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A guide to magnesium

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There are at least 10 varieties of magnesium supplement—and they’re all quite different, so make sure you select the right one.

You drop into your local health store to buy some magnesium—and you’re met with an array of possibilities. Should you buy lactate, perhaps go for malate, or maybe it’s taurate, which seems to be mocking you from the shelves. Then there’s sulfate and, for the cognoscenti, orotate.

Does it matter which one you buy, or do they all do pretty much the same thing?

First up, magnesium is pretty important. No, it’s more than that: without it you’d die. It’s involved in more than 600 metabolic processes in your body, including energy production, blood pressure regulation, nerve signaling and muscle reactions.  

If you have low levels, you’re much more likely to suffer from heart disease, type 2 diabetes, mood swings and migraines. It could also be the cause of your depression or anxiety. And you’ll probably not be sleeping well, either.

You can get magnesium from foods such as green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, but in practice most of us aren’t getting sufficient magnesium from our diet—which is why you found yourself in the health store in the first place.

So, meet the magnesium family.

Magnesium citrate

As its name suggests, it’s bound with citric acid, which is found in citrus fruits. It’s one of the most bioavailable magnesiums and is easily absorbed by the gut. If you’re magnesium levels are low, it’s the one to choose, although very high doses have a laxative effect and can be used if you suffer from constipation. It’s also used to treat depression and anxiety.

Magnesium oxide

This is a salt that is usually sold in powder form and is possibly best known as milk of magnesia. It’s not for topping up low levels as it’s poorly absorbed, but instead to treat digestion problems, including heartburn and constipation. It can also treat migraines.

Magnesium chloride

This is a multipurpose version that can be used to top up levels as well as to treat heartburn and constipation. It’s also used in skin creams to relax sore and tired muscles.

Magnesium lactate

This is naturally produced in your body when it binds with lactic acid. If you need to take large quantities, it’s the best form to take as it’s easily absorbed by your digestive tract. As well as a general top-up, it may also treat stress and depression.

Magnesium malate

Another form that is well absorbed and doesn’t have a laxative effect. It is often used to treat specific conditions such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Magnesium taurate

This form helps regulate blood sugar (glucose) and could help if you’re pre-diabetic. It also helps support healthy blood pressure.

Magnesium L-threonate

Again, this is an easily absorbed form that is good for brain health. It’s being tested for depression and age-related memory loss, although tests are ongoing.

Magnesium sulfate

Better known as Epsom salt, magnesium sulfate is white and has the same texture as table salt and an unpleasant taste. It can be used to treat constipation if you can tolerate it, but there are more palatable alternatives available. Instead, it’s more commonly added to bath water to ease aching joints and muscles. It’s also found in skincare products.

Magnesium glycinate

This is the one to go for if you want to improve your sleep, and it could also help ameliorate a range of inflammatory conditions including heart disease and diabetes. Try it too to reduce stress, anxiety and depression.

Magnesium orotate

This is the choice of athletes because it improves heart function. It has also been used to treat congestive heart failure—and it’s the most expensive type of magnesium.

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