Magnesium benefits your body in many ways

What Type of Magnesium Should I Take?

Magnesium isn't magic, but if you heard some people talk about it, you would think it was! And to some extent, the hype is well-deserved. Along with calcium, phosphorus and potassium, magnesium is a mineral you need to stay healthy because it plays a large role in your body's structural and regulatory functions.

In fact, it's involved in everything from bone health and muscle function (here's looking at you, heart!) to the actions of more than 300 enzymes, plus it supports mood health and serotonin levels for a happier you.

Many people take magnesium supplements with the goal of keeping their magnesium levels in the optimal range. But not all magnesium supplements offer the same benefits because magnesium comes in a variety of forms. Thankfully, those forms have been studied extensively, so we know which magnesium supplements perform better in certain areas of health.

For instance, those seeking to keep their brains sharp should consider a magnesium L-threonate supplement. Want to encourage heart health, bone health and whole-body health? Try a magnesium supplement with magnesium oxide and magnesium citrate. If stress management is at the top of your list, then the calming action of magnesium acetyl-taurate may be able to help.

Confused? Not to worry—let's dig into how to choose a magnesium supplement based on your health needs.

Which type of magnesium supplement should I take?

There are two categories of magnesium supplements to consider when you're shopping: whole-body health magnesium that supports your health in a variety of ways, and specialty magnesium that promotes a specific health goal—whether that's brain health, sleep health, relaxation or something else.

Whole-body health magnesium supplements

  • Magnesium citrate and magnesium oxide:

    These are popular forms of magnesium that offer head-to-toe benefits. Magnesium citrate is a salt form of magnesium with citric acid, so it is well-absorbed, and it supports overall health with particular benefits for cardiovascular function. Magnesium oxide (MgO) is the magnesium salt of oxygen. When formulated with timed-release micro-beads, it can be released in the body gradually, making it an ideal form for extended-release magnesium supplements.
  • Magnesium succinate:

    Good for general magnesium health benefits, such as heart health and bone health.

Specialty magnesium supplements

  • Brain health:

    Magnesium L-threonate is a great choice for cognitive health. The L-threonate form is easier for the brain to absorb because it easily crosses the blood-brain barrier, which can positively impact overall brain health and communication between neurons. Magnesium L-threonate, or Neuro-Mag®, was shown to improve cognitive and executive function in a randomized placebo-controlled trial. It also supports short- and long-term memory.
  • Relaxation:

    Magnesium acetyl-taurate is another form that crosses the blood-brain barrier and helps increase magnesium levels in the brain. Magnesium acetyl-taurate has been shown to help the mind relax and encourage feelings of calmness. Magnesium also promotes the healthy activity of feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and GABA.

    Magnesium glycinate is another calming form. Magnesium glycinate is magnesium combined with glycine, an amino acid that functions as an inhibitory neurotransmitter. Glycine as a dietary supplement is used to promote sleep, so it can enhance the calming effects of magnesium.

    Magnesium sulfate, or Epsom salt, also is associated with relaxation, mainly because of its use in hot baths. Epsom salt is actually magnesium combined with sulfate. It can be consumed orally, but we wouldn't recommend it. A much more palatable option is using magnesium sulfate for a bathtub or foot soak. It is rumored to help soothe muscles, but it may be the hot water doing all the work—evidence for magnesium sulfate soothing muscles is lacking.

  • Digestive support:

    Magnesium malate is well-absorbed in the digestive tract. It is called magnesium malate because it contains malic acid, which is naturally found in things like fruit and wine.

Magnesium 101: Understanding names and forms

Now that you know how different forms of magnesium address different health needs, let's get to the proverbial elephant in the room: what's the deal with the names of the different types of magnesium? Why is it never just "magnesium"? Well, because there is no "plain" magnesium!

The names reflect what the mineral has been paired with: options include amino acids, citrate, sulfate, even oxygen. That's why you'll see names such as "magnesium citrate," which means the supplement contains magnesium combined with citrate, and "magnesium sulfate," which means it's magnesium plus sulfate.

To further complicate things, these combinations of magnesium can be divided into two main types: organic and inorganic.

Inorganic is when magnesium is combined with another mineral or element that isn't carbon-containing. Inorganic forms include:

  • magnesium oxide
  • magnesium chloride
  • magnesium sulfate

Organic magnesium is when magnesium is combined with a carbon-containing compound. Organic forms include:

  • magnesium citrate
  • magnesium glycinate
  • magnesium lactate
  • magnesium malate
  • magnesium L-threonate
  • magnesium taurate

Chelated forms of magnesium are also considered organic, and this is when magnesium is combined with an amino acid. Magnesium L-threonate and magnesium taurate are chelated forms.

