People are finally realizing the important role that essential minerals play in human health. In particular, there has been a focus on magnesium. This mineral is one you don’t want to miss.

Magnesium has some important roles in the body—it regulates heart rhythm, helps muscles contract, prevents muscle cramps, stabilizes mood and blood sugar, and is necessary for energy production. Quite literally, we can’t survive without magnesium.

Increasing popularity of magnesium is likely due to its importance to the human body. But did you know there are several different types of magnesium? Did you know each has its own unique benefits?

Learning more about what each different form has to offer can help you choose the proper magnesium supplement for what ails you.

The Problem of Magnesium Deficiency

Everyone tries to eat a healthy diet. Maybe you throw in a one-a-day multivitamin to cover your nutritional bases. Even those who pay the most attention to their day-to-day nutrition might be at risk for micronutrient deficiencies. You think you’re getting enough magnesium, but is that really true?

Magnesium deficiency may actually be more prevalent than once thought. Recent surveys indicate that most American adults have an average daily magnesium intake below what is recommended.

Men, who need somewhere around 410 mg of magnesium per day, are only getting 350mg/day, and women, who require about 320 mg of magnesium per day are getting a mere 260mg/day from their diets.Moshfegh2009 It isn’t just a few people—approximately 50% of Americans consume less than the estimated average requirements or magnesium.Costello2016

Why is this an issue? Magnesium deficiency, even a “sub-clinical” one, can lead to negative health conditions.

Low magnesium can predispose individuals to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and muscle cramping.

Several studies have linked a low magnesium status to poor sleep, symptoms of depression, impaired learning and memory, and a worse exercise capacity.Rangaraj2016,Mcdonald1988,Bardgett2005,Slutsky2010

Low magnesium also raises the risk for another health condition—vitamin D deficiency. We need magnesium in order to fully activate vitamin D and achieve proper levels of hormones, bone health, and general well being.Uwitonze2018 If you’re deficient in magnesium, you may also be deficient in vitamin D.

To put it another way—you’ll feel like absolute crap.

Why is Mg Deficiency So Common?

The reason many are struggling with low magnesium might not have to do with the foods we aren’t eating, but rather the foods we are.

Modern food manufacturing actually removes a lot of magnesium (and other minerals) naturally present in food. In addition, soil erosion and contamination means that foods aren’t enriched with as much magnesium during the growing process. So, while kale, nuts and legumes, avocados, and unrefined whole grains are all touted as foods with high levels of magnesium, they might not be providing as much magnesium as advertised on the labels.

Supplementing to Avoid Deficiency

Along with trying to eat a diet high in magnesium-rich foods, supplementation with different forms of magnesium is another step to take to keep your magnesium levels up and avoid the health consequences that might come with deficiency. But how much should you take?

The recommended intake of magnesium for adults is around 350 mg of magnesium per day. One important note—this is for supplemental magnesium and doesn’t include what you’re getting from diet. While high doses are good, higher doses might not be better, in the case of magnesium.

Supplementing with doses similar to this recommendation has been shown to reduce blood pressure, lower anxiety symptoms, and promote sleep.Zhang2016,Eby2006,Abbasi2012 You can enhance these benefits if you use magnesium (as magnesium glycinate) as part of a nootropic supplement that also contains melatonin, L-theanine, and L-glycine for a potent sleep cocktail.

With the dose now established, the question becomes: which type of magnesium should you take?

Types of Magnesium Supplements

What’s the best form of magnesium supplement? There isn’t one single answer This is because each person probably has a specific “need” for this mineral—whether to prevent a deficiency, maximize bone health, or just get a boost in mental or physical performance.

Some forms of magnesium will work better than others, and one form that proves beneficial for one person might not work as well for another. The better question to ask : “what is the best magnesium supplement for you?”

Many forms of magnesium supplements exist, each a result of a different combination of magnesium and some other molecule—this is known as a chelate.

When a mineral is chelated, this means it’s bound to a negatively charged group or anion. This could be a metal or amino acid.

Magnesium needs to be chelated to become more stable, allowing it to survive passage from the stomach to the small intestine in one piece, allowing for greater absorption and bioavailability.

With the basics out of the way, let’s explore the various forms of magnesium supplements and the benefits each has to offer.

