Vegan Collagen – Does It Exist?

Vegan Collagen – Does It Exist?

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body (1).

Many people take collagen supplements to support healthy skin and joints.

However… since collagen is sourced from animals, it’s not vegan.

So, are there any vegan collagen alternatives? What should vegans do to boost their natural collagen production?

This article will review what collagen is, the health benefits of collagen supplements, where collagen is sourced from, and vegan alternatives.

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What Is Collagen?

Collagen is a protein that provides structural support to connective tissues such as skin, tendons, bones, and ligaments (2).

It is synthesized mainly by fibroblasts, a type of connective tissue cell.

Within these cells, collagen precursor molecules called “procollagen” are formed. Each one is comprised of 3 amino acid chains that come together to form a triple helix shape.

These procollagen molecules are secreted into the extracellular space (the area outside of cells) where enzymes remove the ends, converting them into mature, fully functioning collagen molecules.

Then, through a process called cross-linking, certain collagen molecules pack together to form fibrils, which are strong, rope-like structures that provide support to tissues (2, 3, 4).

What Is Collagen Made Of?

Each chain in the collagen triple helix contains the following repeating sequence of amino acids: Gly-X-Y (5).

“Gly” stands for “glycine,” while X and Y can be any other amino acid. 

However, the X and Y positions of the chain are most often filled by proline or hydroxyproline (5). 

So, collagen is primarily comprised of glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline (6):

  • Glycine (Gly) is the only amino acid small enough to fit into the center of the triple helix, helping to form a strong, tight configuration (6).
  • Proline (Pro) is necessary for helix formation (5).
  • Hydroxyproline (Hyp) helps stabilize the triple helix (5).

An uncommon amino acid, hydroxylysine, is also present at the end of collagen chains and is responsible for forming cross-links with adjacent collagen molecules to create fibrils (6).

What Does Collagen Do in the Body?

In general, collagen’s role is to provide support to connective tissues. However, the precise functions vary depending on the type of collagen and its location in the body.

There are 28 different types of collagen, but types I through V are the most common in humans (2, 7).

Type I makes up 90% of the collagen in the body, providing support in bone, tendons, skin, and the sclera (whites of the eyes) (2, 8). Gram for gram, type I collagen is actually stronger than steel (6). This type of collagen is comprised of three amino acid chains: two alpha-1(I) chains and one alpha-2(I) chain, which are encoded by COL1A1 and COL1A2 genes, respectively (8, 9).

Type II is the main structural component of cartilage and is very important for joint health (10). This type of collagen is comprised of three alpha-1(II) chains, which are encoded by the COL2A1 gene (11).

Type III strengthens the skin, lungs, uterus, intestinal walls, and blood vessels. This type of collagen is comprised of three alpha-1(III) chains, which are encoded by the COL3A1 gene (12).

Type IV forms the basement membranes of cells throughout the body, often acting as a lining that surrounds organs (13, 14). This type of collagen is comprised of three amino acid chains: two alpha-1(IV) chains and 1 alpha-2(IV) chain, which are encoded by the COL4A1 and COL4A2 genes, respectively (15).

Type V reinforces tissues throughout the body, especially the cornea, and often combines with type I collagen to form fibrils (16, 17). This type of collagen is comprised of varying combinations of alpha-1(V) chains and alpha-2(V) chains, which are encoded by the COL5A1 and COL5A2 genes, respectively (18, 19).

How Is Collagen Absorbed and Metabolized?

Collagen is NOT absorbed as an intact molecule!

Like all proteins, collagen must be broken down into smaller pieces in order to be absorbed (20).

Most is absorbed in the small intestine as amino acids, dipeptides (chains containing 2 amino acids), or tripeptides (chains containing 3 amino acids) (20).

In several studies, collagen dipeptides and tripeptides were found in the bloodstream after supplementation, although levels of tripeptides were higher, indicating they might be more efficiently absorbed (20, 21, 22, 23, 24).

After absorption, some of these collagen peptides are deposited throughout the body, including in skin and cartilage tissues (22, 25, 26).

What’s the Difference Between Collagen Powder, Collagen Hydrolysate, Gelatin, and Collagen Peptides?

Gelatin and collagen peptides are similar, because they are both made from the natural collagen found in animal connective tissue, and they have identical amino acid profiles (27).

However, the structure of gelatin and collagen peptides is different, which gives them different properties (27).

Gelatin is a mixture polypeptides (longer amino acid chains) that is formed when collagen is PARTIALLY hydrolyzed (broken down) (27, 28).

  • Made by treating animal connective tissue (bones, skin, tendons, ligaments) with an acid or alkaline solution, then heating the mixture (29).
  • Harder to digest than collagen peptides, because more steps are required (30).
  • Naturally found in broths made with animal carcasses (31)
  • Creates a gel when added to warm liquids (29).
  • Can be used as a thickener in soup, broth, sauce, gravy, mousse, pudding, ice cream, yogurt, gelatin dessert (Jello-O), and gummies.
  • Can also be used in baked goods.

Collagen peptides (also called hydrolyzed collagen or collagen hydrolysate) are the short amino acid chains that are formed when collagen molecules are COMPLETELY hydrolyzed (27).

  • Made the same way as gelatin, except that enzymes are added at the end in order to further break down the collagen into peptides (27).
  • Easier to digest than gelatin, because fewer steps are required (30).
  • Will NOT create a gel when added to liquids.
  • Can be added to beverages like water, tea, coffee, juice, or smoothies.
  • Can also be used in baked goods.

What Are the Benefits of Collagen and Gelatin Supplements?

The benefits of collagen or gelatin supplements include:

1. Improves Skin Health

As we age, the collagen content in our skin decreases, causing loss of volume and elasticity, which leads to wrinkles and sagging skin (32).

Many studies have found that collagen supplements reduce signs of aging by increasing skin elasticity, hydration, and collagen density (33, 34, 35).

In 2019, a review of randomized controlled trials found that collagen peptide supplementation (doses ranging from 2.5 g/day to 10 g/day for 8 to 24 weeks) effectively promoted wound healing and decreased signs of skin aging (36).

One double-blind, placebo-controlled (DBPC) trial found that collagen peptide supplements containing a higher percentage of Pro-Hyp and Hyp-Gly led to more improvement in skin appearance (37). 

Another DBPC evaluated the effect of collagen peptide supplementation (2.5 g/day for 6 months) on cellulite in women and found a significant decrease (9%) in the degree of cellulite on the thighs compared to placebo (38).

The role of collagen in wound healing has also been examined (36, 39). A 2018 DBPC trial found that collagen peptide supplementation (10 g/day for 16 weeks) significantly improved wound healing compared to placebo (40).

Summary: Overall, there is good evidence that collagen supplementation improves skin appearance and aids wound healing.

2. Decreases Joint Pain

Osteoarthritis involves the gradual loss of articular (joint) cartilage, which is mainly composed of type II collagen (41). 

Over time, chondrocytes (cartilage cells) lose their ability to produce enough cartilage to keep up with the normal wear and tear that occurs within the joint (41). 

Eventually, there is very little cartilage left, which causes friction between bones, leading to pain and immobility (41).

Several studies evaluating the effects of collagen supplements (mainly type II) have found that they significantly improve joint pain and stiffness in patients with osteoarthritis (42, 43).

One randomized, double-blind study showed that type II collagen supplements were more effective in reducing osteoarthritis joint pain than a combination of glucosamine and chondroitin (44).

However, a 2019 meta-analysis of RCTs found improvement in stiffness but no significant differences in pain between osteoarthritis patients who received collagen supplements and those who received placebo (45).

There is also some evidence that type II collagen supplements might be beneficial for activity-related joint pain in athletes (46, 47).

Summary: Overall, the evidence is mixed, but the majority of studies support the ability of collagen to alleviate joint pain to a small degree.

3. May Protect Against Bone Loss

Type I collagen is the most abundant protein found in the extracellular matrix of bone and is important for mineralization, which determines bone strength (48, 49).

Most of the evidence linking collagen supplementation to bone health comes from in vitro studies (conducted outside of the body, like in a test tube) and rodent studies (50, 51, 52).

In humans, the research is much more limited.

One study found that postmenopausal women with osteopenia who received a supplement containing 5 grams collagen, 500 mg calcium, and 200 IU vitamin D every day for 1 year experienced reduced bone loss compared to those who received calcium and vitamin D alone (53).

In 2018, a DBPC trial found that postmenopausal women with reduced bone mineral density (BMD) who received 5 grams of collagen peptides every day for 1 year experienced a significant increase in BMD compared to the control group (54).

Summary: There are a couple of promising studies that support the role of collagen in bone health, but more research in humans is needed.

4. May Promote Hair and Nail Growth

In 2017, an open-label trial found that collagen peptide supplementation (2.5 g/day for 24 weeks) significantly increased nail growth and decreased the frequency of cracked or chipped nails; however, there was no control group (55).

In 2018, a DBPC trial found that a supplement containing collagen and other nutrients significantly improved hair growth and quality in women with self-perceived hair thinning when taken for 6 months (56).

Summary: There is a small amount of low-quality evidence that collagen supplementation promotes hair and nail growth.

5. May Increase Muscle Strength

In 2015, one DBPC trial found that collagen peptide supplementation with resistance training significantly increased muscle mass and strength in elderly men with sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss) compared with placebo (57).

Summary: Very few studies have looked at collagen’s effect on muscle strength. More research is needed.

6. May Improve Gut Health

Many health practitioners recommend gelatin supplements to improve gut integrity and balance gut bacteria.

However, very little research has evaluated these claims, and there haven’t been any studies in humans.

