Magnesium Tips OrganicNewsroom

7 Health Pros Demystify Magnesium Supplements

Magnesium is an essential mineral responsible for regulating a wide array of physiological processes in our bodies. It is a steward of more enzymatic reactions than any other mineral, regulating hundreds of unique intracellular reactions throughout the day [4]. Research suggests that most Americas may suffer from magnesium deficiency and that the average diet isn’t rich enough in high-magnesium foods to meet Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) amounts. I reached out to several health professionals to help break down the importance of magnesium, how to test for a deficiency, and how to select an effective magnesium supplement.

NOTE: This article is intended for educational purposes only and is not meant to serve as qualified medical advice. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your current diet or medications.

Magnesium Supplements

When dietary requirements can’t be met, or simply aren’t being met, supplements are often tapped as valuable sources of extra nutrition. Supplements are sometimes used as short-term tools to help “sure-up” gaps in nutritional vigor while, for others in circumstances that perpetuate deficiencies, supplements may be used on a longer-term basis. There are many different types of magnesium supplements and many different considerations to make regarding each type. Some are regarded to be better suited for those with chronic fatigue issues while others are better suited for those with constipation.

Current research doesn’t offer definitive recommendations on which types might be the best choice given certain considerations

There isn’t enough research, in our opinion, to adequately advise on which type of magnesium is best in most cases. There are certainly studies that illustrate different types of magnesium compounds’ as displaying different levels of bio-availability. These suggest that careful consideration should be afforded by anyone looking for such supplements to help address nutritional concerns. The issue, as it seems to be, is that while existing research fingers different types of magnesium supplements as offering a varying degree of bioavailability—there aren’t any definitive recommendations on which types might be the best choice given certain considerations.

Doctor Patient Relationship OrganicNewsroom

Nothing can replace the insights made possible through a one-on-one relationship with a good doctor.

Consulting A Health Professional

Magnesium supplements are, in our experience and in the experiences of many we’ve talked with, safe to try without much forethought. That’s to say; magnesium supplements are friendly and don’t have any serious side effects. Nonetheless, it’s never a good idea to take supplements without consulting with a licensed professional that can diagnose your specific needs and specific nutritional circumstances. For example, I’d argue the best approach for addressing concerns of magnesium deficiency—before taking supplements—would be through diet alone. Foods like almonds, spinach, avocados, and even chocolate are all high in magnesium content. This isn’t always an option for those with food allergies or food intolerance issues and supplement sometimes offer the best option.

Take It From The Pros

We’ve consulted with several health professionals to offer up their opinions regarding magnesium deficiencies and considerations to make when taking considering magnesium supplements. These opinions should not be used as a replacement for a personal, one-on-one, relationship with your doctor. I suggest one merely absorb these opinions as an illustration of how the opinions of the best magnesium supplements can be—even among health professionals. Below you’ll find a series of questions and responses from licensed health pros with experience addressing magnesium delicacies and with differing bioavailabilities of different types of magnesium supplements.

Different Types of Magnesium Supplements OrganicNewsroom

Magnesium supplements come in a wide variety of chemical compositions. Knowing which ones are more bioavailable can help design better supplementation protocols.

Which Types Of Magnesium Are Most Bioavailable?

Magnesium is, without doubt, one of the most important minerals for helping support the healthy function of our bodies. Nonetheless, there isn’t a huge body of scientific literature to describe just how and why this compound is so important. I’ve found that doctors, nutritionists, and those dealing with patients one-on-one often have a much more practical sense of how this mineral affects overall wellbeing. One of the biggest concerns I’ve run into among those I’ve spoken with is in understanding which types of magnesium are most bioavailable. Just pouring magnesium into your system doesn’t guarantee that your body will be able to fully utilize it—most likely it’ll be eliminated in the form of very loose stools. Understanding which forms of magnesium are regarded as being the most easily-absorbed can make the effectiveness of one’s personal magnesium supplementation much greater. Here’s what those on the front lines have to say:

Inorganic minerals such as magnesium are generally poorly absorbed. In nature the most bioavailable forms of magnesium are found as chelates, which means the mineral is bound to amino acids found in proteins to form complexes. Chelating minerals make the mineral more ‘food like’ and more absorbable with fewer uncomfortable digestive side effects. Examples of such natural mineral chelates include heme ‐ iron from beef or chicken, calcium and zinc from milk and cheese, as well as magnesium from whole grains such as oats. Interestingly, these naturally occurring mineral chelates are almost always bound to the building blocks of proteins – i.e., small chains of amino acids.

