Written by Johna Burdeos R.D. reviewed by Keri Gans R.D.N.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that’s involved in over 300 bodily functions. While many foods offer magnesium, 48% of Americans don’t consume enough through their diet.
Like other essential minerals, magnesium supplements are readily available—and there are different types for different needs. While some types are designed to supplement a magnesium deficiency, other types aim to help with different health issues.
Whether you’re looking to improve sleep, address digestive problems or support your overall health, understanding the different magnesium types can help you make an informed decision.
What Is Magnesium?
“Think of magnesium as the hidden hero of your body’s inner workings, like a stagehand in a theater production,” says Pam Hartnett, a registered dietitian and owner of The Vitality Dietitians in Ridgefield, Connecticut. “And just like a theater production would struggle without its skilled stagehands, your body simply can’t perform at its best without adequate levels of magnesium.” Magnesium plays a role in the following bodily functions:
Blood sugar control
Blood pressure regulation
Transportation of calcium and potassium
Normal heart rhythm
Good sources of magnesium include the following foods, according to Jeanette Kimszal, a registered dietitian and co-owner of Thyroid Nutrition Educators in New York City:
The recommended daily amount of magnesium for U.S. adults are as follows (note these amounts are higher for those pregnant or lactating):
Males ages 19 to 30: 400 milligrams
Males ages 31 and older 420 milligrams
Females ages 19 to 30: 310 milligrams
Females ages 31 and older: 320 milligrams
“Despite its importance, many people don’t consume enough magnesium,” Hartnett notes. “As people consume more processed foods, which are typically devoid of important nutrients like magnesium, it becomes more difficult to consume adequate magnesium. It’s also likely that plants aren’t absorbing enough magnesium because the soil they’re grown in is depleted.”
Insufficient magnesium consumption can result in a deficiency over time. “This can lead to a range of health problems, including muscle weakness and cramps, tremors, headaches, anxiety, trouble sleeping and irregular heartbeat,” says Hartnett.
Types of Magnesium
While obtaining adequate magnesium through a healthy diet is recommended, it can be difficult to meet the requirement. In such cases, taking a magnesium supplement can help fill in gaps and ensure adequate intake. However, certain magnesium supplement formulations may be better absorbed than others. With so many different types of magnesium supplements available, it can be challenging to know which one is right for you. These supplements come in various forms such as tablets, liquids and powders. Below is a list of different types of magnesium supplements, along with their benefits and risks to help you choose the one that best suits your needs. Magnesium Oxide What it is: Magnesium oxide is a supplement that’s typically used for digestive issues. Hartnett notes that while it’s usually less expensive compared to other forms of magnesium, the body does not absorb it as well as other forms. Benefits: Helps relieve indigestion, heartburn and constipation. Additionally, there is some evidence that it may also help prevent migraines but the research on this is limited; consult with a doctor before using it for this purpose. Side effects: Cramping or diarrhea may occur.
What it is: Magnesium citrate is another popular supplement, says Hartnett, adding that it’s well absorbed by the body.
Benefits: The liquid form of magnesium citrate is particularly helpful if you’re having problems absorbing magnesium. In general, liquid types of magnesium may be better absorbed than tablet forms. Magnesium citrate is also used for relieving constipation, says Harnett.
Side effects: Loose or more frequent stools may occur.
What it is: Magnesium sulfate is available as an oral supplement and in a powder form commonly known as epsom salt. It’s also given intravenously in clinical settings.
Benefits: Used to treat a variety of conditions including constipation, low blood magnesium and preeclampsia (high blood pressure in pregnant people). As a soaking solution, magnesium sulfate may treat minor bruises and cuts. Soaking in an epsom salt bath may also help soothe sore muscles, promote relaxation and relieve headaches, says Hartnett.
Side effects: Taken orally, side effects may include stomach pain, bloating, nausea or headache. As a soaking solution, side effects may include redness, irritation or infection.
What it is: Magnesium hydroxide comes in various oral forms like other magnesium supplements, says Kimszal, adding that it’s also added to some skincare products as an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agent.
Benefits: Taken orally, magnesium hydroxide is used to relieve constipation and indigestion.
Side effects: Loose or more frequent stools may occur.
What it is: Magnesium gluconate is more commonly used for magnesium deficiency since it’s less likely to cause diarrhea, and is one of the best-absorbed types of magnesium, explains Kimszal.
Benefits: This type of magnesium is used to supplement a diet that may be deficient in magnesium, says Kimszal. It’s also used to treat low blood magnesium that may be caused by medical conditions such as gastrointestinal disorders and kidney disease.
Side effects: Diarrhea and upset stomach may occur.
Other Types of Magnesium
This type of magnesium is readily absorbed by the body, notes Kimszal, however, she adds that there’s not much research on it, so little is known about its true effects. Magnesium glycinate is one of the preferred magnesium supplements that may help with sleeplessness, tense muscles and anxiety, adds Hartnett.
Magnesium L-threonate: This form of magnesium is “able to cross the blood-brain barrier, making it potentially beneficial for brain health and cognitive function,” reports Hartnett, adding it may also relieve sleeplessness, tense muscles and anxiety. More research, however, is needed to know about its true effects and safety, adds Kimszal.
Magnesium malate: This type of magnesium is easily absorbed by the body and associated with decreased muscle pain, says Kimszal. However, she notes that some studies observe no effect in older adults.
Magnesium chloride: This form of magnesium is often used topically, in the form of lotions or oils, to support muscle and joint health, says Hartnett.
Oral supplements can have side effects including diarrhea, upset stomach and nausea, says Kimszal, and it’s important to talk to your doctor before taking any supplement.
How to Choose the Right Magnesium for You
To ensure safe and effective use of magnesium supplements, or any supplement, it’s essential to consult your doctor before taking them. Moreover, it’s important to know that magnesium supplements may interact with certain medications, such as antibiotics, diuretics and prescription medications for acid reflux. Your doctor can help you select the appropriate magnesium supplement that meets your individual needs and health conditions.
When choosing a magnesium supplement, “get the one that will best fit your needs, making sure you’re getting the right dosage for your age and health status, and follow the product label’s instructions,” advises Kimszal. She recommends choosing a high-quality product without additives from a reputable brand that has undergone third-party testing for purity and quality.
DiNicolantonio JJ, O'Keefe JH, Wilson W. Subclinical magnesium deficiency: a principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis. Open Heart. 2018;5(1):e000668.
Magnesium. StatPearls [Internet]. Accessed 4/7/2023.
Magnesium Oxide. Medline Plus. Accessed 3/28/2023.
Domitrz I, Cegielska J. Magnesium as an Important Factor in the Pathogenesis and Treatment of Migraine—From Theory to Practice. Nutrients. 2022;14(5):1089.
Magnesium and Migraine. American Migraine Foundation. Accessed 3/29/2023.
Magnesium. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Accessed 3/28/2023.
Magnesium Sulfate. StatPearls [Internet]. Accessed 4/7/2023.
Epsom Salt. DailyMed. Accessed 3/28/2023.
Magnesium Sulfate. Medline Plus. Accessed 3/28/2023.
Magnesium Hydroxide. Medline Plus. Accessed 3/28/2023.
Magnesium Gluconate. Medline Plus. Accessed 3/28/2023.
Magnesium. National Institutes of Health. Accessed 3/28/2023.