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Understanding The Different Types of Magnesium Supplements

Magnesium is all the rage these days.

Whether on the advice of a trusted professional, the recommendation of a friend, or on the strength of really effective marketing, people all across the country are happily and confidently using magnesium supplements. 

The problem is most of those magnesium supplements are failing them in a big way.  Ineffective nutrient forms, bogus prices, falsified benefits, and potential side effects can afflict even the most popular, well-branded magnesium supplements.

What’s a wellness seeker to do?

Keep reading, and we’ll uncover the crucial differences of common magnesium supplements so you can find the mag that will actually work for you.

In This Article

The Most Popular Magnesium Shouldn’t Be:  Magnesium Oxide

No, magnesium oxide is NOT a “good” magnesium supplement. 

  • It’s the most sold magnesium, sea to shining sea, despite better options being available.
  • It’s the one most conventional doctors will tell you to take, despite the science.
  • It’s the one found in most “high-end” magnesium supplements, despite the ingredient being dirt cheap.

To understand our general distaste (literally and metaphorically) for magnesium oxide (and its ilk), we have to understand more about the “forms” of magnesium.

Learn More: Making Magnesium Supplements Easy | Dr. Neal Smoller

What is a “Form” of Magnesium?

Magnesium is a mineral. Minerals do not exist freely in nature. That is, you can’t buy bottled magnesium.  

Minerals must be stuck to something else to be chemically stable.  You can buy a bottle of magnesium oxide, magnesium malate, or magnesium citrate.

When we talk about the different types of magnesium, we really mean the “form,” as in “salt form” or “chelate form.”

Here are examples of popular magnesium types (or forms):

What a mineral is stuck to will influence a number of its properties, but in particular two important ones:

  1. The amount of the mineral you get at one time (the amount per capsule, for example).
  2. How much of that dose gets into the blood, and how much stays in the gut.

Magnesium Absorption, Explained

If you read any article ranking high in google, they’ll tell you all magnesium is “easily absorbed by the gut.”  Not true.

In general, salt forms like magnesium oxide or magnesium citrate have very poor absorption.  Like, VERY poor. About 5% of magnesium from mag oxide or citrate get into the blood, and 95% of it stays in the gut.

If you want your magnesium in your gut, magnesium oxide or citrate are FANTASTIC.

Most of us don’t, though.  

When magnesium is in the gut, it causes water to rush into the colon, resulting in faster, more watery bowel movements.  

If you’re constipated, magnesium is a fine option.  Note: fine, not optimal.  

When magnesium is “stuck” to a larger compound, such as an amino acid—the building blocks of proteins—the amount absorbed goes WAY up.  

We’re talking nearly half, or more, gets absorbed.  Which is about 10x more than magnesium oxide.

You get WAY more absorption with the chelate, and way more magnesium in places you actually need it.
Note: You can get GI side effects like diarrhea from all forms of magnesium if you consume too much of it!

What’s the Best Form of Magnesium?

Technically, this is a trick question.  Which form is the best form of magnesium depends on what you’re using the magnesium for.

Here’s how you simplify it:

  • If you’re looking to support your digestive tract (usually to increase bowel movement frequency or change the consistency), citrate or oxide are the ideal forms of magnesium
  • If you’re looking for any benefit outside of your GI tract, the chelate form is best.

Electrolytes: The Exception

Electrolytes are a small exception to the rule “chelates are preferred for supplementation.”  

We generally prefer magnesium citrate, a magnesium salt, in electrolyte mixes because:

  1. The amount of magnesium needed for electrolyte replacement is much lower than needed for nutritional supplementation.
  2. Since the dose is lower, you’ll be less likely to trigger GI events with magnesium citrate in a simple electrolyte formula.
  3. The citrate form is very water-soluble, which makes it great for rehydration formulas.
  4. Citric acid (citrate of magnesium citrate) itself is a weak electrolyte.

Why “Calm”-ing Magnesium Products are Misleading

This is a Supplement Facts Panel for a VERY popular “Calm” product sold in gummy form:

We can see that the main form is magnesium citrate.  As we said, at less than 10% absorption, that’s a fantastic laxative.  
Most “calm” or relaxation powders are simply magnesium in their least absorbable forms.  Excellent for constipation. Bad for sleep.

Woodstock Vitamins Magnesium Options

We have a comprehensive lineup of magnesium supplements to meet any use case you may have.

Easy Magnesium

Our heavy hitter is Easy Magnesium.  It’s magnesium bisglycinate, which is magnesium bound to not 1, but 2 amino acids (that are both glycinate molecules).  It delivers 125mg of elemental magnesium per capsule and has some of the best absorption of all magnesium options.

We have Easy Magnesium in powder form, and we call it Easy Mag Plus.  This has a cocktail of magnesium chelates, including l-threonate and malate.  It is available flavorless and mixed berry flavor.

Magnesium Glycinate

Magnesium Glycinate is our number 2 choice for magnesium supplementation.  Slightly different than Easy Magnesium, with slightly less absorption, but not a noticeable amount.  

The biggest difference is how the product is labeled; to get the 400mg on the label, you need a full serving size, which is 3 capsules.  It’s a tad confusing, and that’s what makes it our second choice.

Mega Magnesium

If you look at this Supplement Facts Panel, you might wonder why we recommend Mega Magnesium as our third-best magnesium.

This is a chelate magnesium with a twist.  If you look carefully, it has magnesium citrate in its magnesium blend, meaning you will receive a small (but not negligible) dose of magnesium citrate.  

Some people WANT both a gentle nudge to the gut AND absorption into the blood, so this product satisfies both. We recommend it really only in that situation.

Magnesium Citrate

For folks who are looking for Digestive Support, we recommend our Magnesium Citrate.  Alternatively, our GI Regularity product is magnesium citrate with triphala and aloe for total digestive support.

Magnesium Potassium Citrate

If you’re in need of a solid electrolyte formula, look no further than Magnesium Potassium Citrate.

What does Woodstock Vitamins Recommend for Magnesium?

Since there are different reasons to use the different forms of magnesium, we have recommendations that match your unique, specific needs.

For optimal magnesium levels, sleep support, calming and relaxation effects, and more: Easy Magnesium (Magnesium Glycinate as 2nd choice)

Digestive supportGI Regularity

And for electrolyte support: Magnesium Potassium Citrate 


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