The mineral magnesium (mag) is essential in over 325 enzyme reactions in the body.1 It is used to regulate blood glucose levels in the body, and help prevent you from developing diabetes.2 Mag relaxes arteries that carry blood throughout the body, which lowers blood pressure. Mag also chelates extra calcium in the body keeping the arteries from hardening due to excess calcium. The mineral is also vital for vitamin D utilization. Magnesium reduces muscle cramps and spasms and improves exercise recovery. In addition, supplementation can help lower cortisol levels, reduce anxiety, and improve your sleep. Finally, mag reduces the adverse effects of elevated ammonia on the brain and excess glutamic acid, reducing excitability and seizures.3

Possible Symptoms of A Mag Deficiency

The following is a list of possible symptoms a patient might have if they have a deficiency of the mineral. You can still have a deficiency and not have any of the following symptoms. Asymptomatic deficiency often occurs in younger people (young age helps reduce the symptoms of a deficiency), and it can also depend on the gender (men tend to have fewer symptoms than women). Most people should supplement with 400 milligrams (mg) of elemental magnesium (as long as their kidney function is normal) even if they do not know if they are deficient.4

  • Tingling in legs – mag deficiency is one of the leading causes of restless legs syndrome
  • Muscle cramps (charlie horse in the legs are one example)
  • Weakness
  • Asthma
  • Elevated blood pressure and/or pulse
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Dizziness
  • Tremors
  • Irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
  • Migraines
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Seizure disorders
  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog
  • Poor cognitive health
  • Constipation5

Diagnostic Tests for Magnesium Deficiency

Here is a simple guide of the different tests that are used to determine if you have a mag deficiency.

Magnesium Serum Test

A magnesium serum test is the most common test performed and also the most inaccurate. Less than 1% of the body’s total magnesium is in the blood plasma, and the body does whatever it can to keep that amount in homeostasis. If you test low on a plasma test, then you are in dire need of mag, and you are deficient in your bones, organs, and muscles.6 A serum test is used to measure extracellular magnesium levels. Normal plasma levels are 1.6 – 2.4 mEq/L. 7 A serum test does not accurately measure the body’s total level but is the test most often used for diagnostic testing.

Magnesium Red Blood Cell Test

A magnesium RBC test is a more accurate test that quantifies the amount of mag stored in the red blood cells. An RBC test measures intracellular mag levels and gives you the amount that has been stored in your red blood cells for the past four months. Results of six mg/dl or higher indicate strong reserves in the body.8

Magnesium White Blood Cell Test

A magnesium WBC test is more accurate than the RBC test. Like the RBC test, the WBC test also measures intracellular magnesium levels. A mag WBC test gives you the amount that is currently in your cells; it does not show an average in the cells over a period of time like the RBC test. Sadly this test is not available to many doctors or diagnostic labs.9

Magnesium EXA Test

A magnesium EXA test is the best test to determine magnesium deficiency. The EXA test is performed by scraping your cheek buccal cells for a sample so that levels stored in your cells, bones, and muscles can be determined. Like the WBC test, the EXA test is considered an intracellular test. The EXA test will account for 99% of the body’s total mag and is the most accurate diagnostic test available to determine deficiency.10

Magnesium and Your Digestive Health

Magnesium is used in the body to help active digestive enzyme reactions in your body as well as regulate the proper transit time of your bowels.11 12 The enzyme reactions in your body help further break down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Mag chloride can help maintain proper stomach acid production to help assimilate food better if you have digestion problems it might be the type you want to use.13 Many forms of mag increase stomach pH so they should be taken before bed (except for possible magnesium malate, which improves bile flow) so digestive problems do not occur.

Mag is used in your intestines as an osmotic laxative.14 This means that your large intestine uses it to bring in water into the bowl so that your stool becomes softer and easier to pass which is why supplementation is a great treatment for someone who has constipation issues.15 Magnesium is very important for optimal digestive and overall health.