In 2000, a study found that gelatin supplementation protected against gastric mucosal damage in rats, but scientists weren’t sure what mechanism was responsible for this effect (58).

A study from 2003 found that patients with IBD were more likely to have lower serum collagen levels (59).

In 2017, an in vitro study found that collagen peptides improved intestinal barrier function and protected against leaky gut (60). In 2019, an animal study found that collagen peptide supplementation reduced intestinal permeability induced by major burns (61).

Gelatin tannate, which is a complex of tannic acid and gelatin, has also been used to treat acute diarrhea because of its astringent, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties (62, 63, 64, 65, 66).

Summary: Although collagen peptides, gelatin, and bone broth are heavily marketed for improving gut health, there is limited human evidence to back up these claims. The only exception is gelatin tannate, which has been shown to reduce acute diarrhea in children.

7. May Improve Cardiovascular Health

Collagen plays a role in heart health by providing structural support to vascular tissues and cardiac cells (67).

In 2017, an open-label trial showed that collagen peptide supplementation significantly reduced LDL-C/HDL-C ratios and improved other measures of atherosclerosis development in healthy individuals; however, there was no control group (68).

Summary: More research is needed before collagen supplements can be recommended to prevent cardiovascular disease.

8. May Improve Sleep Quality 

Glycine, the main amino acid found in collagen, also acts as a neurotransmitter and may play a role in promoting sleep by reducing core body temperature (69, 70, 71, 72).

In 2007, a randomized single-blinded placebo-controlled trial found that glycine supplementation (3 g/day) significantly increased subjective sleep quality in healthy volunteers (73).

Summary: There is limited evidence that glycine, a component of collagen, improves sleep quality.

8 Benefits of Collagen Supplements

Are There Any Vegan Collagen or Vegetarian Collagen Supplements?

Not yet!

Scientists have discovered a way to produce collagen using bacteria and yeast (especially a strain of yeast called Pichia pastoris), but supplements aren’t readily available for purchase (74, 75).

However, there are ways to support collagen synthesis in the body without actually ingesting collagen. 

You’ll see vegan supplements called “collagen boosters” or “collagen builders” that are supposed to contain nutrients that support collagen synthesis.

What Nutrients Support Collagen Synthesis in the Body?

Since there are no vegan collagen supplements currently available, the best option for vegans and vegetarians is to focus on getting adequate amounts of the nutrients needed for natural collagen production.

The following nutrients are needed for natural collagen production:

1. Amino Acids

Glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline are the main amino acids that comprise collagen (6).

Although the body is capable of synthesizing these amino acids, the amount is usually inadequate for maximal collagen production (76, 77).

To boost collagen production, it might be helpful to consume these amino acids in foods or supplements (77, 78, 79, 80).

Sources of collagen-promoting amino acids (vegan items listed in green):

  • Glycine: gelatin, pork rinds, poultry, meat, shellfish, fish, animal organs, soy, spirulina (81)
  • Proline: gelatin, pork rinds, meat, poultry, fish, soy, cheese, milk, egg white, seeds (sunflower, sesame, pumpkin), spirulina (82)
  • Hydroxyproline: chicken, pork, beef, game meat. There are no natural vegan sources of hydroxyproline, but your body can make it from proline as long as there is an adequate amount of vitamin C available. Vegan supplements are another option (83

2. Vitamin A

Topical vitamin A (retinol) increases collagen production in the skin and improves signs of aging (84, 85).

3. Vitamin C

Vitamin C acts as a cofactor for the enzymes (proline and lysine hydroxylase) that stabilize collagen’s triple helix (86).

When vitamin C availability is low, crosslinking decreases (leading to weak collagen) and overall collagen production is reduced (86, 87).

There is some evidence that supplementation with vitamin C accelerates the healing of musculoskeletal injuries, possibly due to its ability to increase type I collagen production, but most of these studies have been in rats (88, 89, 90, 91).

4. Vitamin E?

A study from 1967 found that vitamin E-deficient rats had a greater percentage of soluble collagen in their skin, which may suggest that vitamin E deficiency causes defects in the formation of collagen (92).

Other animal studies have found that vitamin E’s antioxidant properties may protect against collagen breakdown and/or boost collagen production (115, 116).

However, other studies have found that vitamin E supplementation actually INHIBITS collagen synthesis (93, 94).

More research is needed to determine vitamin E’s role in collagen production.

5. Zinc

Supplementation with zinc increases collagen production, likely because it acts as a cofactor for enzymes involved in collagen synthesis (95, 96).

There is also some evidence that zinc decreases the breakdown of collagen (97, 98, 99).

6. Copper

The availability of copper can affect collagen synthesis because copper acts as a cofactor for lysyl oxidase, an enzyme involved in collagen cross-linking (100, 101).

Copper deficiency results in connective tissue defects, especially in the heart and blood vessels (102, 103).

6 Nutrients for Collagen Production

What Are the Best Collagen Food Sources?

There aren’t too many!

Most of the articles on “collagen food sources” are actually just listing food sources of nutrients that SUPPORT collagen synthesis in addition to the few actual collagen food sources that exist.

It’s also important to recognize that collagen is not absorbed whole. 

Consumption of collagen-containing foods should be seen as a way to boost amino acids needed for the synthesis of collagen, rather than a way to directly increase collagen levels in the body.

The most common collagen-rich foods include:

1. Animal Carcasses

Collagen is found in the joints, tendons, ligaments, and bones of animal carcasses (104).

Today, these parts of the animal are typically not eaten but are disposed of or used to make broth.

2. Bone Broth?

Broth made by simmering animal bones (usually chicken or beef) for long periods of time (often 20+ hours) is called bone broth.

It is touted as a significant source of amino acids needed for collagen synthesis.

However, although bone broth is higher in protein than broth made without bones, it may not be a reliable source of these amino acids.

A 2019 study evaluated the amino acid content of homemade and commercially-prepared bone broth samples and found that they had significantly lower concentrations of amino acids needed for collagen synthesis compared to collagen supplements (105). 

The amino acid content also varies significantly depending on the type of bones and the methods used to make bone broth (105, 106).

3. Eggshell Membrane

If you’ve ever peeled a hard-boiled egg, you’ve seen a stretchy white layer that sometimes sticks to the egg.

That’s the eggshell membrane, which is actually comprised of two layers: a thick outer membrane that lines the shell and a thin, inner membrane that covers the egg white (107).

When you crack an egg while it’s raw, the membrane usually sticks to the shell.

Scientists have found small amounts of collagen (types I and V) in the eggshell membranes of chicken eggs (107).

The only way to make sure you’re consuming the membrane is to use hard-boiled eggs, and actually peel the membrane off of the shell or the egg, but it has a chewy texture and isn’t very pleasant to eat. 

What Are the Best Collagen Supplements?

Collagen supplements are generally sourced from one of the following: cattle, pigs, fish, or chicken.

There are no vegan collagen supplements currently available.

Here are some of our favorite collagen supplements.

Please note that the following links are affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Bovine (Cow) Collagen Products:

Porcine (Pork) Collagen Products:

Marine (Fish) Collagen Products: 

Poultry (Chicken and Egg) Collagen Products

  • Vital Proteins Bone Broth Collagen – Chicken
    • Available in powder form
    • Sourced from organic, free range chickens
    • Contains collagen types I, II, III, V & X 
  • NOW Eggshell Membrane
    • Available in capsule form
    • Contains mostly type I collagen (107)
    • Eggshell membranes are known to be a source of collagen, but it’s also difficult to know how much you’re actually getting in a supplement (107).
    • Potential option for ovo-vegetarians

Mixed Collagen Products:

  • Ancient Nutrition Multi Collagen Protein
    • Available in powder or capsule form
    • Made from 4 food sources (beef, chicken, fish and eggshell membrane)
    • Sources are non-GMO, grass fed, hormone free, cage free and cruelty free 
    • Also contains ashwagandha, calcium, and amla berry

What Dose of Collagen Should You Take?

Most studies have used doses ranging from 2.5-15 grams per day (36, 45, 53, 109).

Are There Any Potential Side Effects or Precautions with Collagen Supplementation?

Collagen supplements are generally safe, with minimal side effects (undesirable taste, upset stomach) and no evidence of toxicity (36, 110, 111). 

However, there is some concern that bone broth and collagen supplements derived from bone may contain toxic levels of lead.

In one study, chicken broth made from bones, skin, and cartilage was found to have high lead concentrations (7-9.5 mcg/liter) (112).

However, this equates to just a few micrograms per cup of broth, which is much lower than the EPA’s limit of 15 mcg/liter for lead in tap water (113, 114).

The Big Picture

Consuming collagen supplements or collagen-rich foods can be beneficial for skin and joint health.

There are currently no vegan collagen supplements available, but boosting your intake of nutrients required for natural collagen production may be helpful.

These include the amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, and copper.

Research is underway to develop vegan collagen supplements, so keep an eye out for these cutting-edge products soon.

Vegan Collagen - Does It Exist? Functional Nutrition Answers

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Folate vs Folic Acid: How Are They Different?

Folate vs Folic Acid: How Are They Different?

The terms folate and folic acid are often used interchangeably, but don’t be fooled – they’re not the same!

Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9 found in foods, while folic acid is the synthetic form added to supplements and fortified or enriched foods.

The chemical structures of folate and folic acid are similar, but not identical, so there are differences in how they’re processed and used by our bodies.

In this article, we’ll discuss the structural and functional differences between folate and folic acid and which one is a better supplement choice for most people.

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Folate: The Natural Form of Vitamin B9

Sometimes, researchers use the term “folate” to refer to all forms of vitamin B9 (including folic acid).

