement for YOU

One thing you’ll notice about supplements is that everyone is pretty convinced that their product is “THE BEST.” It’s a little hard to believe when every product on the shelf makes the same claim. You would think something like magnesium, which is a mineral, would be pretty straightforward but sadly, no. There is no easy answer as to what is the best kind of magnesium, other than to answer what is the best kind of magnesium for you.

What Is Magnesium Anyway?

Magnesium (Mg) is a mineral that is involved in almost every process in your body from muscle relaxation and proper muscle movement to hormone processing. Clinically it is used to treat muscle cramps, restless leg syndrome, high blood pressure, constipation and chronic stress. Magnesium is pretty much everywhere – it’s the fourth most abundant element in the earth as a whole and the ninth in the universe. Magnesium is also highly water-soluble and is the third most common element dissolved in sea water. Generally, the composition of sea water and the composition of our bodies internal mineral balance is reasonably similar (although sea water is significantly higher in sodium) and, as a human, you function best when you have a rich supply of magnesium in your system. Magnesium is key to all of the energy-forming reactions in every cell in your body and there are over 300 enzyme pathways in humans that are dependent on magnesium.

The best magnesium supplement might just be the one you crave the most.  Chocolate

The best magnesium supplement might just be the one you crave the most. Chocolate

Historically magnesium would have been a much larger part of the human diet for a couple of reasons.  Magnesium is the center of the chlorophyll molecule in plants, so any dark green plant is a rich source. The average person in centuries past would have had a higher proportion of greens in their diet than modern folk tend to.  Also, magnesium is often present in spring water but less likely to be in any quantity in filtered city water. Also, sugar consumption effectively “burns” magnesium, using it to process sugar instead of leaving it available for other bodily functions so modern magnesium usage has changed.




How Do I Find The Best Kind of Magnesium For ME?

Magnesium can’t just be by itself as a molecule – it needs to be bound to something else to be stable, so the biggest difference in different magnesium products comes not from the magnesium itself (which is all the same) but from the molecule it’s bonded to.  The most common bonding agents I’ve seen are oxide, citrate, glycinate, sulphate or amino acid chelate. There are two things to look for about the molecule it’s bonded to: size, and function. There is the secondary consideration of absorption.

The size of the molecule matters because most people don’t want to take a tablespoon of something, they usually want to take a reasonably small amount – like maybe the amount that will fit into one or two capsules.  Magnesium itself is a very small molecule, but if it’s bonded to something large and floppy then you get a very small amount of magnesium, mixed in with a pretty large amount of something else.  So magnesium by weight is higher if it’s bonded to an extremely small molecule (like oxygen in Mg oxide) than if it’s bonded to a large molecule like glycine (in Mg glycinate) or an amino acid (in magnesium amino acid chelate). Citrate and sulphate molecules are somewhat in the middle for size.

Or maybe this is the best magnesium food source? Mmmmm... Coffee...

Or maybe this is the best magnesium food source? Mmmmm… Coffee…

The function of the additional molecule is also something to consider. Oxygen is obviously useful to body tissues, as are amino acids, but some amino acids have functions that may enhance one particular effect of the magnesium that you might be looking for clinically. We’ll go over different forms of magnesium individually.

Magnesium Absorption

Absorption is a separate concern. Magnesium itself is reasonably poorly absorbed (35% absorbed in the worst case scenario and 45% absorbed in the best). Generally if you are magnesium-depleted then your body will absorb any magnesium better than it would otherwise.  Calcium and magnesium compete for absorption, so if you take calcium and magnesium together they will both compete with each other (meaning you will absorb less of each). Also high or low protein intake can reduce magnesium absorption, as can phytates from some vegetables. Generally if you’re taking a magnesium supplement it’s best on an empty stomach. Magnesium also absorbs well through the skin (potentially far better than through the digestive tract), so Epsom salt baths (magnesium sulphate) and magnesium lotions, gels or oils (usually magnesium chloride) can be a great way to increase your body stores. Topical forms can be best if you’re using magnesium for it’s muscle relaxation and calming properties.

Orally, magnesium citrate is the best absorbed form (but it’s bonded to a big molecule so there is a smaller amount of magnesium by weight). Mg oxide is the most poorly absorbed form but has the highest Mg per weight, so actually you may get more elemental magnesium out of the same dose of Mg oxide vs. another magnesium, simply because of the size. The other forms of magnesium are somewhere in the middle in terms of absorption.

