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

For 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 [1]), 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 [2].

Topical magnesium chloride (the kind used in magnesium oil) has also been shown to increase serum levels of magnesium in human subjects (PDF [3]). 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 [4].

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

Adding magnesium oil to calendula cream sped up infants’ recovery [5] 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 [6].

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 [7]. 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 [8]. In that case, try 1 mg/day of sublingual methylcobalamin [9], 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 [10].

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 [11] 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 [12]. 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 [13]. 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 [14], Sonne’s [15], NutraPro [16], and Rosita’s [17] cod liver oils all contain the natural vitamins. Fermented cod liver oil [18] is another choice, albeit one with a lot of controversy [19].

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 [20] 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 [21]. 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.