Magnesium is constantly at work in your body at any given point in time. It helps in many processes and over 300 bodily functions. It is the reason why food can be converted into energy.
A deficiency of the mineral could result in a loss of energy, which may cause complications in your day-to-day life. If your body has lower levels of magnesium, your calcium and potassium levels can decrease and cause symptoms such as headaches, loss of appetite, fatigue and weakness (1).
Since the body cannot produce magnesium, you need to consume it from sources such as food and supplements. The best method to overcome deficiency is to maintain a diet rich in whole foods. This should be your priority before opting for magnesium supplements.
The different types of magnesium
Diet alone may be enough to solve your magnesium deficiency problems. It is harder to get adequate magnesium through the modern diet alone, as food is heavily processed prior to it being consumed. If you’re not eating a balanced, organic (where possible), wholefood diet, magnesium supplements could be necessary.
There are many forms of magnesium available today and they include:
1. Magnesium citrate
Magnesium citrate is a very popular formulation. It is usually bound with citric acid, which is the acid commonly found in citrus fruits and gives them a sour flavor (6).
Magnesium citrate is more bioavailable than other forms of the mineral, such as magnesium oxide, and can be digested more easily compared to other forms (7).
This form of magnesium is known to help support bone health by maintaining state mineral absorption in bones and bone mineralisation (23). It also provides other benefits that include reducing muscle cramps, twitches and stiffness (24) as well as maintaining nervous system health (25).
2. Magnesium chloride
Chlorine is a rather unstable element that can bind well with plenty of its fellow elements. This includes binding with magnesium to form a salt called magnesium chloride.
Like magnesium citrate, this form of the mineral can be absorbed by the digestive tract easily (3,11).
Some people use magnesium chloride in the form of skin cream. However, more studies are needed to show if this method can improve levels of magnesium in the body (9).
3. Magnesium oxide
Another form that magnesium can take is magnesium oxide, which is a combination of magnesium and oxygen. This comes as a powder-white substance, which can be sold as is or in the form of a capsule.
However, this form can’t be absorbed easily by the digestive tract and is usually used as a laxative (24). Its key effect is to soften hard stools and help with constipation (24).
4. Magnesium malate
This is a byproduct combining malic acid, something that can be found in fruits and wine, with magnesium. Malic acid commonly tastes sour, so it can be used as an additive in food to enhance the flavour or increase its levels of acidity.
Magnesium malate can be absorbed easily by the digestive tract (10).
5. Magnesium lactate
This form of magnesium comes with lactic acid. Lactic acid is an acid your body can produce on its own in the muscles and blood cells, but it can also be manufactured. Usually, manufactured lactic acid is used in preservatives and as a flavouring agent.
Its main purpose is to regulate the acidity of certain foods and beverages. It is easily absorbed by the digestive system and has proven easier to absorb compared to other kinds (11).
6. Magnesium orotate
This type of magnesium comes with orotic acid (21). Orotic acid is involved in the construction of genetic material, such as DNA (12). It is easy to absorb and very gentle, although not as impactful as the other types (13).
Orotic acid is great for energy production. This is why this type of magnesium supplement is quite popular among athletes and those who might be inclined to fitness programmes.
Magnesium orotate has been seen to improve exercise tolerance in people with chronic heart disease (22).
7. Magnesium taurate
This is the combination of magnesium and the amino acid taurine. Taurine and magnesium are both key players in the regulation of a person’s blood sugar, which is why this combination promotes and supports healthy blood pressure (14).
However, there are not enough studies that can support its efficacy in people. It also isn’t as popular as the other types of magnesium.
8. Magnesium sulfate
This type of magnesium is the product of combining sulfur, oxygen, and magnesium. It is more commonly known as epsom salt (15). Its texture is similar to table salt, but it has a much more unpleasant taste.
People usually dissolve epsom salt in bath water, with some doctors suggesting that adding epsom salt in your bath may help treat magnesium deficiency (16). Sometimes, skincare products may also have this as an ingredient, such as in lotions and body oils.
