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Types of magnesium supplements and their uses

Two bowls filled with magnesium-rich food
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Magnesium is a metallic element that our bodies use to turn the food we eat into energy. It’s also important for helping the parathyroid glands to work normally – these are involved in the health of the bones.

Magnesium deficiency

Not getting enough magnesium can lead to a deficiency, although this is uncommon in healthy adults. Normally a deficiency is caused by a condition affecting the gut that prevents the absorption of essential nutrients, like Coeliac disease or Crohn’s disease. It can also be caused by severe malnutrition, chronic alcoholism, or taking specific types of medication.

The good news is, magnesium occurs naturally in foods like spinach, nuts and wholemeal bread. You can also get it by taking supplements of up to 400mg each day – although if you have a diagnosed deficiency, you may need prescription treatment from your GP.

What types of magnesium are there and how are they different?

Whether you’ve been prescribed magnesium, or you’re just interested in trying supplements available from a pharmacy or health food shop, you’ll probably notice that there are a few different varieties available, including:

  • Magnesium citrate
  • Magnesium chloride
  • Magnesium oxide
  • Magnesium glycinate
  • Magnesium l-threonate
  • Magnesium bisglycinate
  • Magnesium malate
  • Magnesium taurate

The type of magnesium you’ll see most often in pharmacies and health food shops is magnesium citrate. This is magnesium bound with citric acid, which is the acid in citrus fruits that makes them tart. In the UK, magnesium citrate is prescribed in tablet form for magnesium deficiency in adults and children.

Two other popular types of magnesium are magnesium chloride – which is bound with the element chlorine – and magnesium oxide – which is bound with oxygen.

In the UK, magnesium chloride is used in medications for people on dialysis. It’s also available in pharmacies and health food shops as a supplement, sometimes in the form of bath flakes, oils and body creams. Magnesium oxide is used in lots of different products, including Milk of Magnesia, which is taken to treat indigestion and constipation.

Food sources of magnesium

The best way to get magnesium is through your diet. For most people this shouldn’t be difficult as there are plenty of foods that are naturally high in magnesium, including:

  • Pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews and peanuts
  • Spinach
  • Black beans, kidney beans and edamame
  • Wholemeal bread
  • Skin-on potatoes
  • Brown rice
  • Milk and yoghurt
  • Salmon
  • Chicken
  • Beef

If you struggle to get these kinds of food in your diet, you can take magnesium supplements – the recommended amount is 300mg for men and 270mg for women. Taking more than the recommended amount might cause diarrhoea.