Help me make mag spray and save $20 (SAIT)
October 9, 2012 11:50 AM   Subscribe

Calling all chemists: I'm trying to recreate a store-bought magnesium gluconate elixir spray and am having some trouble.

I use this Vinco brand "ionic" magnesium gluconate spray sublingually to help with sleep. I spray some under my tongue each time I wake during the night. It boosts the amount of mag in my system faster than tablets (which I also take) and helps me get back to sleep.

It works well, but at $20 a bottle, which can get used up in less than a week, it's not a great deal. So I've been trying to achieve a workable homemade version. I'm having two issues:

- The homemade doesn't have the slightly sweet flavor of the store-bought version, and I can't figure out where the sweet flavor in the storebought is coming from. The storebought tastes sort of schnapps-y.

- The homemade also doesn't seem to help get me to sleep anywhere near as well as the store-bought version, and I can't figure out why that might be true. I can't use the homemade alone to get me to sleep; I can either do half a dozen sprays of store-bought or a combo of two sprays of store-bought and a dozen sprays of homemade and get to sleep. No matter how much homemade I use, it alone won't get me down.

- To further complicate matters, the new lot of store-bought I've recently started receiving doesn't work as well as the old (I have tested this blind several times with the same results) so I can't even count on just buying more of the "good stuff." The manufacturer tells me the new lot is "made from the same mother tincture" as the previous one, and they don't know why it's not working.

I have tried to pose innocuous questions to the company in order to find out more about the manufacturing process, but unsurprisingly, they are not forthcoming.

Making the stuff at home:

The store-bought spray is 20% grain alcohol, 80% water, with .89 mg/ml magnesium. The manufacturer told me the alcohol is for suspension and preservative purposes. There are no other ingredients mentioned besides those three.

I bought a bag of magnesium gluconate powder from and 190 proof grain alcohol from the liquor store.

I figured these amounts out to reach the dosage the store-bought delivers:

5 tsp. magnesium (13000 magnesium gluconate, which is 700 mg elemental magnesium, since it's roughly 5% available)
150 ml 190 proof alcohol
+600 ml water
750 ml magnesium spray

Here are the preparation methods we've tried so far:

Method #1: We tried dissolving the magnesium in the water, and despite much warming and stirring, it didn't dissolve before we gave up after a few hours.

Method #2: We tried dissolving it in the grain alcohol, by letting it sit until it dissolved, which worked, then adding the water.

Method #3: We've also tried warming the alcohol slightly and stirring it in, and that caused it to dissolve a bit faster, then adding the water.

The result from both #2 and #3 tastes the same: a little burn-y and slightly bitter, not at all like the sweet schnapps-y, liqueur-like flavor of the storebought.

So my questions for you:

Where the heck is that sweet flavor coming from in the store-bought? Is it possible there's some other ingredient that doesn't need to be listed? Could it be glycerin? What else could it be?

Is there some method of creating this sort of thing that's available to a supplement company that's not possible in my kitchen? Could that mystery method be creating the sweet flavor without any other ingredients?

Is there a place I could send the good stuff to have it tested as to ingredients?

Any ideas on how to replicate the store-bought more successfully?

Thanks, hivemind!
posted by jocelmeow to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The product web page says that the Mg gluconate concentration is .89 mg/mL; why do you think the quoted concentration has anything to do with availability? I think your concentration is much too high.

Where the heck is that sweet flavor coming from in the store-bought? Is it possible there's some other ingredient that doesn't need to be listed?

Does anything need to be listed? Is this crap regulated at all? If it tastes sweet, it's probably sugar. Or ethylene glycol. Who knows.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:20 PM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

What you've been buying is a supplement. They are not regulated by the FDA like say a can of soda. They don't have to include all their ingredients.

Likely culprits are a sweeter alcohol (which you could easily substitute) or the introduction of a commercial artificial sweetener.

I am not a doctor, so I can't speak to medical risks... but from a chemistry perspective, mixing things in very small batches as you are is a good way to accidentally get a very inaccurate mixtures.

Others will hopefully have more advice on the necessary additives. But I'd suggest mixing this in larger quantities to ensure accurate measurement.
posted by French Fry at 12:21 PM on October 9, 2012

But I'd suggest mixing this in larger quantities to ensure accurate measurement.

