The People's Perspective on Medicine

Magnesium Supplement Can Activate a Sluggish Bowel

When used as a dietary supplement in the 250 mg to 400 mg range, magnesium can help combat constipation or sluggish bowel without causing diarrhea.

Millions of people around the world suffer from daily constipation. That is why laxatives are so popular. We generally discourage regular use of harsh (stimulant) laxatives and prefer a more natural approach.

Fiber is frequently recommended by nutrition experts, but excessive fiber can lead to bloating, gas and flatulence. It doesn’t work for everyone.

Magnesium is an essential mineral that can be surprisingly helpful against sluggish bowel, as long as you do not overdo. Overdosing on magnesium can lead to a dramatic run for the bathroom or an unwelcome accident.

Q. I have been suffering with constipation for over a year. I chalked the problem up to menopause and tried everything I could think of: increasing the fiber in my diet, drinking more water and exercising even more vigorously. Food just wasn’t moving through. I would have to use laxatives every week just to get relief.

My doctor didn’t have anything different to suggest, but I brought the problem up to a friend. She suggested taking magnesium. It has completely changed my life. I feel normal again and wanted to share this with other sufferers.

A. Magnesium has long been used as a laxative in the form of milk of magnesia. When used as a dietary supplement in the 250 mg to 400 mg range, it can combat constipation without causing diarrhea. (A person who develops diarrhea on a magnesium supplement may need to lower the dose.) This mineral may also help normalize blood pressure and blood sugar and prevent muscle cramps.

People with impaired kidney function should avoid extra magnesium, however. That is why we always recommend that people who contemplate adding magnesium to their regimen ask a physician to run some tests to evaluate kidney function first.

Reports from Readers About Magnesium for Constipation:

Emil from the UK shares this experience:

“I tried magnesium to combat my lifelong constipation, but I did not like the liquid form because it tasted nasty.

“A friend from Denmark introduced me to the tablets form, and my back pain and constipation have disappeared completely. I am taking 500mg daily and it stopped my constipation. I wonder my UK doctor never took my constipation complaint seriously.”

M.B. was using magnesium to prevent migraines (see this link):

“I started 400mg of magnesium to see if it would reduce migraines and I’m not sure about that yet, but it did immediately result in loosened bowels. After two months of this, I felt fatigued and realized it might be affecting my food/vitamin absorption, so I’ve cut back to 400mg every two to three days. This seems to be a good amount. I”ll see if it will still decrease migraine onset.”

O.G. offered this testimonial…though we would caution against such a big dose:

“Houston, we have ignition! I have had killer constipation for months. Because I am diabetic I can no longer consume my favorite cure, prunes. They are too high in sugar. 

“MAGNESIUM WORKS! It took about a week, at 1,000 mg a day for starters (I am now scaling back, to see what the minimum working dose is for me) but it works. After feeling like I was obstructed by a hardened concrete plug-very painful!- I am back to being regular and comfortable.

“I’ll watch for diarrhea (which I would have welcomed in weeks past) but my extremely grateful feeling is-to paraphrase Lincoln on another ‘remedy’-‘Send a case to the rest of my generals.’ ;-)

“Just for background information, I’m a 67-year-old female, and the magnesium was plain old grocery store tablets, which were the only kind available when I was desperate.

“Two very enthusiastic thumbs up, and thank you, People’s Pharmacy community!”

To learn more about magnesium and its other benefits you may wish to check out our article, “Is Magnesium a Miracle Mineral?”

You may also wish to get far more details on magnesium by listening to a one-hour radio interview, Show # 969: Magnesium the Neglected Mineral. Our two guests, Tieraona Low Dog, MD and Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, are two leading experts on this dietary supplement. Here is a link.

Anyone who is interested in natural ways to overcome a sluggish bowel may be interested in our Guide to Constipation, which includes a recipe for Power Pudding popular with nurses helping people after abdominal surgery.

Share your own magnesium story below and please vote on this article at the top of the page.

Revised: June 30, 2016

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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. .

Download 4 pages on lifestyle changes, home remedies and medicines for preventing and treating constipation. Pumpkin-Bran Muffin recipe. Joe and Terry's ten tips to combat constipation.

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It doesn’t help me. Help!

I am taking magnesium every three days for a muscle relaxant and because I have a deficiency Will this make my bowel lazy?
I take approximately 3gms of magnesium sulphate or its other name is Epsom Salts. It does make my stools looser but still formed.

