Magnesium Showdown: Citrate Vs Glycinate for Optimal Health

Introduction to Magnesium Supplements

Have you gone down the rabbit hole of magnesium supplements? It gets hairy in there, sorting out the different forms. The citrate and glycinate forms are popular choices due to their high bioavailability and effective health advantages. Understanding the nuances between magnesium citrate, known for its support in digestion and potential to improve sleep quality, vs magnesium glycinate, chosen for its calming effects on the central and peripheral nervous system and muscles, can help you decide which may be best for you. This article will unpack these two forms, providing insights to guide your decision on what’s best for your health needs.

Magnesium is a mineral that wears many hats to maintain our health. It is involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions within our bodies. From muscle relaxation to brain function, to blood pressure regulation, magnesium wears a lot of hats. Adequate magnesium is critical for bone health, steady heart rhythm, and maintaining normal nerve and muscle function.

It even plays a part in managing blood sugar levels and has been linked to enhanced weight loss. With several different forms available, each type of magnesium supplement serves specific health benefits and is absorbed differently in our bodies.

Key Takeaways:

  • Essential Role: Magnesium is necessary for numerous bodily processes, impacting everything from muscle function to brain and heart health.
  • Form Matters: Different forms of magnesium are tailored for unique health benefits and are absorbed at varying rates by the body. Some can even cross the blood brain barrier, and some cannot.
  • Focus on Bioavailability: Magnesium citrate and glycinate are highlighted for their high bioavailability and specific health-promoting properties.

For more information about how magnesium deficiency plays a role in depression and related symptoms of stress, anxiety, and sleep disturbances, read my blog post “Best Magnesium for Mental Health: The Role of Insufficiency”.

Magnesium Citrate vs Glycinate: The Essentials

Both magnesium citrate and glycinate offer unique advantages that cater to specific health benefits.

Magnesium citrate is a ‘salt’ compound combining magnesium with citric acid. This form is often chosen for digestive health support, and used as a gentle laxative to alleviate constipation (without diarrhea more commonly experienced with magnesium oxide). It facilitates water retention in the intestines, making bowel movements easier.

Magnesium citrate is also good for repleting low magnesium levels, since it is more easily absorbed into the body compared to the more commonly available magnesium oxide.

Meanwhile, magnesium glycinate consists of magnesium and the amino acid glycine. This form is particularly beneficial for those seeking to alleviate stress, as it works on a neurological level. Magnesium glycinate supports mental clarity, a good mood, and sleep, all while being gentle on the gut. 

Choosing Your Magnesium: Citrate or Glycinate?

As we get into these two forms of magnesium, we’ll consider their diverse roles in maintaining health and supporting bodily functions. Your selection between magnesium citrate and magnesium glycinate should align with your specific wellness aims. Let’s unpack how particular health objectives might steer that choice. 

Sleep Quality

For some who have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, magnesium may help fall asleep sooner and get longer periods of deep sleep. Magnesium glycinate stands out for this purpose, perhaps because it has the added amino acid glycine. Glycine itself has been used to improve sleep quality.

Anxiety

Magnesium glycinate also may help with anxiety, supporting a more calming neurotransmitter profile. However, it may make you feel sleepy, so I’d suggest taking it in the latter part of the day or evening. While I did not find research about this, if you take it in the evening and get a better night’s sleep, perhaps you will feel more well rested in the morning. Your overall magnesium stores may also be better, including that of intracellular neurons, supporting a more calming neurotransmitter profile that is less anxiety provoking.

Muscle Soreness & Workout Recovery

If you struggle with muscle soreness or recover from workouts, magnesium glycinate again may also benefit you, as it helps with muscle relaxation and tension. The amino acid component supports not just relaxation but also helps protect against muscle aches, which may be partly attributed to glycine’s many anti-inflammatory activities.

Constipation

For those dealing with occasional constipation, magnesium citrate may help. As an osmotic laxative, it pulls water, into the intestines, making bowel movements easier.

Diagram of magnesium as a cofactor in many steps of vitamin D metabolism, from sun and dietary intake to skin, blood, liver, kidneys, and active forms.

Magnesium and Vitamin D: Working Together

Another benefit of supplementing with magnesium can be in supporting more desirable vitamin D levels. Magnesium assists in the activation of vitamin D, and is involved in many steps along the way in vitamin D metabolism. This is one of the many important roles magnesium plays.

If you are taking vitamin D supplements on a regular basis, particularly higher doses, then you could be using more magnesium to metabolize it. If you are not getting much magnesium, then you could be depleting it. Therefore, an ideal combination is vitamin D and magnesium together. Of course, this isn’t even getting into K2 or other nutrients involved with vitamin D.

So, does it matter which form of magnesium you are getting to assist with vitamin D? Is one form more useful here compared to others? I’m not sure this specific research has been done. Some research shows magnesium citrate helps here, and this may simply be because of its good bioavailability, making it easy for the body to replenish magnesium stores.

Magnesium Citrate Summary

  • High solubility, improved absorption
  • Good for repletion of overall magnesium stores in cases of deficiency or insufficiency.
  • Supports bone health, muscle function, sleep, and bowel function.
  • Gentle laxative effects. If constipation is your problem, magnesium citrate is likely a better choice than magnesium glycinate.

