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Magnesium Benefits

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Are you deficient in magnesium? It wouldn’t be uncommon, as nearly 50 percent of Americans fail to eat enough magnesium in their diet (1). On top of that, our stressful lives and other health conditions may deplete our body of this important mineral.  

Magnesium is an essential mineral and electrolyte that we must obtain from our diet. It has over 300 functions in the body and plays a crucial role in hormonal balance. For example, magnesium affects thyroid function, estrogen detoxification, blood sugar, stress hormones, and more (2).  

Magnesium is an important mineral that many women are significantly lacking. In particular, women with PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) are 19 times more likely to have a magnesium deficiency. This is important because magnesium plays a key role in regulating insulin and glucose. In fact, having low levels of magnesium increases your risk of insulin resistance, weight gain, and type 2 diabetes.

Magnesium’s role in thyroid health is that magnesium is needed to make thyroid hormone. Studies have shown that replacing a magnesium deficiency lowers TSH (and improves thyroid function.)

Others at risk for magnesium deficiency include people who take certain medications like acid reflux medications or birth control pills, and people who have trouble absorbing magnesium due to gut health issues.

Are you getting enough magnesium in your diet?

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for magnesium is 400 milligrams (mg) per day for men and 310 mg per day for women (3). Magnesium is commonly found in nuts, seeds, legumes (like beans and peanuts), and leafy green vegetables. For various reasons such as poor soil conditions or the abundance of processing to our foods which strips magnesium from foods, it can be difficult to solely rely on diet for this mineral.  

Although we always support a food first philosophy, we recognize that many of our patients may require additional magnesium in supplement form.

In this article, we’ll review two types of magnesium supplements: magnesium citrate vs. magnesium glycinate. But first, let’s discuss how to determine if you have a magnesium deficiency.

How do you know if you are deficient in Magnesium?

Symptoms of a Magnesium deficiency include:

  • muscle cramping, pain
  • frequent headaches or migraines
  • mood changes like anxiety or depression
  • insulin resistance (& craving sweets, especially chocolate)
  • low energy
  • PMS
  • trouble sleeping

How to Test Magnesium Levels

The most common way to evaluate magnesium levels is to order a serum (blood) magnesium test. However, this does not give us an accurate picture of your whole magnesium status, because only an estimated 1 percent of magnesium in the body is found in the blood (4).

Additionally, the body tightly regulates magnesium levels in the blood by pulling from stores in your bones and other tissues when dietary intake of magnesium is inadequate. This means that your blood levels will be the last place to show a deficiency. By this point, your symptoms could be very serious.

Subclinical magnesium deficiency, however, may be more common, affecting up to 30 percent of people (5). Subclinical means that your blood magnesium levels may appear to be normal even though you have an underlying magnesium deficiency (4).

A more accurate way to test magnesium status (and the method we prefer at Root Functional Medicine) is to look at the amount of magnesium in your red blood cells. This way, we can evaluate the levels of magnesium in your cells and identify subclinical magnesium deficiency before your blood values even begin to drop. A normal range for RBC magnesium is 4.2 – 6.8 mg/dL, however, it’s important to work with a functional medicine doctor to determine an optimal range for you.

Best Types of Magnesium Supplements

There are many different forms of magnesium supplements. The most common type of magnesium used in conventional medicine is called magnesium oxide (found in Milk of Magnesia). Unfortunately, magnesium oxide is not well absorbed and can have a strong laxative effect leading to uncomfortable bloating and diarrhea. In fact, only about 5 percent of magnesium oxide is absorbed and used by the body (6).

Magnesium Citrate

Magnesium citrate is one of our top choices for magnesium supplementation. The magnesium is combined with citrate, an organic salt. It is relatively cheap and has a better rate of absorption than magnesium oxide (6).

Magnesium citrate is a great option for people with constipation, as it can have a gentle laxative effect. This supplement works by pulling water into the intestines to make your bowel movements softer and easier to pass. However, unlike magnesium oxide, the laxative effect is much more tolerable.

Magnesium citrate may also be recommended for migraine prevention.

Magnesium Glycinate

Our other preferred magnesium supplement is called magnesium glycinate. Magnesium glycinate (also called magnesium bisglycinate) is well-tolerated and absorbed in the body.

In this case, the magnesium is combined with an amino acid called glycine. Glycine works alongside many neurotransmitters (chemicals in your brain), like GABA, to promote feelings of calm. Glycine may also improve sleep quality and promote a healthy circadian rhythm (7).

Additionally, magnesium has strong anti-inflammatory benefits. We may use magnesium glycinate to improve blood sugar levels or to help reduce overall inflammation in the body.

This form of magnesium is less likely to have a laxative effect than magnesium citrate. Because it is bound to the amino acid glycine, it has a calming effect and can be used for stress relief, insomnia, anxiety, and more.

Magnesium Citrate vs. Glycinate: Concluding Thoughts

While there are many forms of magnesium available, we often prefer to use magnesium citrate and/or magnesium glycinate.


Magnesium citrate is most helpful for people suffering from constipation, while the glycinate form is more useful for conditions like anxiety, insomnia, chronic stress, and inflammatory conditions. Some supplements provide a combination of magnesium citrate and magnesium glycinate, which is a great option for people suffering from constipation among other conditions.


Although magnesium is a very safe supplement for most people, dosing and usage may depend on various factors such as dietary intake, symptoms, lab results, gut health, and more.

For this reason, it’s important to work with a functional medicine practitioner to optimize your magnesium status and help you get to the root cause of your health issues.

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