However, for the purposes of this article, we will use “folate” to describe the form that is found naturally in food.

Natural Folate Metabolism

Natural folate exists in many different forms, but polyglutamates (folate molecules with a tail of several glutamates) are the most common (1).

In order to be absorbed, the glutamate tail must first be removed by enzymes located on the lining of the small intestine (also known as the brush border) (2).

After being absorbed into the cells of the small intestine, these folate molecules are converted to the active form of folate known as L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate (L-5-MTHF) or L-methylfolate:

Folate Metabolism - Functional Nutrition Answers

After this process is complete, activated folate (L-5-MTHF) is released into the bloodstream where it can be distributed throughout the body, taken up by cells, and either metabolized or converted back to the polyglutamate form for storage.

The intestines are very efficient at converting natural food forms of folate into the active form, even at high doses, so there is no tolerable upper limit for natural food folate.

Folate’s Role in Health

The primary role of folate is to participate in one-carbon metabolism (3).

One-carbon metabolism is the transfer of one-carbon units, such as methyl groups (CH3), between molecules (4).

This process is necessary because one-carbon groups are too unstable by themselves and must constantly be attached to something.

One-carbon transfers are required for many metabolic processes, including amino acid metabolism, DNA synthesis, and cell division.

Here’s an overview of how the process works:

Diagram of One Carbon Metabolism - Functional Nutrition Answers

There are a few important steps to note:

1. Conversion of homocysteine to methionine.

First, you can see that folate (L-5-MTHF) donates a methyl group to homocysteine (a byproduct of protein metabolism) in order to form methionine (an amino acid that is required for growth and tissue repair) (4, 5).

If folate is not available to provide a methyl group for this conversion (or if there is not enough vitamin B12 as a cofactor), homocysteine can build up in the blood (6).

Elevated levels of homocysteine have been associated with increased risk of several chronic conditions, including heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease (7, 8).

However, interventions focused on lowering homocysteine levels have not consistently reduced the risk of these conditions, so it may be more of a risk marker than a direct cause of disease. More research is needed (9).

2. Formation of SAM and methylation reactions.

Second, methionine goes on to participate in methylation reactions, which are especially important for DNA synthesis and the regulation of gene expression (10).

Once methionine has been formed, it can be converted to S-adenosylmethionine (SAM), which is one of the body’s most important methylators.

SAM transfers a methyl group (CH3) to other molecules, like DNA or proteins, and participates in over 100 methylation reactions (3, 11).

Without enough folate to spur the one-carbon metabolism cycle, methylation reactions may be impaired throughout the body.

3. Recycling L-5-MTHF back to THF & nucleotide synthesis.

Finally, after L-MTHF donates a methyl group to homocysteine, it is converted back to THF.

From there, it can be converted again to 5,10-MTHF, the form of folate used to make nucleotides (the building blocks of DNA and RNA).

Thus, it is clear that folate is involved in many many important processes in the body.

Folate Deficiency

In the United States, folate deficiency is rare (<2%), but still possible (12).

Deficiency is most often caused by low-intake of folate-containing foods, but can sometimes be caused by malabsorption issues or medications as well (2, 13).

The most common sign that you might have a folate deficiency is megaloblastic anemia (although, megaloblastic anemia can also be caused by vitamin B12 deficiency, so it is important to rule that out too) (14).

Megaloblastic anemia is a condition in which red blood cells (RBCs) are too large (macrocytic), immature (megaloblastic), and low in number.

This occurs because a lack of folate impairs DNA synthesis and disrupts cell division within the bone marrow (where blood cells are formed). This leads to RBCs that aren’t formed properly or rapidly enough.

These megaloblastic RBCs result in blood that has a decreased oxygen-carrying capacity, which translates to symptoms like fatigue and shortness of breath (15).

Anemia isn’t the only consequence of folate deficiency – many other conditions have been linked with inadequate folate consumption, including the following:

  • Alzheimer’s disease (16, 17)
  • Autism spectrum disorders (18, 19, 20)
  • Cancer (21, 22, 23)
  • Cardiovascular disease (24, 25)
  • Depression (26, 27)
  • Dementia (28, 29, 30)
  • Neural tube defects (31, 32)

Thankfully, folate deficiency can generally be avoided by consuming a diet rich in folate or by taking supplements as needed.

Want to learn more about folate and methods for testing for deficiency? Check out our membership site, The Functional Nutrition Library!

Foods High in Folate

Folate is found in many whole foods, especially poultry liver, legumes, and green vegetables.

Here are some of the foods with the highest amounts of folate (33):

  • Turkey liver: 587 mcg (146% DV) per cooked 3 ounces
  • Chicken liver: 491 mcg (122% DV) per cooked 3 ounces
  • Edamame: 482 mcg (121% DV) per cooked cup
  • Chickpea flour: 392 mcg (98% DV) per cup
  • Cranberry beans: 366 mcg (92% DV) per cooked cup
  • Roasted soybeans: 363 mcg (90% DV) per cup
  • Lentils: 358 mcg (90% DV) per cooked cup
  • Black-eyed peas: 358 mcg (90% DV) per cooked cup
  • Wheat germ: 323 mcg (80% DV) per cup
  • Mung beans: 321 mcg (80% DV) per cooked cup
  • Sunflower seeds: 319 (79% DV) per cup
  • Adzuki beans: 317 mcg (79% DV) per cooked cup
  • Pinto beans: 294 mcg (74% DV) per cooked cup
  • Pink beans: 284 mcg (71% DV) per cooked cup
  • Chickpeas: 282 mcg (71% DV) per cooked cup
  • Baby lima beans: 273 mcg (68%) per cooked cup
  • Spinach: 263 mcg (66% DV) per cooked cup
  • Black beans: 256 mcg (64% DV) per cooked cup
  • Navy beans: 255 mcg (64% DV) per cooked cup
  • Yardlong beans: 250 mcg (62% DV) per cooked cup
  • White beans: 245 mcg (61% DV) per cooked cup
  • Asparagus: 243 mcg (60% DV) per cooked cup
  • Mustard spinach: 238 mcg (59% DV) per raw cup
  • Kidney beans: 230 mcg (58% DV) per cooked cup
  • Conch: 227 mc (56% DV) per cooked cup
  • Beef liver: 221 mcg (55% DV) per cooked 3 ounces
  • Avocado: 205 mcg (51% DV) per cup
  • Artichokes: 200 mcg (50% DV) per cooked cup
  • Pigeon peas: 186 mcg (46% DV) per cooked cup
  • Peanuts: 185 mcg (46% DV) per roasted cup
  • Okra: 184 mcg (46% DV) per cooked cup
  • Fava beans: 177 mcg (44% DV) per cooked cup
  • Turnip greens: 170 mcg (42% DV) per cooked cup
  • Broccoli: 168 mcg (42% DV) per cooked cup
  • Brussels sprouts: 157 mcg (39% DV) per cooked cup
  • Beets: 136 mcg (34% DV) per cooked cup
  • Hazelnuts: 130 mcg (32% DV) per cup
  • Collard greens: 129 mcg (32% DV) per cooked cup
  • Split peas: 127 mcg (31% DV) per cooked cup
  • Chayote: 123 mcg (30% DV) per raw cup
  • Escarole: 117 mcg (29% DV) per cooked cup
  • Walnuts: 115 mcg (28% DV) per cup
  • White potato: 114 mcg (28% DV) per large baked with skin
  • Mustard greens: 105 mcg (26% DV) per cooked cup
  • Broccoli: 103 mcg (25% DV) per cooked cup
  • Corn: 103 mcg (25% DV) per canned cup
  • Green peas: 101 mcg (25% DV) per cooked cup
  • Cashews: 95 mcg (23% DV) per cup
  • Parsley: 91 mcg (22% DV) per cup
  • Parsnips: 90 mcg (22% DV) per cooked cup
  • Durian: 87 mcg (21% DV) per cup
  • Chinese broccoli: 87 mcg (21% DV) per cooked cup
  • Guava: 81 mcg (20% DV) per cup
  • Red potatoes: 81 mcg (20% DV) per large baked with skin

However, the folate levels of various foods can be affected by preparation methods.

For example, boiling folate-rich green vegetables can leech up to 49% of the folate into the cooking water, while steaming retains most of the nutrients (34).

In contrast, sprouting dried legumes can actually triple the folate availability, making them an excellent folate-rich food (35).

Frozen vegetables are a convenient and cost-effective option, but freezing initially reduces folate by about 25% and can lead to losses as high as 97% after 3 months in the freezer (36).

The best way to maximize your folate intake is to consume a variety of high-folate foods and to choose fresh, steamed vegetables whenever possible.

Infographic of Top 9 Foods High in Folate - Functional Nutrition Answers

Folate Requirements

Only about 50% of natural folate found in food is bioavailable (able to be absorbed) (37, 38).

Folic acid, on the other hand, has higher bioavailability.

About 85% of folic acid is absorbed when consumed with a meal, while 100% is absorbed on an empty stomach (39, 40, 41).

Because folic acid is more easily absorbed, less is needed to meet daily requirements.

The RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for folate takes these differences into account by expressing requirements as “dietary folate equivalents” (DFE) (39):

  • 1 mcg of food folate = 1 mcg DFE
  • 1 mcg of folic acid taken with food = 1.7 mcg DFE
  • 1 mcg of folic acid taken on an empty stomach = 2 mcg DFE

Adults need 400 mcg DFE each day, which might look something like this:

  • 400 mcg of folate from natural food sources
  • OR 235 mcg of folic acid (from a supplement or fortified food) taken with food
  • OR 200 mcg of folic acid (from a supplement or fortified food) taken on an empty stomach
  • OR some combination of the above

During pregnancy and breastfeeding, folate needs are increased to 600 and 500 mcg DFE per day, respectively (40, 41). To meet these higher needs, supplements are often used.

