bottle of magnesium pills, magnesium to get to sleep, trouble sleeping

Constipation is a prevalent problem, with millions of sufferers. People who have had difficulties for years may be delighted to discover that a simple mineral might help improve bowel function. Many Americans don’t get enough magnesium in their diets, so they may benefit from a supplement. Others have low magnesium due to their acid-suppressing drugs (Furlanetto & Faulhaber, JAMA Internal Medicine, Aug. 8, 2011). Here are a few readers’ stories:

Magnesium for Constipation:

Q. I had constipation for five years. I was using Citrucel and extra bran on my cereal. I drank lots of water but still had very hard little stools like a rabbit’s.

At water aerobics a friend told me about taking magnesium. It has worked wonders for me.

I take 500 mg before going to bed and have a good response, usually before noon the next day. I asked my internist and cardiologist if it was safe to take and they both said no problem. The cardiologist even said it is good for the heart as well. I thought you might want to pass this along.

A. Magnesium has long been used to counter constipation. Milk of magnesia, for example, is a well-known laxative. Too much of this mineral can cause diarrhea, though. Most people tolerate 300 mg with no problems, but those with kidney problems must avoid extra magnesium.

Dietary Supplements Can Ease Constipation:

Q. Here’s another vote for magnesium to promote regularity. I’m in my 50s and have had terrible constipation for more years than I can remember. I’ve tried drinking lots of water and adding fiber to my diet. I only eat whole grains, got rid of “white foods” (rice, potatoes, bread), ate prunes, drank prune juice–and nothing worked.

Then a good friend (who happens to be a doctor) asked if I had been tested for magnesium deficiency. I hadn’t. She suggested a magnesium supplement every night. From the very first pill I took, the results were miraculous, so I never bothered to go in for testing. It’s great to find a solution that isn’t a drug and is cheap!

A. Many people report that magnesium supplements can help fight constipation. Too much may lead to diarrhea, though. People with low kidney function should avoid extra magnesium, as poorly functioning kidneys would strain to get rid of it.

You can read more about magnesium for constipation and sluggish bowel here.

Another reader offered her experience:

“I am a 61-year-old woman who has struggled with constipation from the time I was a child in the 1950s. My mother would chase me around the house to give me an enema! A nurse practitioner suggested taking vitamin B6 with magnesium and it has worked very nicely.”

Rhonda shared:

“I suffered from constipation for years. Only when I started taking 500 mg magnesium twice a day did I find relief. It has been a miracle find for me.”

Overdosing on Magnesium:

Rhonda is dangerously close to a diarrhea dose of magnesium. Many people find that 300 to 400 mg of magnesium does the trick without precipitating a fast trot to the bathroom. Anyone taking magnesium daily should have kidney function monitored by a doctor.

Too much magnesium can be hard on the kidneys, as this reader points out:

“The People’s Pharmacy has gotten me into a problem with my dear wife. As a regular reader, I always share stuff with her if I think it may help. Your comment about taking magnesium supplements to help alleviate persistent constipation is a case in point.

“She started taking magnesium and it helped her bowel function immediately. I was happy to have her benefit from your column. So what’s the problem?

“Her 90-year-old father, a long-time heavy user of milk of magnesia, is now having significant kidney malfunction issues. His medical advisors have identified the laxative as the cause.

“My wife has abruptly stopped using her magnesium supplement because of what is occurring with her dad. Could you kindly comment on any kidney risks associated with magnesium?”

A. Magnesium is essential for muscles, nerves and bones. This mineral helps regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and heart rhythm. 

People with kidney problems are unable to tolerate excess magnesium. They should avoid supplements, laxatives or antacids that contain this mineral. Overdosing on magnesium may overwhelm the system and result in magnesium toxicity. This may be what happened to your father-in-law because of his milk of magnesia habit.

