Magnesium Supplements Guide: Which Form Is Best For You?

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in your body. [1] Yet around 80% of the world’s population is deficient in magnesium.

In my last post about seasonal affective disorder, I mentioned that magnesium is essential for proper brain function, mood regulation, calming the nervous system and sleep. It is also involved in muscle contraction and relaxation. In fact, it is involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body. Magnesium is so important for human function that I look to it first when considering improving the health of my patients.

What are the tell tale signs that you may be deficient?

  • muscle weakness or numbness
  • fatigue
  • mood changes
  • muscle cramps
  • irregular heartbeat

Why magnesium may be low in the body?

  1. Normally, we would get magnesium from food: pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts, and dark leafy green vegetables. However, considering that our soils are becoming increasingly deficient in minerals and therefore our food, it is difficult to eat your way to the amounts of magnesium one would require.
  2. The use of many medications (ie., Proton Pump inhibitors, Antacids, Diuretics, Birth Control Pills).
  3. Digestive issues can cause low magnesium status in the body.
  4. Alcohol intake or alcohol dependence
  5. Magnesium exits the body through urine, sweat, vomiting and bowel movements. Too much of these can lower magnesium status.

Due to the above reasons, it may be worth while turning to supplements to ensure good intake of this vital mineral.

The Possible Benefits Of Magnesium Supplementation:

  • improved mood
  • better sleep
  • reduced pain
  • migraine treatment
  • reduced risk for type 2 diabetes
  • modulates blood sugar
  • lower blood pressure

Before we get into breaking down various magnesium forms , it is important to understand that this article and other sources of online information, should only serve as a relative guide and not as medical advice or recommendations. This article is for educational purposes only and does not advocate self-diagnosis. Due to individual variability, consultation with a licensed health professional, such as a naturopathic physician is highly recommended prior to starting a natural treatment plan.

Firstly, you have to make sure you take enough!

Consider how much elemental magnesium you need to take. As an example, for depression, studies have suggested a daily dose of 450mg elemental magnesium. [2]

Magnesium can’t just be by itself as a molecule – it needs to be bound to something else to be stable, so the biggest difference in different magnesium supplements comes from the molecule it’s bonded to.  The most common bonding agents are oxide, citrate, glycinate. There are two things to look for about the molecule it’s bonded to: 1) size and function 2) absorption.

The size of the molecule matters because most people don’t want to take a tablespoon of something, they usually want to take a reasonably small amount.  The function of the additional molecule is also something to consider.

Keep Calcium In Mind

It is best to take magnesium in the evening, when it can act as a light relaxant and promote good sleep. Keep in mind that Magnesium and Calcium work opposite each other in the musculoskeletal system, with calcium needed for muscle contraction and magnesium needed for muscle relaxation.

If you are taking a multivitamin, the best ratio to have between Calcium and Magnesium is 2:1 or 3:1. However, if you take a supplement that contains, say, 500 mg of calcium and 200 mg of magnesium, hardly any of the magnesium will be taken up, because absorption will be blocked by the calcium. So it may be better to take extra in the evening.

The different forms of magnesium individually (in order of best absorbed to least):

  • Magnesium Glycinate or Bisglycinate
    • Best type for those who want to promote mental calm, relaxation and good quality sleep
    • Most gentle on the stomach
    • Magnesium is bound to glycine – a relaxing neurotransmitter and may enhance magnesium’s natural calming properties.
    • Great choice for those with digestive conditions, active people who want proper muscle function, muscle hypertonicity
  • Magnesium Citrate
    • One of the most popular and easily absorbed magnesium supplements
    • Great choice for individuals with occasional constipation (* for long term constipation, I recommend consulting a licensed healthcare professional to get to the root cause)
  • Magnesium Malate
    • Highly bioavailable
    • Bound to malic acid, a compound found in apples and plays a role in muscle energy production
    • Great choice for individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia
  • Magnesium Taurate
    • Bound to taurine
    • Great choice for individuals with heart issues and to support healthy blood pressure
  • Magnesium L-threonate
    • Recently new on the market
    • Results from mixing magnesium and threonic acid, forming a water soluble substance derived from breakdown of vitamin C
    • Crosses the BBB (blood brain barrier)
    • Research suggests [3] that it may help improve brain plasticity, which may have positive effects on short term memory, depression and cognitive decline.
  • Topical: Epsom Salt (Magnesium Sulfate) or Magnesium Chloride
    • Epsom salts are dissolved in a bath and absorbed through the skin
    • Magnesium Chloride is found in topical applications such as oils and creams
    • This can be a great way to get magnesium into the bloodstream without relying on the gastrointestinal system, so those with poor absorption or who cannot tolerate oral magnesium would find these forms useful
    • May help lower stress, blood pressure and treat sore muscles and pain
  • Magnesium Oxide
    • Least absorbed forms
    • Regarded more as a filler and not effective in raising magnesium levels in the body
    • Has more osmotic (water-attracting) effects in the colon, providing a short term laxative effect and will cause diarrhea in large amounts
    • Note: usually found in non-professional products that may label the body as magnesium bisglycinate – but in the ingredients list, there is a blend with magnesium oxide

Conclusion: when choosing the appropriate form of magnesium, consider the balance between the desired dose of elemental magnesium and understanding any wanted or unwanted effects the mineral format may have on the digestive system.

To book an appointment with me:

-Dr Diana Semjonov, ND


  1. Schwalfenberg, G. K., & Genuis, S. J. (2017). The Importance of Magnesium in Clinical Healthcare. Scientifica2017, 4179326.
  2. Barragán-Rodríguez, L., Rodríguez-Morán, M., & Guerrero-Romero, F. (2008). Efficacy and safety of oral magnesium supplementation in the treatment of depression in the elderly with type 2 diabetes: a randomized, equivalent trial. Magnesium research21(4), 218–223.
  3. Slutsky, I., Abumaria, N., Wu, L. J., Huang, C., Zhang, L., Li, B., Zhao, X., Govindarajan, A., Zhao, M. G., Zhuo, M., Tonegawa, S., & Liu, G. (2010). Enhancement of learning and memory by elevating brain magnesium. Neuron65(2), 165–177.

This article is for educational purposes only and does not advocate self-diagnosis. Due to individual variability, consultation with a licensed health professional, such as a naturopathic physician is highly recommended prior to starting a natural treatment plan.

Dr. Diana Semjonov ND

Diana Semjonov is a board certified Naturopathic Doctor practicing in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. If you would like to schedule an appointment or set up a free 15 minute consultation, please book online at
  1. jim left a comment on August 29, 2022 at 2:44 am

    Thoughts on combining forms of magnesium, a “complex” ?

    • Dr. Diana Semjonov ND left a comment on October 10, 2022 at 1:30 am

      Yes a complex of different forms of magnesium is better to ensure magnesium reaches most cells in the body.

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