Different Chelations of Mag

There are many different mag chelations available for supplementation, and there is not one recommended form of magnesium for everyone. For example, if you want more energy, then you might want to supplement with mag malate. If you wish to improve upper gut digestion, then mag malate (helps improve bile flow) or mag chloride (helps produce more stomach acid) might be beneficial. Finally, mag glycinate might be a good form if you want to improve your sleep and give you a sense of calm. As you can read many different types of magnesium can help improve your health. So what are the differences in the many mag forms used for supplementation?

Recommended Chelations:

  • Magnesium glycinate – The most bio-available form of mag. The extra glycine as an amino acid can help with sleep (reduction in body temperature) and provide a calm feeling. Glycine also increases LES pressure, helping to prevent reflux. This form is the least likely to cause loose stools. Taken at bedtime.16
  • Magnesium malate – Magnesium malate is important for people who have a lot of fatigue or have chronic fatigue syndrome. Mag supplementation increases ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is a molecule that provides cellular energy. Malic Acid has been shown to increase ATP levels. The chelation should be taken during the day with meals. The extra malic acid helps with bile production, may help people with gallbladder issues.17
  • Magnesium chloride – Magnesium chloride is one of the best forms of mag if you are suffering from digestive issues caused by low stomach acid. It must be taken with food because the extra chloride will help produce more HCL in the stomach. Can also be used topically as a spray for transdermal supplementation.18
  • Magnesium taurate – Magnesium taurate is a lifesaver for people with heart disease. Taurine is an amino acid that aids in proper heart function. Taken at bedtime.19
  • Magnesium sulfate – Honestly it is only used to stop pre-eclampsia and in bath salts such as Epsom salt. Has okay absorption through the skin and also contains sulfur. Sulfate can help heal muscle sprains better than most other forms of magnesium because of skin permeability. Taken either soaking in a bath or orally before bed.20
  • Magnesium arginate – Arginine is a vasodilator amino acid that is good for increasing blood flow. Increase arginine rarely can cause or worsen viral reactivation, so those prone to Herpes reactivation should avoid it in excess.21 This form is very good for bodybuilders. Taken with meals throughout the day due to the possibility of increased energy.
  • Magnesium lysinate – A good source of magnesium and the amino acid lysine. Lysine is an excellent anti-viral against the Herpesviridae family. Taken before bed.22
  • Magnesium ascorbate – A good source of magnesium and vitamin C. Can cause some loose stools. Taken with meals.23
  • Magnesium ZMK– A great form of magnesium that is chelated from components of the Krebs cycle: citrate, fumarate, malate, succinate & alpha-keto-glutarate. The supplement form known as mag ZMK is great for athletes and is very good for workout recovery. A ZMK supplement should be taken before bed.
  • Magnesium fumarate, succinate, alpha-keto glutarate – See ZMK, all Krebs cycle forms.24
  • Magnesium gluconate – A form of magnesium that is chelated with gluconic acid, which occurs from the fermentation of glucose. It has above average absorption in the body (better than even mag citrate),25 rarely causes loose stools. Taken before bed.
  • Magnesium carbonate – This is probably the lowest form of magnesium I can recommend. Has one of the lowest levels of assimilation and is a good osmotic laxative. It can also lower stomach acid levels and is used in most antacids. Taken at bedtime.26

Special Use Chelations:

  • Magnesium orotate – This is one least known forms of magnesium, but let me tell you if you just had a surgery or exercise constantly then it will be your godsend. The extra orotate will help muscle regeneration and recovery time in athletes.27 It also has been shown to support heart health greater than even taurate. Taken at bedtime.28
  • Magnesium L-threonate – Magnesium L-threonate may greatly increase mag concentrations in the brain and spinal column for improved cognitive function.29 But there is not a lot of in vivo research to prove if this is true yet though. L-threonate is an isomer of ascorbic acid.30 New research has shown that it increases mag levels about the same as the sulfate chelated, granted sulfate is generally given by IV which makes it easier to cross the blood-brain barrier than oral supplementation).31 Taken at bedtime.
  • Magnesium 2-AEP – This is a form of magnesium that is chelated with phosphorylethanolamine that is a vital component of the structure and integrity of cell membranes. Mag 2-AEP has been theorized to help patients with MS because it can help with cellular function and integrity and can help protect myelin in the brain. Taken with meals during the day.32
  • Magnesium peroxide – ONLY AS COLON CLEANSER. Taken before bed.
  • Magnesium Phos 6X – Normally I do not recommend homeopathic supplements (if they work for some people I am glad they do, I rather recommend nutraceuticals), but for homeopathic minerals I feel they still can be beneficial because some of the trace mineral should be left in the product. I would suggest using it in a person who is extremely sensitive to all forms of supplementation. If other forms of mag cause sensitivity reactions then this is the form for you to try.33 This mag contains some phosphorus so I would suggest if you have kidney problems to stay away from this form. Taken before bed.34

Chelations to Avoid:

Most of these forms I would avoid because they either do damage in the body or are very poorly absorbed.

  • Magnesium yeast chelate – A “natural” form that is very easily assimilated by the body, what could be wrong? This form is found in most of your “natural” vitamins like New Chapter, Garden of Life, and Megafood. The main problem I have with this form is that you have to ingest a lot of brewers yeast (which some people are sensitive to) in the whole supplement to get a tiny amount of mag.35 Most vitamins that use this form have very little mag in the multivitamin (less than 100 milligrams elemental). There are many better options available to improve your health. Taken with food.
  • Magnesium aspartate – Absorption is not worth the extra aspartic acid. Too much, aspartic acid can be neurotoxic. Can you say ASPARTAME? Taken at bedtime. This includes ZMA supplements.36
  • Magnesium pidolate – Absorption is DEFINITELY not worth the extra free glutamic acid. Too much, free glutamic acid can be excitotoxic and neurotoxic. Can you say MSG? Taken with meals.
  • Magnesium hydroxide – Not greatly absorbed and most of it is released into the bowels. Most commercial preparations have sodium hypochlorite added (bleach). Taken at Bedtime.37
  • Magnesium oxide – VERY POORLY ABSORBED – Out of 400 mg AT MOST 80 mg of elemental magnesium is absorbed by the body. Oxide is one of the worst absorbed forms of magnesium, and sadly the most common supplement form taken. Taken at bedtime.38
  • Magnesium glycerophosphate – This form is chelated with phosphorus. The problem with this form is that most people get too much phosphate in their diet. People with kidney problems should also stay away from this supplement because it is harder for them to eliminate excess phosphates. Taken at bedtime.39
  • Magnesium citrate – Magnesium citrate should mostly only be used for bowel irrigation; it is also one of the most well-known forms of supplementation. It causes some loose stools, and it has average absorption. I do not recommend mag citrate anymore because it may interfere with ceruloplasmin production.40
  • Magnesium lactate – Extra lactic acid is FUN! Should not be used in people who have kidney disease because the extra lactic acid can cause complications for the kidneys. I do not recommend this form at all. Taken during meals.

Common Magnesium Amounts in Food

Magnesium needs to be supplemented because even if you eat a perfect diet, you would still have to eat a ton of nuts, brown rice, avocados, and spinach to keep from developing a deficiency. To get around 400 mg a day you would have to eat one cup of cooked spinach (157 mg), one ounce of pumpkin seeds (150 mg), one avocado (56 mg), and one cup of cooked brown rice (86 mg) a day on average (449 mg of mag total).41 These amounts also do not take into account the magnesium bonded to phytic acid in the pumpkin seeds, in the brown rice,42 and individual intestinal absorption of magnesium43 for different people.

So to be conservative let us say that after someone ate all of this mag rich food they only absorbed 300 mg of magnesium from the food. Imagine if you had ingested 1,000 mg of magnesium daily from only your food intake. You would have to ingest three cups of cooked spinach, three ounces of pumpkin seeds, three avocados, and three cups of brown rice throughout the day. Good luck!