I’ve tried Rx for constipation (Linzess), I’ve tried large amounts of vitamin C, I’ve tried magnesium citrate tabs (400-600mg), and prokinetics like ginger. NONE of these have worked. I’m constipated all the time and very uncomfortable.

Milk of Magnesia works every two days, if I take it every day, max dose. I suspected this was not a long term solution, and am grateful for your article disclosing that Mg overdose may cause kidney problems. However, what is the highest safe dose? Does it vary with each individual? And what about safety and efficacy of the ayrvedic herb combo triphalia?

I’ve already tried high fiber, lots of water, etc. Would love some help finding a safe and effective solution.

Magnesium is not only good for constipation. I know for a fact that low magnesium levels caused Afib. Had never had a problem with heart rhythm until I stopped taking magnesium (had run out of it and thought I would be fine without it). Developed Afib and it took me several months to realize what was causing it. After just a week on magnesium again….heart rhythm was normal. Needless to say, I will never forget about magnesium again. The doctor agreed and even said he should have thought of that.

I have not seen FIGS mentioned. FIGS do work — for me, anyway. even 2 small or 1 large, or more after a lot of protein meat like food.

And they are so full of good things for you!

I have similar constipation problems. My son suggested Magnesium Citrate, and my osteopath primary physician said to limit it to 400 mg a day. He stressed that the Mag. Citrate is known to have laxative side-effects. Fiber did nothing for me but dry me out more, which made the matter worse. I stopped it and switched to magnesium citrate every day.

Thank you for repeating this article and comments on magnesium. I took it with calcium, but when I cut back on calcium, I added it as a separate supplement.

I’m curious what the difference is between chelated, calcium citrate, powdered, gel, etc. Is one more effective?

Whatever form I take, it’s my miracle cure.

I also have noticed that when I and my family go out to eat at a local Mexican Restaurant and are severed hot peppers along with onions and etc., the next day I have a pretty good bowl movement. I then made a note of that. The following Wednesday when the Mexican specials are on. Yup. the next day, I have another good movement. I then purchased at the grocery store a bottle of mild peppers and yup. I have found that the peppers do help me. I do not know if it is the peppers or not, but I like to feel it is. I would like to hear from People’s Pharmacy about this, or if other people have experienced this or not.

How bad is magnesium for your liver?

Here is something some might want to try since it is also a food.
Ground flaxseeds, from 1-2 tablespoons a nite in water and with a glass of water following. Good on salads, oatmeal, many things. [best begin slowly] [I believe they are best when ground for each use, I use my coffee grinder and just brush it out after]. Also get Omegas.
That and probiotics help tremendously.
A with a diet large in fruits and veggies.
Daughter went to an MD/Naturopathic, his recommendation was 4×1000 Vitamin C. tablets at nite.
Best to all.
More about flaxseeds and probiotics concerning constipation in other articles on this site.
What would we all do without the Graedons?

I usually mix the powder with a couple of tablespoons of applesauce, or add it to a smoothy I make for lunch with an apple, pineapple, celery and almond milk.
My original motivation wasn’t constipation. I started taking the magnesium because I was taking a calcium tablet (Citracal, containing D3) on doctor’s orders. It didn’t contain magnesium, and my mother, and early follower of the nutritionist, Adelle Davis, told me always to take half as much magnesium as calcium.

Constipation is one of the symptoms of Celiac Disease. I recommend requesting the blood test from your physician – if they refuse go to another physician until one will listen.
I suffered from minor constipation for the past 18 months, was just diagnosed with Celiac Disease on January 16th – began eating Gluten Free immediately upon diagnosis (no wheat, barley, rye or products containing these ingredients such as modified food starch). Felt AWESOME by 3rd day of gluten free and regular ever since. FYI – if you start eating gluten free before the test the blood test will not provide accurate results.

Try plain old Prune juice–works great for me.
My doctor suggested it for me– if you don’t like the taste just mix it 1/2 & 1/2 with water. 6oz is a good starting point.

Do you take anything else? Or just the powder?
ERE, I used to take a mag / calc supplement (doctor suggested — for other issues), but stopped as I knew calc wasn’t a good thing to take.

Thanks for your suggestion, but don’t assume that we folks with struggling bowels have bad diets. I keep track of everything I eat and shared it with doctor — it includes high fiber cereal, which has more than an apple.

