Nutrition Notes

Topical Uses for Magnesium

Magnesium is a vital mineral that is involved in virtually every metabolic process in human health. Every organ in the body requires magnesium to function properly. Magnesium deficiencies are increasingly more common, and it is estimated that nearly 60% of U.S. adults do not consume the daily requirement for magnesium. 

While oral magnesium is the traditional choice for supplementation, transdermal magnesium may be beneficial because it bypasses the gastrointestinal tract, reducing the risk of common side effects associated with magnesium intake. In addition, transdermal magnesium has been shown to be well-absorbed.

A placebo-controlled pilot study assessed the absorbency of transdermal magnesium using biomarkers from serum and urine. The study reported that after a 2-week intervention of just 56 mg of magnesium daily, a clinically relevant 8.54% increase in serum magnesium and 9.1% increase in urinary magnesium were shown in the treatment arm. The results of this study suggested that transdermal magnesium may raise serum magnesium — considered an indicator of changes in whole-body status — more quickly than supplementation with oral magnesium. The authors noted that the dose used in their study was below commonly available commercial doses, suggesting that magnesium levels could rise even more depending on dosage.

Transdermal magnesium supplementation research has primarily focused on conditions associated with myalgias and chronic pain. Magnesium is an N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist that can attenuate pre-existing pain hypersensitivity. In the absence of magnesium, prolonged opening of calcium channels and activation of NMDA receptors can lead to pro-inflammatory processes. A 4-week clinical trial assessed the impact of transdermal magnesium supplementation on patients with fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by widespread pain and fatigue. With twice-daily dosing, results of the study indicated that the effects of transdermal magnesium application may be similar to those of oral magnesium supplements. In addition, the study highlighted the additional benefits of transdermal application of magnesium versus oral supplementation, which include consistent bioavailability and potential for the minimization of side effects.

A recent review article discussed magnesium in the treatment of migraine. In particular, the review emphasized the potentially efficacious role that transdermal magnesium could play with both acute migraine and prophylaxis. The transdermal use of magnesium for migraine was particularly relevant due to its high bioavailability and ability to ensure maximal therapeutic effect at the site of action. Transdermal magnesium is also well-tolerated and affordable. 

The research associated with transdermal magnesium is still growing. Existing clinical studies have suggested that it could be efficacious, safe, and affordable.

Recent studies have suggested magnesium supplementation could potentially support chronic pain conditions, such as complex regional pain syndrome, chronic low back pain, and neuropathic pain. Due to the complexities of the treatment of chronic pain, magnesium supplementation may be a safer and affordable choice. Transdermal magnesium may be a better option to be able to deliver localized magnesium in the support of muscle health and a healthy response to pain.

By Colleen Ambrose, ND, MAT