Lately, it seems like everyone is adding magnesium to their wellness routines—and for good reason. The mineral supports everything from our nerves and sleep to our digestion and muscle health—but with so many types of supplements out there, finding the right fit for your needs can be tough. This guide will help you sift through the clutter.
Magnesium’s Many Benefits
“One of the body’s most vital minerals, magnesium plays a key role in over 300 different reactions that affect our health,” explains Anthony Balduzzi, N.M.D., founder of The Fit Father Project and The Fit Mother Project. “It controls essential body functions like ATP (energy) production, nerve signaling, protein synthesis, and blood pressure regulation.”
Magnesium also plays a role in immune function, blood sugar control, vitamin D metabolism, and even mood, adds Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C, member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council and author of Keto Diet.
Why Supplement With Magnesium?
Magnesium is an essential nutrient, which means our bodies cannot make it themselves. Instead, we have to get it from food (like spinach, nuts, and pumpkin seeds). The issue is, close to half of Americans don’t reach their daily needs, says Monisha Bhanote, M.D., F.A.S.C.P., F.C.A.P. (That’s 420 milligrams for men and 320 milligrams for men.) To make matters worse, research shows that stress—something we face on the regular—further depletes our magnesium levels.
That’s why many health and nutrition experts now recommend supplementing with magnesium.
Types Of Magnesium Supplements
Of course, finding the right magnesium supplement for your specific needs isn’t quite that simple. Here’s the breakdown of seven types of magnesium on store shelves.
1. For Sleep: Magnesium Glycinate
Have a hard time falling and staying asleep? Magnesium can help with that. In fact, research suggests that supplementing with any type of magnesium can help with occasional sleeplessness.
One major bonus: Well-absorbed magnesium glycinate tends to be the gentlest form of magnesium on the stomach. Translation: no midnight bathroom runs.
To reap the benefits, take between 100 and 300 milligrams an hour or two before bed, recommends Jonathan Valdez, R.D.N., owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for the New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
2. To Ease Constipation: Magnesium Oxide
Because it’s relatively cheap to produce, magnesium oxide is one of the most common forms of magnesium out there.
However, this cheaper form of magnesium is less bioavailable than other forms of and, for that reason, can cause stomach upset.
While not ideal in many circumstances, Bhanote recommends taking magnesium oxide when you’re having trouble going to the bathroom. Just drink plenty of water when taking it, since increased trips to the toilet can dehydrate you.
“Start with half the bottle’s recommended dosage,” she suggests. If you don’t see the desired effect within an hour, take the second half the dose.
Since it’s not as bioavailable, just don’t rely on this one to boost your magnesium stores much.
3. For Digestive Health: Magnesium Citrate
If you’re after more regular digestion but don’t need something as intense as magnesium oxide, go for magnesium citrate.
In magnesium citrate, the mineral is bound to citric acid, a mild laxative in its own right, says Balduzzi. So, while it’s better-absorbed than magnesium oxide, magnesium citrate can still lead to looser stools. That’s why Valdez recommends it for those experiencing occasional constipation or indigestion.
Bonus: Research has also found magnesium citrate to be effective at reducing leg cramps in pregnant women.
Though you’ll most often find magnesium citrate in powdered form, it’s also available in tablets. To support healthy digestion, take 195 to 200 milligrams per day. Just make sure there’s a bathroom nearby the first few times, in case your stomach reacts strongly. And, like with magnesium oxide, stay extra hydrated.
4. For Keeping It Natural: Ionic Magnesium
If you’re all about naturally-sourced supplements, try ionic magnesium. This unique form of the mineral is naturally-occurring and pure, typically harvested from mineral-rich bodies of water.
In this form, magnesium comes alongside small amounts of other minerals, like potassium. Stable in liquid form, ionic magnesium mixes well into drinks and foods. Plus, the body absorbs it easily.
Since this mineral solution has a strong taste, try adding it to juice or smoothies.
5. For Easing Aches: Magnesium Sulfate
If you’ve ever taken an Epsom salt bath, you’re already familiar with the soothing quality of magnesium sulfate, which is a salt form of magnesium.
While there isn’t extensive research on Epsom salt baths, theory suggests the mineral quickly absorbs through the skin when you soak in it. The result: It hits your muscles fast.
No, soaking in magnesium won’t increase your blood levels, but it can soothe your muscles.
“Epsom salt baths can reduce muscle cramps and pain, which is why they’re a go-to for athletes,” explains Axe.
Most Epsom salt formulas suggest adding at least two cups of the salt to your bath and soaking for 20 minutes or so. It’s a great way to unwind after a long day or tough workout.
Word to the wise: Never ingest magnesium sulfate. You’ll most definitely experience terrible diarrhea, says Balduzzi.
6. For Easy Absorption: Magnesium Chloride
Magnesium chloride (typically extracted from brine or sea water) also absorbs through the skin. Given that, you’ll often find it in magnesium body creams or oils.
Research has shown that applying magnesium chloride to the arms and legs reduced pain in people with fibromyalgia, suggesting that the skin is, in fact, a viable method of entry for the supplement.
For that reason, Axe recommends anyone who struggles with digestive issues—especially malabsorption—opt for this form of magnesium. Look for a cream or oil that clearly calls out magnesium chloride and contains few other ingredients.
7. For Mental Well-Being: Magnesium L-Threonate
New to the magnesium supplement scene, magnesium l-threonate is emerging as a promising form of the mineral.
“This is the only form of magnesium that has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, which means it’s more available to support the metabolism and function of key brain neurons,” explains Balduzzi. For that reason, some new research suggests that magnesium l-threonate can be used to support mood issues.
This form of magnesium has even been anecdotally touted as a nootropic, used by CEOs and Silicon Valley types for boosting cognitive performance, says Balduzzi. Most magnesium l-threonate supplements contain 130 to 200 milligrams of magnesium per serving.
Magnesium Best Practices
As always, talk to your healthcare provider before adding a new supplement to your routine—especially if you’re on any prescription medications.
If you notice any diarrhea or abdominal cramping when supplementing, consider dialing back the dosage or trying a different form of the mineral.
Pin this handy infographic for quick reference (and shopping):