Magnesium Citrate

Magnesium citrate is a supplement formed by magnesium bound to citric acid. It’s considered the best for high magnesium absorption and most highly-bioavailable form of magnesium supplement. In a study comparing the bioavailability of magnesium citrate to magnesium oxide, magnesium citrate was found to be substantially (12%) more soluble than magnesium oxide.Lindberg1990

The most common use for this form of magnesium has been as a laxative, taken in the form of a high-volume drink. In fact, one study found that a colon-cleansing regimen using magnesium citrate was significantly better than one using castor-oil (a potent laxative) while also eliciting none of the side-effects that the castor-oil induced—including abdominal pain and nausea.Chen1999 The laxative effects and doses in this form, however, are more used clinically.

As a capsule/pill form, magnesium citrate may also be great for treating muscle cramps. One study looking at magnesium citrate supplementation concluded that it was effective in reducing nocturnal leg cramps, probably by boosting levels of magnesium in the body.Roffe2002 Unfortunately, a few side effects, including diarrhea, were noted.

Who Should Use It?

Since it’s so bioavailable and likely to be absorbed easily, magnesium citrate is also great for those looking to increase their magnesium levels naturally.

Dose: Start out with ~ 200 mg of magnesium citrate and gradually increase to ~350mg/day, or until side effects develop. At this point, it’s likely your magnesium is at a safe level.

Magnesium Oxide

Magnesium oxide is magnesium bound to oxygen. It’s the form with the least magnesium absorption capacity, but contains the highest percentage of elemental magnesium per dose; so it may actually result in a greater absolute amount of magnesium absorbed in certain instances.

Magnesium oxide is great as a “general purpose” magnesium supplement—it can be good for muscle relaxation, as a nerve tonic, and at higher doses, for a laxative effect. Magnesium oxide has also been shown to effectively reduce acidity in the rumen of cows, and may do the same in the human stomach.Schaefer1982

Other studies on magnesium oxide have shown this form to be effective for increasing bone mineral content in young girls,Carpenter2006 inhibiting blood clot formation in patients with coronary artery disease,Shechter1999 and easing migraine pain.Tarighat2012

Who Should Use It?

If you want to boost your magnesium levels due to a deficiency or for some of the other health benefits—magnesium oxide might be great for you since it contains a high amount of magnesium in each supplement.

Dose: 350mg/day. Try to take magnesium oxide with a meal to reduce the possibility of stomach-related side effects.

Magnesium Sulfate

You’ve probably heard this form of magnesium by another name: epsom salts.

These salts have been touted for their muscle-relaxation and pain-reducing benefits. The uniqueness of magnesium in this form is that it can be soaked in (the most common preparation) as a bath.

Many people use epsom salt baths for muscle relaxation, to ease athletic-related pains, or simply as a stress-free soak. The benefits of epsom salts are largely anecdotal, however.

Research is unclear on whether transdermal (through the skin) magnesium is actually effective in raising blood and intracellular magnesium, and therefore it isn’t recommended solely for this purpose.Grober2017 Another form of transdermal magnesium comes in the form of magnesium oil. However, as with epsom salts, few studies have been conducted on magnesium oil for health conditions.

More research has been done on oral magnesium sulfate supplementation, showing numerous benefits. Several studies have shown evidence that magnesium sulfate supplementation after surgery lowers the patient’s need for pain medications and reduces discomfort.Shah2016,Tramer1996,Taheri2015 This may provide some merit for the pain-relief many claim as a result of magnesium sulfate baths.

Along with the analgesic benefits, magnesium sulfate also was found to reduce cognitive impairments in memory formation, support recruitment of synaptic proteins, and protect learning and memory capacities in a rat model of Alzhemier’s disease.Xu2014 On a seemingly unrelated note, it also might help with asthma.Song2012

Who Should Use It?

Magnesium sulfate is not commonly available over the counter. But, it might be the ideal supplement if you’re dealing with acute or chronic pain related to surgery or a recent operation, and maybe want to lower your reliance on the typical painkillers like Advil or Tylenol.

A lot of studies have used it post-surgery and seen benefits for pain—although many of these used IV injection rather than an oral formulation.

Dose: 350mg/day is probably best. Again, work your way up to prevent side effects of too much magnesium too quickly.

If the bath-time soak sounds more up your alley, purchase some epsom salts from a local pharmacy. Dissolve these in a warm bath and soak until your heart (and your muscles) are content, but beware the placebo effect.

