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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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November 14 2016

Dear Mark: Transdermal Magnesium and Vitamin D/B12 Products for a Vegetarian

By Mark Sisson
24 Comments

Inline_Dear_Mark_11.14.16For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering two questions. The first one concerns transdermal magnesium. Does it work? Can magnesium actually permeate the skin and enter circulation? Probably. And for the last question, I provide a bunch of examples of natural products—foods and behaviors—that can increase vitamin D and B12 levels for an ailing vegetarian.

Let’s go:

Mark, what’s your two cents on transdermal magnesium? I take between 200-600 mg mag glyconate daily. I then add mag chloride via ‘magnesium oil’ to my shoulders and anywhere my muscles are tighter than usual. Anyone else use the mag oil or gel?

I like it.

If you rely solely on the scientific literature, there isn’t a ton of strong evidence. But there is evidence.

In one study (PDF), subjects took daily 12-minute epsom salt (containing magnesium sulfate) baths for a week straight. After a week, magnesium levels had risen significantly in most subjects. Those who’d already had replete magnesium levels saw their urinary excretion increase, suggesting that excess magnesium does get absorbed but not retained. Epsom salt baths also provide bioavailable sulfate, a hugely important but underappreciated mineral in our physiology.

Topical magnesium chloride (the kind used in magnesium oil) has also been shown to increase serum levels of magnesium in human subjects (PDF). Subjects were given 20 sprays of magnesium chloride to the body and took a 20-minute foot bath in a magnesium chloride solution. They did this every day for 12 weeks. Hair mineral analysis showed that participants increased magnesium levels by nearly 60% and improved their calcium:magnesium ratios. I don’t know how else you’d explain the results if the magnesium isn’t being absorbed.

A study from earlier this year found that magnesium ions can permeate through human skin using the hair follicles.

And topical magnesium does something. Plenty of studies suggest this.

Adding magnesium oil to calendula cream sped up infants’ recovery from diaper rash.

Women with fibromyalgia were given magnesium chloride oil and told to apply 4 sprays to each limb twice a day for 4 weeks. By study’s end, pain and other fibromyalgia symptoms had improved.

The whole premise of Dead Sea Salt therapy is predicated upon the minerals passing through the skin. And it works.

I don’t use it all the time, but I have noticed that spraying magnesium chloride oil several times on my rib cages and inner arms before bed gives me extremely vivid dreams. Is it “good” or “beneficial”? I don’t know. But the effect it has on dreams—plus the way it causes skin to tingle where applied—suggests the mag-chloride is bioavailable.

I’m not sure how “necessary” topical magnesium is. But if it is important, it’s probably emulating the ancestral environment, where we often bathed, frolicked, and swam in high-magnesium water.

Hi Mark, I am a regular visitor of your website and love your tips. Can you please help me with some natural products which can help in increasing vitamin D and B12. My husband is a vegetarian and suffering from severe deficiency of these vitamins. – Anita Gupta

In severe deficiency, you need to shore things up with a supplement. Vitamins B12 and D are extremely important for neurological health, immune function, cancer prevention, and maintenance of basic health. You don’t want to mess around.

There’s a chance your husband has impaired intestinal B12 absorption. In that case, try 1 mg/day of sublingual methylcobalamin, which will bypass the intestinal tract and pass directly into the bloodstream. Chris Kresser has a lot of experience treating B12 deficiencies in vegetarians, and his recommendations will probably help.

Okay, natural products? Let’s go. Not all will be vegetarian (I have many readers for whom this info is useful), mind you. But I also won’t be recommending fermented bull blood or anything so egregiously carnivorous.

For vitamin D…

Sunlight: UVB light is a “natural” substance “produced” by the sun, so I’d say it qualifies. Midday sun has the most vitamin D-producing UVB light. Be sure to sun safely and effectively though. That means getting plenty of sleep, eating lots of phytonutrients, emphasizing monunsaturated and saturated fats over polyunsaturated fats, and getting some omega-3s every day.

