We set out in this “Best Of” article to identify the various forms of magnesium used in dietary supplements, to review their benefits, and to suggest which form and format might be best for you. In the process, we discovered that the types and combinations of magnesium products and their delivery methods are mind-boggling. There are citrates, oxides, chlorides, malate, lactate, sulfate, and taurate, to name a few of the forms. And magnesium supplements come in capsules, soft gels, tablets, powders, liquids, gummies, even topical oils.
Undaunted, we will provide a comprehensive review of this chemical element and its role in your health, focusing on what the best form of Magnesium may be so you can find the right choice for your needs.
What Is Magnesium?
Magnesium is a chemical element with the atomic number 12 and the symbol MG. This shiny gray metal is the ninth most abundant element in the universe, the eighth-most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, and the eleventh most abundant element by mass in the human body.
Say magnesium to an auto enthusiast, and they immediately think of wheels. Yes, the “mag wheel” is made of magnesium alloy. It’s 33% lighter than aluminum and 75% lighter than steel, yet with comparable strength to weight ratio of aluminum. But we digress. This article will discuss magnesium as a mineral that is an essential nutrient for human nutrition.
Magnesium – An Essential Nutrient
MG is an essential mineral and electrolyte that is crucial to the body’s function. Essential nutrients are elements the body doesn’t make or makes in insufficient quantity, so we must obtain them from our diet or through supplementation. Magnesium is one of the macro-minerals in addition to calcium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, chloride, and sulfur. There are also trace minerals, defined as those elements needed in minimal amounts, iron, manganese, copper, iodine, zinc, cobalt, fluoride, and selenium.
Magnesium is also an electrolyte, an essential mineral vital to many bodily functions. We often associate the below group of minerals with sports drinks designed to replace electrolytes lost through sweat.
This essential element, the fourth most abundant mineral in your body, is responsible for more than three-hundred metabolic functions. It helps you maintain normal blood pressure, keeps your heart rhythm steady, and is vital for bone health, energy production, muscle contraction, and hormonal balance.
In addition to sweat, MG is also depleted by stress, alcohol abuse, some medications, and certain health conditions. This is compounded by the fact that 75% of people fail to get the recommended daily intake of magnesium through their diet alone, resulting in a magnesium deficiency.
A chronic magnesium deficiency may trigger anxiety, migraines, insomnia, and, more importantly, increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, kidney and liver disease, and osteoporosis. Adults with MG deficiencies also run the risk of chronic inflammation, a precursor to numerous adverse health conditions.
If you are MG deficient, obtaining your recommended daily allowance from whole foods is always our first option and the best initial strategy. Magnesium is present in various foods, as discussed in detail in our “Alternatives to a Magnesium Supplement” segment. However, if, due to your diet plan, you find yourself not achieving 320 mg for an adult woman or 420 mg for an adult male, you may need to supplement.
Magnesium Supplements Explained
Besides being included in over-the-counter antacids and laxatives, magnesium is available in multi-vitamin/mineral products and a variety of other dietary supplement forms. One of the most relevant attributes of a magnesium supplement is its absorption and bioavailability. Those forms of MG that dissolve well in a liquid, such as aspartate, citrate, lactate, and chloride, are more completely absorbed in the gut.
As previously mentioned, MG supplements are available in capsules, soft gels, tablets, powders, liquids, gummies, and topical oils. Some forms of magnesium can be absorbed through the skin. In the next segment, we will detail several of the myriad different forms of magnesium supplements. Manufacturers extoll the virtues of the type MG used in their formulations, and some use several different types, such as citrate, oxide, taurate, and malate in combination. Still, others will add additional ingredients such as zinc, calcium, or Ashwagandha, stressing added benefits.
Forms Of Magnesium And Their Benefits
In this segment, we discuss several of the various types of MG and their specific benefits. Given the number of magnesium forms, it’s essential to understand what condition each is intended to address. One overarching objective of MG supplements is to increase your daily intake to achieve your recommended daily allowance.
One of the most bioavailable forms of MG, magnesium citrate, is bound with citric acid to treat acid indigestion and constipation. Sometimes marketed as a calming agent to address stress, anxiety, or depression, such as in Natural Vitality’s award-winning Calm products.
Another well-absorbed form of magnesium, magnesium salt bound with chlorine to address heartburn and constipation. Although normally found in capsule form, mag chloride also comes in a lotion to be applied topically to alleviate muscle soreness and cramping. It may be beneficial for acne and eczema.