Some people have argued that supplementation of mag is not needed and can be obtained through the diet. Why do we need to supplement it at all or in such large amounts if we can get the mineral from food? Ancient man was able to survive without mag deficiencies is one of their biggest arguments. I have developed a few theories to answer this argument. One of those theories is that the water ancient man consumed had a higher concentration of the mineral. Because water used to have a greater mag concentration, so did the plants, nuts, and animal meat/bones that ancient man consumed in their diet. Also, ancient man was not under as much stress as modern man is, their bodies did not mag waste quite as much and were able to hang on to more mag on a cellular level.

The amount of mag absorbed by food or even supplements requires you to have good functional digestion. If you are suffering from poor digestion, the amount of mag you would absorb from food will be very poor. I would suggest eating food rich in magnesium like spinach, avocado, and pumpkin seeds while you are supplementing with mag.

Amount of Magnesium Per Serving in Certain Foods:44

The foods with the lowest calcium are in bold, but some sources may be high in phytates, which would decrease mag absorption.

  • Rice bran – 1/2 cup (450 mg)
  • Cashews – 4 oz. (332 mg)
  • Hemp seeds – 3 tbsp (195 mg)
  • Raw pumpkin seeds – 1/4 cup (191 mg)
  • Dark chocolate (the darker the chocolate, the higher the magnesium level) – 4 oz. (164 mg)
  • Spinach – one cup cooked (157 mg)
  • Swiss chard – one cup cooked (151 mg)
  • Wild rice – 1/2 cup cooked (141 mg)
  • Sesame seeds – 1/4 cup (126 mg)
  • Almonds – 1/2 cup (125 mg)
  • Halibut – 4 oz. (121 mg)
  • Black beans – one cup cooked (120 mg)
  • Sunflower seeds – 1/4 cup (114 mg)
  • Brown rice – one cup cooked (84 mg)
  • Tuna – 4 oz. (73 mg)
  • Scallops – 4 oz. (62 mg)
  • Pecans – 1/2 cup (60 mg)
  • Walnuts – 1/2 cup (60 mg)
  • Avocado – one cup (42 mg)
  • Cacao powder – one tbsp. (27 mg)
  • Shrimp – 4 oz. (28 mg)
  • Broccoli – one cup (19 mg)
  • Cucumber – one cup (14 mg)

Remember because of phytic acid levels of mag might not be as bio-available in the body in foods like beans, nuts, and seeds. For example, this means that even though pumpkin seeds are high in mag, some of it is bounded to phytic acid, therefore, not all of the 191 mg will be absorbed by the body.

Elemental Magnesium

The supplementation amounts suggested in the guide pertains to elemental magnesium. A supplement will usually have both the total amount of mag and the amount of its chelation on the front of the supplement. The elemental mag amount is found on the back of the supplement and is the amount of actual mag you are getting when you take the supplement.45

If on the front of the supplement it says that four capsules are 2,000 mg of mag malate, and on the back of the supplement it says that you are getting 400 mg of mag, then the 400 mg is the elemental amount of mag you are assimilating and also means that you will be receiving 1,600 mg of malic acid when you ingest the supplement as well. So out of that 2,000 mg of mag malate, 1,600 mg is made up of malic acid, and the other 400 mg of it is the elemental mag in the supplement.

Oral Magnesium Supplementation

Magnesium has an alkaline pH which may increase or decrease depending on what is its chelation. For this reason, above, I have individually listed the different forms of magnesium, and if they should be taken before bed or with a meal. Most types of magnesium should be taken before bed because you do not want to increase the pH of the stomach during eating. There are a few forms however that even though they are alkaline seem to improve digestion including magnesium malate or magnesium chloride and they should be ok to be taken with meals.46

The general magnesium protocol for a person that weighs between 100 to 200 pounds is that they should take at least 800 mg of elemental mag for four-six months, then 600 mg daily after that. If you weigh less than 100 pounds, 600 mg of elemental mag should be taken for two months, and then 400 mg after that. These recommendations are not the optimal amount of mag that a person should take daily, but this is a good standard protocol to follow.47

The amount of magnesium you should supplement depends on your weight. The average basis for good mag cellular saturation is between ten to fourteen milligrams per kilogram daily.48 This means the ideal amount for a person who is 200 pounds is about 1,000 mg to 1,400 mg of elemental mag a day ingestion a day, for about four-six months to get mag levels balanced. This number should be increased by 200 mg in times of great stress.

