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Magnesium, is it that important?

Have you ever been told you should take magnesium but are overwhelmed by the choice of products at the chemist? Or don’t know why you should take it?

Read on for a run down on the different forms of magnesium, how to read supplement labels and if you actually need it.

Magnesium plays an important role in over 300 of the bodies biochemical processes. The most important ones being the production of cellular energy, the synthesis of proteins, the metabolism of carbohydrates, neuromuscular conductivity and bone development.

Dietary sources of magnesium include leafy green vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, nuts (almond, cashew, brazil, pecan, pine nut), seeds (sunflower, flax, pepitas, sesame), fruits (dried fig, avocado, bananas, kiwi, papaya, berries), fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, halibut), meat, dairy, eggs, soy and cocoa. While magnesium is found in a wide range of products, Australian soil is typically void of such minerals, leading to lower levels in the produce we consume.

As magnesium is stored in the bone and soft tissue (i.e. muscles) a blood test checking your serum magnesium is rarely useful. The best way to tell if you are deficient is to listen to your body. Common signs of deficiency include lethargy, muscle spasms, poor memory, sleep disturbances, low mood, poor concentration and vertigo.

The recommended daily intake (RDI) of magnesium is 400mg/day for men aged between 19-30; 310mg/day for women aged between 19-30; 420mg/day for men over the age of 30; and 320mg/day for women over the age of 30. If you are not obtaining enough from food sources or have any of the signs of deficiency, then supplementation may be for you.

Now before you run to your nearest health food shop to purchase a magnesium supplement, there are several things you should look for before hitting the checkout.

Type of magnesium

There are several different forms of magnesium, some common ones include:

  • Magnesium amino acid chelate, a highly available form of magnesium that has been bound to another molecule. The availability is dependent on what the magnesium molecule has been bound or chelated to

  • Magnesium oxide, a poorly absorbed form of magnesium often used as a laxative

  • Magnesium orotate, a highly available form of magnesium, specifically for cardiovascular conditions

  • Magnesium citrate, another highly available form of magnesium, beneficial in acute situations

  • Magnesium chloride, sold as magnesium flakes, great for topical application and bath soaks to relieve tissue pain

  • Magnesium sulfate, sold as Epsom salts, good for topical application, however not as effective as magnesium flakes

In summary look for magnesium orotate, citrate or bisglycinate (chelated/bound form) as these are the most bioavailable in the body, however which one you choose depends on the condition you are treating.

Amount of magnesium

It’s easy to get confused by the labelling of supplement bottles. One brand claims to have 500mg of magnesium amino acid chelate equivalent to 50mg of elemental magnesium. This means that the compound it is chelated to makes up the other 450mg in the total 500mg per tablet. Another has 500mg of magnesium oxide (which we now know doesn’t get absorbed by our body) and 150mg of magnesium amino acid chelate, giving us a total of 325mg of magnesium. However, we don’t know what part of that 325mg is the oxide component and how much we are actually absorbing.

In summary, don’t rely on the front of the packet when choosing a magnesium supplement, turn the bottle around and read the back, this is where strict regulations prevent marketing from coming into play.

Do you actually need it?

While many of us are deficient in magnesium, as mentioned above, there are several drug interactions and health conditions that magnesium supplementation should be avoided in, so supplementation may not be for you. It is always best to speak to your health care provider before commencing a supplement regime.

In summary, speak to a professional before commencing supplementation, especially if you are on medication or suffering a health condition.

If you are still overwhelmed by the choices and labels or unsure if a magnesium supplement is for you, book in for a consult with our Naturopath or Nutritionist to get specialised and individualised advice on your health.


Braun & Cohen (2015). Herbs and Natural Supplements. Chatswood, Australia. Elsevier

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