It’s the mineral many of us could do with having more of. But which magnesium supplements are best for your specific concerns?
Magnesium is a mineral that’s used by every cell in the body, involved in carrying out hundreds of different processes simultaneously while we go about our lives. But it’s also clear that our diets are increasingly lacking in this key nutrient, and that’s something that needs to fixed. So we asked the experts what to eat, what to supplement, and how to use magnesium to fix many of the niggles you might have.
What are the benefits of magnesium?
“Magnesium does such a lot for us!” says registered nutritionist Charlotte Faure Green. “It’s important for muscle movement and relaxation, it’s involved in energy production, managing blood sugar levels and weight – but I love it most for its ability to support the nervous system and adrenals.” It also plays a part in protein synthesis, the development of healthy teeth and bones, heart health and electrolyte balance, and can give relief from constipation and migraines.
Is magnesium deficiency common?
“It’s thought that a large number of the UK population is deficient in magnesium,” says Faure Green. Inadequate dietary intake is a factor, she says, but so is soil mineral depletion – some traditionally magnesium-rich foods may now not supply quite as much as they used to. Stress, lifestyle, medications and high alcohol intake can also be to blame.
How much magnesium should I take?
“The NHS recommends that women aged 19-64 need 270mg, of magnesium a day and men aged 19-64 need 300mg, ” says Faure Green. Supplement manufacturers employ a higher recommended daily dosage: “As a general guideline, adult males need around 400-420mg per day, and adult females 310-320mg,” says skincare specialist Marie Reynolds.
These guidelines are for 'elemental magnesium', which is the actual amount of magnesium that’s in the compound or type that you’re taking. “Specific dosage recommendations differ based on the type of magnesium supplement, so follow the manufacturer's instructions and consult with a healthcare professional if necessary,” says Reynolds
What foods are rich in magnesium?
Faure Green’s favourite magnesium-rich foods are nuts and seeds (even peanut butter is a good source), green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, pumpkins and squashes, broccoli, avocado, and whole grains like quinoa and brown rice. “Oh, and chocolate – the darker the better!” Reynolds favours legumes such as black beans and chickpeas and fatty fish including salmon and mackerel.
What is the best magnesium?
Not all types of magnesium are created equal, which is important to realise, as there are many.
“Different types of magnesium are formed when magnesium (as a standalone mineral) is combined with various compounds or amino acids,” says Faure Green. “The different forms have unique characteristics and health benefits, so can be used to target a range of health needs.”
She explains certain types of magnesium supplements, such as magnesium chloride, magnesium citrate, magnesium sulphate (Epsom salt), and magnesium oxide, are derived from naturally occurring sources like seawater and mineral deposits (minerals or mineral salts). Other, more specialised forms (examples are magnesium glycinate, magnesium L-threonate are magnesium orotate) are created by extracting naturally occurring magnesium and chemically processing it to combine with a specific amino acid or compound. Another process is “to utilise bacteria to create a ‘food-grown’, broad-spectrum magnesium of differing types,” says Faure Green.
The ’best’ magnesium would be the one that addresses your specific issue most efficiently (see below). But it’s also a matter of how bio-available, or easily absorbed, the magnesium compound is. “Research shows that magnesium citrate, glycinate, orotate and L-threonate are the most bio-available forms of magnesium,” says Faure Green. Most others are thought not to be absorbed by the body all that well, but they may still have benefits.
What are the different types of magnesium good for?
The below list is not exhaustive but sets out the talents of the most popular types of magnesium
- Magnesium glycinate - for mood, anxiety and sleep
Readily bio-available magnesium glycinate is beneficial for mood stability and blood sugar regulation. For Faure Green, “It is my number one for sleep (I recommend taking it at night) and anxiety, as the amino acid glycine, which the magnesium is fused with here, is a natural anxiolytic [anxiety reliever]”. You might also see it included as magnesium bisglycinate.
- Magnesium citrate - for constipation and leg cramps
The benefits of magnesium citrate to an extent combine all the benefits of magnesium in general, as this compound is deemed potentially the most bio-available of all. It could be your best bet for relieving leg cramps. Faure Green, like other experts, also prescribes it for constipation – "I recommend it’s used short-term to move the bowels,” she says.
- Magnesium malate - for energy and sports performance
"I like this for providing an energy boost and improving exercise performance; it is very well absorbed. I tell my patients to take it in the morning,” says Faure Green.
- Magnesium glycerophosphate - for heart and bone health
Well-absorbed and well-tolerated, this is mainly used for relaxation, muscle recovery, or cardiovascular and bone support.
