Jon has a Ph.D in chemistry. Living an active outdoor lifestyle, he also has an interest in nutrition science and nature conservation.
The Role of Magnesium in the Body
First, let's look at the role of magnesium in the body. Magnesium is necessary for over 300 different reaction pathways in the human body. It maintains healthy muscle function and helps nerve health. Magnesium is a part of regulating blood glucose, keeping your heartbeat steady during the day, and, in conjunction with calcium, helps maintain strong bones.
Overall magnesium is one of the essential minerals in the human body. Therefore, it is surprising that an estimated 80% of Americans suffer from some degree of magnesium deficiency. Those numbers probably also apply to most of the Western world, but research is scarcer in other Western countries. Why is hard to say, perhaps it is due to magnesium strain on farmland resulting in farm produce with smaller amounts of magnesium than expected. Or it could just be due to a lifestyle with more monotonous food choices.
Regardless of the reasons, due to this ubiquitous magnesium deficiency supplementation with magnesium should be a no-brainer for most Western people. However, when you go to select your magnesium supplement, you are confronted with a dizzying amount of choices. Which supplement is best for you?
Types of Magnesium Supplements
There are at least 11 common types of magnesium supplements readily available in stores across the world, with more appearing each year. In this list, I go over the more common ones and the ones I regard as superior to the others.
Magnesium Amino Acid Chelate
This is a form of magnesium where the magnesium ion has been trapped in a chelate structure which is often highly absorbent from the digestive system into the bloodstream. As such, the bioavailability of magnesium amino acid chelate is among the highest available commercially.
Magnesium carbonate is the most common form of magnesium supplements that are available. It is sometimes referred to as Magnesia and is consistently used to treat constipation and as a relief from acid reflux. The bioavailability of magnesium carbonate is rather low compared to the other types. Also, being a carbonate, when digested it lowers the stomach acid levels which sometimes can cause acid reflux rebound.
Magnesium chloride is in many respects the simplest of the magnesium supplements available. It dissolves quite readily in water, and some specialized table salts have it as a component.
This is a form of magnesium that is bound to a citrate ion, which is the salt of citric acid. Magnesium citrate is considered one of the better forms of magnesium as its bioavailability is among the highest found and it can be taken with or without food.
Some studies have found that this form of magnesium has the highest bioavailability. However, some people can experience side effects from this supplement, such as diarrhea, bloating and upset stomach. Others experience symptoms similar to allergic responses. This is most likely due to the lactate that the magnesium is bound to as it is a known allergen and irritant for certain people.
For a long time, this form of magnesium supplement was the only one available and it is by far the cheapest. However, recent research found that the bioavailability of magnesium oxide is extremely poor (about 4%), which means that it is almost useless as a supplement. Even so, this form is still being sold and some brands try to trick consumers by mixing magnesium oxide in with other types of magnesium supplements.
One such example is a brand which labels its product as magnesium citrate, yet if you read the contents, you discover that each tablet is about 80% magnesium oxide. So when selecting your magnesium supplement, you should be aware of this and always read the contents.
Magnesium orotate is an interesting form of magnesium supplement. It is both useful as a magnesium supplement with good bioavailability and it is also used as an orotate supplement, which can improve athletic performance and endurance. Also, it has been shown to have some benefits for heart health.
This is however not the best supplement for magnesium deficiency unless you are also attempting to improve your athletic abilities or you are worried about your heart.
Magnesium sulfate, also known as Epsom salts, has many uses, one of which is as a laxative to assist in weight loss or to solve constipation problems. Personally, I would never use this form of supplement for magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium Glycinate, Taurate, and Malate
These forms of magnesium are similar and they show comparable bioavailability, which is in the upper range, with the malate form being slightly less absorbable.
What Is the Best Magnesium Supplement to Take?
When we start to compare the different varieties of magnesium supplements, there are a couple of things we need to take into account. First, we need to take into account bioavailability, which is the ability of the body to absorb that particular mineral. Next, we need to look at the maximum absorbance that can occur at any given time frame and finally we need to consider the effect of the supplement on the digestive system.
With this in mind, it is my opinion that for healthy individuals, magnesium chelates are the best bet. My wife and I use it regularly to avoid any magnesium deficiencies that may occur. It is also quite safe to take in recommenced doses as the toxicity levels of magnesium are rather high in a healthy person. The brand I would recommend for dietary magnesium is Doctor's Best, which can be bought from Amazon. It is the brand my wife and I use.
In some cases other types may be more beneficial, for example, magnesium orotate has been shown to have benefits for the heart and magnesium citrate can help if you suffer from constipation problems.
But as always, you should discuss this with your doctor before starting any long-term mineral supplementation.
How to Take Magnesium
You should always follow the advice of your doctor, but otherwise, you should take it twice a day. With meals, if you are using magnesium carbonate, with or without meals for magnesium chelates or magnesium citrate. The container should also have good advice.
Benefits of Magnesium Supplements for Weight Loss
A lot of websites claim that magnesium is helpful for weight loss. However, this is false except in one particularly unhealthy sense. While some studies have shown that magnesium can regulate blood sugar, none have shown an effect on metabolic rate in otherwise healthy people.
Having said that, magnesium in high doses, especially magnesium sulfate, can be used as a laxative. This causes your body to lose water weight and prevents healthy digestion of the food you eat, resulting in reduced body weight.
Using this method will only result in very temporary weight loss, as the weight will all come back as soon as you stop using magnesium in such an unhealthy and dangerous way.
For a permanent weight loss, you should focus on healthier foods, a more active lifestyle and perhaps integrate 12-hour fasting into your daily routine.
Benefits of Magnesium Supplements for Sleep
If you are having trouble sleeping, then you should definitely try dietary magnesium supplements. It is a well known scientific fact that magnesium helps with insomnia.
Magnesium helps your muscles relax and reduces cortisol (which is a stress hormone) in your blood. Together this is often enough to help people with slight insomnia get a better night's sleep. And the best part is that you cannot form a dependence on magnesium, beyond the one already there.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2018 Jon Sigurdsson