If you’ve been thinking of taking a magnesium supplement, you’ve probably come across lots of different types — magnesium malate, glycinate, taurate, oxide… What do they all do? What’s the difference between the various types? In this article, we’ll compare the different types of magnesium and their individual benefits so you can choose the best form of magnesium for your specific needs.
What are the different types of magnesium?
Magnesium glycinate is a combination of magnesium and an amino acid called glycine. It’s a gentle, well-tolerated form of magnesium with a low risk of side effects, making it ideal for people with sensitive stomachs. It also has very good bioavailability, which means that a higher amount of magnesium is absorbed from the supplement. For those reasons, it’s among the better options for treating a magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium glycinate is best known for its positive effects on mood and sleep. On its own and with magnesium, glycine has been shown to promote healthy sleep. Both have a relaxing effect on the brain, promoting the action of a calming neurotransmitter called GABA. Magnesium is also required to produce the mood-regulating hormone serotonin, which in turn is required to make the sleep hormone melatonin.
In a review looking at different cases where magnesium glycinate had been given to people with mental health and mood disorders, it was shown to improve symptoms like depression, anxiety, substance abuse and more. In one case, alongside magnesium taurate, it even helped a patient to recover from a major depressive disorder.
Magnesium glycinate may also have a positive effect on various types of pain. It’s commonly given to pregnant women to reduce muscle cramps, and there’s some evidence that it can help with chronic muscular pain and premenstrual cramps.
A combination of magnesium and malic acid, magnesium malate is another well-tolerated, highly bioavailable type of magnesium supplement. It’s believed to help with normal energy metabolism thanks to its role in the body’s natural energy production cycle.
Malic acid acts as a catalyst for the production of ATP, a molecule that carries energy to your cells, and magnesium helps to transport ATP into the cells. Thanks to this synergistic relationship, magnesium malate is a popular supplement of choice for athletes, helping them to meet their extra ATP needs during intense exercise.
Magnesium malate is also commonly used as a natural remedy for fibromyalgia pain. People with this debilitating condition often experience severe muscle pain, but many claim that magnesium malate offers them relief. In studies that have tested this, one found that pain symptoms significantly improved in fibromyalgia patients, and another found that patients had less muscle pain and fewer sore spots around the body.
Finally, the malic acid in magnesium malate may support healthy levels of iron absorption. Iron is needed to make hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen. A lack of iron can lead to iron deficiency anaemia, a condition that causes tiredness and breathlessness. Malic acid has been shown to boost the absorption of a type of iron mostly found in plant-based foods, making it an essential supplement for those who eat little or no animal products.
Magnesium taurate is a combination of magnesium and taurine, an amino acid. It’s well-tolerated and highly bioavailable so it’s perfect for general supplementation, but it also has some important well-being benefits over other types of magnesium.
Both taurine and magnesium play a big role in managing blood glucose, or blood sugar. In fact, both magnesium and taurine are often found to be low in people who have diabetes, a condition where the body is unable to properly regulate blood sugar levels.
Insulin resistance is a preceding factor in the development of pre-diabetes and diabetes. Magnesium is known to improve insulin resistance (as shown here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), potentially reducing diabetes risk by as much as 47%. If you’re looking to control your blood sugar to prevent or manage diabetes, research suggests that magnesium taurate may support this.
Magnesium and taurine also play vital roles in the healthy functioning of the cardiovascular system, with low magnesium levels linked to problems like coronary heart disease. Boosting magnesium levels with a supplement has been shown to lower major heart disease risk factors like “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (fatty acids), boost protective HDL cholesterol, and reduce heart disease and stroke risk. Meanwhile, taurine also helps to optimize cholesterol and fatty acids and may protect the cardiovascular system from stress, injury, inflammation, and plaque formation.
Together, magnesium and taurine are greater than the sum of their parts! This study states that magnesium and taurine can stop atherogenesis in its tracks, prevent an irregular heartbeat, and stabilise blood platelets, potentially reducing blood clot risk. And in this study, participants with the highest levels of both magnesium and taurine were shown to have a better cholesterol profile, a lower atherogenesis risk, and a healthier body weight.
Both magnesium and taurine have also been shown to lower blood pressure (see this study, this study, this study, and this one), with the effects even greater when they’re taken together. According to this study, the higher the taurine and magnesium levels, the healthier the blood pressure.
Magnesium L-threonate is made up of magnesium and threonic acid, a by-product of vitamin C metabolism. Some types of magnesium are not all that effective at passing through the protective blood-brain barrier, but magnesium L-threonate was specifically designed by MIT researchers to solve this problem. Studies comparing magnesium L-threonate to other magnesium supplements, it has proven to be the most effective at boosting brain concentrations.
Thanks to its ability to reach the brain, magnesium L-threonate has demonstrated some pretty impressive effects on cognitive performance and brain health. It’s been shown to increase the number of neural stem cells in the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in learning and memory. It may also improve other cognitive functions like recall, focus, attention, and executive function (planning, starting, and carrying out tasks).
