There are many good reasons for taking a magnesium supplement. Whether it’s for restless leg syndrome, leg cramps after exercise or at night, twitching eyelids, trouble sleeping, fatigue, palpitations, extrasystoles or anxiety, magnesium works. But not all dietary supplements are made the same. There’s a reason why there are so many different magnesium formulations: they are not all equally effective. When choosing one formulation over another, know that you are deciding how much magnesium you are getting from your formulation of choice and to what extent it will help you with what it is you taking it for.
Some of the best forms of magnesium are organic ones – formulations in which the mineral is bound to an organic elements, such as an amino acid or an organic acid. For example, magnesium gluconate, aspartate, lactate are some of the most effective forms. The worst forms of the mineral are inorganic ones, such as magnesium oxide, sulfate, chloride or carbonate. But despite having lower absorption rates, they do help correct a deficiency of the mineral and are a source of benefits. They’re just not as effective as other, better absorbed forms.
Somewhere in between are forms such as citrate or malate which are neither the absolute best, nor the worst formulations. They are readily available and purposed to provide all the benefits we are looking for in a magnesium supplement, whether it’s to help treat calf or foot cramps, restore restful sleep, lower stress levels, reduce anxiety or calm nerves. They are available in powder form, meant to be dissolved in water, as tablets or capsules or in liquid form – to suit all preferences.
Doses – recommendations
Both magnesium malate and citrate come in different doses ranging from as little as 100, 130 mg to as much as 300, 350 or 400 mg per tablet and as little as 30 ml, 100 ml, 150 ml to as much as 200 ml or 240 ml per dose of liquid formulation. Depending on the reason you are taking them for, different doses may be recommended. For example, Mg malate for correcting a deficiency and associated symptoms is often taken in doses of up to 300 mg a day for women or 400 mg a day for men (healthy adults). Whereas Mg citrate, which is often recommended for constipation, can be taken in a one time dose of 240 ml (for healthy adults).
Doses are established according to age and uses. For example, to correct a deficiency, you need to take the RDI (recommended daily intake) equivalent for your age group. For women aged 19-30 and 30 and older, the recommended daily intake of the mineral is set at 310 and 320 mg respectively. For men aged 19-30 and 30 and older, the recommended daily intake is set at 400 and 420 mg respectively. But if you are taking magnesium for one specific purpose, such as relieving constipation, then a one time dose of 240 ml, for example, may be recommended for an adult person. Doses need to be adjusted to account for age, existing medical conditions (example: kidney problems), severity of deficiency etc.
List of uses
Both magnesium malate and citrate have about the same uses and are good for correcting a deficiency of the mineral and associated symptoms affecting muscles, bones, nervous system, digestion and mental health. But magnesium citrate is additionally used for relieving severe constipation. Sure, the malate form can help regulate transit and acts as a mild stool softener. But the citrate formula exerts a stronger laxative effect that recommends it for constipation relief more than other forms of magnesium.
What is magnesium malate good for?
1) Muscle spasms and cramps (restless leg syndrome, painful leg cramps, thigh spasms, eyelid twitching etc.).
2) Stiff muscles, physical fatigue, overexertion.
3) Trouble sleeping, insomnia.
4) High blood pressure (always together with potassium).
5) Arrhythmia (extrasystoles, palpitations), tachycardia.
6) Stress, anxiety, irritability, nervousness, mood swings.
7) Magnesium malate is potentially good for headaches and migraines.
8) Higher doses have a laxative effect for constipation relief.
9) Potential benefits for blood sugar control in type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes.
Magnesium malate holds several benefits specifically for women. First of all, it improves bone density and strengthens bones. In pregnancy, it helps keep blood pressure numbers low, preventing hypertension and may play a role in reducing the risk of preterm labor. Magnesium malate may help reduce period cramp pain and relieve PMS constipation as well as improve mood swings and reduce irritability. Lastly, it helps combat water retention (bloating, face puffiness, swollen ankles).
What is magnesium citrate good for?
1) Muscle spasms and cramps (example: muscle cramps after exercise, nighttime leg cramps etc.).
2) Muscle stiffness, physical fatigue.
3) Difficulty falling and staying asleep (insomnia).
4) High blood pressure (in combination with potassium).
5) Arrhythmia (extrasystoles, palpitations), tachycardia (fast heart rate).
6) Irritability, mood swings, stress, anxiety, calming nerves.
7) Headaches and migraines.
8) Potential benefits for blood sugar control in type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes.
9) Benefits for constipation relief.
What magnesium citrate is especially good for is relieving constipation. It’s actually such a strong stool softener that it’s commonly used for prepping for procedures such as colonoscopies, usually in higher doses, or for relieving severe constipation (very few or no bowel movements occurring for 1-3 weeks).
What does it do to relieve constipation so well? One of the main reasons for taking magnesium citrate rather than other formulas is it attracts water in the intestinal tract which triggers peristaltic movements and favors passing of bowel movements. You can actually expect to have a bowel movement in up to 4-6 hours after taking a higher dose of magnesium citrate. Whatever formula you choose to take, a good tip to remember is to take it with lots of water for a stool softening effect.
In the right doses, neither magnesium malate nor citrate should cause any side effects. In larger doses, the most common side effects are loose stools, diarrhea, painful abdominal cramps. For Mg citrate, temporary bloating can occur due to the formula attracting water into the intestinal tract. For Mg malate, higher doses taken on an empty stomach may cause digest upset due to malic acid in the formula. Less common side effects may include electrolyte imbalances (for example, taking too much magnesium can reduce calcium absorption and vice-versa).
There are also possible interactions with other medication (magnesium may interact with calcium and other dietary supplements, calcium channel blockers for high blood pressure, diuretics, antiretroviral medication or medication for treating osteoporosis or other bone conditions, antibiotics etc.). It may help to take your magnesium supplements 2 hours before any medication or up to 6 hours after, but talk to your doctor to make sure. Rare side effects include allergic reactions. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include itchy, raised, red skin bumps, swelling of the face, mouth, throat, difficulty breathing, lightheadedness, low blood pressure, nausea and fainting and may culminate in anaphylactic shock.
When taking either magnesium malate or citrate, how much of the form do you actually absorb? Well, for magnesium citrate, you can expect to absorb up to 30% of the mineral present in this formulation. For magnesium malate, exact bioavailability is unknown, but presumed to equal to or slightly lower than that of the citrate form. Both types are organic magnesium forms and should have a good bioavailability. In both cases, the mineral is bound to an organic acid: citric acid in Mg citrate and malic acid in Mg malate. Citric acid occurs naturally in citrus fruits, especially lemons and limes, while malic acid occurs naturally in most fruits that are not citrus, most notably in apples and rhubarb.