Given our depleted soils and current food system, magnesium is one of those supplements that everyone likely needs a little more of. It’s undeniably one of the most critical nutrients in your body, responsible for over 300 different enzymatic reactions, from muscle relaxation to cellular metabolism.

But have you ever gone to your local health food store or browsed online to look for magnesium supplements and felt overwhelmed about which one to get? Do you go for cal-mag or magnesium oxide or maybe magnesium glycinate? And is powdered better or what about capsules? Specific forms of magnesium serve very different purposes, so let’s break it down.

Magnesium citrate

If you’ve taken this before, you probably know that it can really get things moving… It’s even used to prepare for a colonoscopy! Magnesium citrate is a standard, low cost form of magnesium that is bound to citric acid and is incredibly bioavailable, which means that it’s easy for your body to use and absorb. As we alluded to, magnesium citrate is commonly used for constipation or slow gut motility but can also be helpful for people with migraines (1, 2). 

TLDR: Cheap, highly absorbable, helps with constipation 

Magnesium oxide 

Typically used as a remedy for digestive issues, magnesium oxide helps to pull fluid into your intestines to alleviate constipation similar to magnesium citrate (3). This particular form of magnesium is quite common and affordable but is not absorbed as well as other forms. Therefore, you’ll want to take higher doses of magnesium oxide and/or pair it with other more bioavailable types to absorb an adequate amount of magnesium. 

TLDR: Not easily absorbed, helps with digestive issues

Magnesium glycinate 

This form of magnesium is by far one of the most popular as it’s readily absorbed by your body and is very calming. Magnesium glycinate combines magnesium with the amino acid glycine which is why it’s sometimes referred to as magnesium bisglycinate. Glycine has been extensively studied for its ability to enhance sleep quality so it’s not a surprise that magnesium glycinate can promote relaxation, ease tension and anxiety, and encourage a restful night of sleep (4, 5). One thing to note here is that this form of magnesium is super gentle on your stomach and isn’t known to cause GI symptoms, so if you have a sensitive stomach this one might be for you!

TLDR: Highly absorbable, great for sleep and anxiety

Magnesium L-threonate 

Threonic acid (a water soluble acid made by breaking down vitamin C) is combined with magnesium to make this easily absorbable form of magnesium. Since it’s able to cross the blood-brain barrier, magnesium L-threonate can be really supportive for your brain health, nervous system, cognitive function, and anxiety (6). 

TLDR: Easily absorbable, great for brain health 

Magnesium malate

This form of magnesium includes malic acid, which has a slightly sour taste and is naturally found in both wine and fruit. Magnesium malate is highly absorbable by your small intestine and is easy to digest. It’s typically recommended as a treatment for fibromyalgia, muscle soreness, and chronic fatigue syndrome as it’s one of energizing forms of magnesium (7). 

TLDR: Highly absorbable, easy to digest, energizing 

Magnesium chloride

Like magnesium sulfate, this is a magnesium salt which is made by adding chlorine to magnesium. You’ll often see this form of magnesium in topical products, like oils and lotions, to relieve sore muscles or achy joints (8). But magnesium chloride can also be taken internally to help treat magnesium deficiency, ease symptoms of depression and increase low stomach acid (9). 

TLDR: Absorbable internally and externally, used in topical products for pain

Magnesium sulfate

Also known as Epsom salt, magnesium sulfate is a form of magnesium that most of us are familiar with (even if we didn’t know it was actually magnesium!). It is made by combining magnesium, sulfur and oxygen to create a coarse salt that dissolves easily in hot bath water to soothe sore or tense muscles. Recent research suggests that magnesium sulfate can significantly reduce the risk of eclampsia, or seizures, in pregnant women with preeclampsia (10, 11). 

TLDR: Salt form, add to bath for sore muscles

Magnesium taurate

This highly absorbable form of magnesium is made by combining magnesium with the amino acid taurine. It’s mainly used to reduce blood pressure and may help with blood sugar balance and insulin sensitivity (12, 13)

TLDR: Highly absorbable, can help with blood pressure and blood sugar balance

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