According to data from SPINS, sales of vitamins and supplements with magnesium as a primary ingredient were up 19% to $11.87m in the natural retail channel (excluding Whole Foods Market) and up 24.6% to $18.61m in the conventional retail channel (excluding Walmart) in the 52 weeks to August 6.
Sales across both channels combined were up 22.4% to $30.48m.
To put this into context, total sales of vitamins and dietary supplements over the same period across both channels were up 7.5% to $3.182bn.
Building a name for magnesium as a bone health mineral
Much of the growth in supplements had come from standalone magnesium citrate products, although combination products for bone health were also gaining ground, said Dr Gerhard Gerstner, business development manager health and nutrition at minerals supplier Jungbunzlauer.
“Standalone magnesium citrate supplements are dominant, but new formats are getting more and more important, for example, liquid supplements, often in combination with vitamin D, and calcium, in the ratio Ca:Mg = 2:1.”
But there was also growing interest from food and drink manufacturers, claimed Amber Gillis, market development manager for health and nutrition.
“While there is work being done in dairy foods [primarily in Europe], I think food companies here [in the US] believe consumers feel most comfortable with their drinks and supplements being fortified with various minerals.
“We don’t have all the information behind what is driving these projects, but one can assume it is for bone health. In almost every case magnesium is being added in combination with calcium and in some cases with vitamin D.
“As magnesium is not as well known as calcium, they are trying to build a name for magnesium as a bone health mineral in addition to a muscle cramp reliever)by attaching it to a mineral that everyone is aware of."
He added: “I believe with more studies, the benefits of a magnesium-rich diet will be clear, so there may be more demand even without calcium ‘boosting it’.”
Half of US consumers don’t get enough magnesium
Growth was being driven by several factors including growing awareness that many US consumers did not get their RDA for magnesium (320mg/day for women and 420 mg for men) and rising interest in bone health and relaxation concepts, said Gerstner. “Magnesium is a great fit to the current relaxation trend as it is seen as the relaxation or anti-stress mineral.
“In several European markets, trimagnesium citrate is widely used to treat and prevent night cramps and fasciculation [muscle twitches]. We see this concept as very promising also for the US market.”
Jungbunzlauer supplied organic magnesium salts, which were better absorbed, he claimed.
“We see a trend for magnesium which is equal to the development we have seen for calcium. While in the mass market the cheaper inorganic forms have been and still are used, some supplement companies use organic forms, mainly the trimagnesium citrate in order to differentiate.
“The wording of the organic form, which is labeled ‘magnesium citrate’ instead of ‘magnesium’ - and the better absorption - are the focus of communication.
“In supplements, consumer awareness of highly-absorbable organic magnesium has improved significantly... and is of increasing importance also in food and beverage.”
Trimagnesium citrate was particularly appealing because of its high solubility, low taste impact and high mineral content (16%), he added.
”We also promote trimagnesium citrate in the context of the acid-base balance concept as together with tripotassium citrate, it is mimicking the natural alkaline mineral sources of vegetables and fruits, thus promoting a balanced diet.”
The science behind magnesium
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently issued positive opinions on magnesium and the maintenance of normal bone, teeth, and protein synthesis; the reduction of tiredness and fatigue; electrolyte balance; normal energy-yielding metabolism; neurotransmission, and muscle contraction.
But while the relationship between magnesium and type 2 diabetes could prove to be “one of the most interesting topics for future research”, EFSA gave the thumbs down to claims about magnesium and blood glucose, acknowledged Gerstner.
EFSA was also unconvinced by claims about magnesium and blood pressure, stress relief, protection of DNA, proteins and lipids from oxidative damage, the immune system and fat metabolism, he added.
But "in contrast to other functional ingredients, magnesium received a disproportionate amount of positive claims", he said.
“Some negative opinions resulted from insufficient data provided to the authorities and there might be some chance for a resubmission based on new scientific evidence. We will closely follow developments concerning health claims in Europe, which will include proprietary research.”
Magnesium is believed to help maintain bone health by boosting calcium absorption, suppressing a hormone that breaks down bone and activating an enzyme required to form new bone.