How to Choose the Best Magnesium Supplement
It’s estimated that nearly half of the U.S. population is consuming less than the recommended amount of magnesium in their diets. Why is magnesium so important you ask? Low levels of magnesium have been linked with migraine headaches, stroke, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and even Alzheimer’s disease.
This essential mineral is found throughout the body and acts as a cofactor for more than 300 different enzymes, meaning it is necessary for enzyme activity. It is involved in energy production, protein synthesis, cell signaling, muscle and nerve function, the release of neurotransmitters and even plays a structural role in the body.
Roughly 60 percent of the magnesium in the body is found in our bones, 39 percent in our cells and 1 percent in our blood.
Learn more about some of the health benefits of magnesium, as well as tips on what to look for when choosing the best magnesium supplement.
In addition to supporting more than 300 functions in the body, there are many health benefits associated with magnesium to consider:
- May help alleviate fatigue
- Aids in the formation of healthy bones and teeth
- Sleep aid
- Aids in muscle relaxation
- May alleviate constipation
- Helps prevent kidney stones
- Potential bronchodilator
- Assists in oil pathways to produce essential fatty acids
- May help with detoxification, as it is needed for glutathione synthesis
- Helps insulin to enter cells and enhances insulin receptor sensitivity
- May help improve metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions which increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes
Choosing the Best Magnesium Supplement
Any supplement label generally declares the amount of elemental magnesium in the product. However, because magnesium cannot be absorbed by itself, it must be bound to another substance to help stabilize it. The biggest difference in magnesium supplements isn’t the magnesium, but rather the complex or complexes that it is bound to. Absorption of magnesium from different forms of supplements varies and some of the molecules or complexes that magnesium is bound to may have their own function in the body. To aid in your search for the best magnesium supplement, here are some of the most commonly used forms of magnesium:
- Magnesium Glycinate
This is one of the most absorbable forms of magnesium supplements available, with magnesium being bound to the amino acid glycine. Glycine is known as an “inhibitory amino acid,” in that it helps to counteract excessive excitation in the brain that could lead to things such as stress or hyperactivity. Magnesium glycinate is not as likely to induce diarrhea, promotes both mind and body relaxation, and supports nerve health (1).
- Magnesium Citrate
This refers to magnesium bound to citric acid, which has a fairly good absorption rate in the body, meaning that it can easily be utilized by our cells. When taken in moderate amounts, it can support balanced muscle movement, a healthy stress-response, proper bowel regularity, and has been studied for its beneficial effects on the kidneys (2). If taken in excess, it may have a laxative effect and so taking it at night, prior to bed, is often recommended.
- Magnesium Aspartate
Bound to the amino acid aspartic acid, this form of magnesium has been reported to enhance the uptake of magnesium into cells. Opposite of the inhibitory effects that the amino acid glycine promotes, aspartic acid actually has excitatory effects on the brain. What this means is it bolsters communication between brain cells (neurons), causing them to “fire.” This form is great for those looking to not only support cognitive functioning, but also its high absorption capacity makes it a good choice for raising low magnesium levels.
- Magnesium Malate
This form contains magnesium bound to malic acid. Malic acid is actually derived from fruits and vegetables, and most commonly sourced from apples. With research showing the benefits of malic acid on nerve and kidney health (3), malic acid also acts as a factor in the production of cellular energy. Magnesium malate has a fairly high bio-availability, and is another good choice for those not only looking to boost blood levels, but also support brain and muscle health.
- Magnesium Taurate
Another amino-acid and magnesium combo, taurine is an amino acid found in large supplies throughout the entire body, especially in the energy-hogging cells of the heart, brain and eyes. Taurine itself acts to maintain proper body pH (acid vs. alkalinity), regulates the absorption of minerals in and out of cells, supports the digestion of dietary fats by assisting the production of bile, and helps maintain healthy blood glucose levels through its interactions with insulin (4). Magnesium taurate is good for those looking to support brain, cardiovascular and vision health, while benefiting from an easily absorbable form of magnesium.
- Magnesium Orotate
In this form, magnesium is bound to orotic acid, which has one of the highest absorption rates in the body compared to other forms. Orotic acid plays a variety of roles in both the production and maintenance/recycling of cellular energy, and may be beneficial for improving athletic performance and overall exercise endurance. When bound with magnesium, the two molecules can work in a synergistic way, with studies showing great efficacy in supporting both muscular function and heart health (5).