If a person has loose stools at high levels of supplementation, then they must switch to mag glycinate. If they continue to have loose stools with glycinate only supplementation, then they might need a mix of oral and transdermal to help increase their mag levels. Finally, if they are still having problems, then a homeopathic mag supplement might be needed (follow supplement instructions, the dosage of this supplement is not dependent on weight).49

If a patient has kidney disease, their mag supplementation intake needs to be greatly monitored since proper kidney function is needed to excrete excess magnesium. It is possible for advanced kidney disease to waste mag greatly and supplementation is needed, but it needs to be monitored by a healthcare professional.50

Transdermal Magnesium Supplementation

Transdermal magnesium can be very important if you want to raise the plasma levels of magnesium and oral supplementation is not working. There is a debate right now if oral magnesium supplementation or transdermal magnesium supplementation is the best to increase your magnesium levels. Some studies show that transdermal magnesium does not work well because the magnesium is unable to penetrate the skin very easily. Soaking in water to soften the skin, like in an Epsom salt bath might increase transdermal absorption. Taking Epsom salt baths twice daily can be one way to increase transdermal supplementation.51

Another way to get transdermal magnesium is to use a mag gel, like MagneGel. MagneGel delivers approximately 150 mg of elemental mag per 1/4 teaspoon to the skin,52 or about the size of a nickel. I would suggest applying 900 mg-1,200 mg transdermal daily for about four months. You can base the transdermal supplementation guidelines on the same oral weight recommendations above; if you weigh more than 200 pounds, you will need to increase the amount you supplement.

Both Oral And Transdermal Supplementation

The best option is to use both oral and transdermal supplementation. For example, if I weighed 200 pounds, I would take 400 mg of elemental mag orally daily, and use MagneGel once or twice a day. If you supplement this way, you will get 1,000-1,400 mg of total mag intake daily. I would follow this regimen for four months and then get my mag levels tested.

Magnesium Recommendation Dosages Based On Weight and Sex

Remember, the amount of mag you should supplement depends on your weight. The average basis for good mag cellular saturation is between ten mg to fourteen mg per kilogram a daily.

All of these magnesium dose recommendations are for a person that weighs roughly 200 pounds (1,000 mg-1,400 mg daily). If you only weigh 100 pounds, I would divide the total mag intake daily to around 600-800 mg of magnesium daily to increase magnesium levels. If you weigh more than 350 pounds, you might want to increase daily mag intake to about 1,800 mg-2,200 mg daily, as long as you have adequate kidney function.

Women who are ovulating might want to increase their mag by about 150-200 mg daily when they are on their periods. Women who are pregnant might want to go more conservative on their dosages and take no more than 600 mg of elemental mag daily to be safe.

Building Magnesium Levels, When to Test, and Maintenance Dosage

I would suggest that anyone wanting to supplement their magnesium to have their EXA levels tested first. If your mag is low, then follow the recommendations from the guide above. Depending on how low your level of stored mag is, is how long you should supplement mag to get optimal levels.

Length of Average Magnesium Supplementation53

If your magnesium levels are normal, you should take a daily supplementation of elemental mag of about 400-600 mg daily. Even if your mag levels are normal, and you have a specific medical reason to increase your mag above these levels (chronic fatigue syndrome, nerve damage, and brain trauma are some examples), you should be fine to increase supplementation as long as you have adequate kidney function. You will need to get your mag levels frequently tested (every two-three months), to make sure hypermagnesemia does not occur.

