Author: Chad Brey - Nutriceutical Chemist | 🕒5 min read
A nootropic is a smart drug or cognitive performance enhancer. Interestingly, along with the other 300 or so jobs magnesium has in the human body, improving our memory and focus is simply one of them. So, with that said, its time to put on our thinking caps and explore the ins and outs of what magnesium does as a nootropic and how it does it.
What is Magnesium?
Magnesium is an element on the periodic table with an atomic weight of about 24. If one were to put billions of magnesium atoms together into an unadulterated solid mass, a beautiful polished silver/gray rock would form.
Besides being one of the most abundant elements in the known universe, magnesium is used by literally hundreds of different enzymes in the human body to carry out day-to-day metabolic functions.
The average adult human carries anywhere from 22,000 – 26,000 milligrams of magnesium in their body at a time1, being held in muscle, bones, and in the bloodstream. Needless to say, magnesium plays a vital role in our bodies and we need a lot of it.
Best Form of Magnesium - What is Glycinate or BisGlycinate?
Very rarely does magnesium just float around naked in the human body with nothing attached to it. Being a divalent cation, magnesium has 2 positive charges that can and will grab onto the next negative charge it sees within close proximity.
One of those negatively charged molecules can be glycine. Glycine is an amino acid that when in its conjugate base form (glycinate) can carry a negative charge on its carboxylate group and latch right on nicely to magnesium’s positive charge.
The reason why the term “bis”glycinate is used is because it requires 2 molecules of glycinate to quench the positive charge of magnesium.
What is Chelation?
Chemically speaking, chelation is basically when one or more metallic ions forms a non-covalent ligand with an anionic molecule or coordination system. Simply put, when one or more negatively charged molecules loosely hold hands with a positively charged element on the periodic table.
How is this beneficial to the bioavailability of a mineral? Think of the chelating agent as acting as a chaperone. The best way to get a child to school is to have the child escorted by a chaperone. Otherwise, the child will most likely get lost or get distracted by something else along the way. Similarly, a naked ion will get lost along the gastrointestinal tract by binding to something else that will either cause it to pass up its site of absorption or drop it off at some random site in the gut depending on pH or in the presence of other binding competitors.
Although the exact mechanism of ionchaperone transport is unclear, the most accepted postulation is that it is done via passive transport mechanisms2. Whereas the charged mineral has to undergo more rigorous bio regulation for absorption in the alimentary canal via coupled uptake mechanisms3, most likely by Na+ or Ca2+ gradient-driven ionophores. All of this to be said, the chaperone safely drops off the mineral at the correct bus stop and the naked ion then gets transported into the target tissue.
What are the Benefits of Magnesium?
Without listing all of the hundreds of functions that magnesium is involved in within our physiology, some of the major ways in which magnesium benefits us is bone health4, cardiovascular heath5, relieving headaches6, acting as an anxiolytic7, and of course its role as a nootropic... just to name a few. Magnesium is often found in most foods and dietary supplements in combination with other vitamins and minerals, but when taken as a stand-alone supplement to the normal diet, magnesium gets permission to do some really cool stuff.
Magnesium as a Nootropic
As stated earlier, magnesium has had extensive research regarding its function as a cognitive enhancer. Studies have shown magnesium to have multiple benefits including cognitive function8, but in particular its role in NMDA receptor activation, stability and viscosity of neuronal membranes, and antagonism of calcium9,10.
This is especially important in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. It is the routes in which the brain processes thoughts, memories, and other mental tasks. Other research shows that certain forms of magnesium enhances both short-term synaptic facilitation and long-term potentiation and improves learning and memory functions11.
So, it can be said with certainty that magnesium plays a pretty major role in allowing the brain to do what it’s supposed to do, and even enhancing its performance.
What is the Best Kind of Magnesium?
Although there are many possible forms of magnesium, when one asks the question of which one is the best, it all depends on what purpose the magnesium is serving. If all that is required of the magnesium is getting it to intestines and then it’s a free-for-all, then really any form should suffice.
If the magnesium is required to arrive safe and sound at a target tissue or organ, then a properly chelated form of magnesium (ie. glycinate) is paramount. When magnesium is properly chaperoned, it is then free to transverse, in its cationic form, the blood-tissue barrier or blood-brain barrier12.
This is especially important with nootropics. Suppliers such as BrainPower Nootropics carry magnesium in forms that are chelated to the proper chaperones that can achieve this purpose. Other forms of magnesium such as Epsom salt or carbonate have their benefits but make for poor nootropics due to the low bioavailability of the magnesium.
Taking all of these fascinating ways in which magnesium does what it does into consideration, one might look upon the human body with both wonder and irritation. Wonder as to the complexity and intricate design, and irritation as to why a mineral like magnesium can’t just get to where it needs to go once swallowed.
Thankfully, we have science and technology to help alleviate us from this irritation. It is a wonder, however, to understand all of the different functions of magnesium and the routes that are involved in its transport and delivery, and then to use science to our advantage – namely via the use of biomolecules.
With the discovery and invention of chelation for the purpose of mineral bioavailability, a lot of the irritation and guesswork thankfully is quickly coming to an end due to the help of mineral chaperones such as bis-glycinate.
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