There are many benefits to taking magnesium supplements, not just correcting a deficiency of the mineral. From treating muscle spasms and cramps, including painful calf or foot cramps that occur after exercise or during nighttime and restless leg syndrome, insomnia, migraines, high blood pressure to reducing anxiety and stress, there are many uses for magnesium supplements. Fortunately, side effects are rare, mild and reversible and only occur with excessively high doses of the mineral, making supplementation a sure, safe way to correct a deficiency of the mineral and associated side effects.
But not all magnesium supplements are the same. Different formulations of the mineral are available and all have different absorption rates. And because not all magnesium forms are absorbed equally, choosing one formulation over another can really make a difference when it comes to the health benefits one enjoys as a result of supplementation with said formulation. So which is the best absorbed magnesium form and why is it the best?
If you are wondering what is the best magnesium to take, know that opinions are divided regarding which form is really the best, if there is one or just one. If you are looking to correct a deficiency and enjoy some of the wonderful benefits the mineral has to offer, know there isn’t just one type of magnesium supplement you can take. Most formulations of the mineral will help correct a deficiency and provide important benefits with sometimes almost immediate results. The more severe the magnesium deficiency, the more likely it is any formulation will work great, even those poorly rated such as magnesium oxide. A deficient organism will accept any help it can get, in any form. Not to mention deficiencies tend to encourage higher than normal uptakes.
Organic vs inorganic
Magnesium formulations are often classified as organic versus inorganic, with the latter being less bioavailable, or not so well absorbed. One of the worst forms is magnesium oxide, which also happens to be classified as an inorganic form of the mineral. Magnesium sulfate is also an inorganic formula, with a better, but still low absorption rate. Magnesium chloride is another type of inorganic form, hence its poor rating in terms of bioavailability, although better than both sulfate and oxide. Lastly, magnesium carbonate is an inorganic form with up to 10%, sometimes 20% absorption values.
Whereas some of the best absorbed magnesium forms are organic ones and include types such as magnesium aspartate, gluconate, lactate or citrate. For these formulations, absorption rates vary from 30% (for the citrate formula) to 67% (for the gluconate formula). Overall, of the two, the best are organic magnesium supplements to take.
Chelated vs non-chelated
What is chelated magnesium? Some compounds such as amino acids (aspartic acid, glycine) or organic acids (malic acid in rhubarb and apples, citric acid in citrus fruit) have an affinity to metals and tend to bind to them. These compounds are called ‘chelators’ and they associate with said metals in a particular arrangement that results in a chelated form of the metal. For example, when a molecule of the amino acid glycine binds to a molecule of magnesium, it results in a formulation called chelated magnesium glycinate.
Chelated forms are proposed to be more bioavailable than non-chelated ones because they have a higher absorption rate. Because an amino acid or organic acid is a natural compound the body absorbs rapidly and effectively, magnesium bound to such a compound will enjoy the same bioavailability. Chelated magnesium forms are proposed to hold more benefits or more specific benefits than non-chelated forms. While it’s true they are more bioavailable and, as a result, stand to produce more benefits, they do share the same health effects as any other form of the mineral.
So saying you take chelated magnesium glycinate for migraines and better sleep, aspartate for tinnitus and high blood pressure, citrate for constipation or chelated magnesium for asthma, laryngospasms or chronic fatigue is not scientifically accurate. You are taking different formulations of the same mineral which have different rates of absorption, but offer the exact same benefits. The only difference is some formulations are better absorbed, others not so much, but you need more magnesium to treat some conditions and their symptoms and less to treat others.
Amino acid-bound vs acid-bound
What makes magnesium supplements different from one another is the type of compound the mineral is bound to. Some of the best formulations are organic magnesium supplements. In these formulations, the mineral is bound to organic compounds, usually either amino acids or organic acids. Amino acids such as glycine, aspartic acid and organic acids such as malic acid, citric acid, gluconic acid or lactic acid help produce some of the best forms of magnesium: Mg glycinate, Mg asparatate, Mg malate, Mg citrate, Mg gluconate and Mg lactate. The highest absorption rate belongs to Mg gluconate, closely followed by Mg aspartate, then Mg lactate, so both amino acid and organic acid-bound forms have overall high bioavailaibility.
Best overall form
The best type of magnesium supplement to take, according to research, is magnesium gluconate. According to the European Food Safety Authority, it has an absorption rate of 67% and a retention value of 49%. The second best form is magnesium aspartate with an absorption rate of 60% and a retention value of 47%. The thirst best form is magnesium lactate with an absorption rate of 59% and a retention value of 49%. Next are other organic forms such as those where the mineral is bound to amino acids or various acids: Mg pidolate, Mg orotate, Mg glycinate, Mg citrate etc. And, lastly, inorganic forms such: Mg carbonate, Mg chloride, Mg sulfate, Mg oxide.
Even if you are taking the absolute best magnesium form, it is important to make sure your diet provides some of the best food sources of the mineral to help with correcting a potential deficiency. Spinach, Swiss chard and its variant, rainbow chard, beet greens and all green, leafy vegetables are great sources of magnesium and take the top of the list. Plants use the mineral to make chlorophyll, so the darker green the leaves, the better. Seasoning herbs such as parsley, lovage, basil, dill, coriander or cilantro and chives are also included.
Next up are nuts and seeds, notably pumpkin, sesame and watermelon seeds, almonds, cashews, peanuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts and the flours made from them. High-protein beans, lentils, chickpeas and soybeans, cereals, bananas, avocado and milk are also some of the best magnesium foods you can eat. A balanced diet supplying a variety of foods rich in in the mineral together with one of the best absorbed magnesium supplement forms of your choice can set the tone for excellent nutrition and reverse a deficiency and its side effects.