Magnesium is an essential mineral for the body, yet many people don’t get a sufficient amount through their diet. In fact, research shows approximately 48% of Americans fall short when it comes to their magnesium levels - which is where supplements come in.
But not all magnesium supplements are created equal. A large number of buyers are wasting their money on overpriced products that don’t improve their levels at all. Here's what you need to know about the different types of magnesium so you can be confident in choosing a formula for your needs.
Getting the Most Out of Your Magnesium Supplement
If you're taking a magnesium supplement, you want it to be effective. Unfortunately, many popular supplements vary greatly in quality and can leave you with only partial benefits. But don’t worry, we're here to help clear up the confusion.
The first thing to understand about magnesium is that, as a mineral, it exists in nature only when it's stuck or bound with another compound. For example, if you attached chlorine to magnesium, you would have a magnesium salt called magnesium chloride, the same form of magnesium found in the ocean. There are also natural deposits of magnesium carbonate in the earth and magnesium sulfate present in springs.
Let’s highlight two key factors that determine the quality of a magnesium formula, elemental magnesium and absorption rate.
What is Elemental Magnesium?
When we highlight the many ways a mineral can be bound, we are talking about the different mineral salt forms. Generally, what a magnesium salt is bound to will determine how much elemental magnesium it contains. Some forms will be able to hold lots of elemental magnesium. Others will not.
“Elemental magnesium” refers to the amount of actual magnesium within each salt. Since magnesium can only be taken as a compound (combined with other molecules), a supplement is never just pure magnesium. The problem when shopping for supplements arises because different magnesium salts all provide different amounts of elemental magnesium.
For example, magnesium oxide is about 60% magnesium and 40% oxygen, which means that taking a 400 mg supplement would only provide 240 mg of actual, or elemental magnesium. You would need at least two capsules (minimum) just to maintain levels.
Why Absorption Matters
In addition to how much elemental magnesium is present, the second thing a mineral salt form will determine is the absorption rate. The most commonly used forms of magnesium, like oxide and citrate, have the WORST absorption. So you can ramp up on lots of elemental magnesium, but what good will it do if your body is unable to absorb it? The amount of elemental magnesium along with the absorption rate are both key factors to consider.
5 Different Types of Magnesium
Let’s break down 5 of the most common forms of magnesium on the market today, so you can decide the right one for you.
As we discussed earlier, despite having one of the highest amounts of elemental magnesium (around 60%), magnesium oxide has some major drawbacks. Due to a low absorption rate of only 4%, magnesium oxide is actually the most poorly absorbed form of all. The main benefit of magnesium oxide is related to its laxative effect. It draws water into the intestines and stimulates bowel movements, which is great for people who are experiencing occasional constipation. But it will do little for those with a magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium citrate powder is the most commonly used form of magnesium, likely because it’s inexpensive and easy to find. The downside is that it provides just 16% elemental magnesium with an absorption rate only around 20% of the amount you take. Therefore, this form is not intended for long term use. Magnesium citrate powder, when mixed with water, can be more easily absorbed than if taken in pill or capsule form. However, many people, including older populations, find mixing the powder to be quite messy and inconvenient.
Magnesium chelate is a general term for all forms of magnesium where magnesium is bound with other molecules (usually) an amino acid. Magnesium glycinate is formed by the combination of magnesium and the amino acid glycine; and contains about 14.1% of elemental magnesium. Chelated forms like magnesium glycinate claim to be less laxative and more easily absorbed. However, absorption is only about 20% of the total amount taken.
Magnesium chloride is one of the most highly-absorbed forms of magnesium, providing an excellent way to replenish and maintain your magnesium levels. Research shows magnesium chloride molecules are able to cross the blood-brain barrier and reach the cells, making it easier for your body to absorb and use.
Magnesium chloride is commonly chosen as a safe and natural source because it does not cause the same laxative effects, compared to other types. This allows you to access all the benefits of magnesium without fear of running to the bathroom too often.
Magnesium L-threonate is the salt formed from mixing magnesium and threonic acid. This form is often promoted as one of the best forms of magnesium for brain function, but currently no data has been shown to support this claim. Because magnesium l-threonate supplements only provide a small amount of elemental magnesium, you may not want to rely on this type of supplement to maintain healthy magnesium levels. You would have to take a significant dose of magnesium l-threonate to meet your daily magnesium needs.
While magnesium is crucial to your health, it can be difficult to get through just diet alone. Knowing about the different types can be valuable information when it comes to choosing a formula. Supplementing with magnesium can have a positive effect on health, but it's most important to choose the right form that will work for you.