13 g into 750 mL is plenty large quantities, unless you're trying to use a bathroom scale to weigh out your solid. (Actually, how are you weighing it out? You say 5 tsp; how do you know how much a tsp of the powder weighs?)
posted by mr_roboto at 12:25 PM on October 9, 2012

My advice was regarding using volume measurements, which I assumed based on tsp instead of mg/ml
posted by French Fry at 12:30 PM on October 9, 2012

FWIW, I do regulatory affairs/compliance at a pharmaceutical manufacturing company. Looks like this is being marketed as a homeopathic, so while it may look like a drug, it will probably have the following wording somewhere -

"These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)."

Homeopathics are actually subject to much less strict controls than drug products, including not being required to accurately list ingredients. They would almost definitely be using USP grade ethanol, so you are on the money with the grain alcohol. Glycerin might be a good bet for sweetener, commonly used in these types of products, but you could also use whatever you prefer/have on hand - should not make a difference.

Method #3 is closest to what we actually do for manufacturing batches. If it was a production batch we would heat the water with constant stirring, add the powder and sweetner, add the alcohol. Apart from that I would actually weigh out the magnesium and stick to their mg/mL rating.

One other thought - any chance it could be placebo effect? If you've been using the Vinco for a while now, it very well could have become a part of your sleep routine. Just a thought.
posted by cccp47 at 12:31 PM on October 9, 2012

Where the heck is that sweet flavor coming from in the store-bought? Is it possible there's some other ingredient that doesn't need to be listed? Could it be glycerin? What else could it be?

I think the extra sweetness is almost certainly sodium gluconate, which is more soluble in water than the Mg gluconate, but less soluble in alcohol.

More soluble in water but less in alcohol means the Nagl dissociates into ions in water more than the Mggl does, which means that the Nagl is supplying extra gluconate ions in the solution, which in turn causes much less of the Mggl to break down into ions than would if the Mggl was by itself.

And I'm fairly sure that's the key to the superiority of the store version.

Free Mg ions in the alimentary canal have the effect of drawing fluid out of the body and are not easily absorbed into the bloodstream as a result, but by using Nagl to keep the Mg ions bound to the gluconate, the intestines are tricked into absorbing the Mggl, and once they get into the bloodstream the concentration of gluconate ion falls by dilution, Ph adjustment, or metabolic use, or some combination, and the Mg ions can then exert their ability to put you to sleep.
posted by jamjam at 12:31 PM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just a word of warning: mr_roboto was joking, do not add ethylene glycol to make the mixture sweet...
posted by NoDef at 12:34 PM on October 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

...and the Mg ions can then dissociate from the gluconate and exert their ability to put you to sleep.
posted by jamjam at 12:36 PM on October 9, 2012

I'm with the others in weighing versus other measures, and add only that my melatonin supplement has fructose in it.
posted by cobaltnine at 12:45 PM on October 9, 2012

mr_roboto, Vinco told me that .89 mg/ml was the elemental magnesium content, the amount that is bioavailable from the spray. So that is how we arrived at the amount to use in the solution. The magnesium gluconate powder is 5.4% elemental magnesium.

We have been measuring it out in teaspoons because PureBulk provided the info that 1 tsp. contained 2617 mg magnesium (with 5.4% of that elemental) and volume was simplest for the powder (we do have graduated cylinders). We do have a gram scale we could use, though.

cccp47, we can give your mixing method a shot (including weighing the mag) - sounds like it'd be worth a stab. Thanks for the reminder about supplement ingredients; I'd forgotten that since my Whole Foods days. I cannot conclusively rule out placebo effect because the store-bought and homemade taste different, but my insomnia is so unusually severe (I'm on six prescriptions at once, by my doctor's design) that what works and what doesn't tends to be very black and white.

jamjam, whoa! We will definitely look into that. Thank you. Can you say how much we should use, or is that unanswerable?

Thanks, all. Will sit back here now unless anything else comes up that needs answers.
posted by jocelmeow at 1:01 PM on October 9, 2012

Not a chemist! But I am a barista lol. Have you tried blending the powder into whatever liquid is your base? This will aerate it, force it to combine more evenly, and you could add a flavored syrup
posted by spunweb at 1:44 PM on October 9, 2012

Look into calcium gluconate as well.

Ca in solution is doubly ionized like the Mg, and unlike the Na, and that would mean the gluconate ion Cagl would make available would be too, but Cagl would have to be solubilized by something like sodium ascorbate to work as I described.