Finally, if you mag levels are extremely low, IV magnesium supplementation might be needed on an emergency basis.54


Hypermagnesemia is a rare condition in which a person has too much magnesium in their blood plasma. Hypermagnesemia usually happens in patients with poor kidney function and patients that receive an overdose of IV magnesium. Rarely, supplemental mag causes hypermagnesemia; this is because the kidneys are very good at excreting excess mag.55

Diagnostic symptoms are usually a combination of low blood sugar and elevated serum calcium. Symptoms usually include weakness, vomiting, impaired breathing, hypotension, increased serum calcium levels, arrhythmia, lack of muscle reflexes, and bradycardia (slow heart rate). It is possible that if one’s plasma mag level is too high the heart can stop beating, causing sudden cardiac death. Mag is a muscle relaxant, but this outcome is extremely rare.56

Treatment for hypermagnesemia includes giving IV calcium gluconate to inactivate and bind to the excess mag. The calcium also reactivates the muscle cells because calcium is a muscle activator. Finally, dialysis might be needed in some cases to eliminate excess mag and to help with kidney function. Fatality from hypermagnesemia is very low.57

Brands of Magnesium I Recommend

Recommended Mag Glycinate Supplements:

Other Recommendations:

Recommended Mag Malate Supplements:

Other Recommendations:

Recommended Mag Citrate Supplements:

Other Recommendations:

Recommended Mag Gluconate Supplement:

Recommended Mag Chloride Supplement:

Recommended Mag Peroxide Supplement:

  • New Earth Oxy-C mag peroxide

Recommended Mag Ascorbate Supplements:

Recommended Mag Orotate Supplement

Recommended Mag Taurate Supplement:

Recommended Dermal Mag:

Other Recommendation:

Recommended Magnesium Sulfate:

Recommended Mag 2AEP Supplement:

Recommended Mag Arginate Supplement:

  • Advanced Research mag arginate with aspartate (It is the only mag arginate I know of, but it does have mag aspartate in the supplement, so use the supplement sparingly)

Recommended Mag Lysinate Supplement:

Recommended Mag L-Threonate Supplements:

Other Recommendation:

Recommended Mag “Blend” Supplements:

Other Recommendation:

Recommended Mag Supplement for Athletes:

  3. Dean, Carolyn. The Magnesium Miracle, Ballantine Books, December 26, 2006.
  17. Dean, Carolyn. The Magnesium Miracle, Ballantine Books, December 26, 2006.
  19. Dean, Carolyn. The Magnesium Miracle, Ballantine Books, December 26, 2006.
  21. Balch, Phyllis. Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Avery Publishing, 2010.
  22. Balch, Phyllis. Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Avery Publishing, 2010.
  23. Balch, Phyllis. Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Avery Publishing, 2010.
  24. Dean, Carolyn. The Magnesium Miracle, Ballantine Books, December 26, 2006.
  32. Nieper, Hans. The Curious Man: The Life and Works of Dr. Nieper, Avery, December 1, 1998
  33. Dean, Carolyn. The Magnesium Miracle, Ballantine Books, December 26, 2006.
  36. Dean, Carolyn. The Magnesium Miracle, Ballantine Books, December 26, 2006.
  37. Dean, Carolyn. The Magnesium Miracle, Ballantine Books, December 26, 2006.
  38. Dean, Carolyn. The Magnesium Miracle, Ballantine Books, December 26, 2006.
  40. Dean, Carolyn. The Magnesium Miracle, Ballantine Books, December 26, 2006.
  46. Dean, Carolyn. The Magnesium Miracle, Ballantine Books, December 26, 2006
  47. Dean, Carolyn. The Magnesium Miracle, Ballantine Books, December 26, 2006
  49. Dean, Carolyn. The Magnesium Miracle, Ballantine Books, December 26, 2006
  51. Sircus, Mark / Reid, Daniel. Transdermal Magnesium Therapy, Phaelos Books & Mediawerks, January 1, 2007.
  53. Dean, Carolyn. The Magnesium Miracle, Ballantine Books, December 26, 2006
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