The amount of magnesium your tissues can readily use is based on the amount of elemental or ionic magnesium that is released. There are several organic-salt chelates that are highly absorbable such as magnesium citrate, taurate and malate as are angtrom forms of magnesium. Magnesium citrate in powder form is especially bio-available because it is dissolved in water and in liquid form is more easily absorbed compared to capsules.

On the extremes, magnesium citrate is very poorly absorbed, which is why it used a laxative. (You can buy bottles of it in the laxative section of the pharmacy). Magnesium glycinate is very well absorbed and I have found both personally and in my practice, it is the best option for relaxation (i.e. to improve sleep) and lowering blood pressure.

Depending on the person and the issues they are having or symptoms they are experiencing, I determine which form of magnesium should be used. But, for the general population, one should look for a chelated magnesium. This means the magnesium is bound to a larger molecule such as an amino acid and this helps ensure absorption and utilization of the magnesium.

Magnesium Supplement Risks OrganicNewsroom

One should be aware of many potential risks, as well as benefits, before taking a magnesium supplement.

What Should People Considering A Magnesium Supplement Be Aware Of?

Magnesium is one of the most essential minerals found in the human body. Ensuring adequate levels can help support the healthy and natural function of a great many biological processes in our bodies. In most cases, it seems that magnesium is a very safe compound to experiment with. However, depending on your personal circumstances such as medications, specific health conditions, or perhaps even dietary restrictions; one should always consult with a doctor before starting a new magnesium supplement regiment. Aside from specific concerns that only your doctor can help understand—there are also some general concerns that everyone should be aware of before taking magnesium. Here’s some perspectives on the common uses, side effects, and general things one should be aware of:

Magnesium is typically used as a supplement to help calm and relax individuals. It is also used to promote a good night’s sleep while restoring the body’s optimal magnesium levels. Many people use it for regularity…however always start slowly. Magnesium has a laxative effect in large doses!

Any gut issues can minimize Magnesium absorption from foods/supplements. Vitamin D helps to store Magnesium. So make sure you have adequate levels of Vitamin D. Also, Vitamin B6 is essential for Magnesium to enter the cells. It is also synergistic for many actions of Magnesium. Restocking Magnesium can take up to 3 months of fairly high doses.

A person eating a healthy diet should not need a magnesium supplement. Any type of magnesium can be used to correct a magnesium deficiency with the only exception being magnesium – L threonate since it contains less elemental magnesium per dose. The absorption of magnesium among individuals varies depending on the body needs. The body will, therefore, absorb only as much as needed from supplementation or the diet, however excess doses from supplementation can cause gastrointestinal distress and diarrhea. The standard dose for magnesium supplementation is 200 – 400 mg daily.

Two forms to avoid are magnesium aspartate and glutamate. Aspartate breaks down into the neurotransmitter aspartic acid, which without being bound to other amino acids is neurotoxic. Glutamate also breaks down into the neurotransmitter glutamic acid, which without being bound to other amino acids is also neurotoxic. Both are components of aspartame which should also be avoided.

RDA Ranges for magnesium range from 300 to 400mg. Depending on your age, sex and if you are pregnant, RDA’s are in place to prevent disease, not to ensure optimal health. I have found that for my clients, more than the RDA is needed. While I think most need to supplement with magnesium, one should also try to get it through diet from foods such as leafy greens, nuts, and seeds, whole grains (not processed bread), bananas, sea veggies, baked potato with skin on and broccoli for example. However, again, it is difficult to meet our magnesium needs just from diet alone so, in my opinion, I think everyone can benefit from magnesium supplementation since magnesium is responsible for over 300 enzymatic processes in the body and is found in the brain, muscles, and bones. Every cell in the body requires magnesium! Medications such as acid blockers, antibiotics, blood pressure drugs, ace inhibitors, diuretics, central nervous system stimulants such as Ritalin, oral contraceptives and corticosteroids can all deplete magnesium.

Magnesium Malate Supplements OrganicNewsroom

Magnesium Malate is the combination of malic acid and elemental magnesium, containing roughly 15% Mg by weight.

What Is Your Opinion Of Magnesium Malate?

Magnesium Malate is comprised of one part malic acid and one part elemental magnesium [3]. Some forms, such as DiMagnesium Malate (produced by Albion Minerals), contains two molecules of malic acid for every single molecule of elemental magnesium. This form offers a much denser form of magnesium—though that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best for everyone. Generally speaking, magnesium malate is often recommended for those seeking to support natural muscular fuction, energy levels, and nervous system health. Here’s what the pros have to say about magnesium malate:

Magnesium malate is the magnesium salt of malic acid. I personally don’t recommend using it because I prefer chelated forms of whole food magnesium over chemical salts being used alone.

