Not all types of magnesium are equal—each has its own set of benefits. Sure, some may overlap, but choosing the best iteration of the mineral can make a difference in terms of finding the best option for you.
Per the National Institute of Health, many people in the United States don’t get enough magnesium from diet alone, and prolonged low magnesium levels can result in symptoms like decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, and muscle cramps.
“Magnesium is a mineral needed in the body as a cofactor for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body,” explains Jim White, R.D.N., A.C.S.M. Ex-P, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios. Magnesium benefits may include stress management and better sleep. Plus, it is necessary for bodily functions like protein synthesis, muscle contraction, nerve function, energy production, and more.
While there are many food sources of magnesium, including beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, milk, and yogurt, “if you are not meeting your recommended needs from food and beverages, a magnesium supplement may be needed,” says Laura Vetter, R.D.N., C.D.C.E.S., an outpatient dietitian at Saint Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ.
Some types of magnesium found in supplements are more bioavailable (or more easily absorbed by the body) than others, and certain ones may be beneficial for specific health issues or goals. It’s important to note, however, that not all supplements available are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they hit shelves, so be sure to check with your healthcare provider before adding one to your routine.
Meet the experts: Jim White, R.D.N., A.C.S.M. Ex-P, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios and Laura Vetter, R.D.N., C.D.C.E.S., an outpatient dietitian at Saint Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ.
Ahead, experts break down the differences and benefits of the most common types of magnesium.
Types of magnesium
1. Magnesium citrate
One of the most common types of magnesium, magnesium citrate, is composed of magnesium bound to citric acid. “It is one of the most bioavailable forms of magnesium,” explains White. It is often taken orally via a capsule or powder and is used to replenish low magnesium levels. It also has a natural laxative effect and is often used in medications to treat constipation, White notes.
2. Magnesium glycinate
Magnesium glycinate, which is magnesium plus the amino acid glycine (which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties), is “the most beneficial form of magnesium to take,” says Vetter. It is typically taken orally via a capsule or powder. It has very high bioavailability, says Vetter, and is fast-acting, making it a popular choice. Benefits may include muscle relaxation and pain reduction. White adds that it may also help reduce inflammation in the body.
3. Magnesium oxide
Magnesium oxide is magnesium that is bound to oxygen and is often formulated as a capsule supplement and is taken orally. It is most often used for digestive issues like heartburn, indigestion, and constipation, as well as migraines, explains White. However, compared to other types, magnesium oxide is not absorbed by the body as well, White adds.
4. Magnesium chloride
Magnesium chloride is made of magnesium, chlorine, and often sodium. White explains it’s often used to treat low magnesium levels and is absorbed well by the body. It can also be used topically in oils or in a bath (via soaks and salts) “to soothe and relax sore muscles,” White adds, but will have a “low impact on magnesium levels” when used this way. When taken orally, one study found that it helped lower blood pressure.
5. Magnesium sulfate
Magnesium sulfate is a combination of magnesium, sulfur, and oxygen. “It is used in an intravenous form to rapidly replete low magnesium levels,” Vetter explains. However, “the most common form of magnesium sulfate is magnesium salts (Epsom salts) which can be used in a bath to decrease muscle soreness.” It may also be given orally in low doses to treat constipation.
6. Magnesium lactate
“Magnesium lactate is the magnesium salt of lactic acid,” Vetter explains. “Magnesium lactate is used orally as a supplement” for low magnesium levels, Vetter says. White adds that it is absorbed very well by the body and is gentle on the digestive system. This type of magnesium is also often used as a food additive, both experts note.
7. Magnesium L-threonate
Magnesium L-threonate is magnesium bound to threonic acid (a substance produced during the breakdown of vitamin C). It is taken orally and has many potential brain health benefits, White says, and may be beneficial in reducing depression, the effects of Alzheimer’s, and age-related memory loss. While more research is needed on this form of magnesium, it is “easily absorbed and has been seen to increase magnesium levels in brain tissue,” White adds.
8. Magnesium taurate
Magnesium taurate is made of magnesium and taurine (an amino acid). This form of magnesium is taken orally and may help “to promote healthy blood glucose levels,” White says. It also may help to support healthy blood pressure and may aid in sleep (thanks to taurine), reduce inflammation, and support healthy digestion, per White. However, more research is needed on this form.
9. Magnesium malate
Magnesium malate is magnesium plus malic acid, which is thought to increase the absorption of magnesium. “It is used for increasing low blood magnesium levels and for those with muscle pain or fatigue,” Vetter says. It is most often taken orally. White adds that magnesium malate is absorbed well by the body and functions less like a laxative than other forms. One study found that it may be beneficial for those with fibromyalgia.
10. Magnesium orotate
Magnesium orotate is a combination of magnesium and orotic acid. “Orotic acid is being studied for a possible link to improving athletic performance, athletic endurance, and heart health,” Vetter says. However, “at this time, it is the least cost-effective form of magnesium supplementation.”
Should you take a magnesium supplement?
If you have trouble getting the recommended amount of magnesium from food alone, Vetter says that taking a magnesium supplement may be beneficial. According to Vetter, the recommended amount for those assigned male at birth is 400-420 mg per day and the recommended amount for those assigned female at birth is 310-320 mg per day. As always, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional before adding any supplement to your routine, including magnesium, as there may be some food and drug interactions, Vetter adds.
Dietary supplements are products intended to supplement the diet. They are not medicines and are not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or cure diseases. Be cautious about taking dietary supplements if you are pregnant or nursing. Also, be careful about giving supplements to a child, unless recommended by their healthcare provider.
Shannen Zitz is an Assistant Editor at Prevention, where she covers all things lifestyle, wellness, beauty, and relationships. Previously the Editorial Assistant at Prevention, she graduated from the State University of New York at Cortland with a bachelor’s degree in English. If she’s not reading or writing, you can probably find her frequenting the skincare and makeup forums on Reddit or hogging the squat rack at the gym.
Eric M. Ascher, D.O. is a board-certified family medicine physician. He completed medical school at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine, his family medicine residency and fellowship at Northwell Health, and has been working for Northwell Health since. Dr. Ascher practices in New York City and focuses on preventative medicine and healthy lifestyles. He has been recognized annually on The Super Doctor’s List posted in the New York Times and has been recognized by Northwell Health as a Rising Star and Physician of the Year. He hosts a series on YouTube in collaboration with Northwell Health called “Hack Your Health,” where viewers are taught why household items may relieve their ailments. Dr. Ascher is an assistant professor of the Zucker Hillside School of Medicine at Hoftsra Northwell, has been a pioneer for telehealth throughout his career, has been a media expert, and is heavily involved in practice and technology optimization. He appreciates building relationships with his patients and their families to encourage long, happy, and healthy lives.