Magnesium Glycinate Summary

  • Bound to the amino acid glycine
  • Highly absorbed
  • Supports neurological functions and neurotransmitters, can cross the blood brain barrier
  • Relaxing and good for stress, sleep quality, muscle soreness, mood support, anxiety

Understanding Bioavailability and Blood-Brain Barrier Access

Bioavailability refers to the extent and rate at which an ingredient is absorbed and becomes available at the intended site of action. Magnesium citrate and magnesium glycinate differ in this area.

Magnesium citrate has a moderate level of bioavailability, better than magnesium oxide which has a poor bioavailability and more side effects and intolerance. Citric acid in magnesium citrate helps it’s absorption in the gastrointestinal tract. This form does not readily cross the blood-brain barrier but can be useful for constipation and in gut health.

Magnesium glycinate is more bioavailable as it’s bound to the amino acid glycine. This form can cross the blood-brain barrier, a good thing for restoring healthy magnesium levels in neurons to help individuals facing stress, anxiety, or seeking to improve sleep quality.

For visual clarity, consider the following comparison:

Magnesium FormBioavailabilityBlood-Brain Barrier
CitrateModerateLow
GlycinateHighHigher

This distinction is important to consider as you decide which form best aligns with your specific health objectives and how it will work in your body.

Magnesium Dosage, Safety, and Interactions

Here are some considerations about magnesium dosage, safety, and interaction with other substances. As per the National Institutes of Health, the recommended dietary allowance for magnesium varies depending on age and gender. For adults it ranges from 310-420 mg per day. While some people may safely take higher doses, exceeding 500mg per day is generally not recommended.

This limit does not include dietary magnesium, which is found in foods like leafy greens or nuts, but speaks specifically to the quantity you take in supplement form.

Recommended Daily Allowance of Magnesium

AgeMaleFemalePregnancy
≤6 mo30 mg30 mg
7-12 mo75 mg75 mg
1-3 y80 mg80 mg
4-8 y130 mg130 mg
9-13 y240 mg240 mg
14-18 y410 mg360 mga400 mg
19-30 y400 mg310 mga350 mg
31-50 y420 mg320 mga360 mg
≥51 y420 mg320 mg

When supplementing, starting with a low dose and gradually increasing it while paying attention to your body’s reactions can prevent jarring side effects. Always discuss your supplements with your healthcare provider. Magnesium is generally well tolerated for long term use but have periodic discussions with your doctor about your magnesium levels and needs and any potential interactions with medications you are taking.

Magnesium can affect certain medications like bisphosphonates, used to treat osteoporosis; antibiotics like tetracycline and quinolone; and diuretics, particularly if they are also meant to conserve magnesium. These substances may either affect magnesium absorption or be affected by magnesium in terms of their own absorption. If you’re on other medication, it’s of the utmost importance to talk to a healthcare professional before introducing a magnesium supplement into your routine.

In summary, while magnesium plays a crucial role in our wellbeing, you must balance your intake wisely. Consult with a healthcare professional, heed dosing instructions, monitor your body’s responses, and stay aware of any potential interactions with your medications. This approach will help you optimize the benefits of magnesium supplements while maintaining safety.

Why Not Choose a Blend of Forms?

Taking a supplement with a mix of forms of magnesium is not a bad idea if you would like to support multiple systems. There are many options available on the market. As usual, look for products with third party testing to ensure quality, purity, and potency.

How Are Magnesium Levels Measured?

Blood work for magnesium can be measured from blood serum or red blood cells. Neither one is an absolutely reliable marker of your magnesium status, however unfortunately. Magnesium is stored in bone and muscle, and your serum level would likely only be off in critical illness. Red blood cell levels are better in identifying insufficiency.

The Downside of Magnesium Oxide

You might find magnesium oxide on many pharmacy shelves, and indeed, many doctors prescribe it. Why? It’s inexpensive and seems a straightforward solution for magnesium deficiency. But it has poor absorption in the gut, only a fraction of its magnesium enters your system, and it can upset your gut.

It may help temporarily relieve constipation, but for those looking to calm their nerves or enhance their sleep, the benefits are often negligible. Consider alternative forms depending on your needs.

Making an Informed Decision for Your Health

Magnesium supplementation can potential effectively help with some problems you may be experiencing, in a non-pharmaceutical way. 

You’ve seen that magnesium citrate offers notable advantages, particularly for improving digestion and sleep quality, due to its commendable bioavailability. 

Conversely, magnesium glycinate stands out for its impressive muscle relaxation properties, mental calmness support, and superior bioavailability. These attributes make it especially beneficial for those struggling with stress or seeking to enhance sleep. 

Either form has distinct advantages depending on your specific health objectives. Reflect on your needs when selecting a magnesium supplement. And as always, your diet is foundational to your wellness journey. To include more food sources of magnesium in your diet, check out this post that lists food sources of magnesium and gives you some meal ideas to get started!

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Anne Marie Berggren RDN, MS, CDN, CNSC is a Registered Dietitian with a Master's Degree in Nutrition, training in integrative and functional nutrition, nutrition for mental health, obesity and weight management, is a board certified nutrition support clinician, and an adjunct professor for the Stony Brook Graduate Nutrition Program teaching advanced clinical nutrition.

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