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Why You Should Add Magnesium to Your Diet (and How to Do It Safely)

Here's what you should know before taking a magnesium supplement. Plus, eight types and benefits you probably didn't know.

Nuts and seeds on a table
Getty Images/John Lawson/Moment

Magnesium is a mineral in the human body that helps it work properly. When our bodies don't get enough magnesium, we often feel the consequences. Magnesium deficiency can contribute to nervousness and fatigue. These symptoms can be a good indicator that we need to increase our magnesium intake. However, magnesium deficiencies are uncommon in generally healthy individuals since you're bound to get enough through your diet.

Besides avoiding magnesium deficiency, there can be benefits to taking some kinds of magnesium supplements, such as treating constipation. Here are a few things you should know about what magnesium does for the body, how to add it to your diet and what differentiates various types of magnesium. 

What is magnesium?

Magnesium is a chemical element present in many foods and an essential building block in the body. But what does magnesium do for the body? Our bodies use magnesium to regulate blood pressure, bone development, muscle and nerve function and to synthesize DNA. While those are some of the most notable functions of magnesium in our bodies, the full importance of this mineral can be hard to overstate. 

Understanding what foods have magnesium can go a long way towards helping you ensure that you have enough of this vital mineral. Dairy products tend to be rich in magnesium and are one of many people's primary sources of this mineral. While the exact amounts vary between them, legumes, nuts and seeds are another abundant source of magnesium. Spinach, kale and other leafy greens make up the third group of foods that contain high amounts of magnesium. Including more of these types of food in your diet may help you maintain better health and ward off magnesium deficiencies. Still, in some cases, these foods may not be enough or may not be practical. In those cases, magnesium supplements may be able to fill the gap.

Adding magnesium to your diet

If finding the right foods is challenging, inconvenient, or otherwise problematic, taking magnesium supplements may help you to meet your body's needs for this mineral. Even if you aren't noticing signs of magnesium deficiency, it's important to ensure you are consuming the recommended amounts of magnesium.

Once you decide to include magnesium supplements, you may notice the many options available. These supplements come in various types, mainly differentiated by what is bound to the magnesium or used as a carrier. For instance, magnesium citrate is one of the more common types. This type is made of magnesium bonded to citric acid.

8 types of magnesium

Magnesium supplements
Getty Images/eyenigelen/E+

As mentioned, there are many types of magnesium supplements. Some people may have an easier time absorbing some types over others. Depending on what the magnesium is bound to, these supplements may also have different health benefits and potential side effects. For example, most magnesium types have some degree of a laxative effect.

Magnesium chloride

This type is created by binding magnesium and chlorine. Magnesium chloride is thought to be easily absorbed by the digestive tract. While this type can help with magnesium deficiency, it is also used to treat heartburn and other problems caused by excessive stomach acid.

Magnesium citrate

One of the more common magnesium types, magnesium citrate, is believed by some to have superior bioavailability compared to other magnesium supplements. The laxative effect of this type is strong enough that high doses of it are sometimes used to treat constipation.

Magnesium lactate

Magnesium lactate is used for similar purposes as other magnesium supplements. However, it has shown some promise at being gentler on the digestive system than many magnesium types. This type is created by binding magnesium with lactic acid.

Magnesium malate

Magnesium malate is formed by binding magnesium and malic acid. Some research has pursued the idea that this type of magnesium supplement may have high levels of bioavailability but has been inconclusive. Beyond potentially greater bioavailability, another potential perk of this magnesium supplement is that it may have less of a discernible impact on the digestive system. People who experience side effects from other types of magnesium may find this type less problematic.

Magnesium orotate

A combination of magnesium and orotic acid, this type of magnesium has shown promise in several areas. Research has demonstrated the importance of the microbiome-gut-brain axis, which has to do with a feedback system between aspects of the digestive system and psychological well-being. This research indicates that magnesium orotate may encourage better gut health, which could improve experiences of well-being. The high bioavailability of this magnesium type also makes it helpful in treating magnesium deficiency.

However, this type is thought to have a lower laxative effect than others. As a result, it may not be as helpful in treating constipation.

Magnesium oxide

Formed by combining magnesium with oxygen, this type of magnesium supplement has been researched for its potential impacts on type 2 diabetes. Research outcomes have been conflicting, but magnesium oxide supplements are also used for antacid and laxative properties. This form of magnesium may have lower bioavailability than others and may be less effective for managing a magnesium deficiency.

Magnesium sulfate

Also known as Epsom salt, this type combines magnesium with sulfur and oxygen. Some studies have shown the benefits of using magnesium sulfate to treat symptoms of acute asthma, migraines, depression and anxiety. Some of these studies relied on the intravenous administration of magnesium sulfate. Further research is needed to understand the impacts of magnesium sulfate supplements on these conditions.  

Magnesium taurate

Magnesium taurate is made by combining magnesium with the amino acid taurine. Like other magnesium types, this one may sometimes be used to treat magnesium deficiency, excessive stomach acidity, and constipation. Some research has shown promising results regarding the potential for magnesium taurate to aid in some cardiovascular treatments. However, this research was not conducted on humans, and further study is needed to see how well the effects translate.

Drawbacks to taking magnesium

While getting enough magnesium in your diet is important, you want to avoid consuming too much. There are a few potential downsides to magnesium that you may want to consider before deciding whether magnesium supplements are right for you.

Cost

Depending on the type of magnesium supplement in question, these dietary aids can become expensive.

Too much magnesium

Taking too much magnesium can lead to an overdose with unpleasant side effects and, in extreme cases, potentially life-threatening risks. Consuming too much magnesium may lead to feelings of fatigue, muscle weakness, nausea and diarrhea. If you take magnesium supplements and experience these symptoms, speak with your doctor as soon as possible.

Drug interactions

Magnesium supplements can sometimes interfere with other medications and prevent them from being absorbed or used correctly. If you take regular medications, speak with your prescribing doctor before adding a magnesium supplement to your diet.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.