Magnesium regulates over 300 biochemical reactions in the human body, from nerve and muscle function to protein synthesis and energy production. Choosing the best magnesium supplement, though, is anything but easy. This mineral exists in several forms, including magnesium malate, citrate, orotate, chloride and aspartate. Some are better absorbed and have greater health benefits than others.
Several forms of magnesium exist and each has a different purpose. Magnesium malate supports overall health and physical performance, while magnesium citrate is a saline laxative.
The Role of Magnesium
Every cell in your body needs magnesium to function properly. This mineral allows your muscles to contract and relax, supports DNA and RNA synthesis and regulates energy metabolism. It also serves as an electrolyte as it helps maintain your fluid balance. It's the eighth most common element in the earth's crust and fourth most abundant mineral in the body, according to a June 2015 review published in Nutrients.
The Nutrients review reports that about 60 percent of total body magnesium is stored in the bones. The remaining 40 percent can be found in the blood, muscles and other tissues. As a dietary supplement, magnesium is promoted as a natural sports performance enhancer, mild laxative, energy booster and electrolyte.
For example, a clinical trial published in the September 2014 edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that physical performance increased in elderly women who took magnesium oxide supplements daily for three months. Researchers point out that this mineral plays a key role in muscle function and may prevent or delay the decline in physical performance that comes with old age.
This mineral occurs naturally in a wide range of foods, from leafy greens and legumes to nuts, whole grains, potatoes, rice and meat. Yet, more than half of American adults don't get enough of this nutrient in their diet. Magnesium deficiency, or hypomagnesemia, has been linked to heart disease, depression, anxiety, osteoporosis, impaired immune function, cataracts, seizures and other health issues.
Scientists point out that certain conditions and lifestyle factors may affect the body's ability to absorb magnesium. Heavy alcohol consumption, bariatric surgery, Celiac disease, chronic stress, inflammatory bowel disorders, diabetes, diarrhea and strenuous exercise are just a few to mention. Furthermore, some medications, such as antacids and diuretics, can deplete your body of this mineral.
Now that you know these risks, you want to choose the best magnesium supplement. Consider the benefits and uses of magnesium malate vs. citrate before making a decision.
What Is Magnesium Malate?
Magnesium malate is promoted as a natural energy booster and pain relief agent. This nutrient is available in supplement form and consists of magnesium oxide and malic acid.
Read more: 8 Non-Caffeine Ways to Boost Your Energy
According to a small study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in October 2017, magnesium malate is well-tolerated and has a high absorption rate. Note that this study included only 91 individuals but is one of the few authoritative studies on the topic. Subjects who took a dietary supplement containing magnesium malate plus B vitamins for 30 days experienced significant improvements in their magnesium status.
Approximately 25 percent of the study participants reported mild side effects, such as stomach pain and diarrhea. Their magnesium levels increased 22 percent within four hours of taking the supplement and dropped by five percent after another four hours.
The magnesium malate group also reported improvements in memory, anxiety levels, mental focus, energy and sugar cravings. These beneficial effects, though, could be also due to vitamin B6, vitamin B12 or folate — the other ingredients in the study supplement. More research is needed to determine the effect of magnesium malate alone.
Magnesium Malate vs. Citrate
When it comes to choosing the best magnesium supplement, you may also consider magnesium citrate. This dietary supplement, which consists of magnesium and citric acid, is commonly used as a saline laxative. It works by increasing water in the small intestine, causing a bowel movement within 30 minutes to six hours after ingestion.
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As you see, magnesium citrate has a completely different purpose than magnesium malate. It also carries a higher risk of side effects. Common adverse reactions include nausea or vomiting, irregular heartbeat, angina, difficulty breathing, allergic reactions and digestive distress. You may also experience muscle weakness, diarrhea or stomach cramps.
This dietary supplement may interact with some antibiotics, calcium disodium, digoxin, vitamin D and other medicines. Also, it may not be safe for those suffering from kidney disease or diabetes. If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, consult your doctor before taking magnesium citrate.
A November 2014 study published in Clinical Radiology compared the effects of magnesium citrate versus sodium phosphate (NaP), a popular laxative used for bowel preparation before colonoscopy. Magnesium citrate appears slightly more effective than NaP at increasing fluid volume. But its potential benefits don't end there.
A clinical trial published in Gastroenterology Nursing in March 2018 found that magnesium citrate works just as well as a nasogastric polyethylene glycol-electrolyte solution for fecal disimpaction, but it's less invasive and more affordable. High doses of this mineral may also reduce migraine frequency, according to a November 2017 review published in the journal Headache. The study authors used magnesium dicitrate, a form of magnesium citrate.
Read more: 8 Surprising Things Giving You a Headache
Choosing the best form of magnesium depends on your individual needs. If you're struggling with constipation, magnesium citrate could be an option. However, this supplement has its drawbacks and may cause severe adverse reactions, such as chest pain and shortness of breath associated with esophageal stricture — even though these effects are rare and unlikely to occur. Magnesium malate supports overall health and appears to be safer.
Discuss your options with a medical professional in order to make an informed decision. Dietary supplements, including magnesium citrate and magnesium malate, are not free of side effects.
- NIH: "Magnesium"
- MDPI: "Magnesium in Prevention and Therapy"
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Effect of Oral Magnesium Supplementation on Physical Performance in Healthy Elderly Women Involved in a Weekly Exercise Program: A Randomized Controlled Trial"
- NIH: "Sources of Magnesium"
- Linus Pauling Institute: "Magnesium"
- Open Heart: "Subclinical Magnesium Deficiency: A Principal Driver of Cardiovascular Disease and a Public Health Crisis"
- Journal of the American College of Nutrition: "Scottsdale Magnesium Study: Absorption, Cellular Uptake, and Clinical Effectiveness of a Timed-Release Magnesium Supplement in a Standard Adult Clinical Population"
- PubChem: "Magnesium Citrate Dibasic"
- University of Michigan Health System: "Magnesium Citrate"
- Barnes-Jewish Hospital: "Magnesium Citrate Oral Solution"
- NCBI: "Intra-Individual Comparison of Magnesium Citrate and Sodium Phosphate for Bowel Preparation at CT Colonography"
- Ovid - Gastroenterology Nursing: "A Retrospective Study Comparing Polyethylene Glycol-Electrolyte Solution With Magnesium Citrate for Treatment of Fecal Disimpaction"
- Wiley Online Library: "Magnesium in Migraine Prophylaxis — Is There an Evidence‐Based Rationale? A Systematic Review"
- NCBI: "Esophageal Stricture Due to Magnesium Citrate Powder Ingestion: A Unique Case"