Folic Acid: The Synthetic Form

The synthetic (man-made) form of folate is called folic acid, and it is found mainly in fortified or enriched foods and supplements.

The History of Folic Acid

Folic acid was first synthesized in the 1940s and was initially used to treat megaloblastic anemia caused by folate deficiency (42).

Compared to natural folate, folic acid was less expensive and more chemically stable, making it ideal for supplements (2).

However, it wasn’t until the 1960s that the use of folic acid supplements became widespread.

Around this time, scientists discovered that supplementing with folic acid could reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) in pregnancy (42, 43).

NTDs are severe birth defects, such as spina bifida and anencephaly, that occur when the neural tube fails to close during the early stages of fetal development (44).

In 1991, a large randomized controlled trial (RCT) found that women who took 4000 mcg of folic acid daily reduced their risk of having a pregnancy affected by an NTD by 70% (45).

Other studies showed that lower amounts of folic acid could also reduce the risk of NTDs, so it was eventually recommended that all women consume 400 mcg of dietary folate equivalents per day from food or supplements (39, 46, 47).

Unfortunately, most women weren’t consuming the recommended amount, so the FDA mandated that enriched grain products be fortified with folic acid in 1998 (48, 49).

After implementing these new rules, folate deficiency decreased to <2%, and the prevalence of NTDs in the United States was reduced by 20-50% (50, 51, 52).

Foods High in Folic Acid

Folic acid does NOT occur naturally in foods, but it is added to some processed foods.

In the United States, the FDA requires food manufacturers to add 140 mcg of folic acid to every 100 grams of “enriched” grain products (48, 53, 54).

“Enriched” products are foods that have had the nutrients lost during processing added back in, so that the final product is roughly nutritionally equivalent to the original (55).

In the US, most white bread, baked goods, cornmeal, white rice, white pasta, and refined breakfast cereals are enriched with folic acid.

It has been estimated that these fortified foods contribute an extra 100-200 mcg of folic acid per day to the average American’s diet (56, 57).

Non-Food Sources of Folic Acid

In addition to food, many people also take multivitamin-mineral supplements that contain folic acid.

While folic acid is not the best option for supplements (we’ll talk about this later), it is cheap and shelf-stable, so it is used by many inexpensive over the counter brands.

Doses in adult daily multivitamins are typically around 400 mcg (680 mcg DFE), which is above the RDA for folate (400 mcg DFE).

It is easy to see how people who take vitamins and eat folic acid enriched foods can easily surpass the recommended daily intake.

Structure & Metabolism of Folic Acid

Folate and folic acid have a few major differences:

  • Oxidized vs Reduced: Natural folate is in the reduced form, whereas folic acid is in the oxidized form. (This is a fancy way of saying that folic acid has fewer hydrogen atoms than folate.)
  • Poly vs mono glutamate: Natural folate is in the polyglutamate form and must be converted to the monoglutamate form before it can be absorbed, whereas folic acid is already a monoglutamate and can be absorbed as-is.
  • Steps to activation: Activation of natural THF folate requires only 2 steps, whereas the activation of folic acid requires 4 steps (see below).

Folate Metabolism - Functional Nutrition Answers

Studies show that at doses above 200 mcg per day, the DHFR enzyme can max out, leaving excess folic acid to be absorbed directly into the bloodstream (2).

Some of this unmetabolized folic acid heads to the liver where it can be converted to L-5-MTHF (58, 59).

However, the activity of the DHFR enzyme in the liver is relatively low, so unmetabolized folic acid can circulate in the bloodstream for a while before it is fully metabolized (60).

The Problem with Folic Acid

In countries that have implemented fortification, unmetabolized folic acid can be detected in up to of 95% of people tested (61, 62, 63).

Folic acid is only beneficial if it can be converted to the active form, L-5-MTHF, so high levels of unmetabolized folic acid may pose a problem.

Potential Health Risks of Too Much Folic Acid

Although more research is needed, some studies suggest that consuming too much folic acid may negatively impact our health.

1. It May Increase Cancer Risk

Around the time that the United States started fortifying foods with folic acid, there was an increase in the incidence of colon cancer (64).

Since then, many studies have shown increases in both prostate cancer and colon cancer in participants who take folic acid supplements (65, 66, 67).

However, this is only a correlation and does not prove causation. Other studies have shown no increase in cancer risk with folic acid supplementation (68, 69, 70).

Some researchers hypothesize that excessive folate may spur the growth of pre-existing cancers or precancerous growths since cancer cells grow rapidly and have a higher need for folate, but more research is needed (71, 72).

2. It May Reduce Immune Function

A few studies have looked at the relationship between immunity and folic acid (73, 74).

These studies found that circulating unmetabolized folic acid is linked to reduced natural killer cell activity – an important part of the innate immune system (75).

Much more research is needed to understand the significance of these findings, but it is certainly interesting.

Folate and Genetic Mutations

Earlier, we briefly mentioned the importance of the MTHFR enzyme in folate metabolism.

MTHFR is responsible for the last step in the activation of folate (converting 5,10-MTHF to L-5-MTHF) (76).

Mutations in the genes that code for MTHFR are fairly common and can impair this conversion (77, 78).

The most common MTHFR mutations are C677T and A1298C (79).

With the C677T mutation, the activity of MTHFR can be impaired by 35% in those who are heterozygous (one copy of the mutation) and up to 70% in those who are homozygous (two copies of the mutation) (80).

When MTHFR activity is impaired, folic acid can’t be activated as quickly, leading to higher levels of unmetabolized folic acid and lower levels of active folate in the blood (81, 82).

MTHFR mutations have been linked to increased risk of the following conditions:

People who have the MTHFR mutation may benefit from avoiding foods that contain folic acid and choosing supplements L-5-MTHF, the already active form of folate (99, 100).

How to Choose the Right Folate Supplement

Supplements that use the active form of folate (L-5-MTHF) are generally preferred over those containing folic acid.

Studies have shown that L-5-MTHF is well absorbed and can raise folate levels as well as or even more effectively than folic acid (101, 102, 103).

To make sure you’re getting a supplement that contains L-5-MTHF, check the label for any of the following (104):

  • Metafolin
  • Quatrefolic
  • Levomefolic acid
  • L-methylfolate
  • L-5-MTHF
  • 5-MTHF

These are alternative names for L-5-MTHF, so any supplement that uses one of the above is usually a good choice.

Benefits of L-5-MTHF Over Folic Acid

Supplements that contain methylated folate (L-5-MTHF) are better than folic acid for the following reasons (2):

1. Less likely to mask a vitamin B12 deficiency.

High doses of folic acid supplementation can “mask” a vitamin B12 deficiency by preventing the development of megaloblastic anemia (see graphic below for more details).

This is not good since B12 deficiency can still cause neurological damage, even if someone doesn’t know they have it.

For many people, the presence of megaloblastic anemia is the 1st sign of B12 deficiency.

If someone is B12 deficient, but megaloblastic anemia never develops because of folic acid supplements, the deficiency may go unnoticed until more severe signs, like nerve damage, occur.

This is of particular concern in older adults since vitamin B12 malabsorption is much more common in that age group (105).

Because of this concern, the Institute of Medicine has advised adults to not take more than 1000 mcg (1 mg) of folic acid per day, and some researchers argue this should be lowered to 500 mcg per day (106).

However, the active form of folate (L-5-MTHF) does NOT mask megaloblastic anemia caused by vitamin B12 deficiency.

This is because without vitamin B12, L-5-MTHF cannot be converted back into the form used in DNA synthesis, so megaloblastic anemia will still develop.

Thus, if L-5-MTHF is being taken as a supplement and megaloblastic anemia is present, it is most likely due to a vitamin B12 deficiency.

Diagram showing how folate and folic acid participate in one-carbon metabolism differently

2. Still works for those taking DHFR inhibiting medications.

A second reason why folate supplements are superior to folic acid is that they still work for people who are taking medications that interfere with the DHFR enzyme.

DHFR is the enzyme that converts folic acid into the intermediate forms DHF and THF.

Methylated folate doesn’t require these enzymes since it is already in the active form. Therefore, even people on DHFR-blocking medications can properly utilize it.

Examples of medications that can interfere with the DHFR enzyme include (2):

  • Antiparasitics like pyrimethamine.
  • Diuretics like triamterene.
  • Folate-inhibiting antibiotics like trimethoprim.
  • Immunosuppressants and chemotherapeutics like methotrexate and aminopterin.

3. Suitable for people with MTHFR mutations.

As discussed previously, some people have genetic mutations that impair MTHFR activity and the ability to convert folate to its active form.

For these people, supplementing with folic acid (or even an intermediate form like folinic acid) may not be very helpful, since their bodies will struggle to convert it to L-5-MTHF.

This poor conversion may also result in higher amounts of circulating unmetabolized folic acid, which has been associated with negative health outcomes.

However, taking L-5-MTHF directly bypasses the MTHFR enzyme and provides the body with active folate that it can use right away.

For this reason, people with MTHFR mutations often choose supplements that contain L-5-MTHF rather than folic acid.

Our Favorite Folate-Containing Supplements

There are hundreds of folate supplements to choose from, so we’ve compiled a list of our favorite high-quality products.

Please note that as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Folate-Containing Multivitamin:

Pure Encapsulations O.N.E. Multivitamin

For a high-quality multivitamin/mineral that contains L-5-MTHF, Pure Encapsulations is a great choice.

