Woman contemplates magnesium supplement forms

Magnesium Glycinate vs Citrate: Which Type is Best for You?

By: Megan Grant

When it comes to the dietary supplements you're considering taking, magnesium is likely on your radar. Magnesium supplements offer a number of benefits, including supporting heart, brain, and bone health. Over 300 enzymes in your body need it to perform critical functions. And yet, most of us don't get enough magnesium through diet alone. This is where supplements come in.

But there are different types of magnesium supplements, which can incorporate one or several different forms of magnesium. Your body absorbs these different forms uniquely, meaning you're ultimately getting a different amount than someone taking the exact same formula and dosage. Furthermore, the best approach to magnesium supplementation might vary from person to person, as some types of magnesium might be more well-tolerated than others.

So how do you know which magnesium supplement to take? In this article, we'll be focusing primarily on two types: magnesium glycinate and magnesium citrate. We'll also touch on other forms of magnesium supplements.

What is magnesium citrate?

Woman taking magnesium supplement with water

Magnesium citrate is a form of magnesium salt combined with citric acid, also known as citrate. A science-backed magnesium supplement that contains magnesium citrate supports overall whole body health and has particular benefits for cardiovascular function. By mass, it provides 16% elemental magnesium.

Importantly, magnesium citrate is an organic salt because it's complexed with citrate and not a mineral such as chloride or oxygen. Compared to inorganic magnesium salts, organic magnesium salts are more bioavailable—but elemental magnesium levels are lower.

Indeed, one of magnesium citrate's biggest strengths is that it has high bioavailability because of its high solubility, and it's also affordable. Supplements with high bioavailability are more effective since the body can absorb them more easily. Supplementing with magnesium citrate is an effective way to help boost your magnesium levels.

Life Extension utilizes magnesium citrate to provide rapid uptake in its extended-release magnesium supplements, which also contain magnesium oxide for long-term release (over a six-hour time period). We also offer a formula that utilizes magnesium citrate with magnesium oxide and magnesium succinate. Both these formulas support bone and cardiovascular health.

Note: some forms of magnesium citrate do have a laxative effect. These are usually labeled specifically for this purpose and tend to come in a powder that can be mixed in water to create an oral formula. Not all magnesium citrate formulas are intended to be laxative, however. Always follow the dosage on the label and avoid taking too much magnesium to avoid this laxative effect.

What is magnesium glycinate?

On the other hand, we have magnesium glycinate, which comes from a salt formed with glycine, as opposed to citrate. Glycine is an amino acid that functions as an inhibitory neurotransmitter. It's sometimes used as a standalone supplement to promote sleep. Thus, combining magnesium with glycine can boost its calming effects. Some studies also suggest that magnesium promotes head comfort.

Magnesium glycinate contains 14.1% elemental magnesium by mass. This means that in 1,000 mg, there is 141 mg of magnesium.

Is magnesium glycinate or citrate better?

When it comes to magnesium citrate vs glycinate, which one prevails? It's really going to depend on your health needs and goals. Magnesium citrate is a more common choice if you want to maintain magnesium levels for general whole-body health. On the other hand, magnesium glycinate has less bioavailability but can have a calming effect. If your goal is to add magnesium to your "stress less" strategy, you might gravitate towards a formula with magnesium glycinate instead of citrate.

What are other forms of magnesium?

Magnesium comes in many forms

Aside from magnesium citrate and glycinate, magnesium is available in different forms that have their own specific percentages of elemental magnesium, as well as varying levels of bioavailability/absorption. Here are some of your options:

  • Magnesium oxide

    : Magnesium oxide (MgO) is the magnesium salt of oxygen. Because it has poor solubility, it has lower bioavailability. However, this allows it to release magnesium over time. It contains 61% elemental magnesium by mass.
  • Magnesium chloride

    : Magnesium chloride (MgCl) absorbs better than magnesium oxide and contains 12% elemental magnesium by mass.
  • Magnesium threonate

    : What's innovative about the L-threonate form of magnesium is it can readily cross the blood-brain barrier, so it's used to deliver magnesium to the brain. Life Extension's Neuro-Mag® Magnesium L-Threonate formula is 7.2% magnesium. In 2,000 mg, we obtain 144 mg of magnesium.
  • Magnesium malate

    : Magnesium malate contains malic acid, which is naturally found in things like fruit and wine. Studies suggest that magnesium malate, which contains 15% magnesium by mass, is well absorbed in the digestive tract.
  • Magnesium sulfate

    : This is magnesium combined with sulfate (MgSO4). It's also referred to as Epsom salt. Although it has a poor taste, this magnesium supplement can be consumed orally. Some people will dissolve it in bathwater to help soothe their muscles, although the evidence for this is lacking. Magnesium sulfate contains 10% elemental magnesium by mass.

Magnesium absorption: What form of magnesium is best absorbed?

Generally, magnesium glycinate and magnesium citrate are both well absorbed by the body—which is why many magnesium supplements commonly utilize these forms. Better absorbability can lead to higher serum and brain levels of magnesium.

In general, organic salts of magnesium—which will include citrate and glycinate—provide better absorption because they are more water soluble than inorganic magnesium forms.

What is the best type of magnesium supplement?

This depends on your needs, goals, and current magnesium status. If you want something for general, whole-body health and to maintain optimal magnesium levels, magnesium citrate is a good choice. If you want to increase your magnesium levels with a formula that offers more brain-boosting benefits, something like magnesium L-threonate is going to be a better option.

How do I know if I need a magnesium supplement?

If you're ever unsure of which form is the right fit for you, speak with your medical professional. You can take a magnesium lab blood test to check your current blood serum levels.

What should I look for when buying magnesium?

When looking for any supplements, only go with a reputable company that offers high-quality products made with responsibly sourced ingredients. The nutrition labeling should be thorough and transparent with no hidden ingredients.

Furthermore, the supplement should cater to your specific needs. It's always a smart idea to speak with your medical professional before starting to take any new supplements to ensure that they're a safe and effective option for you.

About the Author: Megan Grant has a degree in communications from University of Michigan. She has been writing professionally for 15 years, with a focus on nutrition, fitness, and general health. A lifelong competitive athlete, she's fascinated by how the human body responds to food and movement.


Scientifically Reviewed By: Michael A. Smith, MD

By: Megan Grant