Low Magnesium:

Very low magnesium levels are rare, but people with digestive problems and those taking PPIs or immune-suppressing drugs are more susceptible to this problem (Cheminet et al, Internal and Emergency Medicine, online June 27, 2018). Thiazide diuretics can also lead to lower magnesium levels (Kieboom et al, Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety, online Aug. 01, 2018).

We discuss magnesium and other simple approaches to combat constipation in our Guide to Constipation and in our Guide to Digestive Disorders.

Learn More:

You can learn more about magnesium and its multiple uses in our Show 969: Magnesium–The Neglected Mineral.

Updated 8/13/18

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  1. Thomas G.

    I also had constipation issues for most of my life. In my 60’s I started with sore legs and hips. My doctor said RA was the problem. But, I felt that the constipation was the cause of pain. I would go a week or longer before I would use a laxative. Each day the pressure would increase with gas and bloating. I have been searching for many years for some kind of relief.

    By chance I read about magnesium. I have always been a vitamin person and thought, “What the heck, I will give it a try.” WOW… yes, it works. Within five hours I was on the road to heaven. Also, my hips and lower back pain have reduced. Just think about a balloon inside of your body that keeps getting bigger and bigger, and you can’t let the air out of it!

  2. Lynn

    I am definitely going to research the various forms of magnesium. I have MS, and my D level is very low, but when I supplement D, it causes havoc with my bowels. Hopefully, Magnesium will iron out the problems.

  3. GS
    Dallas, Tx

    I am a 72 year old female about 127pounds and I have been taking 360 mg. of magnesium malate every night for about 10 years and it works wonders. If I every have a problem I will add 190 mg of magnesium citrate at night and everything is back in sync.

    • Ed

      I tried magnesium oxide and it didn’t do anything for me When I tried magnesium citrate in capsule form it was a magic bullet. The recommended dosage was three capsules a day. (400 mg) That was way too much for me because it caused diarrhea that lasted over 12 hours. When I reduced to one capsule (166 mg) at bedtime, that was the magic amount for me. Maybe it will be for you too. BTW, I am a male in my 60s.

  4. MB
    Durham County, NC

    My daughter placed her 3-week old baby in an Epsom salt bath for a gentle laxative effect when her regular B.M.’s stopped (while nursing). That did the trick! Epsom salt contains magnesium sulphate.

  5. Carol M

    Subsequent to colon surgery 10 years ago, I had terrible issues with constipation. I take fiber capsules daily, but it doesn’t always work. About a year ago I discovered magnesium citrate. I take 250 mg each night, and it has worked wonders! Occasionally I may have a problem for a day or two. If that occurs, I just take an extra 250 mg for one night only…. works every time!

  6. Naomi
    s. Florida

    I do a LOT of reading about Nutrition – serious stuff – not the ones you get in your”junk mail”.
    All of it says that magnesium is key but Vitamin D3 is suggested also. Taken in tandem, they’re
    said to have a synergistic effect, working better together.

  7. Don

    No where do I see WHICH magnesium to take for constipation?

    I would guess Magnesium Oxide 400mg.

  8. Wilma

    Like everyone here I, too, take magnesium to relieve my constipation. I have been taking a 250 mg combination of magnesium oxide and magnesium gluconate for a long period of time. I’ve asked doctors if the high dose (below the point of diarrhea) is bad for me. Not one mentioned anything about the kidneys. They just said it can give you diarrhea. My kidney function is normal but now I’m worried. I can’t believe not one doctor mentioned a relationship between magnesium and the kidneys. You try to be proactive but what does it get you?

  9. Pat

    On a previous program I think it was suggested that magnesium supplements help with sleep problems. I have been taking Melatonin and 100 mg Magnesium Citrate pill each night to promote better sleep (also do all the other recommended physical NON-chemical precautions) and have had very positive results. It is nice to know that the magnesium possibly also helps prevent constipation.