The elements combined with magnesium affect how this mineral is absorbed by the body. For instance, organic types are generally better absorbed because they are more water-soluble. But organic types also tend to contain less elemental magnesium by weight, meaning they may only contain 7% or 16% magnesium within the compound—so that is something to watch for in a magnesium supplement.

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Which form of magnesium is the best?

If you're looking for magnesium that supports overall health, you'll want to look at the form of the magnesium as well as how well it is absorbed by the body.

There is debate about which form of magnesium is "best," or specifically, the most bioavailable for general health, especially between magnesium oxide and magnesium citrate. Many claim citrate is superior because of urinary excretion studies, which show more magnesium is present in the urine when magnesium citrate is taken.

But it's important to assess magnesium concentrations in red blood cells (or epithelial cells), and studies that look at those concentrations conclude that the different forms of magnesium are largely irrelevant. Instead, quantity becomes the biggest factor for absorption.

So if you are choosing a magnesium supplement for whole-body health, how much magnesium your supplement delivers generally is more important than the form it takes.

Some magnesium supplements combine several different forms, which may give you the best of both worlds if you are trying to decide between magnesium citrate and some other form. Having a discussion with your healthcare provider may also help you choose which magnesium supplement is right for you.

Reading the Label

The label on your magnesium supplement may have two numbers: the milligrams of magnesium as well as the source serving size, such as the label on Life Extension's Calm-Mag.

Magnesium (from 750 mg of ATA Mg® Magnesium Acetyl-Taurate)

45 mg

ATA Mg® is a registered trademark of AIDP, Inc.

The difference in the source and the delivered amount of magnesium is due to the magnesium combinations in the supplement, and it explains why some supplements deliver 300 mg of magnesium in three capsules while others deliver the same amount of magnesium in one or two capsules. If your label only has one amount listed, it is the amount of magnesium delivered in a single serving, no matter what form your supplement takes.

Who should take a magnesium supplement?

Anyone who wants to capture the bone, brain and heart benefits of this mineral should take a magnesium supplement! Magnesium is the ultimate multitasker, making it a good supporter of stress management, learning and memory, healthy sleep, and whole-body health.

Research shows magnesium supplementation also can help maintain already-healthy blood pressure, promote pancreatic health, maintain glucose levels within a normal range, and even help relieve occasional head discomfort.

While magnesium-rich foods—such as beef, fish, poultry, dark leafy greens, nuts, legumes, seeds and whole grains—are recommended, scientists have noted the decline in the nutrient content of our soil. This results in people getting fewer nutrients—including magnesium—from whole foods than they used to be able to get.

But lifestyle, genetics and low magnesium availability in foods aren't the only things that affect our magnesium levels. Stress is also a factor! Research has found healthy stress management can support magnesium levels in the body. Studies have also shown that low magnesium can impact the body's healthy stress response. So supplementing to fill any gaps in your magnesium levels can benefit you in many ways.

Vitamin D and magnesium supplements

In addition to the types of magnesium, you'll also find other vitamins and nutrients combined with this mineral. One popular combo is vitamin D with magnesium. Some things are better in pairs: salt and pepper, peanut butter and chocolate, and yes, vitamin D and magnesium.

Magnesium supplementation and vitamin D go hand-in-hand because vitamin D—either from supplements or sunlight—has to be activated to be used by the body. Magnesium plays a role in that activation. Magnesium also enables vitamin D to bind to carrier proteins so that it can be transported throughout the blood. In return, vitamin D supports magnesium absorption in the body, making this a match made in health.

How to take magnesium supplements

As with any supplement, take magnesium supplements as directed on the label. Magnesium may have a laxative effect, so if easier bowel movements are not your goal, you may want to divide your dose or try a different type. Some forms, such as magnesium L-threonate, are well-tolerated and have less of a laxative effect than other forms.

It's important to keep your heart happy, and magnesium plays a large role in helping it maintain a healthy beat. Take our health needs quiz for a personal recommendation on the nutrients your heart needs to keep drumming along.

About the Author: Jennifer Jhon graduated from Auburn University with a degree in journalism and communications. She established her career as an editor, designer and writer at several newspapers and magazines. She has been writing about wellness, health and nutrition for 10 years.


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