Magnesium may be effective in relieving constipation and providing a laxative effect.
Constipation is a common, uncomfortable, and painful condition. Symptoms of constipation include infrequent or incomplete bowel movements, straining during bowel movements, hard and dry stools, abdominal pain, and bloating. Constipation can be caused by low physical activity, a diet low in fibre and water, or medical conditions. If constipation is found to occur due to an underlying condition, it is vital that the condition is promptly treated.
Chronic idiopathic constipation is a highly prevalent condition, affecting one in seven individuals worldwide. Initial recommendations for occasional or long-term constipation include lifestyle changes, such as improved physical activity, increased fibre intake (15-40 grams per day), and sufficient water intake (2 litres per day). Various drug treatments are also available to increase stool weight and volume. However, common side effects of these prescribed drugs include abdominal pain, increased flatulence, nausea, and vomiting.
Using magnesium supplements to treat constipation
Magnesium is a mineral that helps with the normal function and health of the heart, muscles, nerves, and bones. Magnesium can be found in nuts, legumes, wholegrains, and leafy greens. Most people can maintain adequate magnesium levels, although magnesium deficiencies can occur due to gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In the US, 68% of adults consume less than the recommended daily allowance of magnesium.
Magnesium supplements, including magnesium citrate and magnesium oxide, can be useful in relaxing the bowels. They are ‘osmotic laxatives’ that work by pulling water into the intestines. This water combines with the hard and dry stool, making it soften and easier to pass.
Magnesium supplements are inexpensive, widely available, and commonly prescribed for constipation. The recommended dose of magnesium in adults is 400-500 mg per day. It is important to drink plenty of water when magnesium supplements are taken, since water is pulled into the intestines from other areas of the body.
Magnesium citrate and magnesium oxide are generally safe for occasional use. However, common side effects of magnesium supplements include diarrhea, stomach discomfort, dehydration, and dizziness. Since magnesium-containing drugs are high in magnesium, their use has been associated with a risk of hypermagnesemia (excessive level of magnesium in the blood). It is essential that magnesium citrate and magnesium oxide are avoided if you are on a magnesium-restricted diet or if you suffer from kidney disease.
Evidence from studies suggest that magnesium is effective in the treatment of constipation. A study published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology found that magnesium oxide significantly improved the frequency of bowel movements in ninety patients with chronic idiopathic constipation.
The use of magnesium sulfate-rich natural mineral waters has also been investigated as an alternative to laxatives. A study published in European Journal of Nutrition found that daily consumption of natural mineral water with high levels of magnesium sulfate improved both the frequency of bowel movements and consistency of the stool. This suggests that water that is rich in magnesium may be an effective natural treatment for constipation.
It is important to consult a doctor before increasing magnesium intake using supplements. It is also essential to seek medical advice if you experience any side effects from using osmotic laxatives.
Written by Albina Babu, MSc
Morishita, D., et al. (2020). Senna versus magnesium oxide for the treatment of chronic constipation: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. The American Journal of Gastroenterology.
Goodoory, V.C., Black, C.J. and Ford, A.C. (2020). Efficacy of senna and magnesium oxide for the treatment of chronic idiopathic constipation. Official Journal of the American College of Gastroenterology.
Dupont, C. and Hébert, G. (2020). Magnesium sulfate-rich natural mineral waters in the treatment of functional constipation – a review. Nutrients, 12(7), p.2052.
Bothe, G., Coh, A. and Auinger, A. (2017). Efficacy and safety of a natural mineral water rich in magnesium and sulphate for bowel function: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. European Journal of Nutrition, 56(2), pp.491-499.
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