There are injectable solutions of calcium gluconate containing sodium ascorbate out there that I think you could get hold of.
posted by jamjam at 1:46 PM on October 9, 2012

PureBulk provided the info that 1 tsp. contained 2617 mg magnesium

If you are measuring with an actual teaspoon, you will certainly not be measuring accurately to anything like four significant figures.
posted by James Scott-Brown at 2:22 PM on October 9, 2012

Ignore that last answer I gave, I misread the formula for magnesium gluconate when I went to double-check the details of my original answer-- all three of calcium, magnesium, and sodium give rise to singly ionized gluconate ions in solution, and so sodium gluconate would provide gluconate ions in solution which would directly inhibit the dissociation of magnesium gluconate and thereby facilitate the achievement of desired concentration of Mg ions in the bloodstream as I described in my first answer.
posted by jamjam at 2:55 PM on October 9, 2012

> Vinco told me that .89 mg/ml was the elemental magnesium content, the amount that is bioavailable from the spray

Biochemist here, pharmaceutical industry background. I think the company rep who told you that was probably confused. The website says the concentration is 0.89 mg/ml of Mg gluconate, not straight-up Mg. I'd trust the website (which has presumably been checked for accuracy) over verbal information from a phone agent, who may not grasp the difference between "Mg gluconate active ingredient" and "bioactive Mg".

Anyway, try making a solution that's 0.89 mg/ml Mg gluconate and don't worry about calculating how much is bioactive or bioavailable Mg (that's a complex thing to determine anyway). For 750 ml of solution, this is 0.89 mg/ml x 750 ml = 668 mg Mg gluconate. This is 0.668 grams, which isn't much.

You won't be able to measure this by volume/teaspoon, so use your gram balance. Hopefully it will be fairly accurate for weights under 1 gram; if not you'll need to find a better balance.

I think the taste problems may go away when you use less Mg gluconate. It will also dissolve faster, since it's pretty soluble in water (couldn't find exact solubility; MSDS just says "soluble"). It's not very soluble in alcohol, so dissolve the Mg gluconate in 600 ml of water before adding the alcohol. Keep it stirring briskly and pour the alcohol into the solution in a thin stream, to dilute it quickly so it doesn't make the Mg gluconate crash out of solution.

Actually, since the alcohol is just a preservative you could skip it and make a fresh batch every few days. In this case you'd dissolve the Mg gluconate in 750 ml water, store it refrigerated, and toss it out after 3 - 5 days, or whatever you feel good about.
posted by Quietgal at 3:00 PM on October 9, 2012

Hmm, just realized that Mg gluconate can be anhydrous (free of water) or a hydrate, meaning that it can have water tightly bound at the molecular level even though it looks like a dry powder. This will change the molecular weight and that makes a difference for chemists and pharmaceutical companies, but for your purposes it won't matter. It's only about a 10% difference* and your dose - a spritz under the tongue - isn't calculated that precisely.

*Your stuff is probably the dihydrate, which means its molecular weight is 450.6 g/mol compared to the anhydrous molecular weight of 414.6 g/mol. They're within about 10% of each other. We can get deeper into the geek stuff if you want, but you don't need to worry about it if you don't enjoy nerding out about chemistry.
posted by Quietgal at 3:28 PM on October 9, 2012

OK, the statement about the "mother tincture" doesn't add up. In chemistry, a tincture is a solution that uses alcohol as a solvent instead of water, but Mg gluconate is not very soluble in alcohol and it would be impractical to make a master stock of Mg gluconate tincture. In herbal medicine, a tincture is an alcoholic extract of plant or animal matter, but the product ingredients don't list anything like this.

There may be some ingredients that are not listed on the label (which the manufacturer buys or prepares as a tincture), which is possible given how loosely regulated dietary supplements are, but I can't even speculate what. Or again, the company rep may be using technical terms too loosely. If you really want to get to the bottom of this you'd have to throw some serious money at chemical analysis (google "contract analytical chemistry labs"), but it's probably more cost-effective to proceed empirically. Try making a solution of 0.89 mg/ml Mg gluconate in water + alcohol, as above, and see how that works for you. (The alcohol may have some other effects in addition to being a preservative.) After using it for a week, if you think it needs a little improvement you can post another AskMe ;-)
posted by Quietgal at 4:42 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for your considerable thoughts, Quietgal.

I didn't mention this in my question, but we did originally start at a lower concentration, assuming the 0.89 mg/ml was the magnesium gluconate amount. I should add some details here, some of which are new to me.