In this supplement, you’ll find 400 mcg of L-5-MTHF (667 mcg DFE) per capsule, along with other nutrients.

This product can be purchased online here.

Folate-Containing Gummies:

Smarty Pants Complete

Smarty Pants has several gummy multivitamins for men, women, and children, all of which contain methylated folate, rather than folic acid.

Six of the adult chewable gummies provide 400 mcg of L-methylfolate calcium salt.

Smarty Pants make a good option for those who cannot swallow pills and can be purchased online here.

It is important to note that these gummies do not contain important minerals like calcium, magnesium, or selenium, so an additional multimineral supplement may be needed.

Folate Lozenges or Drops:

Seeking Health

Another option for those who experience difficulty swallowing pills is drops or lozenges, which are available through Seeking Health.

These products can be purchased online here and here.

Folate-Containing Prenatal:

Seeking Health Optimal Prenatal

Seeking Health also makes a wonderful prenatal that contains L-methylfolate (in the form of Quatrefolic), along with other important nutrients like choline.

However, it is important to note that it does not contain some minerals, iron, or DHA, so additional supplementation may be needed.

Seeking Health Optimal Prenatal can be purchased online here.

Precautions with Supplementation

It is important to remember that nutrients do not exist in a vacuum, and many other vitamins and nutrients are needed for proper methylation and one-carbon metabolism.

While some people who discover they have an MTHFR mutation may jump straight into high dose supplementation with methylated folate, this is not always a good idea.

Overloading yourself with folate without knowing whether you are deficient in other important methylation nutrients or without having functional labs to guide you could be a recipe for trouble.

Working with a dietitian or other qualified healthcare practitioner is always recommended before beginning a new supplement or dramatically changing your diet.

Your practitioner will analyze your health history and current diet, lifestyle, and medications to provide custom recommendations just for you.

Final Thoughts

Vitamin B9 is an important nutrient for one-carbon metabolism, DNA synthesis, and amino acid metabolism.

Deficiency can lead to megaloblastic anemia and is associated with an increased risk of cancer and other diseases.

There are two main forms of vitamin B9: folate (the natural form) and folic acid (the synthetic form).

Both must be converted to the active form, L-5-MTHF, in order to be used by the body, but folic acid requires more conversions and therefore can be more difficult for the body to use.

If too much is consumed, excess folic acid can build up in the blood and may have negative effects on health.

Additionally, some people also have genetic mutations that impair the MTHFR enzyme, making it even more difficult to activate folic acid.

For these reasons, it’s generally best to consume folate from food or through supplements containing L-5-MTHF, rather than folic acid.

Infographic Showing Differences Between Folate vs Folic Acid - Functional Nutrition Answers

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What Is the Best Vegan Omega 3 Supplement?

What Is the Best Vegan Omega 3 Supplement?

Fatty fish, like salmon, sardines, and mackerel are some of the best natural sources of omega-3 fatty acids (1).

Because of this, most people reach for fish oil supplements when they want to boost their omega-3 intakes.

But what about vegans and vegetarians? Are there good vegan supplement options available for them too?

To answer this question, let’s review the different types of omega-3 fatty acids and then discuss which vegan omega-3 supplements are best.

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What Are the Different Types of Omega-3s?

There are many different types of omega-3s fatty acids, but only a few have been well-studied for their health benefits (1).

The three main ones are ALA, EPA, and DHA.

Let’s review each one in-depth to learn more.

1) Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA)

ALA is a “short-chain” omega-3 fatty acid, because it contains only 18 carbon atoms (2).

It is also an essential fatty acid, meaning that the body cannot make it and we must get it from food.

ALA is the main vegan omega-3 fatty acid, found mostly in plant foods.

Some of the best sources include:

  • Perilla Oil: 8820 mg ALA per tablespoon (3)
  • Flaxseed Oil: 7196 mg ALA per tablespoon (4)
  • Chia Seeds: 4915 mg ALA per ounce (5)
  • Echium Seed Oil: 3745 mg ALA per tablespoon (6)
  • Walnuts: 2565 mg ALA per ounce (7)
  • Ground Flaxseed: 1597 mg ALA per tablespoon (8)
  • Canola Oil: 1279 mg ALA per tablespoon (9)
  • Soybean Oil: 917 mg ALA per tablespoon (10)
  • Hemp Seeds: 868 mg ALA per tablespoon (11)  
  • Mustard Oil: 826 mg ALA per tablespoon (12)
  • Edamame: 555 mg ALA per cup (13)
  • Navy Beans: 322 mg ALA per cup, cooked (14)
  • Brussels Sprouts: 270 mg ALA per cup, cooked (15)
  • Cauliflower: 208 mg ALA per cup, cooked (16)
  • Broccoli: 186 mg ALA per cup, cooked (17)
  • Spinach: 166 mg ALA per cup, cooked (18)

As you can see, it is generally easy for vegans to get enough ALA in their diets. Just one serving of walnuts provides more than the average adult needs in a day (19).

But… eating ALA alone isn’t enough.

ALA is just one type of omega-3, but we also need the other two types, EPA & DHA.

Humans can convert ALA into EPA (which can then be converted into DHA), but not very effectively (20).

It is estimated that only 8 to 21% of ALA is converted to EPA, and 0 to 9% is converted to DHA (21, 22). Women appear to be roughly 2.5 times better at this conversion than men, perhaps due to hormonal differences (23, 24).

Sadly, this already poor conversion can be cut in half with a diet containing too many omega-6 fatty acids (which is typical of the Standard American Diet) (25, 26).

We actually know the genes involved in these conversions too (FADS1, FADS2, ELOVL1, ELOVL2), so genetic testing can tell you a little bit more about how well your body handles them (27, 28).

To get around the genetic variability and overall poor conversions between ALA, EPA, and DHA, many people choose to take EPA & DHA supplements. That way, you know exactly how much you are getting.

However, ALA still has some benefits!

While ALA does not appear to have the exact same health benefits as EPA and DHA, it is still a required nutrient in our diets (29).

Preliminary studies show that ALA may enhance heart health, protect against inflammation, and improve brain function, but more research is needed (30).

Since ALA is relatively abundant in foods, it is not commonly taken as a supplement.

2) Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)

EPA is a “long-chain” omega-3 fatty acid, because it contains 20 carbon atoms (2).

EPA is found mainly in seafood, especially fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and roe (fish eggs/caviar). One cooked 3-oz wild salmon filet contains about 1,500 mg of EPA + DHA combined (31, 32).

Grass-fed meats are also “good” EPA sources (containing at least 30 mg of EPA + DHA per 100 grams), which is on par with the amounts found in some white fish, but still far less than fatty fish contain (33).

Grass-fed dairy and pasture-raised eggs contain even smaller amounts, but still serve as the main sources of EPA for some vegetarians (34).

Are there any vegan sources of EPA?

Unfortunately, there aren’t many plants that contain substantial amounts of EPA.

The main source is microalgae. However, since algae is relatively low-fat, it is not a very concentrated source.

To get around this, most people take algal oil supplements, which are highly purified sources of both EPA and DHA (35).

Microalgae is actually the original source of omega-3s in the marine food chain, which is why seafood is one of the best food sources of EPA and DHA (36).

You might also see krill oil available on the market, but krill are actually small marine animals and are not vegan.

Many omega-3 fortified food products are also available, but it is important to read the label to make sure they contain EPA and/or DHA, and not just ALA.

Reading the ingredients list will tell you whether a vegan source like algal oil was used.

What are the health benefits of EPA?

One of the main functions of EPA is to compete with omega-6 fatty acids for the production of eicosanoids, which can generally be either pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory (37, 38).

The eicosanoids made from omega-6 fatty acids tend to be pro-inflammatory, while those made from omega-3s tend to be anti-inflammatory (although there are some exceptions to this rule) (37, 39).

This is why people talk about the importance of having a good balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. More omega-3s = more anti-inflammatory eicosanoids, while too many omega-6 fatty acids can spur inflammation.

Large doses of EPA (and DHA) also help lower triglyceride levels by simultaneously reducing triglyceride production and increasing triglyceride clearance (40).

This is why high doses of fish oil are often recommended for people with dyslipidemia (41).

Other health benefits associated with EPA (and DHA) include improved cardiovascular health and reduced symptoms of some mental health disorders (42, 43, 44, 45).

3) Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

DHA is also a “long-chain” omega-3 fatty acid, with 22 carbon atoms (2).

It can be made from EPA, but humans are not very good at this conversion. Because of this,  most people consume DHA through food and/or take supplements.

What are the food sources of DHA?

Food sources of DHA are generally the same as EPA. The highest amounts of DHA are found in fatty fish, but microalgae is a good vegan source as well (46).

What are the benefits of DHA?

DHA is excellent for vision and the nervous system.

It is especially good at increasing the fluidity of cell membranes and is found in the highest amounts in the brain and retina (47, 48).

It’s also found in really high concentrations in male sperm (49, 50).

Compounds known as neuroprotectins can be made from DHA, which are potent antioxidants that protect these important cells and tissues from oxidative damage (51, 52).

Like EPA, high doses of DHA can help lower triglyceride levels and reduce inflammation.

However, DHA tends to raise LDL cholesterol levels a little more than EPA (although whether this even matters is debatable) (35, 53).

3 main types of omega-3s - Functional Nutrition Answers

How Much Omega-3 Is Needed?

Recommendations vary based depending on why you’re interested in taking omega-3s.

