sources of magnesium

Guide to the different types of magnesium

20 Jul 2021 • 2 min read


Magnesium is certainly a hard-working mineral. But what are the best forms of magnesium? And why might you need more of it?

Did you know magnesium has a role in more than 300 chemical reactions around your body?1

Magnesium is involved in many aspects of our wellness. It’s also abundant in everything from magnesium oils to magnesium bath salts and sprays.

Here we explain the best forms of magnesium and why you might need more of it.

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What are the different types of magnesium?

Understanding the type of magnesium used in a product is important when you’re considering the best forms of magnesium for you. This is because magnesium doesn’t exist by itself – it’s always attached to another substance.

For example, when it combines with oxygen, magnesium oxide forms. And magnesium citrate is the result of magnesium binding with citric acid. All these different combinations affect how well your body absorbs magnesium and how it works.

Here are a few examples:2,3

  • Magnesium citrate
  • Magnesium oxide
  • Magnesium glycinate
  • Magnesium malate
  • Magnesium sulphate
  • Magnesium chloride

But what makes them different? And what sorts of benefits can they offer? We'll delve into the details for you below.

Magnesium citrate

Magnesium citrate (or citric magnesium) is a type of magnesium that has been combined with citric acid. As the name suggests, this acid is naturally occurring in citrus fruits giving them a sour and tangy taste.

This is one of the most common types of magnesium and is often sold in supplement form by health food shops. What makes it so popular is the fact that it may be more bioavailable (easily absorbed) than some other types, according to scientific research.4

So, what’s it good for? Magnesium citrate is commonly used by people who are magnesium deficient, but it also offers some other potential health benefits.

In fact, magnesium citrate is typically used to help with constipation as it can have a laxative effect. This is thought to be because it has an effect on the intestinal tract, as well as promoting the release and activation of certain hormones and enzymes.5

Magnesium oxide

Magnesium oxide is classed as an inorganic compound of magnesium salt and oxygen. It has a white, powdery appearance and is often made into capsules or tablets.6

What can magnesium oxide do for you, then? While it’s not known for its use to help with magnesium deficiency, it is used to support with mild indigestion, heartburn and constipation.7

Magnesium glycinate

Magnesium glycine (or magnesium biglycinate) is formed of elemental magnesium and glycine – a type of amino acid. Glycine is believed to be the most important nonessential amino acid in humans.8

It acts as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, aka a chemical messenger in your body!8

Glycine magnesium is often used to support sleep issues and help with relaxation.9,10 But it can also be used to help with the symptoms of PMS, memory function, muscle cramps and headaches.11,12,13,14  

Magnesium malate

This specific type of magnesium is formed by combining magnesium with malic acid – which is what gives some fruits their tart flavour.15

Interestingly, some animal studies have shown that it may be more bioavailable than some other forms of magnesium – but more research is needed to confirm.16

So, what can it do for you?

Like magnesium citrate, magnesium malate may also be used as a laxative if you experience irregular bowel movements. This is thought to work by helping to draw water into your intestines, which in turn promotes movement of the food in your gut.17

Magnesium sulphate

Next up, we have magnesium sulphate, but you’ll probably know this as Epsom salts! This is created by combining magnesium with sulphuric acid to form small, colourless crystals. These can be taken as either an oral supplement or in the bath as a transdermal supplement – aka absorbed through your skin.18

Well, what sorts of benefits can magnesium sulphate offer?

Taking it as an oral supplement can be used for magnesium deficiency and to help with constipation. However, it is most commonly used in the bath as it can support your skin health.  Having said this, more scientific research is needed in this area to clarify.19

Magnesium chloride

Last up in the list of magnesium types is magnesium chloride. This one is made by binding magnesium with hydrochloric acid.20

While it can be used to boost your magnesium intake, it may also support your blood sugar levels, sleep quality and mood.21

Magnesium chloride is generally taken in tablet format or sold as magnesium flakes for using in the bath, like with Epsom salts!

Magnesium in food

Key benefit: It’s possible to get all the recommended magnesium you need by eating a balanced diet.

Magnesium supplements

Key benefit: Some people are at increased risk of magnesium deficiency, even if they eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. If this is the case for you, magnesium supplements may help.

Magnesium flakes and soaks

Key benefit: Due to delivering a relatively low concentration of magnesium, flakes and soaks are suitable for most people and offer a more relaxing way to top up on minerals.

Magnesium gels and lotions

Key benefit: A gel or lotion can be applied directly to the area of your choosing.

Magnesium oil spray

Key benefit: A spray delivers magnesium directly into the skin tissue, so magnesium can get to work faster.

Want to learn more about this mineral and all its forms? Head to our ultimate magnesium guide for the full run-down.

Why is magnesium important?

So, why do you need a magnesium oil spray or a long soak in a tub filled with magnesium bath salts? What exactly does it do?

Magnesium has a role in everything from hormone balance to bone health.

In addition, your nerves also use magnesium to send and receive messages, your muscles need it to function normally, and it contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue.

Given the wide range of bodily processes that magnesium supports, it’s no surprise that the body needs it in large amounts.

Are you getting enough magnesium?

It can be hard to recognise if you need to boost your intake of this mineral because getting too little magnesium often doesn’t cause noticeable symptoms.

However, certain groups can be more prone than others to magnesium deficiency.22

But how much magnesium do you need?

Here are the current recommendations for magnesium.22

Age Male (mg per day) Female (mg per day)
1-3 85 85
4-6 120 120
7-10 200 200
11-14 280 280
15-18 300 300
19+ 300 270

How to get more magnesium?

There are two main ways that you can experience the benefits of magnesium.

  • Ingest it as a food or a supplement. The mineral is then absorbed through your digestive system.
  • Apply it directly to your skin. Magnesium bypasses the digestive system (where some types can be hard to absorb) and instead it reaches your blood and muscles via your epidermis.

The final say

With so many options available to replenish your magnesium levels, it’s an incredibly flexible mineral.

Some are absorbed in the gut easily making them better for replenishing your mineral levels, whilst other compounds work best in topical treatments.

To identify the best forms of magnesium for you, consider what you’re using it for.

Last updated: 18 October 2022


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