Magnesium L-threonate is a supplement made up of magnesium (a mineral) and threonic acid (a by-product of vitamin C metabolism).
Magnesium is an essential mineral that your body needs for over 300 chemical processes, relating to things like bone strength, energy production, DNA synthesis, and protein creation. Magnesium is also an electrolyte, so it’s critical for proper heart, nerve and muscle function.
Before any substance can reach your brain via the bloodstream, it must pass through a “filter” membrane called the blood-brain barrier (BBB). It’s essentially the bouncer on the door, keeping out potential troublemakers and carefully controlling numbers inside. Magnesium can come in but it has to be escorted, limiting the amount that gets through.
Unlike other forms of magnesium supplement (e.g. citrate, oxide), L-threonate is highly effective at escorting magnesium across the BBB. In studies comparing magnesium L-threonate to other magnesium supplements, researchers consistently find much higher concentrations in the brain and the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that surrounds it.
What are the benefits of magnesium L-threonate?
As you might have guessed, the key benefits of magnesium L-threonate involve the brain.
Magnesium L-threonate may enhance cognitive performance
Cognitive performance covers a long list of brain functions like:
- Information processing
- Task switching
- Executive function (planning, starting and carrying out tasks)
These functions depend on the synapses (transmission sites) between neurons, where electrical signals are passed from one neuron to the next. The greater their density and plasticity (ability to change and adapt), the more efficient your cognitive function will be.
Magnesium L-threonate has been found to boost synapse density and plasticity in animal studies and increase the efficiency of certain signaling pathways in the brain. That translates to improved long-term, short-term and working memory, learning ability and a number of other cognitive benefits.
In a landmark human study, people taking magnesium L-threonate showed significant improvements in visual attention, task switching, processing speed and executive function. They also showed more consistent cognitive ability, which is important because fluctuations can suggest cognitive decline.
Magnesium L-threonate has also been shown to increase the number of neural stem cells in the hippocampus. This area of the brain is critical for memory and learning, and a steady supply of stem cells ensures that you can keep forming the new neural connections you need for both.
Magnesium L-threonate may protect the brain
In the same landmark study mentioned above, researchers found that magnesium L-threonate reversed clinical measures of brain aging. Participants had an average age of 57, but due to cognitive decline, they had an average “functional brain age” of almost 70. By the end of the study, the average functional brain age was 60.6 — more than nine years younger! — and almost identical to that of their healthy peers.
This protective effect is seen in lots of animal studies, too. Magnesium L-threonate has been shown to protect against motor deficits (e.g. muscle tremors) and dopamine neuron loss in mice with Parkinson’s disease, and it can prevent synapse loss and reverse cognitive decline in mice with Alzheimer’s. It can increase levels of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in rats, stimulating the creation of healthy new brain cells, and it’s been found to restore memory deficits caused by nerve pain. It’s also been found to protect against brain cell death in zebrafish.
Researchers support the need for more human research, but what we do have so far looks incredibly promising for long-term brain health.
Magnesium L-threonate may improve mood/mental health
Magnesium on its own is essential for certain biochemical reactions in the brain, and many of these involve mood and emotional regulation. For example, magnesium is needed to create serotonin, a neurotransmitter that’s heavily involved in mood, sleep, and mental health.
That may partly explain why people with the lowest magnesium intake have been found to have a 22% higher risk of suffering from depression. Researchers have actually been able to initiate anxiety by reducing magnesium intake, and have demonstrated that magnesium may improve anxiety and depression symptoms. Not only do researchers think it may be a promising treatment option for clinical depression, it may also reverse neural damage caused by extended periods of stress.
So what happens when you combine magnesium with L-threonate? As we mentioned above, magnesium L-threonate increases neural stem cells in the hippocampus. This area also plays a major role in emotional regulation and mental health. It stands to reason that a healthier hippocampus means a healthier emotional life, but magnesium L-threonate seems to go one step further.
The hippocampus helps to create fear memories and put them into context, e.g. creating an association between a stressful experience and a certain place. For that reason, it’s involved in the development of fears, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In fact, fear and trauma are shown to actually shrink the hippocampus.
Animal studies have shown that magnesium L-threonate’s effect on the hippocampus may help to prevent or overcome fear-based emotional problems. It seems to help reduce fear-related memories and prevents them from becoming overgeneralized (i.e. when you start to fear not just a specific thing, but things related to it). It also appears to help with fear extinction or the “unlearning” of fear responses.
L-threonate may support healthy bones and joints
Around half of the body’s magnesium is stored in the bones, where it contributes to their strength and stability. It seems that L-threonate supports bone health, too. Osteoporosis happens when there’s an imbalance between the cells that break down bone (osteoclasts) and the cells that build new bone (osteoblasts), but L-threonate is believed to help keep things balanced. It also works with calcium to produce collagen, an essential protein for skin, bone and joint health.
L-threonate may help with male pattern baldness
A lesser-known benefit of L-threonate is that it may help to prevent male pattern baldness. This specific type of balding happens due to an interaction between certain genes and male hormones. L-threonate seems to repress or “switch off” one of those genes, potentially halting the balding process. Researchers are still studying the role L-threonate plays, but they’re confident that it could be a promising option for men looking to prevent hair loss.
Magnesium L-threonate is highly absorbable
Some magnesium combinations are better absorbed in the gut than others. Those with poorer absorption are said to have lower bioavailability because less of the magnesium is available to the body. Magnesium L-threonate is not one of these combinations! In fact, it’s one of the most rapidly absorbed types of magnesium and offers superior bioavailability. For you, that means more benefits!
Does magnesium L-threonate have side effects?
Magnesium supplements with low absorption rates can sometimes cause uncomfortable side effects, such as nausea, cramps, or diarrhea. Because magnesium L-threonate is highly absorbable, this is very unlikely to be a problem unless you take extremely high doses (more on that in a second!).
Magnesium L-threonate supplements are generally safe, but they may not be suitable for people with kidney problems. Your kidneys may not be able to regulate the amount of magnesium in your body, so you could end up with hypermagnesemia (too much magnesium).
You should also speak to your doctor before taking magnesium L-threonate if you’re taking medications, especially antibiotics, heart medications, acid reflux medications, and bisphosphonates (for osteoporosis). Magnesium can interact with some medications and change how they work in the body, so your doctor may need to adjust your dosage.