You are here

Choosing the Right Magnesium

Every day in my office I address the question, "What is the best magnesium supplement for....?"

Magnesium deficiency is common

Our modern food supply, our general diet, and our red blood cells are largely deficient in magnesium. The vital nutrient is a co-factor in almost every energy-generating or toxin-removing activity we carry on. Magnesium is particularly likely to be depleted in anyone who is on the slope toward diabetes: insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, abdominal obesity, hypertension, pre-diabetes. Magnesium is important for brain health. As people age, our digestive forces weaken and magnesium helps tremendously with constipation. Our busy lifestyles can make relaxation a challenge and magnesium can help with relaxation both brain and muscles, during the daytime and at night when we want to sleep.

Magnesium exists as a mineral in the natural world, but for health purposes magnesium always comes as a salt, meaning that it is combined with another element into its many different forms. Although some reactions are idiosyncratic, you can usually count on the different forms of magnesium to behave predictably in certain ways, and, depending on the salt, to be useful for different particular magnesium deficiency problems. I always encourage patients to test for themselves, but generally find the following rankings to be helpful.

Magnesium moves the bowels

Magnesium works in the digestive tract in a variety of ways, from totally strong laxative effect to gentle relaxation. Note: the stronger the laxative effect, the less benefit you’ll get in other areas such as brain health or metabolic benefit.

Strongest laxative is oral magnesium sulfate, referred to as Epsom salts, I don't recommend

Strong laxative is magnesium oxide: I recommend this if someone is really blocked OR if you have reason to take a constipating narcotic: take magnesium oxide along with it.

Medium laxative would be magnesium citrate, and less so magnesium glycinate

Least GI affecting forms include magnesium taurate, lactate, malate, l-threonate and topical magnesium (oil, lotion) or Epsom salts baths (magnesium sulfate)       

And can be helpful with many specific problems

Keeping the bowel effects in mind, you can choose among all the magnesiums for the effect you most want. When several magnesiums are listed, choose the one that has the bowel effect that would be most compatible with your natural digestion. Here's a list of magnesium salts commonly used for different health challenges or desired results. There is obviously some overlap in these categories!

Brain Health                        l-threonate 

Calming brain                      glycinate, l-threonate

Anxiety                                 citrate, glycinate

Muscle tension/twitch         Epsom salts, taurate, & topical mag

Insomnia                               Epsom salts, citrate,  glycinate, and  l-threonate

Metabolic syndrome             lactate,  glycinate

Heart palpitations                 taurate,  lactate,  glycinate or citrate

Bone Health                           lactate (best absorbed magnesium)

Muscle soreness                   malate, taurate, topical and Epsom salts

What else do you take magnesium for?  Do you respond in this pattern or is your individual response different?