Magnesium supplementation can be confusing and overwhelming. Here’s a comprehensive guide to the different types of magnesium, and how to figure out which one is right for you.
If you’ve been hearing a lot about magnesium lately, it’s for good reason. Research suggests up to two-thirds of Americans are deficient in magnesium. As a result, the majority of people can benefit from supplementing with the right type of magnesium.
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in your body and the catalyst for over 600 chemical reactions. It plays a role in detoxification, digestion, energy production, stress management, and even your heart rhythm!
When you’re deficient in magnesium, you can experience a wide variety of negative symptoms, including leg cramps, insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, diabetes, migraines, and heart problems. Magnesium deficiency also plays a role in hormone imbalances and PMS symptoms. Low serum magnesium concentrations are even linked to higher rates of mortality.
Magnesium supplementation is incredibly important because your body can’t make it or store it. But, this is where things get confusing. Most people start looking for a quality magnesium supplement only to find there are many different types. If you’re wondering about the benefits of each type and which one is right for you—you’re in the right place!
Why Do You Need a Magnesium Supplement?
Magnesium is predominantly found in leafy greens, nuts, avocados, and chocolate. But, soil degradation has dramatically decreased the nutrient density of food. Even if you’re eating plenty of spinach and pumpkin seeds, you’d still likely be low in magnesium. This was the case for me. On routine blood tests, my magnesium was always low despite eating leafy greens daily.
Another thing that impacts your magnesium levels is your body’s demand for it. Stress, caffeine, and pregnancy deplete magnesium stores. As you might have guessed, this means women are much more prone to magnesium deficiency.
As a final hit, research shows only 30% to 40% of the dietary magnesium you consume is actually absorbed in your body. So, even if you track your magnesium intake, you are only absorbing about half of that.
Choosing a Quality Magnesium Supplement
Quality matters when it comes to magnesium supplements. It’s important to choose a magnesium that supplies your body with sufficient magnesium in an easily absorbable form.
Magnesium is a chemically active element, which means it reacts strongly and quickly with other elements. Due to reactivity, it must be linked to another element to form a compound.
The bioavailability (aka absorption) of a specific type of magnesium depends on what it is bound to. This is why the type of magnesium you take matters!
Studies consistently show inorganic salts of magnesium are harder for the body to absorb. These include magnesium oxide, magnesium sulfate, and magnesium chloride. When magnesium is bound to an organic substance, like magnesium glycinate, the magnesium gets carried into cells, resulting in higher digestibility and absorption of magnesium.
The best way to make sure you are supplementing with magnesium that is bioavailable is to take a chelated magnesium supplement. When elemental magnesium is chelated, it is bound to a carrier by two or more points of attachment. This makes it more stable and better absorbed by the body.
Which Type is Right for You?
There are three important things to consider when evaluating which type is best for you:
- Is it a bioavailable and easy for your body to absorb?
- Is it a type of magnesium that is right for you and your body’s needs?
- Does it irritate the intestines?
The forms of magnesium that irritate the intestines are typically less bioavailable because the magnesium that you’re taking draws water to it, and ends up in the toilet. If you need to take magnesium for constipation, I recommend taking a small dose, then taking another form of magnesium that is better absorbed so you are actually getting magnesium into cells.
I personally take magnesium lysinate glycinate, as it’s bound to both lysine and glycine. It has a 90% absorption rate and helps to improve, sleep, mood, and bring calmness. I recommend this for most people as it provides the benefits most people need. You could also try taking 100 mg of one type, and 100 – 200 mg of another type to see how your body responds.
How Much Magnesium Should You Take?
The National Institute of Health puts the RDA for adults over 31 at 420 mg for males and 310 mg for females (or 350 mg for pregnant females). Recommended doses are between 200 – 400 mg.
In general, you do not want to rely on a multivitamin for your magnesium. The type will likely be less bioavailable and in too small of a dose.
Always choose a magnesium supplement that does not include additives such as dyes, sugar, unnecessary preservatives, artificial colors or allergens. Find a company that provides proof of how they source and process their ingredients, and make sure you’re buying your supplements from a trusted retailer.
Also, keep in mind that the dose you see on the label is different from what’s actually being absorbed. For example, if you’re taking magnesium oxide, studies suggest it only has a 4% absorbability rate. This means that if you are taking 500 mg of magnesium oxide, you may actually be only absorbing less than 50 mg of that.