For General Health

Of the three most common omega-3 fatty acids, only ALA has an official “Adequate Intake” of 1.1 grams per day for women and 1.6 grams per day for men (19).

An “Adequate Intake” (AI) is basically the amount of a nutrient that is ASSUMED to be adequate for overall health. This type of recommendation is made when there isn’t enough evidence to establish a “Recommended Daily Intake” (RDA).

In contrast, there are no official intake recommendations for EPA and DHA at this time.

However, health organizations around the world generally recommend getting 250-500 mg of EPA + DHA (combined amount) per day for optimal health (54, 55, 56).

For reference, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics officially recommends the higher dose of 500 mg EPA + DHA daily (57).

Instead of recommending a specific amount, some organizations simply suggest consuming fatty fish two times per week, since it is a natural source of these nutrients (58).

Unfortunately, most Americans are not meeting these recommendations and only get about 100 mg of EPA + DHA per day (59).

For Vegans and Vegetarians

Although it is known that vegans and vegetarians tend to have lower blood levels of EPA and DHA, there are no specific dosage recommendations other than the standard 250-500 mg per day (60, 61).

It is generally recommended that vegans and vegetarians meet their EPA and DHA needs by taking algal omega-3 supplements and consuming food sources of ALA (61, 62).

However, it’s important to note that there is currently no evidence that vegetarians and vegans consuming low amounts of DHA have any additional adverse health effects (60).

During Pregnancy & Breastfeeding

For women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, an additional 200 mg of DHA per day is recommended to encourage healthy brain, retina, and nervous system development (63, 64).

For Health Conditions

People with inflammatory conditions may benefit from even higher intakes of omega-3s.

The American Heart Association recommends 1,000 mg of EPA + DHA (combined) per day for people with a history of heart disease, taken under the guidance of a physician (65).

Doses from 2,000 to 16,200 mg per day have been used to lower triglycerides, reduce symptoms of arthritis, or improve mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and ADHD (66, 67, 68, 69, 70)

However, there is some concern that using high-dose EPA or DHA as an anti-inflammatory may be more of a nutraceutical approach, simply blunting the inflammatory response without actually getting to the root cause of the inflammation (39).

The Importance of Vitamin E?

Fats are very sensitive to oxidation, and too many oxidized fats within the body can promote inflammation (71, 72).

Vitamin E is a major fat-soluble antioxidant within the body that helps prevent this oxidation.

Some researchers believe that people taking supplemental omega-3s may need additional vitamin E to prevent excessive oxidation, but there has been no real consensus in the literature (73, 74, 75, 76, 77).

How Much EPA + DHA Is Best? -FNA

Possible Downsides of High-Dose Supplementation

Studies suggest that using omega-3’s to reduce inflammation may not always be a good thing if that inflammation was acting in a protective manner (78).

For example, one study in mice found that giving high doses of omega-3’s reduced intestinal inflammation, but actually increased the risk of sepsis, because the inflammation was protecting against bacteria crossing into the bloodstream (79).

As always, you should speak with your doctor before beginning any new supplement regimen.

Do Vegan Omega-3 Supplements Work as Well as Fish Oil?

Although the research is limited, a few studies have shown that algal omega-3 supplements raise blood levels of DHA just as effectively as eating fish or taking fish oil supplements (80, 81, 82, 83).

To boost absorption, omega-3 supplements should be taken with meals, and preferably ones that contain fat (84).

How to Choose a Good Vegan Omega-3 Supplement

Here are some quick tips for choosing a good omega-3 supplement:

  • Look at EPA & DHA levels: A high-quality omega-3 supplement will indicate exactly how much EPA & DHA it contains per serving. If it does not specify, pick another option.
  • Check for quality: Omega-3s can oxidize and go rancid, so look for products stored in the refrigerated section or ones that contain natural antioxidants like rosemary to extend their shelf-life.
  • Toss it if it smells: If your supplement smells strongly fishy or gives you yucky-tasting burps, it may have gone rancid and should not be taken anymore.
  • Choose a triglyceride form: Omega-3’s naturally exist in triglyceride form in food, and most over the counter supplements are also in this form (although technically they have been purified and then re-formed into triglycerides to increase the proportion of EPA/DHA). Some high-dose prescription supplements come in ethyl ester form (similar to a monoglyceride, but with an ethanol backbone) or as free fatty acids, but some studies show that these are not as well absorbed or utilized by the body (84, 85, 86, 87).

If you are not sure whether you would benefit from an omega-3 supplement, you could consider testing your EPA & DHA levels first.

The HS-Omega-3 Index, which measures red blood cell membrane levels of EPA and DHA, is considered to be a good long-term indicator of fatty acid status over the last few months (88, 89, 90).

This is generally considered to be a more helpful measure than plasma levels, since blood levels of EPA & DHA don’t necessarily reflect tissue levels (91, 92).

If you do plan on starting an omega-3 supplement, be aware that it can take up to 2 weeks to see differences in EPA levels and up to 1 month to see differences in DHA levels on this test (93).

How to Choose a Good Omega-3 Supplement - FNA

The Best Vegan Omega-3 Supplement

There are hundreds of vegan omega-3 supplements to choose from, so we’ve narrowed it down to two of the best algae based omega 3 products from our favorite brand.

Both varieties contain a combined total of at least 500 mg EPA + DHA per serving, at least 200 mg of DHA, and are lab-verified to be high-quality.

Please note that as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

1. Nordic Naturals Algae Omega (Softgel)

A soft gel form of algal omega-3 is also available from Nordic Naturals. It contains 390 mg DHA and 195 mg EPA per serving (which is 2 softgels).

Labdoor did an independent analysis on this supplement and rated it a 97.9/100 for overall quality.

When tested, it actually contained slightly more EPA & DHA than claimed on the label and was within the California Prop 65 limits for heavy metal contamination and had not gone rancid.

This is an especially good option because it is affordable and easily found in grocery stores or bought online here.

2. Nordic Naturals Algae Omega (Liquid)

This lemon-flavored liquid omega-3 supplement from Nordic Naturals contains 350 mg DHA and 200 mg EPA per serving (1.5 mL).

This supplement is a great choice for anyone who cannot tolerate swallowing softgels or who would prefer to mix the oil into smoothies or shakes.

Like Nordic Natural softgels, this product is generally easy to find in stores and can be bought online here.

Safety & Side Effects

Safety of Omega-3 Supplementation

Omega-3 supplementation is generally considered to be low risk, especially at doses below 5 grams per day (94).

However, you should always consult with your physician before taking a new supplement.

This is especially true for people taking blood thinning medications, because some studies (but not all) have shown an increased risk of bleeding in people taking high doses of omega-3 supplements (95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100).  

Your doctor can help you decide whether the benefits outweigh the risks and periodically monitor your bloodwork.

Possible Side Effects

Side effects of taking omega-3 supplements are usually mild, and may include stomach upset, heartburn, diarrhea, a bad taste in your mouth or smelly sweat (101, 102).

Spacing out your supplements into smaller doses throughout the day may help reduce these effects.

Supplementing with DHA may also increase LDL cholesterol levels, but this increase appears to be relatively small (only about 3%) for doses around 2,000 mg per day (94).

However, higher doses of the ethyl ester form of EPA + DHA found in prescription-strength supplements may increase LDL levels by up to 32% (94, 103).

This does not appear to happen with high dose EPA-only supplements, but more research is needed (103).

Final Thoughts

All three types of omega-3s are important, but evidence shows that EPA and DHA may have unique benefits, especially for reducing inflammation and boosting brain and retinal health.

Vegan foods, such as nuts and vegetable oils, contain large amounts of ALA, but EPA and DHA are mainly found in animal foods (fish and meat).

Because there are not many adequate vegan food sources of EPA and DHA, those who follow a vegan diet often have lower levels of these fatty acids in their blood. Though, it’s unclear whether these lower levels are harmful.

Algal oil supplements are often recommended as a low-risk option to increase vegan EPA and DHA intake.

There are no official recommendations for dosing, but most organizations suggest around 500 mg of EPA + DHA per day for general health.

Our preferred brand of vegan omega-3 supplements is Nordic Naturals, which can be found in most stores or online.

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What Is The Best Vegan Omega-3 Supplement? - Functional Nutrition Answers
What Is the Best Magnesium for Migraines?

What Is the Best Magnesium for Migraines?

Did you know that roughly 1 out of every 6 Americans suffers from migraines (1)?

Migraines are severe headaches that are often accompanied by symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light or sound, and vision disturbances.

Unfortunately, there is no definitive cure for migraines (though many have had success with food sensitivity testing), so treatment is usually focused on reducing the number of attacks and managing symptoms.

Medications, such as over-the-counter painkillers and prescription drugs, are often used to treat and prevent migraines, but natural remedies are becoming more popular.

One promising option for those seeking natural migraine relief is to try magnesium supplements.

In this article, we’ll explain the link between magnesium and migraines and tell you which magnesium supplement is best for preventing migraines.

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What Is Magnesium?

Magnesium is an essential mineral, meaning that it can’t be made by the body, so instead, we have to get it from food.

This often overlooked mineral is involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body (2).

It plays important roles in energy production, muscle contraction, DNA synthesis, neurological function, and bone structure.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for magnesium is 400 mg per day for males and 310 mg per day for females. After age 30, this increases to 420 mg and 320 mg, respectively (2).

The Standard American Diet, which consists mostly of meat, processed carbohydrates, and vegetable oils, usually does NOT provide enough magnesium. In fact, nearly half of Americans fail to meet their magnesium needs, typically falling short of the RDA by 100-200 mg (3, 4).

