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Magnesium is the second-most-common micronutrient deficiency, next to vitamin D. At least two-thirds of adults get less than the recommended daily allowance (RDA), which is 400–420 mg for men and 310–320 mg for women.

It’s nearly impossible to meet your body’s magnesium requirements through food alone. Most people need to supplement to get enough — and when you do supplement, it’s critical to choose a quality form.

Why Is Magnesium So Important?

Magnesium plays a role in more than 300 enzymatic reactions in the body — impacting almost every system.

Cardiovascular Health

Inflammation is a major factor in heart disease. Magnesium supports normal inflammation levels through multiple pathways. In fact, low-grade inflammation from insufficient magnesium can contribute to a whole host of health problems.

Studies show those with low magnesium are more likely to have elevated C-reactive protein (hs-CRP), the main marker of systemic inflammation. And correcting low magnesium levels can lower CRP levels.

Elevated blood sugar and blood pressure also increase cardiovascular risk, both of which can be improved by meeting your magnesium needs.

Energy Production

Magnesium plays a role in energy production, assisting with the extraction of energy from food. It supports the proper utilization of amino acids, fat, and carbohydrates. It also aids in the creation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of every cell in your body.

Nerve impulse conduction requires magnesium. Without a nerve impulse, you’re unable to move a muscle, control your heart rhythm, or have a functioning brain.

Magnesium is also required for the utilization of other micronutrients, such as B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin E, which can all contribute to energy.

Blood Sugar, Insulin Resistance, and Diabetes

Magnesium supports normal blood-sugar levels and is needed for proper insulin metabolism. Those with insulin resistance, diabetes, or metabolic syndrome are often deficient in magnesium. While measures beyond supplementing with magnesium are necessary to reduce the chances of insulin resistance and diabetes, any support for managing blood sugar can be helpful.

Muscle Function and Bone Health

Magnesium is necessary for muscle contraction. If levels fall too low, nerve conduction and muscle contraction can be affected, which could lower muscle strength and power.

Magnesium is also necessary for muscle relaxation. Muscle cramps can be an obvious sign of low magnesium, as well as restless leg syndrome.

And while calcium is important for bone health, osteoporosis risk also jumps when magnesium levels decline. Magnesium, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin K are all important for maintenance of bone density as we age.

Depression and Anxiety

Magnesium insufficiency lowers serotonin, which can also contribute to feelings of depression. This can also explain why many people experience a calming effect when taking magnesium supplements.

Researchers found that taking 125–300 mg with each meal and at bedtime reversed symptoms of depression in those who have low-magnesium related depression.

Low magnesium can also lead to feelings of agitation, anxiety, irritability, confusion, sleeplessness, and headaches. Anxiety related to PMS (premenstrual syndrome) has been connected to low levels of magnesium as well.

Likely connected to the brain and serotonin effects of magnesium, low levels are also tied to migraine headaches and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Learning and Memory

Magnesium controls synaptic plasticity, which can affect learning and memory. Developing Alzheimer’s, Lewy body dementia, and other forms of dementia are real fears for aging adults. At this point, there is nothing known to stop or reverse cognitive decline, but some evidence suggests sufficient magnesium intake can help slow the progression.

“…All elements of the limbic–hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenocortical axis are sensitive to the action of Mg. Magnesium has also been demonstrated to suppress hippocampal kindling, attenuate the release of, and affect adrenocortical sensitivity to, adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH), and may influence the access of corticosteroids to the brain at the level of the blood brain barrier via its action on p-glycoprotein.”

Boyle NB et al. The Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress—A Systematic Review

Physical Activity

Animal studies show that magnesium deficiency increases free radical production during exercise. Physical stress also increases the use of magnesium, making competitive athletes and fitness enthusiasts more at risk for insufficiency if they don’t supplement.

Magnesium is necessary for optimal muscle contraction, making it essential for athletes. It also plays an important role in the immune, endocrine (hormones), and cardiovascular systems.

What Causes Low Magnesium Levels?

Insufficient intake, or excessive magnesium excretion, contribute to low magnesium levels.