I had terrible constipation after surgery as a result of the pain pills I had to take initially… and magnesium was the answer to the question of what to do until I could get OFF the drugs. I now keep 500mg magnesium capsules on hand, just in case of constipation. I started at a high dose (1500 mg a day) and went down as soon as my body responded. There was a certain “yucch” factor in the result, but it was a WHOLE lot better than the feeling I was experiencing, of plumbing full of hardened concrete!

I have restless leg syndrome as well as severe night time leg cramps. My doctor said to try magnesium. I did and started having continual diarrhea. I quit taking it and told my doctor, reminding him that it was the active ingredient in Milk of Magnesia. He claimed that magnesium tablets were “different”. I changed doctors.

I too was very irregular but started taking magnesium as a migraine headache preventive and it also helped my irregularity and also helped me to have a better nights sleep. I take two Amino acid Chelated magnesium, 250mg caplets at night before bed. Works wonders!

I would like to suggest that it may be misleading to think of magnesium as a ‘laxative’. I have been taking magnesium (100 to 250 mg per day as needed, in addition to what I get from foods) for about ten years now, as part of a regimen to control fibromyalgia. It is my experience that, as long as my magnesium intake is optimal, all systems work normally — no muscle pains, and neither constipation nor diarrhea. Under conditions of stress (either mental/emotional or physical), my body seems to become quickly depleted of magnesium, and constipation is the first sign that I need to increase my intake.
At least for some people (like me and my mother, for example), it might be more helpful to regard magnesium as an essential nutrient for normal functioning of the whole body, with constipation serving as merely the most obvious signal that many systems may be in need of adequate supplies of this nutrient. The objective, that is, is to restore normal functioning, not just to induce a bowel movement on a one-time basis. When the body (my body, anyway) has an adequate level of magnesium, the bowels work just right day after day, not too fast and not too slow. As I have come to see it, it’s not a matter of “activating a sluggish bowel” but of providing one of the nutrients necessary for normal bowel function.
I have The People’s Pharmacy to thank for helping me to understand, some years ago, that it is fairly easy to regulate one’s magnesium intake by attending to bowel function — take too little magnesium and you get constipation; take too much and you get diarrhea. Thank you, People’s Pharmacy! I will be eternally grateful!

I’d like to know the answer to LL’s question. I tried MOM and it didn’t work for me. I’m stuck taking Miralax, colace and Citrucel. Yes, in spite of a healthy diet with high fiber cereal daily, 64 oz of water daily and very little dairy. I’m guessing that if MOM didn’t work, a magnesium supplement won’t either.

Went to a gastro for months, and prescription after prescription, the most relief I ever got was 3 b.m.’s a week, and nothing to write home about. Tried 1/2 a cup a coffee in the morning on an empty stomach, and it actually got my system moving after 15 minutes every day, but again, nothing to write home about. So I tried Earth Fare brand, amino acid, chelated magnesium, 250mg., 2 caplets, each night before bedtime, and it was like a miracle (and no residual gas and bloating during the day).
The next morning, I drink 8 oz. warm water w/ the juice of 1/2 lemon. Then I take a probiotic or acidopholus, w/ 16 oz. water and sit and check my e-mails. Believe me, I never get through them, before I’m in the bathroom. I’m 5’5″, and 115#, so if your are a larger person, one may need 3, or even 4 (maximum 4) caplets. Too much, and it WILL give you loose stool. You’ll just have to try to experiment. Hope this helps.

I take powdered magnesium citrate (1/2 teaspoon = 315 mg.) The cautions about kidney function worry me, though.

An apple a day – everything but the stem – keeps things moving. I recommend Gala organic.

I found the culprit to be calcium supplements.I always had uncomfortable constipation too, every time I started taking them. I finally had to stop taking calcium. Then I heard the same thing about Magnesium. I found that they make a calcium supplement with Magnesium. They were wonderful, just what I needed.

I would like to hear the reply to LL’s question.

What type of magnesium supplement (other than MOM) is best for constipation?

LL, Since our bodies are different, play around with different magnesium supplements.

Most tablet forms tend to be rather huge, so a capsule may be easier to swallow. There are also powders and liquids you can use on the skin. My skin is rather touchy so I have not tried those.

If you stay constipated, increase the amount you take. If you get diarrhea, decrease to the point where bowels function as you would like.

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