- Magnesium Oxide
This form is widely available, and often the most economical choice when it comes to magnesium supplements. That being said, its low bioavailability (approximately 4 percent) makes this form less beneficial for those looking to bolster magnesium stores in the body. Magnesium oxide does have beneficial effects on bowel health, and due to its poor solubility, is often used for its laxative effects.
- Magnesium Threonate
This is one of the newest forms of magnesium emerging into the health and wellness field, and for good reason! Studies have shown that despite sufficient magnesium supplementation, low levels of brain magnesium often exist (6). Magnesium threonate has a specific ratio of elemental magnesium and threonic acid (a derivative of vitamin C) that has been shown to bolster brain levels of magnesium compared to other forms, supporting proper brain communication and nerve functioning. This is an excellent choice for those looking for a highly absorbable and highly beneficial form of magnesium without many of the side effects that others have.
- Magnesium Hydroxide
Also known as “Milk of Magnesia,” this form is commonly used for those with digestive issues. Its low bioavailability and tendency to draw water into the colon make this a less preferred form, as it can have a laxative effect.
Recommended Dietary Allowances for Magnesium
Magnesium Forms and Functionality
Just as there are a multitude of oral magnesium complexes on the market, topical magnesium products also come in a variety of formats. From creams and ointments to oils and bath crystals, knowing which form is best absorbed is another common question.
- Oral Magnesium: As we noted above, oral magnesium supplements come in a variety of complex-based forms. Once you decide which one is best for your needs, the next step is choosing whether you want a tablet, capsule or mixable powder. Due to the variances of absorption rates among each form, the efficacy of oral supplementation greatly depends on the individual taking it. Generally speaking, oral supplementation is a great way to obtain a standardized amount of magnesium, per the products ingredient standards. For those who do not like to take, or cannot swallow pills, magnesium powder is a great product to add to both hot and cold drinks for its soothing effects.
- Topical Magnesium: Being that the skin is the largest organ of the body, much of what you put onto your skin is directed into your bloodstream, bypassing the normal digestion routes that oral supplements must undergo in order to reap their rewards. Topical magnesium products often contain magnesium chloride, a form that is sourced by high salinity bodies of water, including the Great Lakes and even the Dead Sea. Its structural makeup allow magnesium chloride to be absorbed across a range of pH levels, making it a versatile “star” when it comes to being utilized in the body. Due to this characteristic, magnesium chloride may be beneficial for those looking to restore low magnesium levels fast, or those who have difficulty with absorption.
- Magnesium Oil: Magnesium oil offers the longest staying power, meaning that its fat-based composition allows it to stick around for enhanced absorption. Topical magnesiums also require a certain ratio of lipids (fats) to be present in/on the skin during application. Since this form is already in a base of oil, this does not present as an issue like some other topical methods. Common uses for magnesium oil include rubbing onto sore or achy joints, mixing into coconut or sesame oil for dental-health boosting benefits, and applying to inflamed tissues (including pimples) to help support a healthy inflammatory response.
- Magnesium Creams/Ointments: With a less-oily residue but thicker consistency compared to lotions, creams and ointments have a similar lasting power to magnesium oil, but can be used without as much worry pertaining to oil-stains left on clothing or footwear. Magnesium creams have similar benefits to other forms of topical magnesium, and are easily transportable for when you need a little stress-relieving, cognition boosting “pick me up.”
- Magnesium Salts/Crystals: These dry flakes often come in large tubs and are a great addition to both regular and foot baths when you are looking to relax after a long day’s work.
- Magnesium Gels/Lotions: These formulations are the thinnest in consistency, and therefore easily applied to exposed areas of the body. With the least amount of staying power, these forms require multiple applications throughout the day to reap the most benefit. They are great for using in massages or for topical skin hydration.
Before Taking a Magnesium Supplement
Magnesium is closely aligned with calcium and can be taken in a combined calcium/magnesium supplement. Before taking a magnesium supplement, it’s important to consider how much magnesium is contained in all your supplements. Diarrhea is a common dose-related side effect of magnesium supplementation. You may prevent this by either reducing the dose or spacing the dose throughout the day. Forms of magnesium most commonly reported to cause diarrhea include magnesium chloride, carbonate, gluconate and oxide.