Magnesium is one of the body’s most important minerals, but magnesium deficiency is shockingly common. Health-conscious people are turning to magnesium supplements to boost their levels, but they’re often met with a long, confusing list of different magnesium types.
If you’re wondering which one to go for, we’ve got you covered! In this article, we go through the various types of magnesium and their individual benefits so you can choose the best magnesium supplement for your specific needs.
Best Magnesium Supplements
Magnesium supplements contain magnesium in the form of a compound, e.g. magnesium glycinate (magnesium and glycine an amino acid with its own host of benefits). Below we’ll talk about which types of magnesium supplements are best for your specific needs and goals.
Contains: magnesium and glycine (an amino acid)
Best for: sleep, mental health, general supplementation
Also good for: female reproductive health, muscle pain
Magnesium glycinate is a good option for general supplementation, offering higher bioavailability with fewer uncomfortable side effects. It’s thought to be especially suitable for those with sensitive stomachs or digestive issues.
It also offers quite a varied range of benefits. In a review that looked at several patient case histories, the researchers stated that magnesium glycinate had helped to improve the symptoms of a number of mental illnesses. These included depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse, drug addiction, traumatic brain injury and more.
One of the case histories is a famous case in which a patient recovered from major depression in just seven days with magnesium glycinate and magnesium taurate supplementation. Of course, it goes without saying that these results are not guaranteed, and you should never use supplements as a substitute for mental health treatment. However, it does suggest that magnesium glycinate has great potential in helping depression sufferers.
Insomnia is closely linked to mood and mental health. We know that glycine on its own can improve sleep, and there’s also evidence to suggest that it can reduce insomnia as part of a magnesium glycinate supplement.
Thanks to the calming effects of both magnesium and glycine, this combo is also commonly used to treat muscle cramps. In pregnant women, this study and this study found that magnesium glycinate significantly reduced painful leg cramps. And in this case study, it gave a young boy complete relief from chronic muscle pain.
Last but not least, magnesium glycinate is a popular option for female reproductive health. Among the reported benefits, it’s said to reduce the severity of pre-menstrual syndrome, ease menstrual cramps, and improve menopause symptoms.
Contains: magnesium and taurine (an amino acid)
Best for: heart health, brain and mental health, stress, blood sugar control
Also good for: general supplementation
Just like magnesium, taurine has an active role in blood glucose management and is often found to be low in people with diabetes. If you’re looking to manage blood sugar, then, research suggests this combination may be ideal.
Like the orotic acid in magnesium orotate, taurine also plays a key role in heart health. In animal studies, it’s been found to reduce blood pressure and protect cardiac tissue. Although more human research is needed, this suggests magnesium taurate could be a promising option for overall heart health.
Magnesium taurate may help to keep the brain healthy, support mental health and help with stress and insomnia. We look at these benefits in more detail in our article on the benefits of magnesium taurate.
As magnesium taurate is among the most bioavailable forms of magnesium and is very well-tolerated, it is also a great option for general daily supplementation.
Contains: magnesium and malic acid
Best for: energy, muscle health, pain, general supplementation
Also good for: exercise performance, iron absorption
Fibromyalgia is a debilitating pain disorder with no cure, and options for managing the condition can be hit-and-miss. Anecdotally, many sufferers claim that magnesium supplements offer them some relief, and research seems to support magnesium malate in particular.
One study tested magnesium malate on 15 fibromyalgia sufferers and found that their pain symptoms improved significantly. In another study, patients reported relief from muscle pain and fewer tender spots around the body.
Magnesium malate also makes a good general supplement for raising magnesium levels. It’s the most bioavailable type so it offers superior absorption, and it doesn’t cause digestive discomfort like some other types of magnesium.
Contains: magnesium and citric acid
Best for: migraine, treating constipation, improving digestion
Also good for: general supplementation if you are not experiencing too much of a laxative effect
Migraine headaches can be debilitating, but magnesium citrate has proven to be a safe and effective way to reduce the severity. When taken as a preventative, one study found that people experienced significantly fewer migraines. In another study, people experienced 42% fewer attacks and noted that they were much less intense.
A third study echoed these results, with people experiencing a 41.6% reduction in migraine attacks. However, some people did drop out of the study because of the uncomfortable gastric side effects. That brings us to the other benefit of magnesium citrate!
This form of magnesium is most often used to treat occasional constipation and digestive sluggishness. That’s because it’s a very effective laxative, relaxing the bowels, pulling water into the intestines, and bulking up stools for easier passage. It offers quick relief but without the intensity (i.e. urgent bathroom trips!) of some other laxatives.
If you are sensitive to its laxative effects, then, it might not be the best option if you want to take it on a regular basis simply to boost your magnesium levels.
Contains: magnesium and threonic acid (a byproduct of vitamin C metabolism)
Best for: brain health, cognitive function, depression
If you’re looking for an all-round brain boost, magnesium L-threonate should be your supplement of choice. It crosses the blood-brain barrier more easily than most other types, which means it’s among the most effective for increasing magnesium concentrations in brain cells.
An animal study found that magnesium L-threonate enhanced learning abilities and improved long-term, short-term and working memory, among various other cognitive benefits. It may also help to moderate cognitive ageing and prevent — or even restore — memory deficits, keeping your brain healthy into older age. Finally, it’s believed to be a promising option in treating clinical depression.
These benefits may happen because magnesium L-threonate increases the number of stem cells in the hippocampus. This area of your brain plays a major role in learning, memory and emotional regulation, so it makes sense that a healthier hippocampus translates to a sharper mind and a better mood.
