6 Things to Know Before You Take a Magnesium Supplement

With benefits ranging from stronger bones and better sleep to pain relief and heart health, it's easy to understand why magnesium is the miracle mineral du jour. But there are some important things you should know first.

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Why take a magnesium supplement?

Magnesium already exists in our bones, muscles, and cells. This mineral can also be found in the earth’s crust and seawater. We need between 300 and 400 milligrams of magnesium a day, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. We can get some or all of this from magnesium-rich foods including green leafy vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts, but many people choose to take supplements to make sure they are getting enough of this essential mineral. Magnesium is actually the seventh most popular dietary supplement among supplement users, according to a recent survey by ConsumerLab.com, and with good reason. “Low levels of magnesium may play a part in hypertension and cardiovascular disease, Type 2 Diabetes, osteoporosis, and migraines,” says Stephanie Schiff, RDN at Northwell Health’s Huntington Hospital in Huntington, NY. Are you getting enough?

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What type of magnesium supplement should you take?

There is more than one type of magnesium supplement out there, and choosing the right one can make a big difference. “Forms such as magnesium citrate and magnesium chloride may be better absorbed and tolerated than magnesium oxide,” says Tod Cooperman, MD, president of ConsumerLab.com in White Plains, New York. Magnesium aspartate and magnesium lactate are also easily absorbed by the body, Schiff adds. Other magnesium supplements may double as laxatives or antacids, Another form of magnesium, Epsom salts, may be absorbed through the skin during a bath. (That’s why an Epsom salt bath can help relieve muscle soreness.) “Magnesium from foods and supplements is absorbed fairly well, although the magnesium oxide form is absorbed less well than other forms such as magnesium citrate,” he says.

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Can you overdose on magnesium supplements?

Magnesium supplements in reasonable doses are safe for most. If you overdo it, diarrhea may occur. People with kidney or heart problems should exercise caution when considering magnesium supplements, according to the National Magnesium Association. Magnesium supplements are best taken with food, Schiff says. This simple strategy can reduce the risk of any stomach upset. Here’s why you should ask your doctor before taking a vitamin supplement.

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Just add water

Looking to boost bone strength and fight depression? “Magnesium works better in water,” says Carolyn Dean, ND, MD, a naturopathic physician in Maui, Hawaii, a medical advisory board member of the Nutritional Magnesium Association and author of many books including The Miracle of Magnesium. “Magnesium citrate powder can be mixed in filtered water or spring water, hot or cold and sipped throughout the day,” she says. “To make the magnesium work even better, I tell people to put some sea salt in their drinking water for the 72 minerals it contains. You can work up to an amount of 1/4 tsp in one liter of water.” Here are the signs you may be deficient in some vitamins.

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Which other supplements work with magnesium?

Many supplements should be taken with magnesium, Dean says. This list includes sea salt and vitamin B6, which is one of the 13 essential vitamins your body needs to stay healthy. Magnesium and calcium? Not so fast. Other experts caution against taking magnesium at the same time as other minerals. “It can interfere with absorption of other minerals, so if you take a multivitamin, calcium or zinc, take magnesium at a different time of day,” Cooperman warns. Magnesium may also reduce the absorption of medications such as blood thinners, anti-diabetes drugs, diuretics, and drugs used to treat the brittle bone disease osteoporosis, Cooperman says. “Check with your doctor if you’re considering using magnesium,” he says. Don’t miss these vitamin secrets doctors tell their friends.

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When should I take a magnesium supplement?

“Some studies recommend that magnesium supplements be taken at night, as they help relax the muscles in the body and can help you fall asleep,” says Schiff. Can’t sleep? Get a sleep doctor’s and nutritionist’s advice on how to eat to sleep better.

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