What Type of Magnesium is Best For You?

By Ellie Erlich, MS, RD

Magnesium has been in the spotlight over the past few years—and with good reason! 

Magnesium is an essential mineral (meaning that your body does not produce it on its own, so you need to get it from outside sources), and it’s involved in over 300 metabolic reactions, including muscle contraction, nerve signal transmission, and energy production.

Magnesium deficiency is a common problem among adults, with estimates suggesting that nearly half of adult men and women in the US aren’t getting enough. It’s no wonder that magnesium supplementation seems to be all the rage as of late.

You can find magnesium in a wide variety of whole foods sources such as:

  • Dairy products
  • Dark chocolate
  • Leafy greens
  • Meats
  • Nuts and Seeds (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, cashews, and almonds)
  • Whole grains

But you may not be meeting your needs adequately from food alone which is where a supplement could come into play to ensure you’re giving your body what it needs to thrive.

Still, before adding magnesium to your supplement regimen, there are a few key considerations. Different deficiency symptoms call for different magnesium types—and there are quite a few!

Let’s get to know some of the most common types of magnesium and the reasons you may consider taking them.

Types of Magnesium

Magnesium Citrate 

What it is: This form of magnesium is bound together with citric acid, a compound found naturally in citrus fruit.

Uses: Magnesium citrate is more readily absorbed in the GI tract, which helps increase your magnesium levels and treat a deficiency. It has a natural laxative effect, so it’s commonly used to treat constipation. If you have any GI issues, magnesium citrate may not be right for you—the stimulating effect on the gut can cause unwanted side effects like cramping and diarrhea.

Magnesium Oxide 

What it is: Magnesium oxide is a salt (a compound that has positively and negatively charged atoms and no net charge) that combines magnesium with oxygen. It’s usually sold as a powder.

Uses: This form is not as readily absorbed by the GI tract as other forms of magnesium. Magnesium oxide is used for short-term relief of specific GI issues, such as heartburn and constipation, so if you have a clinical deficiency, it is not the right choice for you.

Magnesium Glycinate 

What it is: Bound to the amino acid glycine, this form of magnesium is an organic chelate complex—or a combination of molecules that boost mineral absorption.

Uses: Glycine enhances sleep quality and neurological functioning in humans. For this reason, magnesium glycinate is a good choice if you’re hoping to sleep deeper and enhance your state of relaxation.

Magnesium Malate

What it is: This form of magnesium includes malic acid, which is naturally found in acidic foods like fruit and wine.

Uses: Malic acid is used in energy-producing processes in your body. So, magnesium malate is occasionally recommended for those with chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia. Still, research is limited on its efficacy in boosting energy levels in these conditions.

Magnesium Chloride 

What it is: This magnesium salt includes chloride and is often sold as a topical cream or lotion. 

Uses: Magnesium chloride is fairly multipurpose. It can help to replenish low stores of magnesium in the body, soothe sore muscles, and absorb calcium. It is one of the most bioavailable forms—meaning, your body can absorb it—of magnesium, ranging from 35-70%.

Magnesium Sulfate 

What it is: This combination of magnesium, sulfur, and oxygen is commonly sold as Epsom salt. 

Uses: Epsom salts are most often dissolved in a bath to soothe sore muscles. The magnesium is absorbed transdermally (through your skin). As an oral supplement, magnesium sulfate can be used as a laxative for the short-term treatment of constipation. 

Magnesium Lactate

What it is: Magnesium lactate is used as a food additive to regulate acidity. When bound to lactic acid, magnesium has been shown to have greater bioavailability.

Uses: This type of magnesium is often prescribed by doctors to correct magnesium deficiency and the symptoms that come along with it: muscle cramps, tiredness, irritability, and depression. Some brands are also formulated to treat symptoms of high stomach acid levels, such as heartburn.

Magnesium L-threonate 

What it is: This salt is formed by mixing magnesium with threonic acid, a metabolite (a substance produced during metabolism) of vitamin C.

Uses: Studies have shown that Magnesium L-threonate may be effective in increasing magnesium concentrations in brain tissue. This potential boost in brain cells may allow magnesium to increase nerve functioning, prevent age-related memory loss, and aid in symptoms of depression.

Recommended Amounts 

For magnesium supplementation, the tolerable upper limit (the maximal daily intake unlikely to cause harmful effects) is 350 milligrams. Exceeding this dose can lead to side effects such as diarrhea, cramping, and nausea.  

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adults 19-51+ years is 400-420 mg daily and 310-320 mg for women. Pregnancy requires a slight increase of about 350-360 mg daily. 

The Bottom Line 

Whether you’re looking to promote more restful sleep, regulate your digestion or soothe sore muscles, magnesium could be a missing puzzle piece to help you live a more Nutritious Life. 

A good rule of thumb is to eat a daily diet that includes some magnesium-rich foods and speak to a physician before adding any form of magnesium supplementation to your diet. If your blood levels are low, take a supplement as directed by your healthcare practitioner to correct a deficiency.

(Image: Shutterstock)

About Ellie Erlich, MS, RD
Ellie Erlich is a registered dietitian and holds a Master of Science in clinical nutrition from New York University. She works privately with clients to accomplish a wide range of wellness goals from weight loss to chronic conditions and autoimmune disorders.

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