Using magnesium for constipation is simple, cost effective, time tested and efficient. For many people, it just works.
We have discussed in previous articles that drug companies want us to believe that only patented drugs can provide constipation relief. The goal of this website is to promote constipation remedies that are easy to find and provide overall health benefits. Magnesium is one of those constipation remedies.
In this article, we will first see that in industrialized nations, people are overwhelmingly deficient in magnesium. This lack of magnesium creates multiple long-term health problems for the cardiovascular, muscular and nervous systems. A supplementation of 200 mg per day is often recommended to palliate this deficiency.
We will then discuss how to use magnesium for constipation. In those instances, we will see that upping the doses to 500 to 1000 mg per day is often required.
If you live in an industrialized country, you have to worry about being magnesium deficient. Today, deficiencies are reaching epidemic proportions. Studies(1) show that in the US, 68% of adults consume less than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of magnesium, and 19% consume less than half of that RDA.
And keep in mind that the RDA sets by the government expert’s panel is usually very conservative and is meant to avoid clear physiological problems, not to optimize long term health.
To optimize long-term health, more and more alternative practitioners like myself recommend a daily supplementation of about 200 mg (more or less depending on the person and situation) to ensure our bases are covered.
How do we make sure we optimize our intake?
In theory, all that magnesium is supposed to come from natural sources, mainly from fruits, vegetables and drinking water. But as we will see in the next chapters, this isn’t as easy as it used to be.
Water used to be a good source of minerals. A water that is deemed "hard" is a water rich in minerals, magnesium included. However, it is also a water that is hard on the pipes, so more and more people (and cities) use filters to remove those minerals.
Water from city water systems usually vary in the amount of magnesium provided. Bottled water is a lot more predictable, and specific brands can be chosen for the amount of magnesium they provide. The amount is provided on the bottle, check the labels.
The magnesium rich waters (Vittel, Vichy, Badoit) contain more than 100 mg/liter. The magnesium poor water can be as low as 1 to 5 mg/liter (Arrowhead and the likes).
If you have access to one of those magnesium rich brand, you can obtain 200 mg of magnesium by drinking 2 liters of that water everyday, which is quite a bit for some people (except if you are constipated, in which case you may indeed want to absorb lots of water and magnesium for constipation - but more on this further down).
Any type of leafy green vegetable (spinach, collard greens for instance) is a good source of magnesium. Sea weeds also qualifies. Chlorophyll, which gives leafy vegetables its green color, contains magnesium as its central molecule.
Beans, peas, nuts and seeds usually contain a good amount of magnesium too.
The issue is that magnesium is water soluble, and will leach into the cooking water. So the best way to cook your vegetables is in little water, and to consume that water after cooking. Cooking your vegetables in a bit of broth and drinking the broth is a great way to preserve its magnesium content.
Whole grains is often mentioned as a good source, but to me they are more and more problematic, and I often recommend removing all grains from the diet to see if it has any effect on constipation.
Overall, the level of magnesium from foods is declining, due to intensive farming on impoverished soils. Therefore, again to be on the safe side, a daily supplementation is often required for optimal health.
Diets high in refined sugars and carbohydrates will make you burn through your magnesium reserves very quickly. Magnesium is a very key component of glucose metabolism and management. The more glucose you generate via highly glycemic food, the more magnesium you will burn.
We already mentioned that cooking leaches magnesium out of foods, unless you consume the cooking water.
Stress drains your magnesium reserves(2). If you lead a stressful life, magnesium supplementation is highly recommended.
If you do lots of physical activity, you will consume a significant amount magnesium. First, you will lose magnesium when you sweat. Second, you will burn a lot more glucose, which as we said increase magnesium consumption.
For overall good health and when you are constipation-free, I recommend supplementing with 150 to 200 mg of magnesium per day, sometimes more depending on lifestyle (e.g. consumption of lots of carbohydrates, physical activity). B-vitamins are required for optimal magnesium absorption, so I usually recommend a broad spectrum B-vitamin complex to my naturopathic clients as well.
If your body already has enough magnesium (which is fairly rare these days, but occurs once in a while), you will know very quickly: those 200 mg will give you diarrhea, a sign that you need to reduce the dose or not take a supplement at all.
