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  • Dr Thor Conner

Which Magnesium Do You Need?

Are you interested in using a magnesium supplement? Do you currently take a mag supplement and aren’t sure if you are using the right one? Well, that’s okay, it’s a complicated subject and a common deficiency. All magnesium is NOT created equal and there are many different forms sold as supplements or for medical use.

Profound magnesium deficiency is not common, because it’s available in a lot of foods, but lower than optimal levels of magnesium are often a factor in many common ailments. The mineral is used in so many ways in our bodies, in our bones, nerves, digestion, cardiovascular system, fat metabolism, energy production and even blood clotting. Over 600 different uses, and that’s just magnesium by itself.

Magnesium (in any form) has been proven effective in improving glycemic control and in the treatment of migraine headache, PMS, sleep and neurological disorders, restless leg syndrome and muscle cramps. Magnesium improves the action of blood pressure medications, reduces the endothelial disruption and inflammation associated with arteriosclerosis, and both reduces triglycerides and raises HDL (good) cholesterol.

Magnesium has to be bound to another ion (a cofactor) to be stable, it can be a simple ion, making a mineral salt (Mg Oxide), or a complex one, like an amino acid chelate (Mg Malate). Often the cofactor is as important to the medicinal effect as the magnesium ion itself.

How do I know that I need more magnesium?

Common signs of magnesium deficiency include fatigue, brain fog, anxiety, depression, insomnia, digestive issues, muscle cramps at night, aching muscles and spasm, high blood pressure and even some types of cardiac arrhythmia.

While there is no good lab test for anything less than a severe deficiency, there is little potential harm in taking magnesium to see if it helps. It is very safe in low to moderate dosages. The most common side effect is loose stools with some forms and with higher dosages.

It's great to eat a lot of these foods, but you may need a supplement to get the desired effect.

Foods that are high in magnesium include meat, fish, nuts, dairy, leafy greens, avocados, dark chocolate, legumes and whole grains. Processing and boiling of foods can render unusable 50-80% of the magnesium, so eat brown rice and don't overcook your food. Magnesium often works as a cofactor with Vitamin B6 and Folic acid, so you should make sure you have enough of these nutrients to get the full benefits of magnesium throughout the body. Luckily, many of the foods high in magnesium are also rich in B vitamins.

While safe overall, there are possible interactions with certain medications. Look at for more information.

What type of magnesium supplement do I need?

There are many forms of magnesium available as supplements. All deliver usable magnesium but the substance the mineral is bound to influences absorbability and may have an additional effect medically. Some forms are better others for specific conditions.

Let’s go through a few of them. The mineral salts are simpler forms that work quickly and are relatively inexpensive. For a short-term effect, these are usually a good option.

  • Magnesium Chloride dissolves into solution easily and is often taken as a drink to treat heartburn and stomach acid problems as a delivery for chloride ions to support healthy digestive acid levels. It is also used for stimulating and supporting kidney function, When mixed thickly in water, Mag Chloride becomes magnesium oil, which isn’t an oil at all, but is the best form for transdermal (skin) absorption. Often used for muscle cramps.

  • Magnesium Oxide is the most common form and is a naturally occurring inorganic compound. It is NOT well absorbed, only about 4%, so the best use is as an antacid or quick-acting osmotic laxative. Think Milk of Magnesia. Take in small, frequent doses to avoid accidental incontinence. The magnesium in most multivitamins is oxide and useless.

  • Magnesium Citrate by comparison is 95% absorbable, mostly through passive diffusion. Citrate is the best at relaxing smooth muscle, making it a good choice for reducing hypertension. Mag citrate is the best laxative, combining the osmotic effect (bringing water into the large intestine) with its smooth muscle relaxation effect to make it a good choice for chronic constipation. Just remember to drink enough water to avoid dehydrating yourself in the process. Because of its absorbability, mag citrate is effective as a sleep aid, nerve calmative, and asthma. The popular magnesium supplement, Natural Calm, contains magnesium citrate.

  • Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom salt) is mostly used as a bath soak to relieve sore muscles, in a sitz bath, or in an isolation tank. It can be occasionally taken orally to relieve constipation as one of the best osmotic laxatives, but beware, it can be a bit harsh. It is the most common pharmaceutical form, hospitals use it in IV preparations to treat severe deficiencies in cardiac arrhythmias, pre-/eclampsia and asthma. Epsom salt paste can be used as a drawing salve for splinter removal.

  • Magnesium stearate is an additive used in many capsules, you see it on many labels. It is used in manufacturing as a flow agent, preventing ingredients in the capsule from sticking to each other or the machinery that creates consistency in the capsules. Mag Stearate is non absorbable and non-reactive and has been shown to be non-toxic. It is NOT a source of dietary magnesium.

Amino acid chelates have multiple functions, due to the magnesium itself, the amino acid that it is chelated to, and the complex of the two. They do more than just provide magnesium, so they are more condition-specific and can be used long-term. They also tend to be more expensive, so if you need just magnesium, a chelate may be unnecessary.

  • Magnesium Glycinate is a good example of the extra benefit you get when magnesium is chelated. Because the Mg+ is chelated to glycine it is very absorbable and both amino and mineral benefit the nervous system. So it is doubly good for nerves and stress and reducing muscle cramps. Because glycine actually lowers body temperature, it is also a sleep aid. It is resistant to stomach acid so it’s also the choice for leaky gut. Mag glycinate is the least laxative form of magnesium. see MagSoothe

  • Magnesium Malate is the preferred form for helping the symptoms of fibromyalgia. The magnesium bound to malic acid, which is active in the malate transport chain in the mitochondria, so that it increases ATP production, increasing energy levels, speeding exercise recovery and reducing post workout muscle cramps. Jigsaw's MagSRT is one we use a lot. Fun fact: malic acid is what gives fruits their tart taste, think red raspberries.

  • Magnesium Orotate is often used for performance athletes as it increases ATP production AND it acts as a buffer for lactic acid, making for quicker post workout recovery. Orotate is another good choice for boosting energy levels and reducing muscle cramps, its only drawback is its poor bioavailability.

  • Magnesium Threonate is the form that works best at getting magnesium into the brain, enhancing memory and learning abilities. It’s great for decreasing brain fog by boosting neurotransmitter action. Threonate increases brain plasticity, making it a good therapeutic choice for PTSD, traumatic brain injury and dementia.

  • Magnesium Taurate is one of the best free radical scavengers, making it ideal for cardiovascular health, for healing after injury, and for dealing with an acute and chronic stress reactions. Taurate also promotes GABA metabolism and is thus a great calmative agent. Mag taurate is a great choice for the treatment of mood disorders that have GABA deficiencies at their root, such as some forms of depression or bipolar disorder. This form can cause GI upset and diarrhea.

Remember that any form ending in "–ate" is going to be better absorbed.

In short, magnesium supplementation is useful for most people, because everyone is stressed, tired, and/or not sleeping enough. I hope that this explanation has made your choices a little easier when it comes to choose the right magnesium for you. As always, if you have questions or would like to address a specific problem, consult with us at World Tree Natural Medicine.

Infographic courtesy of Jigsaw Health

Afterthought, many medications, Rx and OTC, drain your body of magnesium. Blood pressure drugs (ACE inhibitors), Diuretics (Lasix) protein pump inhibitors (Prilosec, Nexium, and Zantac), antacids (Maalox and Tums), antibiotics (Amoxicillin, the Z-Pak, Cipro, and Keflex), corticosteroids (Flonase), Ritalin and hormone therapies (replacement OR contraceptives) all use magnesium in their use and detox. Ironically many of these drugs treat conditions that would be improved by magnesium supplementation.