- Magnesium chloride - best in soothing bath salts and bodycare
Another one that’s used for muscle soreness and aching joints, as well as relieving constipation. It’s also an effective skin soother when applied topically, addressing concerns such as dermatitis and eczema. This is why you’ll often find it in body oils, creams and bath salts.
- Magnesium oxide - a strong laxative
This is an inorganic salt that contains high levels of magnesium, but it is not particularly bio-available. It has a strong laxative effect.
- Magnesium L-threonate - for stress relief and migraines
This is where magnesium has been bonded with threonic acid, a metabolite of vitamin C. “It has been found to be taken up by the nervous system in greater quantities than other magnesium compounds,” says Shabir Daya, pharmacist and co-founder of Victoria Health. This makes it an especially effective stress-reliever and aid for those who suffer from migraines.
- Magnesium sulphate - for soreness
Otherwise known as Epsom salts, this compound is effective at tackling muscle soreness and tightness, and for short-term relief of constipation. It’s most often used as a soaking solution to relieve minor sprains, bruises, muscle aches or discomfort, joint stiffness or soreness, and tired feet.
- Magnesium orotate - for athletic performance
This is a complex of magnesium plus orotic acid. The latter is used for improving athletic performance and endurance, and for heart health – so combining it with magnesium could double those benefits.
Magnesium tablets for sleep – which should you choose?
Magnesium regulates several neurotransmitters involved in sleep, so it is famed as a sleep aid. For Faure Green, there is no contest when it comes to the best compound for aiding slumber: its superior bio-availability and combination with anxiety-relieving glycine make magnesium glycinate her top choice. Reynolds, however, loves magnesium oxide, which she’s combined with other natural relaxants in her Marie Reynolds London ZEDZ Night Time Blend, £25.99 for a 30-day supply.
Does magnesium lower blood pressure?
A number of reviews have pointed to this: a 2021 one showed that magnesium supplements can help lower high blood pressure levels, while another linked high magnesium intake to a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Yet another review found that especially in people with magnesium deficiency, magnesium supplements improved risk factors for heart disease including lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol, increasing HDL (good) cholesterol, and balancing systolic blood pressure levels. More research is needed, though.
What is the best way to take magnesium?
Timings depend on the type of magnesium you take, so check the instructions. As some may cause stomach upsets in some people, it’s best to take it with meals.
But it’s also important to know what not to take it with. “Calcium, iron and zinc supplementation can hinder magnesium absorption when taken at the same time and in large quantities, says Faure Green. “They are essential minerals that compete for absorption in the small intestine, using similar mechanisms. It is recommended to take these supplements two hours apart if you’re taking them in larger therapeutic doses.”
Is magnesium a laxative?
“Some types of magnesium, such as magnesium oxide and magnesium sulphate (Epsom salts), have a laxative effect due to poor absorption in the small intestine, leading to increased magnesium in the colon, which promotes bowel movements,” says Faure Green. “Magnesium citrate, meanwhile, is well-absorbed but at high doses has a bowel-moving effect that is far gentler on the gastro-intestinal system than other laxative types of magnesium. That’s why it’s my choice for constipated patients.”
If treating constipation is the aim, great. But what if, like me, every type of magnesium seems to act like an undesired laxative to some extent? “Magnesium glycinate and magnesium malate are better absorbed in the small intestine and should not have a laxative effect in most, especially at normal supplement doses,” says Faure Green. “Every body is different, however, and if you're particularly sensitive to all forms of magnesium, it is best to get your magnesium through food sources where possible.” Or through a ‘food-grown’ magnesium supplement such as by Wild Nutrition (see below).
Is magnesium good for your skin?
It is when used topically: “Magnesium has anti-inflammatory properties so can soothe any inflammation in the skin - think atopic skin issues like eczema, or acne and psoriasis,” says Faure Green. “It helps wound and scar healing,” she adds. Hence the TikTok popularity of magnesium sulphate paste: its uses include calming spots, boils, and cysts and reducing their swelling. The ‘drawing paste’ also helps disinfect and ease the discomfort of minor wounds and ingrown hairs.
Faure Green adds that when taken orally “as an antioxidant, magnesium can help to slow ageing. And due to its cardiovascular benefits supports healthy blood flow, it helps deliver nutrients and oxygen to the skin for improved skin barrier function.”
Is magnesium absorbed through the skin?
When it comes to magnesium sprays and Epsom salt baths, they can certainly soothe skin, but despite their popularity as muscle-soothing and sleep-inducing therapies, the proof that magnesium absorbs into the blood when applied topically this way isn’t conclusive.