  10. Dolores
    Seminole, FL

    I’ve suffered with constipation all my life (I’m 88). At times when I was away from home I would go >a week w/o a BM. During the past few years I’ve been taking Magnesiun Complex 400 mg twice a day. However it wasn’t working inasmuch as I had to strain and had hard pellet-like stools. Then I compared notes with my sister who had majjor digestive problems for which she was hospitalized. In addition to Magnesium, she also takes a stool softener. So I added a generic stool softener, and that does the trick! Right now I’m trying to cut back on my Magnesium to 400 mg once a day.

  11. Reeno

    I take about 1/4 tsp for leg cramps and not daily, just when they occur. It also relaxes you if you can’t quickly fall asleep.

  12. Rubi
    Durham, NC

    Magnesium also works great for migraines. When I start feeling the lights come on, I take 500 MG of magnesium, and I abort the migraine in about 10 minutes.

    • Marian

      For years I had horrible migraines. I started taking magnesium and the migraines stopped. That was 30 years ago and I still take a low dose daily.

  13. Frances

    Has anyone had trouble with magnesium causing worsening of GERD? Also, with cramping of the stomach.

  14. Barbara K.

    I take magnesium Citrate. I do not have constipation. It’s the best.

  15. jodi

    This is so encouraging. I too have struggled with chronic constipation all of my life and found magnesium to be a life changer UNTIL I had to change my diet to a low carb one. I’ve always taken 2000 mg of Magnesium Complex and that worked great. I was afraid to increase the dose, but after reading all of these comments I have peace about it. Thank you very much

  16. Ruth H
    Sun City, AZ

    This has been a help by pointing out the different kinds of Magnesium. Also how important it is to not overdose with Magnesium. I will share this information with my husband who takes the “oxide” version for his leg and foot cramps and to regulate his bowels. We will be making adjustments with our doctor’s approval.

  17. Amanda

    Hi, I have an interesting problem – magnesium citrate has worked miracles for me for about a decade since discovering it, then two months ago (approximately) my stools have become like little rocks again despite increasing the dose from 750mg to 1000mg. Increasing the dose had absolutely no effect and going is really difficult. I’m baffled that it’s not working any more and can say that diet is not the cause as this has not changed.

    I am 53 years old and going through peri-menopause, could this be the cause? Apart from an under-active thyroid that is treated with thyroxine I am relatively healthy. I’m happy to go and see the doctor but if some guidance about what he/she should be looking for could be provided, it would be helpful!

    • Jordan
      San Francisco, CA

      What’s the cause of your underactive thyroid? I have Hashimoto’s, which causes hypothyroidism and is also highly correlated with the gut condition SIBO. Many people with thyroid issues also have gut issues, because the thyroid regulates the metabolism. I visited a gastroenterologist, but she was awful, so I started going to a gastro-focused naturopath who has been more helpful.

      You said that you have not changed your diet, but is your diet currently rich in fiber? It’s possible that something else has changed, and your body needs an extra clean diet to get things moving again.

  18. Buni

    I have suffered with chronic constipation all of my life and did not want to keep taking unpredictable harsh laxatives. I had tried all the natural remedies plus, of course, a lot of fiber for years. I began taking 40-50 mg of magnesium citrate in the early evening in yogurt, soup or whatever. I purchase the 100 or 130 mg capsules and just pour out 1/3 or I/2 each evening. It has changed my life. I go normally every single day and have had no ill effects. I have done this for over a year and am amazed at the difference in my life. Most people, I understand, need more but this is the right amount for me. No pain or cramping, just normal morning bowel movement before I get started on my day. Thought this might help someone else but of course check with your DR.

  19. LaceyB

    250 mg Magnesium is PERFECT for me. No more constipation. Taking it before bedtime assures a normal movement every morning. I tried 500 mg but it was a bit much for me. Perfect solution for those with IBS issues!

