Magnesium is a shiny, silvery-white mineral found abundantly within the Earth’s crust. It can also be found in seawater and some natural springs. Magnesium is also a vital nutrient for the human body, but it’s estimated that over half of adults in North America are deficient, with some studies suggesting that number is closer to 70-80%!
Relative to other nutrients, we only need small amounts of magnesium, but our bodies naturally deplete this mineral through everyday activities such as movement, breaking down food, helping the heart pump blood, and more! And surprisingly, the human body cannot produce magnesium on its own, so it is critical we obtain this mineral through our diet.
Magnesium can be found naturally in a variety of foods, including:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Black beans
- Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, oats
- Dark chocolate (the darker the better)
Within the body, magnesium is considered an electrolyte, these are minerals that have an electric charge. It works in conjunction with other key electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and calcium. Magnesium specifically, helps to protect our cells from being overly stimulated which allows us to better manage the unexpected! It is a necessary component of enzymes that carry out a variety of bodily functions that quite literally, keep us alive, but better yet, help us to truly thrive.
- Energy metabolism
- DNA synthesis
- Strengthening bone
- Promote relaxation
- Support nerve, muscle, and tissue function
- Regulate blood pressure
- Neutralize stomach acid
- Assist stool motility through the intestines
Our bodies prefer to have a specific balance of electrolytes circulating around at all times. The body works incredibly hard to maintain tight control over these as an imbalance can greatly impact our health – we really are walking miracles. For example, a magnesium deficiency can lead to low levels of potassium and calcium. Whereas excess magnesium can lead to high levels of potassium and calcium.
Several hormones throughout the body are responsible for maintaining these levels, including parathyroid hormone (PTH) and vitamin D (fun fact: this is actually a hormone!). When the body needs more magnesium circulating in the blood, PTH stimulates magnesium release from the bones. When there is enough magnesium floating around, vitamin D helps the small intestine absorb excess amounts.
The kidneys are then responsible for excreting magnesium, along with other electrolytes like potassium and sodium. Because of this, we can deplete it quite quickly as the kidneys remove magnesium through our urine. When magnesium levels are low, you may find yourself taking fewer trips to the washroom, and vice versa.
Common Forms of Magnesium:
In order to be absorbed, supplemental magnesium must be bound to another molecule! This is why you may notice that there are several different types of magnesium supplements on the market. Each variety has a slightly different purpose, with varying levels of absorption. If you choose to supplement, understanding their nuances can help you determine the best form of magnesium for yourself. The list below is not exhaustive as there are more, less common forms of magnesium out there.
I’d like to note that magnesium’s effectiveness (or any other supplement) can vary greatly depending on the brand, form, dosage, storage care, and simply individual differences! I always recommend consulting with a professional before starting a new supplement regimen.
Before we dig into it, take a BIG deep breath – I’m about to throw you a lot of important information… okay, let’s go!
Glycinate: Also sold as magnesium bis-glycinate, this form of magnesium is bound to the amino acid glycine which helps to increase its absorption rate within the body. Glycine is known to increase blood flow to the extremities and activate GABA, an important neurotransmitter that helps us to feel calm. Due to its chelated properties, it is commonly used to promote relaxation, support healthy sleep, and manage stress. Unlike other forms of magnesium, it does not produce a laxative effect and is great for a general magnesium deficiency.
The majority of magnesium supplements you’ll find down the grocery store aisle contain magnesium oxide. You may also find it labeled as magnesium hydroxide. These are often used as a mild laxative and acid reflux remedy; however, this is the last form of magnesium I would recommend purchasing as it has a very low absorption rate. It is created by burning magnesium with pure oxygen Take magnesium and burn it with pure oxygen, not sure where the source is coming from.
Another commonly sold form of magnesium, this type is combined with citric acid which produces a strong laxative effect. This can be used during bouts of constipation but do keep in mind, more bowel movements could result in a greater loss of magnesium and other minerals. So you may consider supplementing with an additional form of magnesium, taken away from magnesium citrate, to support a general deficiency.
Bound to chloride, this form of magnesium can be created by naturally evaporating seawater! Neat, eh? It is often used to reduce heartburn, constipation, and help digestive discomfort by producing hydrochloric acid, stimulating gastric juices. Magnesium chloride is easily absorbable and recommended for people with digestive disorders which can greatly impact magnesium absorption. This form can be taken both internally and topically.
This type of magnesium is bound to the amino acid, taurine. Taurine is found in high amounts within both the heart and brain so it is often supplemented to support these vital organs. Combining magnesium and taurine may help to reduce blood pressure and improve overall heart and cognitive function. It may also increase energy and boost the recovery process.
This form of magnesium is often used to support our brain health and memory loss. It has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, making it an excellent form to support cognitive function and brain disorders similar to depression and anxiety.
This magnesium is bound to malic acid, an organic compound that can be found in many fruits and vegetables. Notably well absorbed, malic acid is believed to increase cellular energy so combining with magnesium is thought to reduce fatigue and muscle tenderness, as well as symptoms associated with fibromyalgia.
This is the form of magnesium found in Epsom salts. It is a combination of magnesium, sulfur, and oxygen that penetrate the skin and help to relieve pain and relax sore muscles. It may also work as a mild laxative so do take caution with this if you are not intending to use it that way.
Before purchasing a supplement, there are a few things I like to consider. Most importantly, are there whole food sources you can add to your diet before starting a supplement? These are how nature intended us to consume them, not in isolation, but in conjunction with other nutrients, which will increase their absorption. Choose these first! Secondly, supplements have limited regulation to ensure they are safe or pure, so it is up to the consumer to do their research (see below for tips). And lastly, some supplements may interfere with medicines, so do speak with your doctor to ensure one is safe for you to consume.
When looking at a supplement in the store, I recommend considering these few things:
- Search for a product with as few ingredients as possible
- Avoid supplements containing: BHT, titanium dioxide, soy lecithin, artificial colouring, maltodextrin (or other added sugars), hydrogenated oils, and / or caffeine.
- Choose a product that is 3rd party certified: This means that an outside organization has evaluated a company’s product to ensure its safety and efficacy.
- Look for one of these labels: NSF International, Banned Substances Control Group (BSCG), USP, or ConsumerLab as these verify that a product truly contains what is on the label.
It is best to store magnesium supplements in a cool, dark area, inside a sealed container.