“While some studies suggest that topical application may lead to increased magnesium levels in the blood and tissues, more research is needed to establish its effectiveness compared to oral supplementation, says Reynolds. “Transdermal application will reduce any side effects as it bypasses the digestive tract. Epsom salt baths are known to relax and detox. But the jury is out as to whether they work 'better' than ingesting magnesium. Personally, I think topical magnesium certainly has an effect,” she says.
Magnesium tablets side effects - are there any?
“Magnesium toxicity can occur when taking large doses of magnesium as supplements or medication,” says Faure Green. “It would be rare for it to happen through diet.” She says to look out for the following warning signs and get urgent medical attention when they are seriously bad:
- Gastro upset: diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea.
- Irregular heartbeat and low blood pressure.
- Respiratory distress.
- Muscle weakness and fatigue.
- Neurological issues: confusion and dizziness.
Why is there magnesium in almost every supplement I buy?
Don’t get confused by the magnesium stearate you’ll find in a large number of nutritional supplements. “This is commonly used as a bulking and stabiliser in supplements to prevent spoilage in the manufacturing process and storage,” says Faure Green. “Magnesium stearate has little to no direct health benefits, other than prolonging the shelf life of your favourite multivitamin.”
The best magnesium supplements for your issue
For supporting the nervous system: Pure Encapsulations Magnesium (Glycinate), £28 for six-week supply
Faure Green’s pick to battle sleeplessness, fatigue and stress, this professional formula is highly bio-available and gentle on the stomach. Take it before going to bed.
For energy and performance: BioCare Magnesium Malate, £14.30 for a one-month supply
Bio-available magnesium malate helps maintain energy metabolism and normal muscle function, making it helpful for alleviating restless leg syndrome and for, as Faure Green says, “a boost of energy.”
The broad-spectrum food-grown magnesium: Wild Nutrition Magnesium for All, £17.50 for a month’s supply
If magnesium in general has a laxative effect that you neither need nor want, try this one. Cultured with the help of friendly live bacteria, the body recognises it as food, which makes it supremely bio-available. So it doesn’t hang around in the colon to cause diarrhoea, but makes it into the bloodstream in high doses. The process has not been subjected to independent studies in the way magnesium glycinate and citrate have, but this magnesium’s effectiveness may in future put it up there with the most absorbable types.
The best-value magnesium: Lambert’s Magnesium 375, £16.95 for a six-month supply
Combining four types of magnesium (oxide, citrate, carbonate and hydroxide), one tablet provides the full recommended daily amount of magnesium to help tackle a multitude of niggles, and it will definitely give you ‘looser stools’ if that’s what you’re after.
The multi-purpose magnesium: Bettervits Magnesium Complex, from £20 for a month’s supply
This complex is a triple-type magnesium composed of the three most bioavailable forms: glycinate, citrate and malate. They work together to improve energy during the day and promote restful sleep overnight. Supported by two types of zinc to boost absorption (zinc only hinders magnesium absorption hen taken in large quantities) and immunity, aid digestion and reduce inflammation plus vitamin D3, it’s a real support complex for body and mind.
The water-soluble option for constipation- Viridian Magnesium Citrate, £17.55 for a two-month supply
This powder magnesium supplement is recommended by Shabir Daya and can be stirred into water or juice, making it a more palatable option if you hate popping pills. Readily absorbed, it's a good all-purpose magnesium that's also a gentle but effective laxative.
For skin health - BetterYou Magnesium Flakes, £10.95 for 1kg
If you’re looking for something to supercharge your evening soak, these flakes are for you. The dry flakes of magnesium chloride have been proven to improve skin hydration, accelerate wound healing, decrease inflammation and enhance the skin barrier. They're also believed to relieve achy muscles and joints (Faure Green recommends topical magnesium chloride for this) relax the mind and promote sleep - if the minerals indeed absorb into the bloodstream, which has not been conclusively shown.
For relief of menopausal symptoms - Healthspan Opti-Magnesium, £13.45 for six-week supply
If you’re experiencing menopausal insomnia , low mood or constipation, this supplement combining highly absorbable magnesium citrate and malate can help. The capsules also contain vitamin D3 to aid calcium absorption (and therefore strengthen bones) and inulin, a prebiotic, to boost your gut health.
For migraines - Life Extension Neuro-Mag, £32 for a month's supply
This supplement’s magnesium L-threonate benefits the nervous system more than other types of magnesium. According to Daya, that makes it adept at relieving migraine, but als at tackling sleep disturbances and the symptoms of stress. Faure Green recommends L-threonate for brain fog and poor memory.