I interrupt your day to bring you the 411 on all things magnesium. It all started when I saw a post hating on one of my favorite magnesium supplements and a little verbal jousting that occurred over which supplement was the best of the best.
What I realized, is that there are a lot of misconceptions about magnesium — when you should take it, how you should use it, whether you need it, and which form is best. Many people assume one supplement fits all and because it says “magnesium” on the label, it’s going to do what a true magnesium supplement is supposed to do and address whatever symptoms magnesium is supposed to address. This simply isn’t the case.
There are many different forms of magnesium (some better than others) and the form of magnesium you choose should be tailored to whatever issue you’re having and whatever you want it to do for you.
What Magnesium Does
Magnesium is involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body. It helps regulate your blood pressure and sugar, is involved in protein synthesis and energy production, helps your muscles and nerves function, makes other minerals and nutrients more bioavailable, and is essential for proper metabolism and your nervous system. Because of our stressful lifestyles, genetically modified foods, and magnesium-lacking diets, a lot of us are deficient.
Signs and Causes of Magnesium Deficiency
A magnesium deficiency can be caused by any number of things: your diet, GMO foods, carbonated beverages, refined sugars (which cause magnesium to be excreted through the kidneys), stress, birth control and other medications to name a few.
If you’re experiencing anxiety, depression, low thyroid function, muscle cramps, restless legs, headaches, insomnia, migraines, osteoporosis, insulin sensitivity (which plays a role in PCOS and diabetes), metabolic syndrome, inflammation, bone or muscle weakness, ADHD, mad chocolate cravings, raging PMS, seizures, heart issues, or literally 5,000 other things, you probably need a little mag.
If you’re unsure whether or not you need a magnesium supplement … you probably need a magnesium supplement.
What you shouldn’t do though, is hit up your local Wal-Mart and hook yourself up with whatever is on their shelf. (Getting a supplement at Wal-Mart is never a good idea.) You also shouldn’t assume that all magnesium supplements are the same, because they’re not. I know, you’ll hear a science enthusiast tell you that magnesium is magnesium … but how it’s derived, how it’s processed, and what form it ultimately ends up in (when combined with other minerals or amino acids) varies.
Choosing the Right Magnesium Supplement
Here are the most common magnesium supplements and what they’re used for:
- Magnesium oxide is the form of magnesium found in many supplements, contains laxative properties, binds to fatty acids, and is poorly absorbed by the body. It’s poor absorption (about 4%) is what causes the loose stools. I can’t think of any reason why you’d want to use magnesium oxide. Cheap supplements from cheap companies will most often contain this form of magnesium. These companies and people in mainstream medicine love them some mag oxide. Those of us who know anything about natural medicine don’t.
- Magnesium glycinate is a chelated form of magnesium and is highly absorbed by the body. It’s used most often to correct magnesium deficiencies and might work best for someone whose deficiency is linked to a mitochondrial or genetic issue, athletes, or those who have trouble digesting fats and carbohydrates.
- Magnesium carbonate is most effective at addressing stomach acidity issues and taken to alkalize the body.
- Magnesium sulfate is the form found in epsom salt. It has laxative properties and is absorbed through the skin. Want to know when you might want to use this form of magnesium? Read this post on epsom salt.
- Magnesium taurate is a form of magnesium that’s bound to an amino acid and is most often used for anxiety and heart conditions. (This is not my go-to form of magnesium.)
- Magnesium hydroxide is what’s used in milk of magnesium (as a laxative). Most brands contain sodium hypochlorite (essentially diluted bleach) along with artificial ingredients and other nasty goodies, so if you’re pregnant, you’ll want to source a version that doesn’t. Magnesium hydroxide is also used in natural deodorants.
- Magnesium threonate is used for mitochondrial disfunction because it has the ability to permeate the mitochondrial membrane. It is also more effective for memory and cognition and has less of a laxative effect than other forms of magnesium.
- Magnesium Aspartate is found in a lot of bodybuilding and fitness supplements. It consists of magnesium and the amino acid aspartate. Aspartate, when isolated (i.e. not consumed with other amino acids found in protein) is an excitatory neurotransmitter. High doses of this supplement can cause neuronal damage (i.e. it’s excitotoxic) and should be avoided by those with magnesium deficiencies and by pretty much everyone else in general.
- Magnesium citrate is what’s found in Natural Calm. This form of magnesium is most known for its laxative properties but unlike oxides, its laxative affects aren’t due to poor absorption. Once mag citrate dissolves in your stomach, it increases the concentration of solutes inside the intestine so that they are higher than surrounding tissues. This osmotic effect is what causes you to go. Mag citrate may benefit someone with magnesium deficiencies that manifest as “ADHD,” constipation, or anxiety. (Wait, but you heard that Natural Calm contains heavy metals based on an old unsubstantiated report? Thou shalt not believe such things. This product has 7,000 5-star reviews for a reason.)
- Magnesium Chloride contains only 12% elemental magnesium but is highly absorbed across a wide range of pH levels. It’s most often used for stomach acidity imbalances, type 2 diabetes, insomnia, and detoxification.
Magnesium and Heavy Metals
You should know that practically all magnesium products contain traces of heavy metals, as do other supplements and foods grown naturally. It’s literally impossibly to avoid because of how magnesium is derived (from minerals dolomite, salt brines, or sea water). The problem is when these levels get too high or when companies fail to meet adequate quality standards.
I don’t lose much sleep over this, but if you’re concerned you can check out a company’s quality standards, read independent data, look at the reviews from the countless others who have used the product before you, while also making sure that your methylation is on point.
The Best Way to Take Magnesium
There are multiple ways to take magnesium — You can drink it, take a bath in it, put it on your skin, or swallow it, and how you should take it depends on what you’re using it for.
If you want something that works quickly for constipation or anxiety, then magnesium citrate is an ideal choice. If you’re looking to correct mitochondrial dysfunction, then you’re going to choose something like magnesium threonate. If you want something chelated to correct a magnesium deficiency that came up on a lab test, then magnesium glycinate is the way to go.
If you are going to take magnesium, do a little research and make sure it’s not just any junk-brand off the shelf. Tailor it to what you need it for and what you’re hoping to accomplish.