Magnesium Chloride

This chelated form of magnesium is sometimes found in gel or lotion form where it can be applied to the skin for muscle cramps and relaxation of aches and pains.

Interestingly, a topical form of magnesium chloride was actually shown to increase intracellular magnesium levels by 59% after 12 weeks of use—similar to results obtained with oral supplements. People who used the oil also showed evidence for detoxification of heavy metals and a better calcium/magnesium ratio after treatment.Watkins2010 It should be noted that this was a small pilot study.

As far as oral supplementation goes, magnesium chloride also has beneficial effects.

Magnesium chloride supplementation has been shown to improve symptoms of depression in elderly patientsBarraganRodriguez2008 and adults with depressive symptoms,Tarleton2017 and lead to better insulin sensitivity and systolic blood pressure in non-diabetic adults.Mooren2011 It might also lower stress. In hypomagnesemic and diabetic individuals, oral magnesium sulfate supplementation decreased levels of the disease-associated marker c-reactive protein (CRP).SimentalMendia2014

Who Should Use It?

This form is also great as a general way to boost your magnesium levels.

Dose: 350mg/day is recommended for adults. If you opt for a magnesium chloride gel, reference the package for what equivalent dose is provided by the topical application.

Magnesium Taurate

Magnesium and the amino acid taurine make up this form of magnesium supplement.

The effects that taurine has on the body make this supplement form more beneficial for the cardiovascular system. This is why magnesium taurate is prescribed for many cardiac conditions to improve heart health and function.

Indeed, one of the proposed benefits of this supplement is its vascular-protective properties—it might reduce hypertension, prevent atherogenesis, improve insulin sensitivity, and reduce blood platelet reactivity. This is because of the dual roles that magnesium and taurine play separately, which might compound if administered together.Mccarty1996

One study in rats showed that magnesium taurate administration reduced blood pressure and increased antioxidants along with ATPase (an energy producing enzyme) activity in proteins of the eye.Choudhary2016

Who Should Use It?

For high blood pressure and cardiovascular protection, boosting magnesium is a must (especially if you’re deficient).

Magnesium taurate may provide some extra cardiovascular protection if this is something you’re worried about, and might be the supplement to look for.

Dose: 350mg/day. Check the bottle label to determine how many capsules this is for the particular brand you purchase.

Magnesium L-Threonate

Like all cells in your body, the brain needs magnesium too.

A unique benefit of magnesium threonate (magnesium + the amino acid threonine) is its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and elevate brain magnesium levels.

This makes the supplement potentially beneficial for people suffering from or at risk for cognitive decline. It may have some other brain benefits as well.

Elevating brain magnesium in rats by supplementing with magnesium L-threonate enhanced learning capabilities, working memory, and short- and long-term memory.Slutsky2010 Other studies using animal models have shown that magnesium L-threonate can prevent short term memory deficits, reduce expression of the pro-inflammatory cytokine TNF-ɑ,WangJ2013 enhance synaptic plasticity,Abumaria2011 and even reverse cognitive deficits in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease.Wei2014

A lack of human studies means this compound has yet to be tested, but the data are consistent with the fact that in many animal studies, magnesium deficiency is associated with several brain alterations.Spasov2008

Who Should Use It?

Magnesium L-threonate might be the ideal magnesium form for you if you’re looking to enhance brain health in particular. While it may generally boost magnesium levels throughout the body, effects might be even stronger in the brain with this form of magnesium.

Dose: 350mg/day.

Magnesium Glycinate

Magnesium glycinate is a compound of magnesium bound to the amino acid glycine. Glycine has some pretty special benefits on its own. It’s a relaxing neurotransmitter that might enhance the induction of a natural calm by magnesium—together they’re like a spa day for the body and brain.

Magnesium glycinate can boost magnesium levels first and foremost, but may also promote calmness, relaxation, and enhance mood.

Since the amino acid glycine, and magnesium have both been shown to improve the quality of sleepBannai2012 and taking them together in a supplement is likely to have a similar or enhanced effect.

Mood may also get a benefit. Some case histories report that oral supplementation with 125mg - 300mg of magnesium glycinate led to rapid recovery from major depression which may have resulted from an initial magnesium deficiency.Eby2006

Who Should Use It?

Looking to catch up on some sleep or take a little bit of stress out of your life? Magnesium glycinate might be the supplement to choose as a daily magnesium supplement as well as a nightly sleep aid, if needed.