Sunbathing mushrooms: Mushrooms turn sunlight into vitamin D2. I’m serious here. Scatter a handful of fresh mushrooms across a cookie sheet and place it in the midday sun for up to two days.

Egg yolks: A pastured egg yolk contains about 10% of your vitamin D RDI. I’ve seen high levels (250 IU per egg) in brands of “engineered” eggs, where the chickens are given highly structured diets of algae, specific grains, and other ingredients to boost nutrients.

Grass-fed raw milk: Cows naturally pick up vitamin D being out on the range exposed to the sun, and it shows in the milk. But the pasteurization process significantly reduces the vitamin D content of milk. If your husband eats dairy, try raw for awhile.

On the off chance that your husband is a pescetarian:

Cod liver oil: Most cod liver oils these days replace the naturally-occuring vitamins D and A with synthetic ones. Those are better than nothing, but it’s more preferable to use a cod liver oil that still contains the natural compounds. Dropi, Sonne’s, NutraPro, and Rosita’s cod liver oils all contain the natural vitamins. Fermented cod liver oil is another choice, albeit one with a lot of controversy.

Sockeye salmon: Wild sockeye salmon is extremely high in vitamin D, with a single filet providing almost 1000 IUs.

Sardines: Sardines provide about half the vitamin D as salmon, but that’s a lot better (and less expensive) than other fish.

For B12…

Egg yolks: A pastured yolk is going to have more B12 than a standard yolk. And again, I’ve seen those same engineered eggs with about 2-3x the B12 content of regular yolks.

Oysters, mussels, and clams: Bear with me here. Hear me out. Oysters and other shellfish do not have central nervous systems capable of perceiving what we call pain. And they are incredible sources of vitamin B12. If you can get over the fact that they are technically animals, you can get enough B12 for the week with a few ounces of clams.

That’s about it for today, folks!

If you’ve got anything to add to my answers, leave it in the comments below!

Thanks for reading.

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24 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Transdermal Magnesium and Vitamin D/B12 Products for a Vegetarian”

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    1. Yep – I’ve been taking it topically for years because pill form is rough on my bowels. Mix it with a little lotion and put it on my feet, backs of knees, inner elbow etc before i go to bed each night.

      1. Where might I get that type? I have seen pretty much everything BUT that type.

  1. In regards to magnesium I must say, I’m not a huge fan of supplements. I look at it from the fact if someone is eating the optimal human diet we don’t need supplements to better our health. With that being said, I do take things like a probiotic and a iodine supplement. I don’t eat regular fortified table salt and I tend to eat less fermented foods then I should so I figure a iodine an probiotic supplement is in order. But I feel like magnesium is a nutrient I (or anyone else) can get enough of through diet alone. Swiss chard, spinach, halibut, sprouted almonds, sprouted pumpkin seeds, nut butters, cocoa, grassfed beef, and wild game are some of the highest sources.

    1. Life Extension magazine just had a write-up on this. Evidently, veggies get magnesium from the soil, and a lot of soil is depleted. So rather than take a supplement (I take a multi and a bone minerals pill, so get some from there), I’ve started drinking the mineral water that Mark recommended.

      In addition – I may start adding epsom salts to my bath, but they go a lot longer than 12 minutes!

        1. Gerolsteiner water – Mark mentioned it in another post. I bought some on sale at my local grocery store for 2 for $3 this morning. Not cheap, but I will be drinking it mindfully.

    2. I hear ya with that. But even under the best of circumstances, in the modern world it’s likely IMPOSSIBLE to get optimal enough without some supplementation on occasion.

