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Magnesium: The Ultimate Supplement Guide

Written by Tom Von Deck
Reviewed by Kimberly Langdon

Magnesium is a mineral that’s essential for hundreds of different chemical reactions in your body. Your cells need magnesium to function properly. Magnesium is especially important for the nervous, cardiovascular, and skeletal systems. (1) Yet, most people are magnesium deficient and therefore need a magnesium supplement.

These are just a few of magnesium’s many functions:

  • Makes communication between neurons possible (2)
  • Helps create & repair DNA (3)
  • Aids & quickens protein creation (3)
  • Activates vitamin D for bone & immune system health (4)
  • Serves a vital role in turning carbs, fats & proteins into energy (5)

Most People are Magnesium Deficient

This mineral is so important, yet a large percentage of us humans have a magnesium deficiency! Averages vary by country. Even in the wealthiest nations on Earth, some figures are as high as 70%-80%. (6)

Deficiency is usually misdiagnosed because magnesium in your blood serum makes up only 1% of the amount present within your body. In fact, 80%-90% of it is in your muscles and bones. This makes it hard to estimate just how many people have deficiencies. (6)(7)

This Ultimate Magnesium Supplement Guide is designed to answer all of your questions about magnesium in foods and supplements. It contains over 40 citations of scientific studies and reputable medical websites. If you still have questions or concerns after reading this, don’t be a stranger. Contact us or leave a comment below.

What are the Benefits of Magnesium in Foods & Magnesium Supplements?

Swiss chard is one of top greens for magnesium contenThe list of magnesium benefits is long, but this is a sample of the most popular ones:

  • Calms nerves & anxious thoughts (8)
  • Reduces the time before falling asleep & increases sleep efficiency, sleep length, melatonin levels & renin levels (9)
  • Boosts energy (10)(11)
  • Lowers inflammation (12)
  • Relieves muscle spasms & cramps associated with magnesium deficiency (13)
  • Improves circulation, blood pressure & heart health (14)
  • Becomes a woman’s best friend during PMS episodes (15)(16)
  • Aids memory & learning (17)
  • Prevents bone fractures when magnesium levels are not too high or too low (18)
  • Supports joint health & cartilage maintenance (19)
  • Aids elimination of waste & draws water to the intestines, keeping you regular (20)
  • Enhances sports performance & muscle recovery (21)(22)
  • Reduces the need for asthma inhalers (23)
  • Boosts insulin resistance (24)

What are the Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency?

The most common signs of magnesium deficiency include: (6)(10)(26)

  • Muscle Cramps & Spasms
  • Migraines
  • Insomnia
  • Brain Fog & Memory Problems
  • Osteoporosis & Brittle Bones
  • Tooth Decay
  • Erectile Dysfunction
  • Constipation
  • Irregular Heartbeat
  • Anxiety & Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Appetite Loss

Extreme cases may include seizures and convulsions.

Note: If you even have a few of these symptoms, it may not be because of magnesium deficiency. Many of the symptoms appear in other disorders, too. Don’t self-diagnose. Talk to your doctor.

What Foods are Highest in Magnesium?

Greens, nuts, whole grains, beans, and fish are all great sources of magnesium.

Greens: Spinach and Swiss chard seem to be the winners. (25)

Grains: Quinoa is at or near the top of the list of grains. Whole wheat flour rules the flours with six times the amount of magnesium as white flour. (25)

Beans: While all beans are good magnesium sources, black beans deserve a special shout out. (25)

Seeds: Go with pumpkin. Sunflower seeds don’t have nearly as much magnesium as pumpkin seeds, but they have far more of it than most other foods. (25)

List of top foods with high concentrations of magnesium: (26)(27)

  • Nuts like almonds, peanuts & cashews
  • Almond butter
  • Peanut butter
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Broccoli
  • Avocados
  • Potatoes
  • Rice, especially brown rice
  • Whole wheat
  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Pumpkin & sunflower seeds
  • Black beans
  • Soymilk
  • Quinoa
  • Dark chocolate

What are the Different Types of Magnesium Supplements?

A * indicates magnesium forms Intelligent Labs uses in its MagEnhance complex.

Magnesium Taurate *

This is a salt composed of magnesium and the amino acid, taurine. It’s best known for supporting cardiovascular health and for calming the mind. (28)(29)(44)

Water breaks it down into magnesium ions and taurine. Both have strong affinities with GABA receptors, just like benzos, Valium, and alcohol. (30)(31)

GABA is the neurotransmitter that calms mental activity and helps you relax. Without it, you cannot relax or sleep. Both magnesium and taurine also support the heart and blood circulation and help improve cognition.

Magnesium L-Threonate *

This supplement was developed by researchers at MIT and two other universities. Their goal was to create a magnesium supplement that crosses the blood-brain barrier and elevates magnesium levels in the brain and spine.

Magnesium L-threonate – which is patented under the brand name, Magtein – is best-known for improving memory and cognition and for calming anxious and restless thoughts. People also use it to reduce migraine symptoms.