Even people taking multivitamins may fall short since magnesium is a large mineral that is hard to fit into a daily multivitamin-mineral supplement. It is often included only in small quantities (<100 mg) or excluded entirely.

Magnesium Deficiency

Symptomatic magnesium deficiency is rare, especially in people who don’t have any diseases (5).

This is because magnesium is an important electrolyte, and the consequences of not having enough in the bloodstream can be very severe.

To avoid these complications, the body tightly regulates levels of magnesium in the blood and will pull from body stores to avoid low levels.

However, it’s still possible to have inadequate magnesium even if you don’t have an obvious deficiency.

This is called a “subclinical deficiency,” which means that you might not have obvious symptoms, but your body is not functioning optimally and may suffer long-term negative consequences.

It is thought that subclinical magnesium deficiency is VERY common, affecting 10-30% of people (5). It may even be one of the leading causes of heart disease worldwide (6).

Some signs and symptoms of overt magnesium deficiency include (7):

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Leg and foot cramps
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Personality changes
  • Depression
  • Irregular heart rhythms

Of course, if you have a subclinical deficiency, you might not experience any of these symptoms, so it can be helpful to test your magnesium levels.

Testing Magnesium Levels

The most common and inexpensive way to check magnesium levels is to test serum (blood) magnesium.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a very accurate picture of magnesium status because only 2% of the magnesium in the body is found in the blood. The majority (67%) is found in bone, and 31% is found inside cells (8).

This means that your serum will be the LAST place to show a deficiency since levels won’t become low until you’ve exhausted your body’s available stores.

There are more accurate ways to test for low magnesium or subclinical deficiency, such as looking at the amount of magnesium in your red blood cells, white blood cells, or tissues, but these tests are usually more time-consuming and expensive to do (6, 9, 10).  

Magnesium deficiency may increase your risk for certain diseases. A long list of conditions has been linked with low magnesium levels, including high blood pressure, heart disease, arrhythmias, osteoporosis, diabetes, and premenstrual syndrome (2, 11).

Because of magnesium’s role in brain function, it is also thought that the deficiency of this nutrient may be one of the causes of migraines (12).

What Is the Link Between Magnesium and Migraines?

Studies have found that up to 50% of migraine sufferers have low magnesium levels (13, 14, 15, 16).

They have also shown that daily magnesium supplements can reduce the frequency and severity of migraines (17, 18, 19, 20)

One study even found that magnesium supplementation was more effective and fast-acting than a common drug used for the treatment of acute migraines (21).

Still, other research has found no benefit from magnesium supplementation, but this may be because the dose was not high enough (22).

Also, because magnesium status is so difficult to test, it’s possible that some studies’ results are thrown off by including both magnesium-deficient and non-magnesium-deficient patients.

How Does It Work?

Researchers aren’t sure exactly how magnesium works to prevent migraines, but they do have some theories.

First, let’s review the mechanisms that cause migraines. Scientists believe it goes something like this (12):

  1. A trigger causes brain cells to release neurotransmitters (chemical messengers), such as calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) and substance P.
  2. These chemical messengers cause increased blood flow, swelling, and inflammation in the brain.
  3. Nerve cells transmit messages to other parts of the brain, where pain is perceived.

Human and animal studies have shown that treatment with magnesium can decrease CGRP levels and block pain receptors, which may explain its therapeutic effects (23, 24).

However, these are likely just a couple of the ways that magnesium affects migraines, and there are probably other mechanisms we are not yet aware of.

What’s the Official Recommendation?

According to the American Academy of Neurology and the American Headache Society guidelines, magnesium supplementation is probably effective for migraine prevention, but no recommended dosage or form has been established (25).

Even though there is no formally recommended dosage for migraine prevention, most studies have used between 400 and 600 mg of magnesium per day (12, 26).

Magnesium supplements can be taken with food to reduce stomach upset and increase absorption. However, they should be taken away from calcium supplements and high-phytate foods, since these can interfere with absorption (27, 99, 100).

What Types of Magnesium Are Available?

Because magnesium is unstable by itself, it likes to be combined with other minerals to form what is called a “salt.”

Magnesium can also be combined with organic acids to form magnesium acid complexes or with amino acids (the building blocks of protein) to form magnesium chelates.

Depending on what chemical is combined with magnesium, the “bioavailability” might change.

Bioavailability basically means the amount of a substance that is absorbed by the body. So, if a supplement has HIGH bioavailability, then most of it is absorbed.

There are MANY types of magnesium available to choose from, so we’ve broken down some of the most common forms below.

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1. Magnesium Ascorbate (Poor Choice)

Magnesium ascorbate is the salt of magnesium and ascorbic acid, the synthetic form of vitamin C.

Since it contains more vitamin C than magnesium, it is typically used as a source of vitamin C, not magnesium.

For this reason, it is probably not the best choice for migraine prevention.

2. Magnesium Aspartate (Poor Choice)

Magnesium aspartate is formed by bonding (chelating) magnesium with the amino acid aspartate.

Chelated forms of magnesium, like magnesium aspartate, are more bioavailable than magnesium salts since they are absorbed as proteins, rather than via passive diffusion (28).

According to one study using rat intestines, magnesium chelates were nearly twice as bioavailable as magnesium citrate (28).

While magnesium aspartate is well absorbed, it may not be the best choice for people with migraines. This is because the amino acid aspartate is an excitatory neurotransmitter that may worsen migraines (29, 30).

3. Magnesium Carbonate (Poor Choice)

Magnesium carbonate is a form of magnesium usually used as an antacid to treat heartburn and upset stomach (31).

This is because the carbonate in the supplement acts as a base and neutralizes excess stomach acid.  

Magnesium carbonate is an inorganic salt and is not very soluble in the gut. Because of its low bioavailability, magnesium carbonate is not the best choice for migraine prevention (32).

Ironically, diarrhea and upset stomach are common side effects of this supplement due to its poor absorption.

4. Magnesium Citrate (Good Choice)

Magnesium citrate is one of the most commonly used magnesium supplements. It considered an organic salt and is made by combining magnesium with citrate.

It is relatively cheap and has a higher bioavailability than inorganic magnesium salts, like magnesium oxide (33, 34).

This form of magnesium has been widely studied and is recommended for migraine prevention by several organizations, including the American Headache Society (25, 35).

However, citrate is typically produced via corn dextrose fermentation, so it may need to be avoided by people with corn sensitivities. (If you are not sure whether the citrate in your supplement is made from corn, you can always call the manufacturer and ask.)

Our favorite brands of magnesium citrate can be found here in capsule form and here in powdered form.

5. Magnesium Gluconate (Poor Choice)

Magnesium gluconate is made by combining magnesium with gluconic acid, a tart-tasting organic acid that naturally occurs in fruit, honey, wine and other foods (36).

Compared to nine other magnesium supplements, magnesium gluconate was found to have the highest bioavailability (67%) in one study performed on rats (32).

Because it is well-absorbed, it also tends to cause less diarrhea than other magnesium supplements (37).

However, magnesium gluconate pills tend to contain a smaller amount of magnesium per serving, so may not be a practical way to get the dosage needed for migraine prevention.

6. Magnesium Glutamate (Poor Choice)

Magnesium glutamate is formed by bonding (chelating) magnesium with the amino acid glutamate.

Like other chelated forms of magnesium, magnesium glutamate has good bioavailability.

However, glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter and may worsen, rather than improve, migraines (38, 39, 40).

For this reason, magnesium glutamate is probably not a good choice for people with migraines.

7. Magnesium Glycinate (Good Choice)

Magnesium glycinate (also called magnesium bisgylcinate) is a chelate of magnesium and the amino acid glycine.

The bioavailability of magnesium glycinate is relatively high (23.5%), and it tends to be well-tolerated (41).

It has been studied most in the treatment of depression, but no studies on migraines have been conducted (42). The glycine in magnesium glycinate can also have other benefits, including improved sleep (43).

Many practitioners recommend this form of magnesium, especially for people with GI upset, since it is less likely to cause diarrhea than other less-absorbed forms of magnesium.

Our favorite brands can be found here in tablet form and here in powdered form.

A similar product, magnesium glycinate/lysinate is also available. It contains 1 molecule of magnesium bonded to 1 glycine and 1 lysine (rather than 2 glycines in magnesium glycinate).

8. Magnesium Hydroxide (Poor Choice)

Also known as “Milk of Magnesia,” magnesium hydroxide is an antacid that is commonly used as a laxative. It has a lower bioavailability (15%) than other forms of magnesium (44).

Because of its laxative effect, this is definitely NOT the type of magnesium you want to use to prevent migraines.

9. Magnesium Lactate (Good Choice)

Magnesium lactate is an organic salt of magnesium and lactic acid.

It has relatively good bioavailability in humans, much better than inorganic salts like magnesium oxide (45).

It has been shown to effectively raise red blood cell magnesium levels in humans, so could be a good choice for correcting magnesium deficiency, but has not been studied for migraines specifically (46).

Magnesium lactate is not as popular as other types of magnesium salts but is available from a few reputable companies, including this one.

10. Magnesium L-Threonate (Good Choice)

In recent years, a new form of magnesium, called magnesium L-threonate, has become available.

Studies have found that this form of magnesium can cross the blood-brain barrier and enter the brain better than other forms, which may be especially beneficial for learning and memory (47).

In fact, magnesium threonate has been shown to improve memory and enhance learning in both rodents and humans, although more research is needed (48, 49, 50).

These effects may be due to the synergism between magnesium and threonate, improving neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to form new connections) and increasing the availability of magnesium within the brain (51).

No research has investigated whether magnesium threonate is effective for migraines, but the fact that it easily enters the brain is promising.