There is promising research about malate’s ability to address muscle fatigue specifically. So, if I have a client who has these concerns, I make sure their supplement contains malate.

[Magnesium Malate] is good for someone who has pain such as from fibromyalgia and who also has fatigue.

Magnesium Citrate

Magnesium Citrate is a combination of Citric Acid and elemental magnesium, providing roughly 11% mg by weight.

What Is Your Opinion Of Magnesium Citrate?

Magnesium Citrate is, just like magnesium malate, considered a salt of magnesium. It is described as being the chemical combination of citric acid and elemental magnesium. This form of magnesium is most-renowned for drawing water into the intestines, through a process of osmosis, such that it exerts a very influential force on bowel movements—especially when taken in large doses [4]. In fact, magnesium citrate is often “prescribed” leading up to colonoscopies to help vacate the bowels.

We use it in our ionic fizz blend. Magnesium citrate is a magnesium salt that we make by mixing non-GMO Citric Acid, magnesium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate, we use it in combination with our Organic Brown Rice Magnesium Chelate to get the best of both worlds, i.e., a pleasant fizzy drink delivering 350mg of an absorbable magnesium without gastric side effects of using chemical salts alone.

The most commonly used form of Magnesium supplementation is magnesium citrate with a higher bioavailability at around 25-30%, probably due to its increased water solubility relative to oxide chelations. Magnesium bound to tartaric acid (Magnesium-L-Tartrate), and likely Magnesium-L-malate, have similar effects and properties.

Magnesium citrate in powder form is especially bio-available because it is dissolved in water and in liquid form is more easily absorbed compared to capsules.

Magnesium Glycinate Composition OrganicNewsroom

Magnesium Glycinate, along with other amino acid chelates, offer a more natural form of magnesium that is often recommended due to its better absorption rates.

What Is Your Opinion Of Magnesium Glycinate And Other Amino Acid Chelates?

Chelated forms of magnesium such as glycinate/lysinate are preferred by practitioners over chemical salts for better absorption and less gastric upset. The problem is that most use amino acids that come from by-products from the chicken industry (i.e., any left-over parts after the chicken meat is removed, this includes bones, feathers, feet etc…!!!) This is why Garden of Life uses organic whole food ingredients such as organic brown rice protein to provide a full spectrum of amino acids to chelate magnesium and from a clean organic source with full traceability.

Chelates are recommended when a serum magnesium deficiency is diagnosed – it has the best bioavailability. I like reacted [magnesium] for its ability to target all of these areas and, if a client truly can’t tolerate mg supplementation, I recommend magnesium salt baths 2-3x week.

Magnesium Diglycinate has increased bioavailability relative to Oxide, and is absorbed in different areas of the gut than traditional magnesium supplementation.

Magnesium testing diagram organicnewsroom

Magnesium testing can confirm the need for supplementation but not all tests are effective.

How Do You Test For Magnesium Deficiency And Why?

Magnesium Deficiencies are thought to be rampant in the United States though very seldom does one hear about doctors routinely testing for magnesium levels. As someone who has suffered from, and continues to be treated for, a magnesium deficiency, I can attest to the impact that such a circumstance can have on the quality of one’s daily life. Still, even if one should walk into their primary physician’s office and demand to have their magnesium levels checked—all tests aren’t created equally. One of the most common magnesium tests (also the easiest in terms of clinical resource-usage) is the serum magnesium test which measures levels of magnesium found in the bloodstream. This test is regarded by many as utter nonsense—it doesn’t lend much description of how well magnesium is actually being absorbed by the body. After all, the majority of the magnesium in the human body is found in bones, cartilage, and soft tissues—not the bloodstream [2]! We asked the pros their opinions on the topic and here’s what they had to say:

I am not a physician, however, I do know in speaking with physicians that is difficult to test for magnesium deficiency as only 1% of magnesium in the body is normally found in blood, with almost 99% is found in bones, a regular blood test for magnesium is of little value. A physician needs to test magnesium in red blood cells to get a more accurate reading of magnesium status in the body.

Intracellular Mg in Red blood cells (RBC Magnesium). Very cheap and widely available. Decent sensitivity. But most important for me are symptoms! Other tests are more sensitive but expensive and not widely available. Mg in blood serum is worthless except for intensive care situations.

The most common method is a serum test for magnesium, however, this test does not correlate well with bodily stores of magnesium. A more accurate test is red blood cell testing where the magnesium stores inside your blood cells are measured.

