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Magnesium is an essential mineral, which means it must be included in our diets. It is involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions and many biochemical pathways in the human body, and used up rapidly during times of stress and when energy demands are high. If you feel like you’re running on empty, not recovering well after exercise, struggling to switch off, wind down or regularly get good quality sleep, chances are you need to check in on your magnesium. Sadly, typical Western diets don’t provide enough of this vital mineral, and many people fall short on a daily basis. Magnesium supplements can help to bridge this gap, however there’s so many different ones out there, the next challenge is knowing what to choose.

Here we’ll explain why you get different forms of magnesium in supplements, which forms you’ll find in our products, and why. Our aim is to help you feel more confident and less overwhelmed next time you’re choosing a magnesium supplement.

Why do you get different magnesium forms in supplements?

Firstly, it’s important to understand that magnesium is very chemically reactive and can’t be taken on its own in a supplement – therefore it’s usually attached to something else.*

You’ll see this when you look at the label of your magnesium-containing supplement; it won’t just say ‘magnesium’, rather it might say ‘magnesium citrate’, ‘magnesium malate’ or ‘magnesium bisglycinate’, like ours do.

Other supplement companies might choose other forms such as ‘magnesium carbonate’ or ‘magnesium oxide’.

So, in most supplements, magnesium needs to be attached to something, we know that for sure.  But how do we choose what that substance should be?

Here’s 4 key factors to consider:

The substance magnesium is attached to can greatly affect how well the supplement is tolerated (i.e. doesn’t cause any unwanted side effects). We need fairly high amounts of magnesium in our diets and often it’s necessary to supplement with a higher dose too. However, there is an increased risk of unwanted side effects such as loose stools when you start to supplement magnesium at higher doses. This is an important factor we take into account when choosing the form of magnesium in our supplements, especially those where you might typically take a higher dose. We selected magnesium bisglycinate for this purpose. Magnesium bisglycinate is a mineral amino acid chelate – this means that magnesium is attached to the amino acid glycine. This is a great form, especially when supplementing higher doses, because it is incredibly well tolerated in the gut and doesn’t cause unwanted side effects. In contrast, forms such as magnesium hydroxide and magnesium carbonate are much more likely to cause loose stools, especially when taken in higher amounts.

The form of magnesium can greatly affect the amount of magnesium that actually gets absorbed through the GI tract and into the body. It’s only when magnesium has been absorbed that it can actually exert beneficial health effects so this is a really crucial factor to consider. When magnesium is partnered with glycine, this improves the overall bioavailability; and ensures that the magnesium is well absorbed and can get to work where it is needed in the body. Bioavailability is so important to consider when choosing supplements. In contrast, forms such as magnesium oxide, whilst cheap, are known to be poorly absorbed – in fact magnesium absorption from magnesium oxide supplements may be as low as 4%! We also use a form called magnesium citrate in some of our supplements, such as in our multi range. Magnesium citrate is a form where magnesium is bound to citric acid (a substance found naturally in citrus fruits); it is officially termed an organic salt and it is among the most bioavailable forms of magnesium. However, we only use this form in supplements where magnesium is needed at a more standard dose (eg. our multi range). This is because whilst magnesium citrate has high bioavailability, this form can have a mild laxative effect at higher doses.

Another factor we take into account when deciding which form of magnesium to use, and that often isn’t discussed, is size! Magnesium is a big element, and as you can imagine, attaching it to something else is going to make it even bigger! Magnesium bisglycinate is larger than magnesium citrate and this is an important factor in determining when we do and don’t use magnesium bisglycinate in our supplements. We consider on balance that it is best to use magnesium citrate in our multi range because using magnesium bisglycinate would make the one-a-day tablets too large to swallow. We also know that magnesium citrate has high bioavailability and is well tolerated in standard doses so is well suited to a multi. In contrast, we use magnesium bisglycinate in our stand-alone magnesium supplements and in our powdered magnesium range – the ones where a higher dose is needed, so we need to be mindful of tolerability, but size is less of an issue.

Additional benefits
And last but not least, when considering the form of magnesium, we take into account the mode of action of the substance magnesium is attached to within the context of the overall aim of the supplement. And this is where we feel the benefits of magnesium bisglycinate really stand apart from the rest. Glycine is an amino acid which has calming actions. Magnesium is renowned for its balancing, calming actions too, and is often nicknamed nature’s tranquiliser. When you combine magnesium with glycine you get the calming, balancing effects of both. So not only does glycine support tolerability and bioavailability but it delivers additional benefits of its own too. This is a partnership that’s built to last; a real win-win, and why magnesium bisglycinate is most often our form of choice. Another example of considering the mode of action of the partner substance is when we add magnesium malate to our magnesium supplements which are specifically aimed at supporting muscle function and recovery. Magnesium malate is a highly bioavailable organic salt form where magnesium is attached to malic acid – an organic compound found in many fruits which, just like magnesium, plays a very important role in energy production and can provide additional benefits in this area.

Attention to detail delivers effective supplements
As you can see, there are many factors to consider when selecting which form of magnesium to use in which product. And we take great care in taking all of these factors into account, with the ultimate aim of delivering an effective supplement that’s actually going to make the most difference to your health. Hopefully now, when you read the label, you’ll feel much more confident in making the choice that’s right for you. Any more questions at all, we’re always here to help, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

*Magnesium doesn’t need to be joined to something when it is delivered via a naturally-rich source; for example, our Algae-Sourced Calcium product also contains magnesium. This is because algae is a naturally-rich source of calcium and naturally contains magnesium too. The levels of magnesium in this product are ideal for supporting bone health, however are much lower than you will find in our range of supplements specifically aimed at optimising magnesium levels.

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