Think Milk of Magnesia, the well-known, over-the-counter medication for the treatment of constipation. Magnesium combined with oxygen creates a white powdery substance. Due to its low absorption, oxide is not a good choice to treat MG deficiency. Rather, it is more applicable for short-term relief from constipation, indigestion, and heartburn.
Combined with the amino acid taurine, magnesium taurate is the best option for heart health, regulating blood sugar, and maintaining healthy blood pressure.
Malic Acid and magnesium combine to form Magnesium Malate. This type of MG is easily absorbed and is an excellent option if upping your magnesium levels is your primary objective. It is also gentle on your digestive system and has less of a laxative effect. Sometimes recommended to address chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia.
Combine magnesium, sulfur, and oxygen, and you get Epsom salts. Athletes have used this form of MG for years to treat soreness, muscle aches, and pain. It may also be used as a natural laxative if you can tolerate the taste – there are better options for digestive issues, such as citrate or chloride.
In this form, magnesium is joined by glycine, another amino acid. Glyconate is readily absorbed by the body and is thought to have a calming effect of reducing stress and anxiety. The addition of glycine makes this form useful for improved sleep. Due to its absorption rate, this is another viable alternative for addressing magnesium deficiency.
Bound with lactic acid, this type of MG is very easily absorbed and may be gentler on your digestive system. For those with a magnesium deficiency or who require a larger dose to meet their RDA, lactate is a great option. Also used as a food additive.
Other popular forms of magnesium include Magnesium L-Threonate, Magnesium Orotate, Magnesium Phosphate, and Magnesium Aspartate, among others.
Magnesium Dosage And Timing
Per the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, the RDA, Recommended Daily Allowance for the intake of magnesium is 320 mg for women and 420 mg for adult males. This includes magnesium from all sources, food, medications, and supplements.
We suggest taking your magnesium supplements with a meal to reduce stomach upset and diarrhea – unless directed otherwise by a health care professional.
Will A Magnesium Supplement Work For You?
The primary function of most magnesium supplements is to offset any MG deficiency. Those most likely to have a deficiency are:
- People who have digestive issues and difficulty with absorption
- Individuals on certain medications
- Women taking birth control pills
- People with alcohol dependence
- Those on restrictive diets
- People with health conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease, Crohn’s disease
- Older adults
If you are not meeting your RDA for MG, or if the benefits listed above addressing specific conditions apply to you, a magnesium supplement may be in order.
Some magnesium supplement choices work taking a look at include:
Are Magnesium Supplements Safe?
Naturally occurring magnesium in your diet is safe and need not be limited. The kidneys will eliminate any excess magnesium in your urine. Although magnesium supplements are generally considered safe for most people, there are upper limits on the amount to be taken from dietary supplements and medications.
Generally, side effects include mild symptoms such as diarrhea or upset stomach. In rare instances, magnesium toxicity can occur. See below for the maximum dose you should take in a magnesium supplement unless otherwise instructed by your healthcare provider:
- 65 mg/day for children ages 1-3
- 110 mg/day for children ages 4-8
- 350 mg/day for adults and children ages 9 and up
Symptoms of a magnesium overdose may include nausea, diarrhea, low blood pressure, muscle weakness, and fatigue.
Note: many magnesium supplements exceed these maximum dose levels. Please consult with your doctor before adding one of these to your regimen. Since magnesium is also known to have interactions with certain prescription medications, we recommend you advise your pharmacist of any new magnesium supplement.
Alternatives To Magnesium Supplements
Although magnesium is present in many foods, far too many people do not meet their RDA through diet alone. See the chart below, reprinted from the NIH (National Institute on Health), for a list of foods, their magnesium content, and its percentage of your DV (Daily Value) as assigned by the FDA.
Final Thoughts: What Is The Best Form Of Magnesium?
The answer to that question is personal. Each of us is different, our bodies are unique, and the way we respond to products varies. We suggest you review the various forms’ benefits and then try those that best meet your needs.
If increasing your magnesium is a primary goal, we think the absorption of citrate, chloride, and malate make them good alternatives. If you need larger doses of magnesium, lactate may be your best option. Sore muscles, sulfate is your best choice. Stressed, anxious, or depressed, and we recommend citrate.
Additional considerations when choosing your magnesium supplement:
- Look for products that are manufactured in a certified cGMP facility (Good Manufacturing Practices)
- Look for companies and brands that have independent third-party testing such as NSF, Informed Choice, or Safe for Sport certifications
- If you have questions regarding a specific product’s safety or efficacy – call the manufacturer
Regardless of which form you choose, be sure you get your 320 mg/day ladies, and gents, 420 mg/day is your RDA.