I use both a blood level and an RBC (or red blood cell level); checking the RBC level MAY be a better indicator of magnesium stores, so for completeness I look at both. The symptoms of mag deficiency are very nonspecific, meaning the same symptoms can come from many other causes. They include fatigue, memory issues, numbness, and tingling. Since most people complain of fatigue, and because of mag’s great effect on blood pressure, I think it makes sense to check levels on most, if not all people.

Serum magnesium is a very inaccurate measurement of magnesium in the body. Magnesium in the bloodstream, AKA serum magnesium, measures only 1% of the total body magnesium; the range is 1.8-3.6mg/dL. When serum magnesium drops, mechanisms in the body push the levels up by dragging magnesium out of the bones and muscles. This is done for a very important reason – the heart muscle requires a constant level of magnesium or it will go into spasm – AKA a heart attack!

A somewhat better test is the Magnesium RBC. It may measure 40% of the body’s total magnesium. The range is 4.2-6.8mg/dL. But don’t be fooled into thinking that if your level is 4.2 you have enough magnesium. Someone recently wrote asking my source for the optimum range of magnesium being 6.0-6.5mg/dL. He asked if this tighter range comes from research, or did I arrive at it empirically. He also said that his nutritional-metabolic doctors were unaware of using 6 as the floor instead of 4.

Magnesium blood test is not an accurate tool for magnesium status. Magnesium is a very safe mineral and foremost, we can determine if magnesium is needed just by looking at their dietary intake and using a symptom chart. (but otherwise, I use testing that looks at nutrients at the cellular level such as Spectra Cell testing.)

Poor Nutrition Diagram OrganicNewsroom

Poor diet, topsoil mineral depletion, and bacterial imbalances may all contribute to an alarming prevalence of magnesium deficiency in the United States.

What Is Your Opinion Regarding The Prevalence Of Magnesium Deficiency In The United States?

Research has found a staggering amount of adults living in the United States likely to not get an adequate amount of magnesium from diet alone. In fact, research suggests that nearly 70% of Americans don’t consume the Recommended Daily Intake of magnesium [1]. In addition to the lack of dietary intake, there are also several other potential factors such as chronic health conditions, topsoil depletion, and anti-nutrients that may be magnifying this overall concern. There’s a lot of questions being asked but, as of yet, not a ton of empirical data to accurately describe the issues. Taking into consideration the opinions of professionals on the front-lines of understanding, and combatting, magnesium deficiencies can help better understand the issue on a more personalized level.

Most Americans dietary consumption of magnesium is less than ideal. Recent statistics reveal that close to 75% of Americans are consuming less than the recommended daily allowance of magnesium. Magnesium ranks among the most important trace elements in the human diet as it plays a central role in facilitating the function of over 300 critical enzymes. These are enzymes that have important tasks in facilitating our day-to-day metabolic functions as well as manufacturing DNA and proteins and even managing how our cells are able to power themselves from the food sources we provide.

Magnesium deficiencies are common in the Western diet due to a low intake of nuts and leafy greens. Magnesium overdose is very unlikely when you consume it through whole food sources, some foods rich in magnesium include pumpkin seeds (307 mg per ¼ cup), brazil nuts (133 mg per ¼ cup), and spinach (83 mg per ½ cup).

While we can’t know for certain, and reasons will vary among individuals, it’s possible that over-farming has left our soil depleted of nutrients. I am more in the camp that believes overconsumption of sugar, caffeine, and alcohol – and other poor dietary habits resulting from the Standard American Diet – is the culprit.

[Magnesium Deficiency] is prevalent because of our refined, processed, unhealthy diet, because of the stressful lives that we lead (stress depletes magnesium), and because so many Americans are on medications that deplete magnesium (often they are on more than one drug that depleted magnesium). Add all this together and it is easy to see how so many Americans have a deficiency.

Magnesium Supplement Considerations OrganicNewsroom

Take these points into consideration before taking a magnesium supplement.

General Takeaways

I’d first like to draw attention that, even among practiced health professionals, there are different opinions on which types of magnesium supplements may be best-suited for certain individuals. As expressed by the professionals kind enough to lend their opinion here; there are some common themes and considerations for magnesium—both with regards to dietary intake and supplementation:

  • Certain types of magnesium may offer different benefits depending on your circumstance.
  • Magnesium Citrate, as well as several other non-chelated forms, may cause GI distress.
  • Magnesium deficiency is likely to be very prevalent in the United States.
  • RBC Magnesium testing is more accurate than serum magnesium testing when identifying a deficiency.
  • There are many personal factors which may impact magnesium levels, and only personalized testing can provide those types of answers.