9. Magnesium L-threonate
When you mix magnesium with threonic acid, you get a water-soluble salt that can be derived from the breakdown of vitamin C (17).
This form is very easily absorbed by the body. However, it requires more studies for further effects and results (15).
10. Magnesium glycinate
Combining magnesium with the amino acid glycine forms what people know as magnesium glycinate (19). The amino acid glycine is usually present in the body for protein construction. This makes the two a perfect match as both can be found in protein and fibre-rich foods.
Magnesium glycinate is something you can easily absorb. However, like the L-threonate variant, more scientific studies are needed to observe its concrete effects on a person’s bodily chemistry (18).
Keep in mind that you should only turn to magnesium supplements when your magnesium deficiency concerns are not solved by changing your diet. Whole foods have the power to correct your levels of magnesium, so consider getting supplements only if your diet isn’t working too well.
How to identify magnesium deficiency
When the body is lacking in magnesium, magnesium deficiency occurs. In the long term, it may cause various complications.
Here are some of the symptoms of magnesium deficiency (4):
- Fatigue or feeling weak
- Muscle spasms
- Excessive sleepiness
- Abnormal heart rate
- Loss of appetite
Benefits of magnesium
Magnesium can help in a wide variety of way including:
- Supporting the cardiovascular system and heart health
- Promoting liver health
- Supporting bone health
- Helping reduce the occurrence of muscle tensions and stiffness
- Supporting brain function as well as nervous system health
Foods rich in magnesium
If you’re looking for natural sources for magnesium, stay clear of processed foods where possible. A good source of magnesium is whole foods and those that are high in fibre (5).
Sources of magnesium in food (5):
- Vegetables: Green and leafy vegetables like spinach, as well as potatoes, tamarinds, okra, and edamame.
- Fruits: Bananas, avocados, and dried apricots.
- Nuts: Almonds, cashews, and peanuts
- Whole wheat bread
- Cooked brown rice
Should you be taking magnesium supplements? Your first step to reaching proper magnesium levels is to update your diet. However, this may not be enough. In Australia, at least 1 in 3 people does not get enough magnesium (5). If diet does not improve your magnesium deficiency, or if you are experiencing health problems that may be causing magnesium deficiency, it may be time to consider magnesium supplements.
How much magnesium do I need?
Keep in mind: you should not ingest more magnesium than the recommended amount according to your demographic. It can cause some side effects, such as cramping, diarrhea, and nausea. Overloading in magnesium can lead to irregular heartbeats as well. According to the Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand, this is how much magnesium we need daily:
Children need this much magnesium daily (2):
- 80mg for 1 to 3 years old
- 130mg for 4 to 8 years old
- 240mg for 9 to 13 years old
- 410mg for boys at 14 to 18
- 360mg for girls at 14 to 18
For adults on the other hand, you may need (2):
- 400mg for men under 30
- 420mg for men over 31
- 310mg for women under 30
- 320mg for women over 31
- 350mg for pregnant and breastfeeding women
Too much magnesium can be dangerous and toxic. There are also certain medicines that do not work well with magnesium supplements. Always seek guidance from a dietician or doctor prior to supplementation.
How to choose the right magnesium
Some types of magnesium supplements are better than others. Seek advice from your healthcare practitioner for what’s best for you. Finding the right kind of formulation will differ for each person as we all have unique body chemistry.
Consider the form of magnesium you want to take and research it if your doctor recommends it. The dosage is important as well, as you can’t have too much nor not enough. Product quality is also important, so make sure your supplements come from a trusted source.
Magnesium that can be absorbed more easily include (8):
- Magnesium chloride
- Magnesium citrate
- Magnesium L-threonate
- Magnesium lactate
- Magnesium malate
- Magnesium Orotate
- Magnesium Taurate
Magnesium oxide and sulfate are the two types that aren’t as well absorbed by the digestive tract as the ones mentioned above.
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*Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional. Vitamin and/or mineral supplements should not replace a balanced diet.
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