Magnesium is an important mineral for supporting a range of key bodily functions, from blood pressure to bone growth. It’s so vital for good health that it’s the fourth most abundant mineral in the human body. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a deficiency or benefit from a top-up.
It’s one of the more popular supplements, with many forms readily available online and in health stores. It doesn’t just come as capsules or edible liquids; you can also get it in room spray form (for sleep) and bath salts (for easing DOMS).
But given that there are so many different types, it can be difficult to know which type to take and what the benefits of each are. Here’s our guide to which ones you might want to take and why.
What is magnesium, and what does it do in the body?
Magnesium is a mineral that is utilised by our bodies to support many of its most basic functions, from regulating muscle and nerve functions to aiding the absorption of vitamin D and calcium.
“Magnesium supports hundreds of processes in the body,” explains nutritional therapist Natalie Burrows. “Aside from supporting healthy blood pressure, nerve and muscle function, it’s a cofactor nutrient for biochemical pathways that help the body to function in ways we don’t consider as we go about our day-to-day lives.”
In simple terms, it acts as a kind of gatekeeper for our nerves, relaying important signals from our brain to our bodies, and as such, it’s vital to maintain healthy levels.
Why should we take magnesium supplements?
First up, it’s important to note that we won’t all need to take a magnesium supplement, and nutritionist Thalia Pellegrini tells Stylist it’s always advisable to check that you’re eating a diverse and nutritious diet before reaching for a supplement.
“Excellent food sources of magnesium include pumpkin seeds, spinach, dark chocolate, cashews, almonds, chia seeds, avocados and legumes,” she adds.
Having said this, studies show that many of us are deficient in the mineral, causing symptoms such as poor appetite, weakness and nausea, and increasing our risk of developing chronic degenerative diseases. Consequently, including a supplement might not be a bad idea for most of us, but take care not to overdo it – too much magnesium can cause stomach upsets, cramping, nausea and diarrhoea.
So, with that in mind, how on earth do we know which of the 10 main types of magnesium to choose?
Types of magnesium supplements
Here’s the lowdown on the 10 main types of magnesium supplements you might want to be aware of, according to nutritionists.
“This type of magnesium is my favourite as it has a high absorption rate and lots of benefits,” says Burrows. “It supports muscle relaxation, can aid sleep, period pain and headaches and it’s gentle and has no impact on the bowel – meaning it has no laxative effects, unlike other forms.”
“Magnesium citrate has high bioavailability, which is the rate at which something enters systemic circulation,” explains Burrows. “It’s easily absorbed by the body and is known to help with constipation, as it pulls water into the bowel.”
“Again, this form of magnesium has good bioavailability/absorption,” says Burrows. “It’s known to support heart health and blood pressure and can aid sleep.”
“Magnesium malate is easily absorbed and is known to support energy production,” explains Burrows. “It’s often used to help with fatigue.”
You’ll probably know these as Epsom salts – great for a relaxing, post-workout bath. “This is another favourite of mine,” says Burrows. “You can use it to help relieve muscle soreness and stress relief when relaxing in a bath, but when it’s taken orally, it can cause can cause diarrhoea, so take care.”
“While this form can be used to help constipation in the short term, it’s not as good as magnesium citrate, and generally isn’t the best form to take,” advises Burrows.
This form of magnesium can ease constipation and is commonly used as an antacid. But, as with any medical issue, it’s advisable to speak to your GP about underlying causes of constipation, fatigue or excess stomach acid before turning to supplements, to rule out any underlying conditions.
This type of magnesium is often found in popular body butters. It’s easily absorbed and can help heartburn but can also have a laxative effect.
“This form of magnesium is thought to support muscle endurance and heart health – but is also expensive,” says Burrows. “It’s important to note that while supplements can help, it’s always worth looking at a holistic picture when it comes to heart health.”
And last but not least, some people believe that magnesium threonate can be used to aid cognition and memory and reduce depression, advises Burrows. But for any mental health issues, it’s always best to talk to your GP before taking any supplements.
Check with your GP first
If you have any health concerns, please do consult your GP as a first step rather than going straight to a supplement – especially if you’re already taking other medication. The Department of Health and Social Care advises that you should be able to get all the magnesium you need by eating a varied and balanced diet, but if in doubt, always seek professional medical advice.