This amount of supplementation is usually safe and without risks, unless you have kidney issues (your kidneys will work harder to eliminate any excess magnesium). If you have any doubts regarding magnesium supplementation, check with your doctor. The recommendations given on this page are for adults only.
Magnesium citrate brings a good compromise between absorbability and price.
Now that I have convinced you that daily magnesium supplementation is beneficial, let's talk about the use of magnesium for constipation.
First of all, let me explain how magnesium acts as a laxative.
Magnesium promotes better gut muscle contractions especially for those who are magnesium deficient. The symptoms of magnesium deficiencies can often be irritability and nervousness, anxiety, sleeping problems, chronic fatigue and tiredness.
Scientific studies tell us that magnesium for constipation can be as effective as polyethylene glycol, also called PEG, a very popular laxative often prescribed by doctors. In one study done on children(3), the researchers concluded that "the two laxatives showed no difference in effectiveness for the treatment of constipation".
In a study done in Japan(4) on the effect of diet on constipation, the researchers concluded that "low magnesium intake was associated with increasing prevalence of constipation".
In another study comparing different laxatives on elderly patients(5), the researchers found "magnesium hydroxide to be more efficient than bulk-laxative in treating constipation in elderly long-stay patients”. Note that magnesium hydroxide was the form tested in that study, other forms are active as well.
Overall, there is a high probability that magnesium will provide punctual help during your constipation crisis. You will still have, of course, to get to the root cause of the problem. If you were magnesium deficient, there is a possibility that it may provide a longer lasting effect, in which case lack of magnesium may have been one of your constipation triggers.
If you have serious constipation with fecal impaction, magnesium may not make any difference – the added water and stronger contractions won’t be sufficient to remove the impaction. If you have an acute constipation case without impaction though, magnesium is definitely worth a try.
You will need a dose that is higher than the maintenance dose mentioned above.
You only need one B-vitamin complex capsule a day. If you have already taken your B-vitamin capsule with your 200 mg magnesium maintenance dose, you do not need to take another one.
As discussed previously, when you take too much magnesium, you get loose stools. This is the effect we want to create. As a result, you will need to take enough magnesium to reach what we call “bowel tolerance”. Bowel tolerance is the point where you start to get loose stools.
That dose is highly individual-specific. So you will have to experiment with what works best for you. Then, after a few tries, you will be able to figure out roughly your “bowel tolerance” dosage range, and whether magnesium for constipation works at all for you.
Here is the recommended protocol :
If you still cannot have a bowel movement by the end of the second day, magnesium for constipation will probably not work for you. If you manage to have a bowel movement at some point, write down the dose that achieved this effect.
If, for instance, you manage to have a bowel movement by the end of the second day, you know that your bowel tolerance is about 1000 mg of magnesium, which you can try next time you are constipated (in one dose - 5 capsules of magnesium).
(1) King DE, Mainous AG 3rd, Geesey ME, Woolson RF. Dietary magnesium and C-reactive protein levels. J Am Coll Nutr. 2005 Jun;24(3):166-71.
(2) Takase B, Akima T, Uehata A, Ohsuzu F, Kurita A. Effect of chronic stress and sleep deprivation on both flow-mediated dilation in the brachial artery and the intracellular magnesium level in humans. Clin Cardiol. 2004 Apr;27(4):223-7.
(3) Gomes PB, Duarte MA, Melo Mdo C. Comparison of the effectiveness of polyethylene glycol 4000 without electrolytes and magnesium hydroxide in the treatment of chronic functional constipation in children. J Pediatr (Rio J). 2011 Jan-Feb;87(1):24-8.
(4) Lee WT, Ip KS, Chan JS, Lui NW, Young BW. Increased prevalence of constipation in pre-school children is attributable to under-consumption of plant foods: A community-based study. J Paediatr Child Health. 2008 Apr;44(4):170-5.
(5) 1Kinnunen O, Salokannel J. Constipation in elderly long-stay patients: its treatment by magnesium hydroxide and bulk-laxative. Ann Clin Res. 1987;19(5):321-3. PubMed PMID: 3126699.