The blood-brain barrier keeps most nutrients, drugs, and toxins from entering the brain through the bloodstream. Magnesium L-threonate gets into the brain easily. This makes it the ideal form for improving brain function.

Magnesium Glycinate *

Widely touted for being among the most bioavailable forms, this one is used to ensure healthy levels of magnesium throughout the entire body. It doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier, though.  It’s an excellent complement that partners well with magnesium L-threonate. (32)

Magnesium glycinate is also known for being easy on the digestive system. Magnesium supplements might trigger diarrhea and other symptoms if you take too much. It’s usually temporary. Those who continue to have these problems with other forms often report fewer or no issues with this form. (33)

The glycine and the magnesium both help to calm the mind. (32)

Magnesium Citrate

Its reputation for constipation relief contributes to this supplement’s popularity. People seeking magnesium’s laxative effects may choose this form over others. Doctors refer to it as a saline laxative. Another common use is for acid indigestion. It also brings you all the other benefits of magnesium. (34)

Magnesium citrate is a water-soluble salt. Roughly 11% of it by weight is elemental magnesium atoms. That 11% has a higher absorption rate than most other magnesium supplement forms. (43)

Magnesium Chloride

“Magnesium flakes” is the common name for this form. The molecule is composed of a magnesium atom and two chlorine atoms, and it’s very water-soluble. (35)

Magnesium chloride absorbs into the body well. (36)

The most common uses are raising blood magnesium levels and reducing heartburn and acid indigestion. (38)

Magnesium Gluconate

This magnesium salt absorbs into the body very easily. Even among the non-salt forms, it’s known for high absorption. (39)

On the other hand, a 500mg tablet of this stuff may only yield about 25mg of actual magnesium. This is because magnesium is only 5% of the molecule. (40)

Sufferers of leg cramps, migraines, and some intestinal problems turn to this form in large numbers. It also has a reputation for not upsetting the digestive system.

Magnesium Oxide

This is the most common form on pharmacy and grocery store shelves. It’s a magnesium salt. It’s known as a general use magnesium supplement. A 500mg dose of this will yield about 300mg of actual magnesium. On the other hand, it doesn’t absorb into the body as well as other forms. This means you might get 4% of the 300mg (36)(37)

If you’re prone to side effects like diarrhea or allergies, try a different form.

Magnesium Lactate

This form has proven itself to absorb easily into the body. It’s great for general use, and it absorbs easily. (36)

Users tend to report fewer side effects from it compared to magnesium oxide and some others.

Magnesium Aspartate

This absorbs well compared to magnesium oxide, the most common supplement form. (36)(37)

Aspartates are amino acids known for increasing absorption of some minerals into the body. Magnesium is one of these minerals. (41)

Magnesium Sulfate

Better-known as Epsom salts, people use this form for mineral baths. It is common to soak with it to reduce inflammation, aches, muscle soreness, cramps, and stress. There isn’t much scientific research on this yet. Some people use it internally for the magnesium content.

What is the Correct Way to Read a Magnesium Supplement Label?

To learn how much magnesium you’re actually getting, read the label.

If it says, “Magnesium from Magnesium Glycinate – 140mg,” this means you’re getting 140mg of elemental magnesium atoms.

If it says, “Magnesium Glycinate – 1,000mg,” it means you’re getting 1,000mg from magnesium glycinate, not elemental magnesium. Magnesium is about 14% of the magnesium glycinate molecule by weight. Therefore, you’re getting roughly 140mg of elemental magnesium atoms. This is about 1/3 of the recommended daily intake for adult men and a little over 40% for women.

How Much Magnesium Can You Safely Take Each Day?

This quinoa field has oodles of dietary magnesiumThe recommended daily intake varies by age and gender. Adult men typically need 400mg-420mg. For non-pregnant adult women that number drops to 310mg-320mg. Pregnant women need 350mg to 360mg. Some people need more and some need less. (24)

Excessive alcohol use and some diseases may lower the amount your body uses. High zinc consumption may interfere with absorption, too. You can consume larger amounts of magnesium or take a high-absorption supplement like magnesium glycinate to make up for that. (24)

Overdosing on magnesium is normally not a big deal. You may get diarrhea, but your kidneys – assuming they’re healthy – will get rid of the excess. (24)

Upper limits may vary according to different government agencies and professional associations. Don’t stray too far from the recommended daily intake without consulting with a doctor.

Are There Any Side Effects or Interactions to Worry About?

The most common side effects are loose stools and digestive discomfort. Sometimes that’s temporary, and your body just needs to get used to it. It could also mean you consumed too much and that you should lower your daily dose.

Nausea and vomiting could also happen, but these side effects are less common. (42)

Serious Side Effects

Serious side effects are rare. They include allergic reactions, dangerously low blood pressure, confusion, slow breathing, and coma. Most of these symptoms could mean you have accumulated too much magnesium