Increased Excretion or Use of Magnesium

Insufficient Intake

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to consume sufficient magnesium through the diet.

Food processing strips most of the minerals found in grains, and fortified foods contain minimal amounts of poorly absorbed forms of magnesium.

Even the best multivitamins rarely contain enough magnesium. The chelates take up so much space, you’d need to take two to four additional capsules per day to get an optimal dose of the mineral.

It’s also helpful to recognize that the RDA is more of an estimate of how much you need to avoid more obvious deficiency symptoms — it’s not a recommendation for optimal levels.

How to Increase Levels

Certain foods are sources of magnesium, including:

  • Unprocessed whole grains
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Certain types of nuts

In addition, proteins, medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), and low or indigestible carbohydrates like resistant starch, oligosaccharides, and inulin, enhance magnesium absorption.

However, even with a magnesium-rich diet, you probably won’t get adequate amounts from food alone.

Supplementing With Magnesium

Magnesium supplements are available in a variety of forms and the one you choose does matter, which is why it can be helpful to have some guidance.

Organic vs. Inorganic

When describing minerals, “organic” doesn’t have the same meaning you may be familiar with as it relates to food.

Magnesium isn’t found on its own in supplements. It is bound to another molecule or compound (i.e., magnesium glycinate or magnesium malate). When it is bound to a carbon-containing molecule, it’s considered organic, and when the molecule doesn’t contain a carbon atom, it’s considered inorganic.

Organic magnesium is not any safer, so don’t be fooled by a product that boosts “organic chelate.” All forms, if you take enough, should raise blood, tissue, and brain levels of magnesium, but some forms do seem to provide greater advantages for certain tissues than others.

However, some of the organic chelates do provide better absorption in the body.

The Best Magnesium Supplements

The following table outlines the better and best types of magnesium. For everyday use, magnesium glycinate and magnesium malate are the two we recommend as they’re the most bioavailable.

Magnesium Carbonate Helpful for those with indigestion or acid reflux.
Magnesium Chloride Commonly recommended for supporting detoxification and kidney function.
Magnesium Citrate Helpful with constipation as it is a mild laxative.
Magnesium Glycinate One of best absorbed forms of magnesium.
Magnesium Malate One of best absorbed forms of magnesium. Can be helpful for those with fatigue as malic acid is involved in ATP production.
Magnesium Oxide Most common form in over-the-counter constipation medications.
Magnesium Sulfate Also known as Epsom Salt, this magnesium is often added to a bath, but can also be used internally, though it does have a laxative effect like magnesium oxide.
Magnesium Threonate Seems to have an advantage over other magnesium forms for promoting brain function.

Our Magnesium Recommendations

Magnesium glycinate and magnesium malate are the best absorbed and highest-quality forms of magnesium.

Magnesium Glycinate

Magnesium glycinate is one of best-absorbed forms of magnesium. It raises blood, bone, and tissue levels without causing loose stools or digestive upset. Because the magnesium is bound to glycine, you also get the benefits of glycine along with magnesium.

Glycine is an amino acid that supports digestion and healthy joints, as well as calms the mind and supports restful sleep.

Magnesium Malate

Like magnesium glycinate, magnesium malate is absorbed very well. In this form, magnesium is bound to malic acid. Malic acid is a natural compound found in some fruits.

It is involved in cellular energy production, which is why some people who feel fatigued may experience a little more energy when using it.

Malic aid also helps chelate heavy metals like aluminum, so it’s an important part of detoxification.

Life Time’s Magnesium provides chelated, easily absorbable magnesium malate.

Magnesium Threonate (Notable Mention)

Low levels of magnesium in the brain contributes to a loss of plasticity, which can translate to cognitive decline. Magnesium-L-threonate, developed by scientists at MIT, can increase magnesium levels in the brain. Animal research shows it helps improve learning abilities, working memory, and short- and long-term memory.

A mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease showed that magnesium threonate supplementation prevented or reversed synapse loss and memory loss.

In older adults with existing cognitive problems, supplementing with magnesium threonate increased brain levels of magnesium. They also experienced improvements in executive function, memory, and problem solving abilities.

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The Life Time Health Team

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