Despite how essential magnesium is to the body, plenty of people don't get enough of it through diet alone. An analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that 48% of Americans don't get adequate amounts of magnesium from food and drinks—and that's where supplements come in.*
What is magnesium?
Magnesium is an essential mineral in our bodies. It is involved in almost all significant metabolic and biochemical processes—from regulation of cardiac rhythm to maintaining electrolyte balance1.
Do I need to take it?
Unfortunately, magnesium gets depleted as we go through everyday life. Stress has the potential to increase magnesium loss2, as do certain foods and beverages like coffee3. Even the way our food is grown can play a role in our magnesium intake.
But it can be tricky to decide just what type of magnesium supplement you need. A trip to the store or quick online search returns countless options. So which one should you try? We've broken down the options here to guide you in your search.
One of the most popular forms, magnesium glycinate (AKA magnesium bisglycinate) is a combination of magnesium and the amino acid glycine. This organic chelate complex is gentle on the stomach and has good bioavailability.
Glycine has been linked with deep and restorative sleep5, and research shows that magnesium glycinate may help promote a steady state of relaxation.* In fact, in a clinical trial of older adults, magnesium glycinate supplementation promoted overall sleep quality6.* This means this form of magnesium is great if a restful night of sleep is what you're after.*
Overall, magnesium glycinate can be a good supplement choice, especially since "this form is well tolerated and well absorbed,"* says Jamie Alan, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University.
Magnesium citrate is "commonly used as a supplement to address low levels of magnesium,"* says Keri Gans, R.D., author of The Small Change Diet. It can also be used to get your bowels moving, says Alan.*
This stimulant gut effect is true of all magnesium supplements at high enough doses, but individual responses vary from one person to another.
Looking for a general magnesium supplement? Alan says this is a good option. "This supplement can help replenish magnesium levels if they are low,"* Keatley says. Also, "some people use this topically in a lotion to soothe muscles, but the research on this is low8, and there is little to no absorption of the magnesium through the skin."
Magnesium oxide is a common form for supplements. This form has relatively lower absorption (compared to other forms like magnesium citrate), but can still be useful at higher, meaningful doses seen with targeted supplements.*
This form of magnesium helps to pull fluid into the intestines to get things moving down there, Angelone explains.* And like a digestive buffer, magnesium oxide can also be used to reduce stomach acid, Alan says.*
While you can take magnesium lactate as a supplement, it actually shows up more as a food additive ingredient to reduce acidity in food formulations, Gans says.
That said, magnesium lactate is absorbed well by your body and may be used by individuals with specific medical nutrition therapy needs (i.e., with help of a health care practitioner) who need large doses of magnesium, Keatley says.
This is touted as the one of the most absorbable form of magnesium, Alan explains. "There is also some suggestion that this can be used for brain health, but I am not sure the science is there for that."
Keatley agrees. "In animal studies9, this supplement has led to a greater deposit of magnesium in brain tissue," she says. "However, there is not enough research to determine if this is good or not in the long term."
Magnesium malate is thought to be "easier to digest" than some other forms of magnesium and can help regulate you, Gans says. One preclinical study in rodents published in the journal Biological Trace Element Research10 found that magnesium malate is easily absorbed by the small intestine and can stay there for an extended period of time.
Better known as Epsom salt (which is not a supplement), magnesium sulfate is often sprinkled into a bath to help relieve sore muscles, Keatley says.* But, while Epsom salt baths are hugely popular, "there's not enough research to support that it soothes muscle tension," Gans says.
As a supplement, it's the "most potent form of magnesium to encourage bowel movements,"* Angelone notes.
The big draw with magnesium orotate is the claim that it may help you work out harder.* "Some people use it because it contains orotic acid, which is said to enhance athletic performance," Alan says. But "the science doesn't back this claim up at this point."
Magnesium orotate is also "relatively expensive" compared to other forms of magnesium, Angelone says. But for most people, it's not the best option. "It doesn't seem to offer benefits compared to the other forms," Angelone says.
Which type is right for me?
Stressed? Tired? Having trouble sleeping? Review each magnesium type above to see which one might help suit your needs the best. Then check with your doctor to make sure it's right for you.
Which is better magnesium glycinate or citrate?
It depends what you are looking for—the citrate form is a good choice for raising overall magnesium levels while the glycinate form is generally taken for its calming effect.
What magnesium do doctors recommend?
Most often, healthcare providers will recommend magnesium glycinate or citrate as they are easy to find and bioavailable. Check with your doctor to see which form is right for you.
How much magnesium should I take?
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for magnesium is 310mg for women ages 31 to 50 and 320mg for women over 50. For men ages 31 and over, 420mg is the recommended dose.
Magnesium is crucial to your health so if you're not getting adequate levels of this mineral through food, you may want to consider supplements.* A number of different forms exist, many with different uses. If you're not sure which one is right for your needs, speak with your doctor.
Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, relationships, and lifestyle trends with a master’s degree from American University. Her work has appeared in Women’s Health, Prevention, Self, Glamour, and more. She lives by the beach, and hopes to own a taco truck one day.