What Are The Benefits of Different Types of Magnesium?

Magnesium Oxide (The best magnesium supplement all around and highly cost effective)

Magnesium Oxide (MgO) is simply bonded to oxygen, which is obviously also something your body needs so there is nothing unnecessary in the product. The oxygen is useable by your body but will not strongly affect the way you feel taking the Mg. This is the least absorbed form, but also has one of the highest percentages of elemental magnesium per dose so it still may be the  highest delivered dose per mg. This is a great general purpose magnesium if really Mg is all you need, and it’s typically the least expensive form.  It makes a simple muscle relaxer, nerve tonic and laxative if you take a high dose.

Magnesium Citrate (The best magnesium supplement as a laxative)

This is one of the most common forms of Mg on the commercial market. This is Mg bonded to citric acid, which increases the rate of absorption. Citrate is a larger molecule than the simple oxygen of oxide, so there is less magnesium by weight than in the oxide form. This is the most commonly used form in laxative preparations.

Magnesium Glycinate and Magnesium Amino Acid Chelate (The best magnesium supplement for mental relaxation)

In this form, Mg is bonded to the amino acid glycine. Glycine is a large molecule so there is less magnesium by weight, but the glycine itself is a relaxing neurotransmitter and so enhances magnesium’s natural relaxation properties. This could be the best form if you’re using it for mental calm and relaxation. In general because the glycine or amino acids are large, it’s best to take a higher dose or dose more frequently with these products. Magnesium amino acid chelate is usually bonded to a variety of amino acids, which are all larger molecules. In this form there is less magnesium by weight but the individual amino acids could all be beneficial for different things. Every formula is different so if you need both Mg and a particular amino acid, then this could be the way to go.

Magnesium Taurate (The best magnesium for heart health)

This is a less common form, and is typically taken for cardiac conditions and heart function in general. Magnesium helps the heart muscle relax, as well as the blood vessels that feed the heart to open and deliver more blood to the heart tissue itself, which can be helpful in angina – especially exercise-induced angina. Taurine is an amino acid that is known to feed cardiac muscle and enhance the quality of contractions of the heart so if you’re taking Mg for heart function this is probably the best form for you. Again, taurine is a larger molecule so there is a lower Mg by weight and effective dosing might need to be higher or more frequent.

Magnesium Sulphate and Magnesium Chloride (The best magnesium supplement *topically for muscle cramps and restless legs)

These forms are both typically used topically, although there are some oral preparations as well. Mg sulphate is best known as Epsom salts. If you’ve taken this internally you know it tastes horrible and has a very strong laxative effect, but when used in a bath or soak it is extremely relaxing to the muscles and can ease aches and pains. Epsom salts baths can also help to lower high blood pressure and reduce stress levels. Magnesium chloride is more common in the lotion, gel and oil preparations that can be used topically for muscle cramps and relaxation.

Magnesium L-Threonate (The best magnesium for brain health, Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline)

Magnesium L-threonate A newer player on the magnesium front is magnesium threonate, or magnesium L-threonate. This form effectively crosses the blood brain barrier and so has recently been studied for uses such as patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of cognitive decline.  A recent research study published in the medical journal Neuron showed that magnesiumthreonate creates improvement in learning abilities, working memory and both short and long term memory.  Additionally it has the same benefits as any other magnesium including enhancing sleep quality.

Also a notable food source of magnesium, and probably the one  I should mention first, but chocolate.

Also a notable food source of magnesium, and probably the one I should mention first, but chocolate.

The Best Food Sources of Magnesium

In what amounts to the best news of the day, magnesium is present in high quantity in some of our most craved foods, including chocolate (thank the gods) and coffee. The question then, is do we crave these foods so much because they’re great sources of magnesium?  Possibly. Magnesium helps modulate women’s hormones and chocolate and PMS certainly go together so maybe we’re on to something here (or maybe it’s just that chocolate is awesome.) It’s true that fewer of us are blessed with kale cravings – so maybe the magnesium isn’t the point. Other great dietary sources include tea, spices, nuts and, of course, green vegetables with chlorophyll. Good body stores of magnesium will improve your health, mood and general functioning so finding the best kind of magnesium for you is tremendously important.