Magnesium vs. Magnesium Citrate: The Difference and Why it Matters

Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS

5 min read

salty water

Magnesium is widely available in supplement form. Which supplement is right for you? How do other forms of magnesium differ from magnesium citrate?

What is magnesium?

Magnesium is a major mineral in the body that’s found in more than 300 enzyme systems – systems that regulate a whole range of important biochemical functions in the body. It helps synthesize DNA, RNA, and the antioxidant glutathione. It acts as a gatekeeper for the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, which aid memory and learning. It supports muscle function and recovery, helps maintain healthy bones, and helps support sleep. Some magnesium-rich foods include almonds, green leafy vegetables, and peanuts.

What is Magnesium citrate?

Magnesium citrate is one of the most common magnesium supplements and is widely available around the world. It’s a form of magnesium that’s combined with citric acid. Citric acid is found naturally in fruits and is artificially produced as a preservative. There’s some research to suggest that magnesium citrate is one of the more bioavailable forms of magnesium, which means that it’s easier for our digestive tracts to absorb it than other forms.

Magnesium citrate is commonly taken to treat low magnesium levels. Because it may draw water with it in the small intestine, it may have a natural laxative effect; therefore, it’s sometimes used to treat constipation, as well. Moreover, it is sometimes promoted for its calming effects and support of emotional balance, though more research is needed.

Is it better than the other forms of magnesium?

All forms of magnesium supplementation can be beneficial to your body. The important differences between magnesium forms have to do with their bioavailability – or, in other words, how well the body is able to absorb the supplement in question. Read on to see how magnesium citrate compares to other forms.

Other forms of magnesium

Magnesium oxide

Magnesium oxide is a commonly prescribed dietary supplement. One study found that magnesium oxide supplementation improved physical performance in older women. In an animal study that compared the bioavailability of different forms of magnesium, it was found to have the lowest bioavailability. Magnesium oxide is not to be confused with magnesium hydroxide, which has better bioavailability.
“One study found that magnesium oxide supplementation improved physical performance in older women.”

Magnesium glycinate

Magnesium glycinate is magnesium combined with the amino acid glycine. One study found that in physically fit young adults, a magnesium glycinate supplementation of 400 mg daily for four weeks helped boost the body’s potassium content. The magnesium supplement group also saw improvement in exercise performance. Magnesium glycinate is thought to have less bioavailability than magnesium citrate, though.

Magnesium lactate

Magnesium lactate is magnesium combined with lactic acid. It’s commonly added to foods that are fortified, and is often used as a supplement for improving low magnesium levels. An animal study involving rats shows that magnesium lactate is more bioavailable than magnesium citrate. Indeed, the same study shows that magnesium citrate and magnesium oxide had the lowest bioavailability.

Magnesium malate

Magnesium malate is magnesium combined with malic acid, which is found in nuts. A study found magnesium malate to be more bioavailable than magnesium citrate. Magnesium malate has been shown to be highly absorbable, which makes it a great option for replenishing low magnesium levels. It’s also thought to have less of a laxative effect than magnesium citrate.

Magnesium chloride

Magnesium chloride – true to its name, magnesium combined with chloride – can be found in tropical magnesium products. Its bioavailability is similar to that of magnesium lactate and magnesium aspartate, both of which have higher bioavailability levels than magnesium citrate. Magnesium chloride also comes with 72 trace minerals from sea water, which may aid absorption. More research is needed.

Magnesium sulfate

Magnesium sulfate is made by combining magnesium, sulfur, and oxygen, and it’s also known as Epsom salt. It’s commonly used for soaks in bath tubs for soothing sore muscles and promoting emotional health. It is also known for its laxative effects and is used in IVs. One study showed that it had higher bioavailability than magnesium citrate.

Magnesium taurate

Magnesium taurate is magnesium combined with taurine, an amino acid that you find in the heart, eyes, muscle, and brain. This supplement can be beneficial for the heart. A study found magnesium taurate to be rapidly absorbed and able to pass through to the brain easily, suggesting greater bioavailability than magnesium citrate.

Should you take a magnesium supplement?

If you’re not getting enough magnesium from your foods, a magnesium supplement might be a good idea. Some studies say that up to 48% of people fall into this category – so if this describes you, you’re far from alone! Consult with a medical professional about your particular needs.

Health benefits of magnesium

Maintaining healthy magnesium levels is essential to your overall health, mental and physical. Having a healthy magnesium level supports hundreds of biochemical reactions in your body. Some of magnesium’s benefits include that it:

  • May help with PMS symptoms
  • May help with headaches
  • May help with occasional sleeplessness
  • May help with muscle function and recovery
  • May support healthy blood sugar levels
  • May promote heart health

How to choose a magnesium supplement

When you’re choosing a magnesium supplement, it’s important to think about what your particular needs are. Look at the label for how much magnesium is in each dose and what other ingredients are present. If you’re already taking other supplements that include magnesium, make sure that your intake isn’t surpassing the upper limit (350-400 mg), because too much magnesium can lead to side effects. Moreover, you should get the magnesium supplement form that’s easiest for you, whether powder, liquid, capsule, or tablet. Remember, consistency is the key. Care/of offers a top-notch magnesium supplement in tablet form – naturally and sustainably derived from Irish seawater, with over 70 trace minerals for easy absorption.

Recommended dosage

It’s advised that you should start with lower doses and work your way up. Some capsules come in doses of 100 mg, 200 mg, and up. The Care/of magnesium tablet contains 200 mg of magnesium.

Possible side effects

Some possible side effects of taking too much magnesium include:

  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Loose stools

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