      1. Caty you mean you’re not eating raw, bitter tubers from pristine soil and when catching game not eating all the organs and sucking marrow from the bones before crunching the smaller ones down like our ancestors from eons gone by did? 😉

  2. Perhaps it is due to years (decades, really) of vegetarianism, or something else, but I get terrible foot cramps. Daytime, nightitme, during yoga. I apply mag oil (dissolve mineral in filtered warm water until the water can’t hold any more. then pour it into a spray bottle) to my feet daily, twice if I’m hiting a yoga class, and I don’t have cramps. I skip a few days, and they wake me up,. or make me walk funny.
    I’m a shower person, but I may give that daily mag bath a try and see what happens after a few weeks.

  3. Becoming a vegetarian is a decision to become intentionally unhealthy. A vegetarian who runs is a double fool. Let them suffer the reality they are creating for themselves.

  4. Thanks for answering my question on the magnesium oil. I suspect float tanks, since they use Epsom salts, are good for different things both because of the sensory deprivation and the large dose of magnesium and sulfate absorbed while in the tank.

  5. I’ve been training my first (and probably last) marathon this weekend. After a long training run or a tough week of training, I make sure to get more magnesium in my diet (usually via supplements). I noticed a big improvement in recover and performance once doing this.

  6. I tried magnesium threonate for the first time yesterday and was very pleased with the result.

    As a college student, I prioritize sleep above all else (essential for cognitive function and productivity) and generally do a pretty good job of getting ~10 hours a night. However I always had trouble with getting to sleep and sleep quality after night exams, with the heightened physiological state and stimulants consumed earlier in the day. I was tired of being out of it for the following day so decided to try out magnesium threonate before bed. I was able to fall asleep in a timely manner and had great sleep quality, waking up feeling very refreshed.

  7. I have been trying out some dissected liver supplements, great to get the important b3 vitamin if you have an aversion to organ meat like me.

  8. I am so thankful I can make my own magnesium “oil” (so called because it feels slick to the touch on the skin, not because it has oil in it). It is the ONLY thing that keeps excruciating muscle cramps at bay. I am not wild about the tingly feeling on my skin or the white powdery residue, so what I do is dedicate a specific pair of pajama bottoms which are my “magnesium pants”. In the morning when I get up, I spray down my legs liberally with the magnesium spray. Then I put on the magnesium pants and go about my morning coffee, meditation etc. routine. An hour or so later I take my shower and wash it off. This works well. OR I do the same thing before bed, which is actually preferable, because it really helps me sleep! It’s something my body clearly needs.
    To make your own: boil one cup of distilled water. Then stir in one cup of Epsom salts or you can spend more and get fancy flakes of magnesium at Whole Foods or wherever. There are different kinds of magnesium but Epsom salts are cheap and get me the results. After the magnesium is fully dissolved in the water and cooled, pour it into a spray bottle and use regularly. You might not know you are deficient until you feel better and less stressed.
    OH and this is important! Those of you who take blood pressure medication that is called a “calcium channel blocker”– guess what? Magnesium is nature’s calcium channel “blocker”! The two elements are meant to be in balance, and when we are deficient in magnesium, calcium goes out of whack and the result can be blood pressure issues. I am no doctor, but if you bring up your magnesium levels and keep them correct, you may be able to ditch that type of blood pressure medication. See your doctor to verify it has “worked” of course.

  9. Even if I want the magnesium from a topical application of magnesium chloride I’m not sure about the chloride on my skin. Can anybody comment about that? Thanks,

  10. Hi Mark, love! your info generally but a lot of us don’t live under the southern sun.
    Those of us up here in the great white north need to take 5000 IU per day to reach acceptable blood levels of D. This absolutely crucial hormone will not be found in sufficient quantities in food. It takes 50 glasses of milk per day to get to appropriate blood levels of vitamin D3. And my understanding is that D2 doesn’t come anywhere near D3 in value to our bodies. It is not an acceptable substitute.

    A great place to research info is http://www.vitamindwiki.com

    Also, good info on Vitamin D is at Grassrootshealth.Org and the vitamin d council website

    You’re so good in all your other areas of info, it would be awesome to have you advocate for appropriate Vitamin D.

    (Disclaimer. .no financial interest)