Some nootropics that act as a sleep aid combine the natural calm-inducing power of magnesium glycinate with other sleep promoting compounds like melatonin and L-theanine to give you a restful night of sleep.

Dose: Take up to 350mg/day (before bed).

Magnesium Malate

In this form, magnesium is bound to malic acid—a component of the Krebs cycle (aka citric acid or TCA cycle) where it is involved in ATP production.

For this reason, magnesium malate has been hypothesized as a treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome and depression, disorders sometimes accompanied by low energy availability. Magnesium malate may also be used to reduce muscle pain.

After four and eight weeks of supplementation with magnesium malate, women saw an improvement in symptoms of fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and sleep and mood issues.Abraham1992 Other than this trial, studies on magnesium malate are hard to come by.

Who Should Use It?

Magnesium malate could be an ideal magnesium supplement if you’re having issues with pain or chronic fatigue that may also be related to a magnesium deficiency.

Dose: In a study of fibromyalgia, the dose used was 300mg - 600mg of magnesium and 1,200mg - 2400mg of malate. If you choose to supplement, aim for a similar dose of magnesium (around 350mg).

Magnesium Orotate

Magnesium orotate is a supplement containing magnesium bound to orotic acid, also known as vitamin B13. An antioxidant, orotic acid acts as a transporter, which carries magnesium into cells like a magnesium UPS man.

Since B vitamins are crucial for energy production, this magnesium supplement might have benefits for athletes like supporting tissue repair and enhancing stamina, performance and recovery, perhaps increasing synthesis of antioxidant enzymes. While not in athletes, one study supported the use of magnesium orotate to enhance exercise duration in patients with heart disease.Geiss1998 Magnesium orotate can also improve heart function and stress resistance.Rosenfeldt1998

Magnesium orotate is also used liberally in cardiovascular medicine. A meta analysis of trials using magnesium orotate supplementation found that the use of this supplement was associated with reduced risk of magnesium deficiency, exercise intolerance, headaches, dizziness, heart arrhythmias, and high blood pressure.Torshin2015

Who Should Use It?

Magnesium orotate might be the perfect magnesium supplement for athletes or those looking to get some additional benefits for heart health and the protection of neurons. The antioxidant potential of orotic acid coupled with the cardiovascular benefits of magnesium make this supplement an energy powerhouse.

Dose: 350mg/day.

Magnesium Hydroxide

Also known as “milk of magnesia,” magnesium hydroxide is an oral magnesium supplement that has been used for constipation relief and a stomach-acid neutralizer. However, uses are largely anecdotal and not supported by clinical trials or experimental studies.

In theory, the hydroxide ions in this formula, combined with the acidic hydrogen ions in the stomach, work to neutralize acid which may reduce heartburn and indigestion.

Other purported uses for this supplement include application on the skin for acne and inflammation, as a makeup, wound cleaner, and even a deodorant.

Who Should Use It?

The most widespread use of magnesium hydroxide is for constipation—so if you’re feeling stopped up, give milk of magnesia a try.

Dose: 1 - 2 tbsp once per day, ideally before bedtime, along with an 8oz glass of water. This will help with osmotic balance.

For indigestion, take 1 - 3 tbsp of milk of magnesia up to 4x per day. It is recommended that you never “double up” on a dose and avoid taking more than recommended, and always drink enough liquid when you supplement.

Magnesium Carbonate

The uses for magnesium carbonate might be limited to minor relaxation and stress relief benefits along with providing a general boost to magnesium levels.

However, the poor bioavailability of magnesium in this form leaves little room for recommendation, as other more beneficial forms of magnesium exist on the market.

Experiment, Repeat

In any form, magnesium supplementation might be something we all should look into. There is a low risk of getting too much magnesium, and generally few side effects of magnesium supplementation.

Given the prevalence of low magnesium and the poor health and performance that result from magnesium deficiency—it’s not a chance anyone should be willing to take. Any magnesium supplement will work to boost your body’s magnesium levels. This shouldn’t be taken as medical advice and, as always, if you’re looking to use magnesium to treat a larger-scope health condition, always talk to a healthcare professional.

The additional question to ask is what other “features” you want along with your magnesium. Find a supplement tailored to your specific needs, and try it out. As you can see, there are several to try.

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