Magnesium is a critical mineral involved in many processes in the body. You may think of magnesium as a nutrient for bone health—nearly 50 to 60 percent of the magnesium in the body is found in the bones.1 But bone health is only one of magnesium’s many roles in your body.

There are many good food sources of magnesium, and supplements are available to provide additional support if needed. But here’s where it gets a bit tricky. Magnesium supplements come in many different forms, so it can be challenging to know which one is the right choice.

Magnesium glycinate and magnesium citrate are two forms you’ll often see in supplements. While they are both technically magnesium, they differ slightly in how they’re absorbed and used by the body.

Here’s a closer look at the benefits and differences between magnesium glycinate and magnesium citrate.

What is Magnesium and What Does it Do?

The list of magnesium’s jobs in the body is a long one. It’s required for healthy bones, normal functioning of the nervous system and psychological function, electrolyte balance, reduces tiredness and fatigue, and many other functions.2,3

It also supports cognitive and neuromuscular function and acts as a cofactor for hundreds of enzymes in your body. A cofactor is a substance needed for an enzyme to work properly. Magnesium is a much-needed cofactor for over 300 reactions like energy production, protein synthesis, and muscle contraction.1

Supporting restful sleep could be another benefit of magnesium. One study found that older adults who supplemented with magnesium had notable increases in sleep time, how long it took to fall asleep, and sleep efficiency (or how well you sleep throughout the night).4

Overall, magnesium is a critical nutrient in the body, so it’s essential to make sure you’re getting enough.

What Foods Contain Magnesium?

Magnesium is an essential mineral, which means the body can’t make it, so you need to get it from your diet. Supplements are used in addition to diet for any additional needs.

You can find magnesium in foods such as:

  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes
  • Dairy products
  • Dark chocolate

Although these foods are easy to find, many people still don’t get enough. It’s estimated that almost half of Americans don’t get the recommended daily amount of magnesium, so supplements can support nutrient gaps or for people who may need more.5

Even though magnesium is found in a variety of foods, many people still don’t get enough. Soil depletion, certain lifestyle choices (like drinking alcohol or taking medications that can interfere with absorption), and health conditions could all contribute to lower magnesium levels.6,7,8

But a big reason someone may not meet daily recommendations for magnesium could be related to food choices. Refined grains and processed foods are lower in magnesium, so a diet high in these foods may make it easier to miss out on this critical nutrient.8

What is Chelated Magnesium?

Chelated magnesium means the elemental magnesium (free magnesium) is bound to a carrier compound to increase its stability and absorption—also called bioavailability.9,10 Many mineral supplements are chelated to make them easier for the body to use.

Magnesium citrate and magnesium glycinate are two examples of chelated magnesium where elemental magnesium is bonded to either citric acid or glycine, respectively. Both support healthy magnesium levels in the body, but they are slight differences.

Let’s examine each type in more detail.

Magnesium Citrate

Magnesium citrate is a commonly used form of chelated magnesium. It’s bound to citric acid, an organic acid also found in citrus fruits, which increases absorption.10,11

Magnesium citrate is very effective for people who may need a little extra support for regular bowel movements. It draws water into the bowel, making stool softer and easier to pass.12

However, too much magnesium citrate can be a problem in some cases. Higher doses of magnesium citrate can cause loose stools for sensitive individuals. If this happens, reducing the amount taken or switching to a different form of magnesium (like magnesium glycinate) could help.

Magnesium Glycinate

Magnesium glycinate is a chelated form of magnesium that’s bound to the amino acid glycine. It’s considered one of the most bioavailable and easily absorbed forms of magnesium.

Unlike magnesium citrate, magnesium glycinate is much gentler on the digestive system. This makes it a good option for those with sensitive stomachs or needing to take higher amounts.13

Magnesium glycinate also has the added bonus of being bound to glycine. Glycine is an amino acid that supports the production of calming neurotransmitters like GABA in the brain.14

GABA stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid, and it’s known as the “brake pedal” for the nervous system.15 This means it can help support a healthy stress response and promote relaxation, so magnesium glycinate is often considered a supplement for stress and sleep support.16

Choosing the Right Form of Magnesium for Your Body

Both magnesium citrate and magnesium glycinate are effective forms of chelated magnesium. However, there are some critical differences between these two forms that may make one better suited for you over the other.

If you’re looking for a form of magnesium to support regularity, magnesium citrate could be a good choice. However, if you have a sensitive stomach, you may want to choose magnesium glycinate as it’s easier on the digestive system. This could also be true if you take higher doses of magnesium, as too much citrate could cause loose stools.

For sleep or stress support, magnesium glycinate may be a helpful choice as glycine helps to support calming neurotransmitters. Magnesium citrate also supports relaxation, but the glycine in magnesium glycinate may give it an extra edge.

Ultimately the choice between magnesium citrate and magnesium glycinate comes down to how your body responds to each one. If you’re unsure which to choose, chatting with a healthcare practitioner could help you make the best decision for your needs.

+Caitlin Beale, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian and freelance health writer. She has a master’s degree in nutrition and over ten years of experience as a registered dietitian.

+The views expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not reflect the opinions or views of Pure Encapsulations®.

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