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Magnesium is an important mineral in your body—and there’s more than one way to get your magnesium fix. There are actually a number of different forms of magnesium, and they each do something slightly different.
Why is magnesium important?
The mineral “is involved in over 300 reactions in the body,” explains Sonya Angelone, R.D., a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Magnesium can help with your body’s nerve and muscle function and management of your blood sugar and relax your smooth muscles, among other things, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “Magnesium also is important for bone health, is needed for DNA and RNA synthesis, is key for heart health, and may reduce the risk of stroke,” Angelone says.
Magnesium even helps maintain blood pressure and is “essential” for heart rhythm, says Gina Keatley, a CDN practicing in New York City. “You cannot live without it,” she adds.
But despite how important magnesium is, plenty of people don’t get enough. An analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that 48% of Americans don’t get the magnesium from food and drinks that they should. (For adult women, that’s anywhere from 310 to 360 milligrams a day; for men, it’s 400 to 420 milligrams daily.) Signs of a magnesium deficiency include fatigue, chronic inflammation, and migraines—just to name a few. So, that’s where supplements come in.
Clearly magnesium is vital, but, with many different types to choose from, what’s the best magnesium supplement for your needs? Here’s what you need to know about the different types of magnesium, and what they’re used for:
The deep and restorative sleep you’ve always dreamt about, featuring magnesium glycinate.*
One of the most popular forms, magnesium glycinate is a combination of magnesium and the amino acid glycine. Research has linked glycine with better sleep, and some people think magnesium glycinate may help with insomnia.* In fact, in a study on the elderly, magnesium glycinate supplementation subjectively improved insomnia.* Some studies have shown that it may also help promote calm and relaxation.* This means this form of magnesium is best if you’re looking for a restful night of sleep.*
Further research has shown that this form of magnesium may decrease daytime tiredness and enhance memory.* One study found that taking magnesium glycinate daily helped with short-term memory and IQ.*
It can also be used to treat a magnesium deficiency and to combat heartburn*, says Jamie Alan, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University.
Overall, magnesium glycinate can be a good supplement choice, especially since “this form is well tolerated and well absorbed,” Angelone says.*
Along with magnesium glycinate, citrate is the most popular form of magnesium; this is one of the most “bioavailable of the magnesium supplements,” says Keatley. Magnesium citrate is common in citrus fruits and helps give them their tart flavor, she says. But it’s not just there for flavor.
Magnesium citrate is “commonly used as a supplement to treat low levels of magnesium,” says Keri Gans, R.D., author of The Small Change Diet. It can also be used to relieve constipation, says Alan. “Magnesium citrate is used as a very powerful stimulant laxative,” she says.
Some people claim that magnesium citrate can help with neurological disorders, but more research is needed.
Looking for a general magnesium supplement? Alan says this is a good option. “This supplement can help replenish magnesium levels if they are low, as well as help with heartburn,” Keatley says. “Some people use this topically in a lotion to soothe muscles, but the research on this is low, and there is little to no absorption of the magnesium through the skin.”
Magnesium oxide can be used as a supplement, but it’s usually reserved to treat specific issues. It’s actually found in Milk of Magnesia, which uses magnesium hydroxide (a mix of magnesium oxide and water) as the active ingredient.
Magnesium oxide works by pulling fluid into the intestines to get things moving down there, Angelone explains. “This form is only about 4% absorbed, so it’s not a good magnesium supplement if you are wanting to get more magnesium,” she says. Magnesium oxide can also be used to relieve heartburn, Alan says.
While you can take magnesium lactate as a supplement, it actually shows up more as a food additive to reduce acidity, Gans says.
That said, magnesium lactate is absorbed easily by your body and is usually used for people who need large doses of magnesium, Keatley says. Still, she urges caution with this one. People who take magnesium lactate “generally have a genetic issue and large doses—above the 310 to 400 milligram recommended daily allowance—should be administered by a medical professional,” she says. Basically, it’s especially important to check in with your doctor before trying this one.
“This is touted as the most absorbable form of magnesium,” Alan says. “There is also some suggestion that this can be used for brain health, but I am not sure the science is there for that claim.”
Keatley agrees. “In animal studies, 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 harmful in the long term.”
Magnesium malate is “easier to digest” than some other forms of magnesium and can help regulate you, Gans says. One rat study published in the journal Biological Trace Element Research found that magnesium malate is easily absorbed in the body and can stay there for an extended period of time.
It also has a sour taste and is sometimes added to foods to enhance flavor, she says. Magnesium malate is regularly used to treat muscle issues like fibromyalgia and muscle cramps, “but the research is limited,” Angelone says.
This is magnesium plus the amino acid taurine, Angelone explains.
As for what it can do, “this supplement may help to control blood pressure and blood sugar better than magnesium alone,” Keatley says. One small study published in the journal Nutrients of patients with type 2 diabetes found that those who took magnesium taurate had a “significant improvement” in their H1C levels compared to a control. As a result, researchers concluded that it may help with insulin resistance.
A meta-analysis of 34 studies published in the journal Hypertension found that there was a link between magnesium taurate and lowered blood pressure. Still, Gans says, “more research is needed.”
Better known as Epsom salt, 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.
Magnesium sulfate isn’t just a topical, though. It’s the “most potent form of magnesium as a laxative,” Angelone says, pointing out that it has a wide range of uses in medical settings. “This form is the one usually used in hospitals intravenously for preterm labor, seizures, and other conditions,” she says.
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. “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. For most people, it’s not the best option. “It doesn’t seem to offer benefits compared to the other forms,” Angelone says.
Magnesium is crucial to your health, and a magnesium deficiency can have a number of adverse effects on our body. That said, if you’re not getting enough of this mineral, 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.
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.