I've been saying "we" here for simplicity's sake, but my husband, el_lupino, has been the one doing the prep, as I'm mostly bedridden. (As such, I am the person who does not have a full-time job *and* an ill spouse to care for, so I'm the one with time to ask the question!)

I knew we had originally a lower-dose version, but I didn't realize what his method had been for it. In that earlier version, he measured out a gram of the mag gluconate using our kitchen scale, dissolved it in warm water, and added alcohol to bring it to the right volume and percentage. So basically what you describe. That version tasted basically the same as the current one does - burn-y and a little bitter. I think the flavor I'm getting is really the grain alcohol itself.

I tried using it again last night, and unfortunately it didn't work any better than the last time I tried it.

You are right that Vinco's page for this spray says magnesium gluconate 0.89 mg/ml, and the person who told me it was 0.89 mg/ml elemental magnesium was in fact a customer service person over email.

Both el_lupino and I had the same reaction you did to the "mother tincture" thing. Sounds pretty woo-woo. The exact text I got from them in email was, "Homeopathics researched the two batches that you inquired about. They were both made using the exact same formula, and both lots were from the same mother tincture. R and D does not have an explanation as to why it is not working for you."

The fact that they could produce a batch that doesn't work and not be able to say why is not exactly confidence-inspiring.

Thanks for the correct verbiage on contract analysis. I can't imagine we have the budget for it, but it will be interesting to investigate what it would take, at least.
posted by jocelmeow at 8:09 AM on October 10, 2012

I'm always happy to spout off about my profession, jocelmeow! Unfortunately I don't have much to add at this point. My experience is in the pharmaceutical industry, which is pretty tightly regulated, and I have no idea how things may be done in companies that make dietary supplements. (Having an R&D department is a good sign, but having a Homeopathics department tanks their credibility in my book. As does batch-to-batch variability like you're seeing.)

I don't know how aggressively you want to pursue the question, but here's an outline of the way this product would be made if it were an FDA-approved drug. Maybe this will give you some idea of things to ask the company about. First off, the entire manufacturing process would be done in compliance with GMP regulations, which aim to produce consistent high-quality products and generate a mountain of paperwork to prove it. Assume a ton of documentation at every step here.

All incoming raw materials (including water) would be tested by QC before use, everybody involved in manufacturing and QC testing would be trained on every piece of equipment and procedure, and every piece of equipment would be tested and calibrated regularly. Every product would have a master batch record (the master recipe) on file with the FDA and each batch would have its own individual batch record which details every step of the manufacturing process. Every step would be performed by one person with another person watching to make sure it was done correctly, and every step would be signed off by the operator and the witness. After the batch is finished it would be tested by QC and the final Certificate of Compliance would be signed off by someone with real skin in the game - a Director or maybe Vice President or something.

This just barely scratches the surface - there's assay validation and stability testing and even shipping studies to make sure the stuff can survive being sloshed around in a truck - but it gives some idea of how much work is involved in making a real drug product. You might ask if they manufacture under GMP conditions, just to get an idea how woo/non-woo they are.

Beyond that, it seems like for some reason Mg gluconate spray just doesn't work reliably for you. Who knows what was in the "good" batch? (Raw material analysis - do they even do it? I'm betting no.) Maybe the best way forward is to look into other routes of administration to get Mg into your system quickly. Maybe an oral solution that you'd drink? Ask your doctor before fooling around with this because too much Mg causes problems too.

Sorry I can't be of more help. Without knowing how the manufacturer actually makes their products I'm just speculating, and humans are wildly variable in our responses to drugs and foods anyway. As a fellow crappy sleeper I feel your pain and wish you the best of luck. Let me know if you find any answers!
posted by Quietgal at 9:53 AM on October 10, 2012

We needed to make me a new batch of the homemade stuff last night, and just on a whim, I asked el_lupino to make some versions sweetened with sugar. He made three, of increasing sweetness. And weirdly, this boosted the homemade's effectiveness! It didn't work as well as the good store-bought stuff, but it worked better than the unsweetened homemade. I don't have any good explanation for this, except maybe that my blood sugar is dropping a little bit at night and waking me up (something my doctor has posited before) and a little hit of sugar is enough to counteract that.

I've ordered both sodium and calcium gluconate and am waiting for them both to arrive so we can play around with them too.
posted by jocelmeow at 9:25 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older Metaphorical question, but a serious one: Stuck at...   |   New Paperweight Anyone? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.