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Magnesium Glycinate vs. Citrate: Which Should You Take?

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Magnesium Glycinate vs. Citrate: Which Should You Take?

Magnesium is a crucial mineral involved in over 600 bodily functions, including muscle and nerve function, blood sugar control, and energy production. Unfortunately, many people don't get enough magnesium through diet alone. This is where magnesium supplements come in.

However, with various forms available, choosing the right one can be confusing. Two popular options are magnesium glycinate and magnesium citrate. This article explores the differences between these two types of supplements, their benefits, potential drawbacks, and how to select the best one for your needs.


Understanding Magnesium Supplements

At a cellular level, magnesium supports the movements of ions across cellular membranes, critical for normal nerve conduction, muscle contractions, and heart rhythm. Magnesium is also required for the biochemical pathways involved in energy metabolism and the production of cellular energy (ATP). Magnesium is a cofactor in over 300 enzymatic reactions that control protein synthesis, blood sugar and blood pressure, and bone health. On top of that, magnesium contributes to the structural integrity of bones and teeth and is required for synthesizing genetic material. (12)

Despite its extensive role in human health and function, about half of American adults fail to meet their daily magnesium needs through diet. Magnesium-rich foods include leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Chronic stress, malabsorption disorders (e.g., celiac disease), alcoholism, and use of certain medications (e.g., diuretics, proton pump inhibitors) also increase the risk for insufficiency/deficiency. (12, 24

Beyond addressing deficiencies, magnesium supplementation may be recommended for specific health concerns. For instance, research suggests it may offer potential benefits in managing occasional sleep problems, supporting muscle relaxation, and even aiding in anxiety management. Magnesium supplements come in a variety of forms, varying between the health benefits they offer, their degrees of absorption (bioavailability), and potential side effects. It's important to understand these key factors before choosing a supplement. Bioavailability refers to how much magnesium your body can actually absorb from the supplement, with higher bioavailability meaning more magnesium reaches your cells for use. Some forms, like magnesium oxide, are poorly absorbed and have a laxative effect, which can be helpful for constipation but may cause diarrhea in some individuals.

Magnesium Glycinate: Benefits and Uses

Magnesium glycinate is a chelated form of magnesium bound to the amino acid glycine. Glycine allows magnesium to be efficiently absorbed, stays strongly bound to magnesium, and reduces the intestinal pH. These combined properties enable magnesium glycinate to be more effectively absorbed than alternative magnesium forms, with a lower propensity for inducing digestive side effects like diarrhea and cramping. (17

Given glycine's actions as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, magnesium glycinate can promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. Studies have shown promising results in individuals with insomnia, with supplementation improving sleep onset, efficiency, and latency. In addition to magnesium glycinate's ability to balance neurotransmitters, part of its calming effects has also been attributed to its ability to level cortisol levels. Because of this, magnesium shows promise in managing anxiety symptoms. 

Muscle twitches, cramps, and tremors are signs of magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is a calcium-channel blocker. Calcium is required to trigger muscle contractions; by blocking the binding of calcium to its receptor sites, magnesium facilitates muscle relaxation. For this reason, magnesium is often recommended to treat muscle cramps and pain.

Magnesium Citrate: Benefits and Uses

Magnesium bound to citric acid is called magnesium citrate. It is unique in the fact that it is one of the most highly absorbed forms of supplemental magnesium but also has laxative effects. Therefore, magnesium citrate can be used to raise low magnesium levels and treat constipation. 

Magnesium citrate acts as a laxative by drawing water into the intestines. This softens stool and increases intestinal pressure, making it easier to have a bowel movement. For individuals experiencing occasional constipation, magnesium citrate's laxative effect provides a safe and effective solution. It works relatively quickly, typically stimulating a bowel movement within 30 minutes to six hours. Magnesium citrate can also be used as part of a bowel preparation regimen, which is required for some medical procedures (e.g., colonoscopy), due to its efficient laxative action.

Side Effects and Considerations

Magnesium naturally present in foods is not harmful and does not need to be limited. Both magnesium glycinate and citrate are generally safe for most adults when taken at appropriate doses; however, magnesium toxicity is possible when taking high doses of supplemental magnesium. The most common side effect of magnesium is diarrhea, which resolves with discontinuation of the supplement. Later effects of magnesium toxicity include fatigue, confusion, low blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythm, impaired kidney function, respiratory distress, and muscle weakness. Severe magnesium toxicity can lead to cardiac arrest. The kidneys eliminate excess magnesium from the body, so patients with kidney disease are at a higher risk of experiencing adverse effects related to magnesium supplementation. (2

It's also important to note that magnesium can interact with medications and interfere with their efficacy. Magnesium interferes with optimal absorption of bisphosphonates (used to treat osteoporosis), nitrofurantoin (an antibiotic), digoxin (a heart medication), and certain anti-malarial drugs. Magnesium should be taken at least two hours apart from these medications to ensure it does not inhibit their absorption. Magnesium has also been found to reduce the efficacy of chlorpromazine, penicillamine, anticoagulants, and tetracycline antibiotics. (10, 11

Dosage and Administration

The recommended dosage of magnesium supplements varies depending on individual needs, age, and the specific form. It's crucial to follow the recommended dosage on the supplement label or consult your doctor for personalized advice. Generally, a safe starting dose for adults is around 200-300 mg daily.

Making the Right Choice for Your Health Needs

Choosing between magnesium glycinate and citrate depends on your individual needs and health goals. Magnesium glycinate shines with its high bioavailability and gentle effects on the digestive system. This makes it a good choice for those seeking to improve magnesium levels without risking digestive discomfort, particularly individuals with sensitive stomachs. Additionally, research suggests it is an excellent option to enhance sleep quality, reduce anxiety, and optimize muscle performance.

Magnesium citrate boasts a strong laxative effect due to the presence of citric acid. This makes it ideal for individuals experiencing occasional constipation or needing bowel preparation for medical procedures. However, the laxative effect can be a drawback for those with pre-existing digestive issues or requiring ongoing magnesium supplementation, as it can lead to dehydration and chronic diarrhea with high doses or frequent use.

Ultimately, due to the unique properties of each form, consulting with a healthcare professional is crucial for making an informed decision on which type of magnesium is best for you. They can assess your individual health profile, including any existing medical conditions and medications, to recommend the most suitable form of magnesium supplement to achieve your desired outcomes. 


Key Takeaways

Both magnesium glycinate and citrate are viable options to supplement magnesium, but they cater to different needs. Understanding their unique properties and benefits allows you to make an informed decision based on your specific health goals and considerations.

It's important to remember that consulting your doctor before starting any new supplement is crucial, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or take medications.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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