    • Linda

      Hi Lacey! What kind of magnesium do you take? LM

  20. Pat
    Schuyler, VA

    With regard to the lady whose 90 year old father began having kidney problems: At age 90 I think ANYONE might start having some loss of kidney function. I hope this doesn’t deter her from taking magnesium for her constipation. I take 600 mg of magnesium/potassium aspartate every night. Every morning (after a cup of coffee) I have a bowel movement. If I forget the magnesium then the problems (diverticulosis) begin! I’ve been doing this for several years and BUN and Creatinine are great. (I am 74 years of age and have had this problem all my life; once having to go to hospital for impacted bowel.) So glad I found out about magnesium!

    • val

      It’s a myth that people in their 90s MUST have kidney or any other problems. Mom’s 94 and just fine as are lots of other oldies but goodies that I know. Just saying…

    • Linda Aase
      Quartzite, AZ

      I have stage 3 kidney disease. I also have IBS, SO I take a 400 mg of magnesium. I will be more cautious now. I’m 66.
      Someone spoke of prunes, ect. I found out if you eat them right before bed, this is the ticket.
      It’s the same as taking a laxative at bedtime.

    • Katie

      Hello, would you mind telling me which brand of magnesium potassium aspartate you take?
      Thank you!

  21. louise2

    most of the magnesium OTC is magnesium oxide. What about magnesium citrate or magnesium taurate?

    • Dennis Lee
      New Jersey

      Magnesium glycinate is the form that is the most bioavailable; I take about 600mg daily of magnesium glycerinate, and it works without fail; I also take the diuretic hydrocholorothiazide also as a anti-hypertensive medication as well; which I understand causes detrimental magnesium depletion also as well; and as a result I effectively take care of two problems at the same time with one single 600mg daily effective dose of magnesium glycinate.

  22. Cindy M. B.
    Seattle, WA

    I keep reading about the magnificent and numerous benefits of magnesium! It appears they’re finding more benefits by the day. I ALSO keep hearing that in “older” folks the magnesium isn’t absorbed very well, and that many of the maladies of “old age” may in fact be related to magnesium deficiency.
    I was taking 500 mg q day of magnesium oxide.

    I wanted to up the dose (based on the information above), but I was already crappin’ about 8 times a day!! (seriously; this is true.) Then I read that MAGNESIUM MALATE would give you the all the benefits of magnesium, while being even better for bones and stamina, but it wouldn’t cause so many bathroom trips. I tried it, and now I have the best of both worlds. I take 750 mg of the Malate and that works great.

  23. Elizabeth
    Orange County CA

    Yes magnesium definitely helps constipation but you must differentiate there are different kinds of magnesium for different issues!

    Magnesium glycinate has been miraculous for helping with my severe nighttime leg and foot cramps aka Charlie horses but it does nothing to help with my constipation. Magnesium citrate/maleate does nothing to help with Charlie horses but does help dramatically for my constipation.

    It must be taken carefully in moderation since too much causes diarrhea that can be severe if too high a dose is taken.

  24. Joan

    I feel magnesium citrate is the one that helps the best. It seems to be absorbed better. I take 100 mg 3 times a day but I feel everyone is different . For me this has been a lifesaver. If I do got a day without a BM the next day I take an additional in the evening.

  25. O.G.

    Absolutely! The only thing that helped me with constipation after surgery was magnesium. I continue to take it, but at a low dose, daily. It works far better than any commercial laxative: none of them helped a bit!

  26. Suze

    I have had chronic constipation for many years following the birth of my second child. I was eventually (after many doctors visits) referred to a specialist and he prescribed laxatives which worked to an extent but caused complications such as leakage. About eighteen months ago, the laxatives became less and less effective, the constipation worsened and I began having IBS-type symptoms. I have switched to a FODMAP diet and take a daily dose of magnesium citrate (150 mg in the morning and 350 mg at night).

    This has, quite simply, changed my life. I have a normal bowel movement almost every day, no diarrhoea and no IBS-type symptoms. I have never shared on a public forum before but I am so surprised to have finally found something which actually helps that I felt compelled to do so.

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