These functions depend on the density and adaptability of the synapses, or transmission sites, between brain cells. Magnesium L-threonate has been shown to improve both, leading to enhanced learning abilities and better long-term, short-term and working memory. And in a landmark human study, people taking magnesium L-threonate showed significant improvements in visual attention, task switching, processing speed, and executive function.
In that same human study, magnesium L-threonate was also shown to turn back the clock on brain aging. In the beginning, participants had an average age of 57, but their functional brain age was almost 70. By the end, their functional brain age was almost nine years younger! This may be due to the same protective effect we’ve seen in animals given magnesium L-threonate. It’s been shown to:
- Protect against motor deficits (e.g. muscle tremors) and dopamine neuron loss in mice with Parkinson’s disease.
- Prevent synapse loss and reverse cognitive decline in mice with Alzheimer’s.
- Increase levels of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in rats, stimulating the creation of healthy new brain cells.
- Restore memory deficits in rats caused by nerve pain.
- Protect against brain cell death in zebrafish.
Magnesium citrate is a combination of magnesium and citric acid, the substance that gives citrus fruits their tangy flavor. It’s often used to treat migraines and is a common ingredient in over-the-counter and prescription migraine remedies. When taken as a preventative remedy, three studies showed that magnesium citrate led to a reduction in migraine attacks (42% and 41.6% in two of the studies), with many participants reporting that their headaches were less intense when they did occur.
In one of the migraine studies, however, some participants dropped out because of uncomfortable gastric side effects. That’s because magnesium citrate is also a very effective laxative! It’s often used to treat constipation as it relaxes the bowels and pulls water into the stool, helping to move things along.
Magnesium citrate is reasonably bioavailable, but because of the laxative effect, we would recommend taking it in lower doses for anything other than constipation.
Magnesium orotate is a combination of magnesium and orotic acid, a natural ingredient in genetic material like DNA. While more expensive than most types of magnesium, it is very well-tolerated and may have some benefits for those who are particularly interested in maintaining a healthy heart.
We already know how important magnesium is for heart health, and orotic acid plays a major role too. One of its most important jobs is to support energy production in the heart and blood vessels, keeping your cardiovascular tissues healthy. It’s also been shown to help people with serious heart problems, repair injured cardiac muscle, improve heart function after a heart attack, and improve the survival rates of those with congestive heart failure.
You may know magnesium sulfate by its more common name: Epsom salts. People often dissolve these salts in the bath before a long soak to relieve sore muscles. You might also find magnesium sulfate in personal products like body lotions or balms.
While people swear by magnesium sulfate to ease aches, pains, and stress, it’s not the best way to boost your overall magnesium levels. Limited amounts of magnesium will enter your system via the skin, so if you have a magnesium deficiency or you want to experience other benefits, then you’re better off choosing oral magnesium supplements instead.
Magnesium lactate is a combination of magnesium and lactic acid, an acid produced by your muscles and blood cells. It’s a gentle form of magnesium that is easy on the stomach, well-absorbed, and doesn’t require stomach acid to work. That makes it especially beneficial for people who produce less stomach acid due to, for example, age or medications.
One study found that people taking high doses of magnesium lactate experienced fewer digestive side effects than those taking other types of magnesium. If you need to take high doses due to, say, a magnesium deficiency, then magnesium lactate could be helpful in raising your levels without causing an upset stomach.
Magnesium chloride is a combination of magnesium and chlorine. It’s perhaps best known for its positive effect on mood. In one study, magnesium chloride improved symptoms of depression and anxiety when taken alongside conventional treatments. In another, it was found to be just as effective on its own as a commonly prescribed antidepressant.
Like magnesium sulfate, magnesium chloride is often found in topical skin products like lotions and balms. It’s reported to hydrate the skin, help repair its protective barrier, and ease inflammation. However, because magnesium is not absorbed well through the skin, it’s best to choose oral magnesium supplements if you’re looking for general benefits.
Last on our list is magnesium oxide, a combination of magnesium and oxygen. This type of magnesium is very commonly used in supplements, but unfortunately, we can’t say that we recommend it.
There are some evidence-based benefits, such as a reported positive effect on blood pressure and the ability to prevent or relieve migraines. However, magnesium oxide has a very poor absorption rate and is also the most likely to cause digestive side effects, even in lower doses.
That means you couldn’t take enough to treat a deficiency, for example, without risking a very upset stomach. Unless you’re looking for constipation treatment, then there are much more effective types of magnesium supplements for pretty much every need and benefit!
Should I take a magnesium supplement?
In theory, you should be able to get all the magnesium you need from a diet with lots of magnesium-rich foods, such as:
- Spinach and other leafy greens
- Dark chocolate
- Whole grains
However, it’s generally agreed that many people don’t get the magnesium they need from their diets. Thanks to declining food standards, even foods that are supposed to be rich in magnesium don’t have as much as they used to. So given that the consequences of magnesium deficiency are potentially very dire – it makes sense for most people to take a magnesium supplement if they’re able to.
If you’d like to learn more about whether to take magnesium supplements, check out our in-depth articles How to Test for Magnesium Deficiency at Home and 12 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Magnesium.