Contains: magnesium and chlorine
Best for: skin health, pain
Magnesium chloride can be beneficial to the skin and is commonly used in magnesium oil sprays, lotions and bath salts. It’s believed to help repair the skin’s protective barrier, provide extra hydration, and reduce inflammation and dryness. (Although it’s worth noting that it’s not well-absorbed through the skin, so you won’t raise your general magnesium levels this way.)
Magnesium chloride may also be helpful for those suffering from pain. According to one study, it reduced neuropathic (nerve) pain significantly, while another found that it could be helpful for muscular pain conditions like fibromyalgia.
Still not sure which type of magnesium supplement is best for you? If you’ve got more than one health goal in mind, consider taking a magnesium complex. They combine several types of magnesium in one convenient supplement so that you can get the best of all worlds. Click below now to browse our selection and find the magnesium complex that best suits your needs.
Magnesium Supplements FAQ
What is magnesium?
Magnesium is one of the 21 essential minerals your body needs to maintain optimal health. It’s part of a subgroup of five extra-important minerals called electrolytes, which also includes calcium, phosphorous, potassium and sodium.
Magnesium, the fourth most abundant of these electrolytes, is involved in over 300 chemical reactions and processes in your body. These include some critical ones that your body simply can’t work properly without, like:
- Muscle and nerve function
- Bone synthesis (creation)
- Blood sugar control
- Blood pressure regulation
- Heart rhythm
- Immune regulation
- Energy production
- DNA and RNA synthesis
- Protein synthesis
How much magnesium do I need?
Your body can’t produce magnesium itself, so you need to get it from your diet (or from a supplement). The NHS recommends that men aim to get 300mg per day, while women should aim for 270mg.
Foods that are rich in magnesium include:
- Leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale
- Seeds and nuts, especially almonds, cashews and peanuts
- Lentils, beans and chickpeas
- Whole grains, quinoa and buckwheat
- Brown rice
- Fatty fish like salmon and mackerel
- Dark chocolate
If you are not getting enough magnesium from your diet, you can opt for a magnesium supplement.
Most supplements provide roughly around 100% of your NRV (approx. 270-300mg) in a daily dose. Because you also get magnesium in your diet, people often wonder if that means a supplement will cause them to “overdose”.
Don’t worry! Your body is very effective at filtering out excess magnesium in the urine, especially from food. You may experience gastrointestinal discomfort if you stray past the “tolerable upper limit” of 375mg, but it would take significantly more magnesium to cause toxicity. If you simply stick to the recommended daily dosage and follow the instructions on the label, neither is likely to happen.
The label of your magnesium supplement should tell you how much magnesium it contains. It should also tell you what percentage of your daily magnesium needs a dose meets, in the form of the Nutrient Reference Value (%NRV). A daily dose might consist of more than one serving and/or be spread throughout the day, so be sure to read the label carefully.
What happens if I don’t get enough magnesium?
You can get all the magnesium you need from your diet, but many people don’t. Official estimates are that around 2.5-15% of the UK’s general population are deficient in magnesium. However, experts think the number of people actually suffering the health effects of low magnesium may be much, much higher.
That’s because most people are thought to have some level of subclinical magnesium deficiency, as opposed to the frank deficiency that most official statistics talk about. A subclinical deficiency is one that hasn’t yet reached the point of showing clinical signs or causing symptoms. If and when it does, it’s known as a frank deficiency.
A subclinical magnesium deficiency can exist for a very long time without you or your doctor being aware, and it might never even become a frank deficiency. However, it can still do serious damage to your health. For example, magnesium deficiency is known to cause cardiovascular problems long before symptoms become apparent. It’s also associated with:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
What causes magnesium deficiency?
Low magnesium intake through your diet is the most obvious cause of deficiency. However, even if you’re eating what you think is a magnesium-rich diet, you may not be. Soil contamination, poor soil quality and excessive processing all deplete the actual magnesium content of our food. So you could be doing everything right, and still find yourself deficient.
Other dietary causes include too little protein or too much calcium. There are also a number of health reasons why you might not be meeting your daily needs:
- Coeliac disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Kidney problems
- High alcohol consumption
- Certain medications
Do I need to take a magnesium supplement?
Because so many cases of magnesium deficiency are subclinical, and therefore silent, it can be hard to know for sure if you’re deficient. A good start is to track your diet for a week to see if you’re hitting your recommended daily magnesium and calcium requirements (we talk more about this in our Magnesium Test article).
You can also look out for telltale signs of magnesium deficiency like:
- Muscle cramps, stiffness or spasms
- Eye twitches
- Headaches or migraines
- Numbness or tingling
- Irregular heartbeat or palpitations (a “fluttering” sensation in your chest)
- Anxiety, depression or low mood
If you think you might be low on magnesium or you’re finding it hard to meet your needs with diet alone, supplements are a simple and effective way to boost your intake. They can also help to keep magnesium levels up during times of unusual stress, when magnesium is more likely to be depleted.
What are the benefits of magnesium supplements?
Below we’ve quickly highlighted the most important benefits of taking a magnesium supplement, we cover each one in more detail in our magnesium benefits article.
- Heart health and blood pressure
- Blood sugar control
- Anxiety and depression
- Chronic pain
- Female reproductive health
- Cognitive health
- Skin health
- Exercise performance
What are the side effects of magnesium supplements?
Magnesium supplements are generally considered safe but you may experience some side effects, especially if your dose is on the higher side. The most common are gastrointestinal issues like nausea or diarrhoea, which are more likely with magnesium oxide and magnesium citrate. These side effects do resolve when you stop taking the supplement, but be sure to drink lots of water in the meantime to avoid dehydration.
People with certain health conditions should speak to their doctor before taking magnesium supplements. They may not be suitable for people with kidney problems, for example, and they can interact with certain medications like diuretics, antibiotics, osteoporosis medication, or heart medication. It’s always best to check with the professionals first!