Magnesium is an important mineral required by numerous critical biological processes in the body, including muscle, heart and brain function. Because magnesium is found in almost all plant and animal food sources, dietary deficiencies in magnesium are rare. When a magnesium deficiency does occur, it may be treated with magnesium supplements. Magnesium is usually sold as a compound with another chemical, typically a salt such as citrate or malate, and the type of chemical compound slightly alters the properties of the supplement. Consult your doctor to determine the best type of magnesium supplement for you.
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Forms of Magnesium
Pure magnesium, also known as elemental magnesium, is highly reactive and flammable. Combining magnesium with another chemical, typically a salt compound such as citrate or malate, creates a more stable molecule that can be ingested as a health supplement. The different salt forms of magnesium have slightly different properties and are often used for different purposes.
Magnesium citrate is the product of magnesium combined with citric acid, which has the chemical formula C6H6O7Mg. Magnesium citrate is often used in liquid form as a saline laxative to treat constipation, or to completely empty the intestines prior to surgery, explains the University of Maryland Medical Center. Magnesium citrate may also be packaged into capsules and used to increase levels of magnesium in the blood to treat magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium malate forms when magnesium is reacted with malic acid, yielding a chemical with the formula C4H4MgO5. Magnesium malate is most commonly used to treat a condition known as fibromyalgia, according to the University of Mary Washington. Fibromyalgia is a poorly understood disease characterized by fatigue, muscle pain, stiffness, headache and memory problems, and may be linked to low magnesium levels.
Other Forms of Magnesium
Many other forms of magnesium are also commercially available, including magnesium oxide, magnesium carbonate, magnesium glycinate, magnesium hydroxide, magnesium chloride and others. Magnesium oxide contains the highest levels of magnesium, and is often the cheapest form of magnesium, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institutes of Health. Magnesium glycinate and magnesium sulphate are both also commonly used to treat constipation. Magnesium carbonate is sometimes used as chalk.