Our favorite brand of magnesium l-threonate can be found here.

11. Magnesium Malate (Good Choice)

Magnesium malate is the salt of magnesium and malic acid – a naturally occurring organic acid that is responsible for the tart flavor of many fruits (52, 53).

Magnesium malate has been studied as a possible treatment for fibromyalgia, but other than that, there isn’t much research about this supplement (54, 55).

One recent study on rats found that this form of magnesium was more bioavailable than magnesium citrate, so it might be a good choice (56).

Our favorite brand of magnesium malate is this one.

12. Magnesium Orotate (Poor Choice)

Magnesium orotate is magnesium combined with orotic acid, which is a chemical that helps create energy in the muscle of the heart (57).

This combination has been studied for its potential beneficial effects in heart failure and cardiovascular disease, but no research has been done on migraines (58, 59, 60).

It also doesn’t seem to cause as much diarrhea as other forms of magnesium, which could be a benefit for people with already loose stools (61).

However, magnesium orotate contains far less magnesium per serving than other types of magnesium, so it is probably not the best option for people with migraines.

13. Magnesium Oxide (Poor Choice)

Of all the forms of magnesium that have been studied, magnesium oxide consistently shows the lowest bioavailability at 4-5% (34, 45).

It is typically used to treat constipation because it has a strong laxative effect (62). For this reason, it’s not a great choice to increase magnesium levels.

Magnesium oxide is one of the most frequently used forms to prevent migraines, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best.

14. Magnesium Taurate (Good Choice)

Magnesium taurate is another chelated form of magnesium, made by bonding magnesium with the amino acid taurine.

This form of magnesium is believed to be especially helpful for the prevention and treatment of migraines.

This is because it provides magnesium AND taurine, which can help dampen neuronal hyperactivity in the brain and reduce the likelihood of developing a migraine (63).

More research is needed, but magnesium taurate appears to be a good option for migraine headaches.

Our favorite brand of magnesium taurate is this one.

15. Sucrosomial Magnesium (?)

One of the newest forms of supplemental magnesium is called sucrosomial magnesium, and is available from companies like Pure Encapsulations.

In this form, the magnesium ions are encapsulated inside a membrane with sugars. This combination increases the permeability of the gut, allowing more magnesium to cross into the bloodstream (64).

However, it is debatable whether increasing gut permeability to boost magnesium absorption is actually a good thing since increased gut permeability has been linked to lots of negative health outcomes (65).

One small human study found that sucrosomial magnesium is more effective at raising magnesium levels than magnesium citrate, oxide, or bisglycinate (64). However, more human research is needed.

16. Liquid Magnesium (Good Option)

Magnesium can also be taken in a liquid form, which is typically made by dissolving magnesium chloride or magnesium citrate in water.

Magnesium chloride has been shown to have good bioavailability, but it has not been studied specifically for migraines (45).

Liquid magnesium is very concentrated and can be taken in very small quantities (no more than a few teaspoons). It is a good option for people who do not tolerate pills.

One of the most popular liquid magnesium supplements is this one.

17. Intravenous (IV) Magnesium (Not for Home Use)

People whose migraines are accompanied by auras (visual disturbances) and women who experience menstrual migraines may be more likely to benefit from intravenous magnesium sulfate (12).

This form of magnesium is given through an IV in large doses (1 gram) and is usually administered only in hospitals.

18. Topical Magnesium (?)

Magnesium oil and bath salts (Epsom salts) are gaining popularity as magnesium sources and can be used in several different ways:

  • Magnesium oil is actually not an oil – it’s made from magnesium chloride flakes and water. It can be applied directly to the skin and can be used during massages or added to baths.
  • Magnesium oil spray can be sprayed on the skin after showering. Most people use just enough spray to lightly coat the skin, then rub it in.
  • Magnesium lotion is made from magnesium oil and works great for dry skin.
  • Epsom salts are made from magnesium sulfate and can be used for foot soaks or baths.

The idea is that magnesium can be absorbed through the skin and enter the bloodstream without the unwanted side effects that can come with oral magnesium supplements.

No high-quality research has been conducted on this topic, but the studies that do exist report mixed results (66, 67, 68).

It appears that magnesium is absorbed through the skin, but it is unclear in what amounts. Therefore the optimal dosage of magnesium cream/oil/salts for boosting magnesium levels is not known.

There haven’t been any studies to test whether topical forms of magnesium are able to prevent migraines, but some people anecdotally report that it helps.

Which Form of Magnesium Is Best?

The majority of studies have used magnesium oxide or magnesium citrate to prevent migraines (17, 26).

The American Headache Society officially recommends magnesium citrate since it is well studied, affordable, readily available, and has a relatively high bioavailability.

But, just because some forms of magnesium haven’t been studied specifically for the treatment of migraines doesn’t mean they aren’t effective.

Many practitioners recommend other forms, like magnesium glycinate, lactate, or malate since they are also well absorbed can have other health benefits.

Some formulations, like magnesium taurate or threonate are especially promising for migraines due to their beneficial effects on the brain, but more research is needed.

The forms that should probably be avoided for migraines are magnesium ascorbate, aspartate, carbonate, gluconate, glutamate, hydroxide, orotate, and oxide.

If you find that you can’t tolerate any of the oral magnesium supplements, it might be worth trying magnesium lotion, spray, or Epsom salt baths.

At the end of the day, the best supplement is the one you will actually use! If you can’t tolerate one brand or variety, you can always try another.

Safety and Side Effects

The most common side effect from magnesium supplementation is mild diarrhea which tends to get worse with higher doses (2).

This is because unabsorbed magnesium functions as an osmotic laxative, pulling extra water into your digestive tract and softening your stool (69).

To avoid diarrhea, the tolerable upper intake level (UL) (the largest amount that can be taken each day without causing negative side effects) for magnesium is 350 mg per day for adults (2).

However, diarrhea seems to be the only potential adverse effect from taking more than this amount.

No evidence has shown any negative effects from magnesium supplementation during pregnancy and breastfeeding, so the UL is the same for pregnant women (2).

There is a higher risk of toxicity for those with impaired kidney function, so it is important to consult your doctor before deciding to take supplements (2).

Overall, taking magnesium supplements carries a very low risk for most people.

Magnesium in Food

Typically, the best and most natural way to consume nutrients is through food.

If you find that you can’t tolerate magnesium supplements, or you would like to avoid having another pill to take, consuming food sources high in magnesium is an option.

In fact, some researchers even recommend getting your magnesium from food as a BETTER alternative to supplements (70).

Here are some foods with the highest amounts of magnesium:

  • Amaranth: 160 mg (40% DV) per cup, cooked (71)
  • Spinach: 155 mg (38% DV) per cup, cooked (72)
  • Pumpkin seeds (pepitas): 150 mg (38% DV) per ounce (73)
  • Swiss chard: 150 mg (38% DV) per cup, cooked (74)
  • Tofu: 146 mg (36% DV) per cup, raw (75)
  • Black beans: 120 mg (30% DV) per cup, cooked (76)
  • Adzuki beans: 120 mg (30% DV) per cup, cooked (77)
  • Quinoa: 118 mg (30% DV) per cup, cooked (78)
  • White beans: 113 mg (28% DV) per cup, cooked (79)
  • Pink beans: 110 mg (27% DV) per cup, cooked (80)
  • Brazil nuts: 105 mg (26% DV) per ounce (81)
  • Coconut milk: 104 mg (26% DV) per cup (82)
  • Edamame: 99 mg (25% DV) per cup, cooked (83)
  • Mung beans: 97 mg (24% DV) per cup, cooked (84)
  • Navy beans: 96 mg (24% DV) per cup, cooked (85)
  • Spelt: 95 mg (24% DV) per cup, cooked (86)
  • Black eyed peas: 91 mg (23% DV) per cup, cooked (87)
  • Cranberry beans: 88 mg (22% DV) per cup, cooked (88)
  • Acorn squash: 88 mg (22% DV) per cup, cooked (89)
  • Prickly pear: 87 mg (22% DV) per fruit (90)
  • Buckwheat: 85 mg (21% DV) per cup, cooked (91)
  • Pinto beans: 85 mg (21% DV) per cup, cooked (92)
  • Brown rice: 85 mg (21% DV) per cup, cooked (93)
  • Caviar: 84 mg (21% DV) per ounce (94)
  • King crab: 84 mg (21% DV) per leg (95)
  • White potato: 83 mg (21% DV) per large, with skin (96)
  • Lima beans: 80 mg (20% DV) per cup, cooked (97)
  • Almonds: 80 mg (20% DV) per ounce (98)

About 50% of dietary magnesium is absorbed, which is MUCH better bioavailability than most of the supplements mentioned above (2).

If you don’t mind making some lifestyle changes, dietary magnesium is a great alternative to supplementation.

Final Thoughts

For people who suffer from migraines, magnesium supplements may be a safe and affordable alternative to medications.

Magnesium oxide is the most commonly used magnesium for migraine prevention, but it isn’t well-absorbed and causes diarrhea in many people.

A better option is to take 400-600 mg of magnesium citrate, glycinate, taurate, or threonate each day.

Undesirable side effects like diarrhea can be avoided by taking several, smaller doses (200-300 mg each) throughout the day.

But supplements aren’t the only answer. If you’re willing to make changes to your diet, getting your magnesium through food can also be effective.

It’s important to remember that magnesium is just one possible treatment for migraines. Typically, migraines have more than just one cause, so it’s unlikely that one single treatment will completely eliminate your symptoms.

{Want to learn more about migraines? Join The Functional Nutrition Library to learn about other causes and treatment options.}

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