The People's Perspective on Medicine

Can Epsom Salts Combat Chronic Constipation?

There are many ways to combat chronic constipation. Incorporating more high-fiber vegetables and fruits in the diet may be among the best.

Many Americans have difficulty with “regularity.” They may pass stool infrequently or they may find their stool is hard and painful to pass. People are eager to find ways to combat chronic constipation. One reader has settled on a daily dose of Epsom salts.

Is It Safe to Use Epsom Salts to Combat Chronic Constipation?

Q. For a few years, I’ve been stirring 1/2 to one teaspoon a day of MgSO4 (aka Epsom salts) into my morning orange juice. I’m very satisfied with its effect on my chronic constipation.

However, there’s a caveat. As it can work very suddenly, I have to stay in the vicinity of my bathroom till it’s done its job.

Are there any long-term side effects of using Epsom salts as a daily laxative?

A. Epsom salts can be effective as a laxative for occasional use. The packaging warns that if you need this or any laxative for more than a week you should see your doctor about your problem.

Downside of Epsom Salts to Combat Chronic Constipation:

People with reduced kidney function should not take Epsom salts or any other magnesium-based laxatives. Too much magnesium can put a strain on impaired kidneys.

On the other hand, a diet high in phosphorus and low in magnesium (as many American diets are) may harm the kidneys (Nephrology, Dialysis, Transplantation, online Dec. 7, 2018). Processed foods and bottled beverages provide a lot of dietary phosphorus.

Please discuss your chronic constipation with your health care providers. They may identify a medication or even a supplement that is responsible for this situation. If they can find an adequate substitute, switching would be preferable to using a laxative every day. Alternatively, they may discover another condition causing constipation. An intestinal blockage is a serious situation that might require emergency treatment.

Other Ways to Combat Chronic Constipation:

The primary and best way to combat chronic constipation, according to many experts, is to incorporate an increasing amount of natural fiber in the diet. For example, Dr. Robynne Chutkan recommends eating rather than tossing the stems from broccoli, cauliflower, chard and other vegetables. Additionally, such green leafy vegetables are also great natural sources of magnesium. Another reader found that eating a cucumber every day was an easy natural fix for constipation. When necessary, you may wish to try a combination of unprocessed bran, applesauce and prune juice known as Power Pudding.

In addition, you may benefit from eating fermented foods containing natural probiotics. Consider sauerkraut, pickled cucumbers and kimchi as well as live-culture yogurt or kefir. The friendly bacteria growing in them may encourage your own gut bacteria to flourish, and that is the best way to combat chronic constipation.

Learn More:

You may wish to listen to our interview with Dr. Chutkan. It is Show 1115: How You Can Conquer Constipation. We also spoke with Dr. Chutkan for Show 1078: How to Have Good Digestion Without Heartburn Drugs.

In addition, you might also want to read our free Guide to Constipation. It contains our ten tips to combat chronic constipation along with a wonderful pumpkin-bran muffin recipe. In summary, you may be able to find a better way to manage your constipation than by taking Epsom salts every day.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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The old wives were right when they said you should eat your vegetables. A fiber-rich diet, including vegetable stems, is a big help when you are trying to conquer constipation.

Show 1115: How You Can Conquer Constipation
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Plenty of water along with some unsweetened tea or coffee, maybe decaf, are essential to help relieve constipation. We were taught that water hydrates you all the way down whereas sweetened beverages are absorbed higher in the GI tract.

Kombucha has taken care of my constipation problems completely. Shot glass first thing in the morning.

To combat chronic constipation which I have along with Parkinson Disease, my physician put me on “docusate sodium 100 mg soft gel, one pill daily”. Also every afternoon about 4 pm I drink a cup of prune juice. I try to drink plenty of water and eat as much fiber as possible. I have been on this regimen for about six months and it has worked. Is the docusate harmful?

When you add fiber to your diet to help with constipation, it is imperative to get plenty of fluids, very you will make the situation worse, not better!

I’ve had a tendency toward constipation all my life. A daily dose of Metamucil and plenty of water worked well for me until I had a total hysterectomy 2 years ago. I read in my pre-op “Informed Consent” that one of the common side effects of this surgery is chronic constipation. And I became very constipated as predicted, despite the extra fiber, walking and water. I turned to People’s Pharmacy for help and settled on taking a magnesium citrate supplement regularly at bedtime. I found that 300 mg does the trick for me, but I have to order it from the internet as I can only find 400 mg supplements locally. It works like a charm, gently but thoroughly after breakfast. Over the past two years, I have found the effect is consistent. Thank you People’s Pharmacy, for your welcome suggestion!

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