In contrast, you could take magnesium lysinate glycinate, which has a 90% absorbability. This means and need much less because more is getting into cells.
8 Different Types of Magnesium and Benefits
There are eight common types of magnesium. Each has their own benefits, absorption rate, and disadvantages. Because of this, you may notice different effects depending on the supplement you choose to take.
Want to take the most absorbable form? Try magnesium lysinate glycinate, which has a 90% absorbability and helps with sleep, mood, and calmness.
1. For digestion: Magnesium citrate
Magnesium citrate is one of the most researched types of magnesium. It’s typically recommended to for digestion support because it draws water to it and relieves constipation. It is bound to manufactured citric acid. As a word of caution, this one has a laxative effect. Start with a smaller dose, and then adjust as needed. If it’s too much for you, taper it back down.
Looking for a recommendation? Try Natural Calm.
2. For mood and sleep: Magnesium glycinate or Magnesium lysinate glycinate
Magnesium glycinate (or magnesium biglycinate) is bound to the amino acid glycine. Another fairly new form, known as magnesium lysinate glysinate, is bound to both glycine and lysine. It has the highest absorbability rate at 90%. Both forms are chelated and improve sleep, stress, mood, and bring a sense of calm. Daily magnesium glycinate intake has been show to provide “rapid recovery” from mood disorders like depression. It does not irritate the intestines.
Looking for a recommendation? Try Well Minerals Magnesium Lysinate Glycinate.
3. For cognitive function: Magnesium L-threonate
Magnesium L-threonate is bioavailable and one of the only types that can pass the blood brain barrier. Preliminary research suggests regular supplementation with magnesium L-threonate can improve overall cognitive function, memory, and prevent dementia.
Looking for a recommendation? Try Magnesium Nightcap.
4. For fibromyalgia and muscle pain: Magnesium malate
Magnesium malate is formed by combining magnesium with malic acid. Studies show supplementation with magnesium malate can improve muscle tenderness and pain associated with fibromyalgia. Preliminary research also suggests magnesium malate is more bioavailable than other magnesium compounds.
Looking for recommendations? Try Source Naturals Magnesium Malate.
5. For heart health: Magnesium taurate
Magnesium taurate is bound to the amino acid taurine, which is known for its ability to lower blood pressure and protect heart muscle cells. Because magnesium is also know for its heart-protective properties, preliminary research suggests magnesium taurate may have considerable potential as a vascular-protective nutritional supplement. Also, it may be used to treat acute heart attacks and pre-eclampsia.
Unfortunately, there has been little to no research on the bioavailability of magnesium taurate or its effectiveness in improving heart health. Because of this, I recommend sticking with a magnesium combo supplement that contains magnesium taurate or choosing other bioavailable forms of magnesium.
Looking for a recommendation? Try Source Naturals Ultra-Mag Hi Efficiency Magnesium.
6. For stress and to relax muscles: Magnesium chloride
Magnesium can be absorbed transdermally (through your skin), so topical application is a great option for muscle relaxation. Try using magnesium chloride bath flakes for stress relief, muscle recovery, and joint pain. You can also try magnesium oil products.
Note: Transdermal application is not a proven form of increasing magnesium levels in the body, so you need to take it orally if you want to increase your magnesium.
7. For muscle soreness: Magnesium sulfate
Have you ever taken an epsom salt bath? That’s actually magnesium sulfate. It’s fantastic for joint pain, relaxation, and muscle soreness. For athletes, this is an excellent source of magnesium.
Looking for a recommendation? Try Epsoak USP Epsom Salt.
8. For constipation: Magnesium Oxide
Magnesium oxide has much lower levels of bioavailability when compared to other types. Studies show it has an absorbability as low as 4%. In general, it’s a terrible option if you’re looking to raise magnesium levels in the body. So, what’s it good for? Treating constipation. Magnesium oxide is the active ingredient in milk of magnesia, which has a laxative effective.
Check your labels! If your magnesium is buffered with magnesium oxide, find a different type.
The Best Type of Magnesium For You
While eight may seem like a lot, there are actually other forms of magnesium on the market, including magnesium orotate and magnesium aspartate. If you don’t see it in the list above, it’s because there is little to no scientific research on bioavailability or safety. Stick with the list above, experiment, and you’ll likely find one that works for you.
If a certain type doesn’t seem to be working for you, give a different one a try. Prioritize forms that are more bioavailable, and consider getting your magnesium levels tested after regular supplementation to see if your magnesium levels are sufficient.