Final Thoughts

Magnesium is one of, if not the single-most, essential mineral used by our bodies. Magnesium drives hundreds of critical enzymatic processes that help support nearly every biological system. Magnesium deficiencies may present in a myriad of forms and can, in some cases, be quite difficult to diagnose. For those that suspect such a deficiency; RBC magnesium testing is regarded as a reasonably effective test to confirm. A good first step, if possible, to ensure adequate magnesium levels is to add in magnesium-rich foods to one’s diet.

For others with digestive issues, food-related issues, or other medical complications—magnesium supplementation is an oft-chosen route to address symptoms of a magnesium deficiency. In these cases, it seems the best option is generally-regarded to be amino-acid chelates such as Magnesium Glycinate. Above all else—it should be noted that working with a licensed professional is the only effective way to truly understand how to address nutritional concerns, especially those related to magnesium.

Contributors

These professionals were kind enough to take time away from their busy schedules and provide deeper insight into the issues of magnesium deficiencies, magnesium supplements, and everything related. For more information regarding their qualifications, practices, and unique specializations I encourage readers to visit each of their websites and take advantage of the informational resources available there.

Dawn Thorpe Jarvis is the Senior Director of Nutrition Science for Garden of Life, a renowned natural and whole foods supplement brand. She is a licensed nutritionist, registered dietician, holds a Master’s Degree of Holistic Nutrition, and has overseen the creation of all Garden of Life’s educational resources.
Gerrit Keferstein is a trained Medical Doctor (MD) and Physician with degrees from the University of Göttingen, University of Saarland and the University of Bonn in Germany. Previously, he studied Sports & Health Promotion at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville in the United States. Dr. Keferstein’s medical specialty is in the functional evaluation & treatment of movement dysfunctions as well as in nutritional medicine to treat chronic disease. Currently, Dr. Keferstein is in the process of earning specialty degrees in Functional Medicine.
Dr. Dean is a health pioneer with over 25 years of experience in health, diet, and nutrition. She’s authored 30 books including “Future Health Now Encyclopedia”, “The Complete Natural Guide to Women’s Health,” “Menopause Naturally,” “Hormone Balance,” “365 Ways to Boost Your Brain Power: Tips, Exercise, Advice,” “The Yeast Connection,” “IBS for Dummies,” and “The Magnesium Miracle.”
Rebecca Livingstone is a media Registered Dietitian (RD), a freelance nutrition writer, spokesperson, content creator, and YouTuber. She started her website, Foods and Thoughts, with the goal of helping others find pleasure in eating and make sense of nutrition.
Dr. Charlie Seltzer (M.D.) is the only physician in the country board certified in Obesity Medicine and certified by the American College of Sports Medicine as a Clinical Exercise Specialist. He is also board certified in Internal Medicine.  His practice helps people live longer, healthier lives through better nutrition, exercise, and lifestyles.  Dr. Seltzer teaches his patients the same methods he used to successfully lose and keep off over 70 pounds.
Barbie Boules was born in Italy and raised in Chicago She is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Health Coach. She holds an RDN from Loyola University Chicago and a Health Coach Certification from the National Society of Health Coaches. Additionally, she is certified in Integrative and Functional Nutrition, Culinary nutrition, food allergies, and vegetarian nutrition.
Karen is a Board Certified Holistic Nutritionist, Certified Nutrition Consultant, Herbalist and has a Masters in Social Work.  She has written two books on depression.   She believes in addressing the root causes of depression and not symptom management. If you or your teen has depression and either has not had success with what western health has to offer or you just want to bypass medication and seek alternative help, and are ready to make small steps to improve your outlook on life, then contact Karen for a free 15minute “First 2 things to do if you have depression.”

References

  1. King, D E, et al. “Dietary Magnesium and C-Reactive Protein Levels.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition., U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2005, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15930481.
  2. Elin, R J. “Magnesium Metabolism in Health and Disease.” Disease-a-Month : DM., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Apr. 1988, doi.org/10.1016/0011-5029(88)90013-2.
  3. National Center for Biotechnology Information. “Magnesium Malate.” PubChem Compound Database, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 8 Aug. 2008, pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Magnesium_malate.
  4. National Center for Biotechnology Information. . “Magnesium Citrate.” PubChem Compound Database, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 8 Aug. 2008, pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/24511.
  5. ExPASy Enzyme Database. “Magnesium as a Enzymatic CoFactor.” ENZYME CoFactor Mg2+, enzyme.expasy.org/cgi-bin/enzyme/enzyme-search-cf?Mg%282%2B%29.