Whether you regularly deal with constipation or landed on this article because you *currently* have constipation (sry!), you're probably all ears to hear about the best ways to get things moving down there. After all, you have things to do and dealing with the stomach cramps, bloating, and anxiety about the lack of ~flow~ isn’t exactly helping.
If you've already done the Google search, you likely found all kinds of info about how to get yourself unplugged, including taking magnesium for constipation. It seems random, but doctors say magnesium can be a helpful constipation reliever. In fact, the mineral shows up in a slew of medications designed to ease constipation, as well as some foods (more on that in a sec).
OK but what? Why? And how does this all factor in with more common constipation-relievers like upping your fluid intake and eating plenty of fruits and veggies? We tapped three gastroenterologists for their take on using magnesium for constipation, plus when to see your doctor if you’re struggling to go.
Meet the experts: Babak Firoozi, MD, is a board-certified gastroenterologist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Califorina. Stephanie A. McAbee, MD, is a gastroenterol gist and assistant professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Andrea Shin, MD, is a gastroenterologist at UCLA Health.
What is magnesium?
Magnesium is an abundant mineral in your body, and it’s a factor in more than 300 systems that regulate bodily reactions, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The mineral impacts muscle and nerve function, blood sugar control, blood pressure, and influences the development of your bones, per the NIH.
Magnesium is naturally present in some foods, added to others, available in supplement form, and is even in some medications, the NIH says.
Does magnesium work for constipation?
Yup, doctors say magnesium works for constipation—and it’s even in some laxatives. “Magnesium is a tried and true treatment for constipation,” says Babak Firoozi, MD, a board-certified gastroenterologist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. “Through specific cell mechanisms, it helps to draw fluid into the bowel and helps to flush the bowel out.”
How long it takes to work can vary depending on your constipation and the type of magnesium you take, Dr. Firoozi says.
How do you use magnesium for constipation?
There are several types of magnesium that can help with constipation. Those include:
Magnesium hydroxide (the liquid form of magnesium oxide)
Magnesium sulfate (aka Epsom salts)
Magnesium citrate is usually recommended for occasional constipation, per Stephanie A. McAbee, MD, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “It may work as quickly as [within] 30 minutes to six hours,” she says. That said, “all types of magnesium are considered to be saline laxatives,” says Andrea Shin, MD, a gastroenterologist at UCLA Health.
You can get magnesium from food sources, too, and the type varies by the food. These are some of the biggest ones, according to Dr. Firoozi:
“There have been some studies that magnesium intake from foods could help combat constipation, but the data are not clear cut,” Dr. Shin says. "Some studies have shown effects of magnesium ingested through foods as being effective for preventing constipation while others have not.” Meaning, you may or may not get constipation relief from having foods that are high in magnesium, but you might.
Magnesium is in a lot of different products out there, including lotions and salts. But Dr. Shin says the oral route is really the best way to go, followed by bath salts and lotions. Dr. Firoozi agrees. “Lotions and salts probably don't have any effect at all,” he says.
How much magnesium to take really depends on what you’re dealing with. Talk to your doctor for personalized recommendations, but as a general guide, if it’s random constipation, taking magnesium citrate and following the instructions on the label should help, Dr. Firoozi says. But if you’re dealing with chronic constipation, adding 500 to 1,000 milligrams of magnesium oxide to your day may help, too, Dr. Shin says.
Magnesium Side Effects
Magnesium is considered a pretty safe mineral because your kidneys get rid of excess amounts in your pee when you have too much to eat, the NIH says. When it comes to supplements, though, it’s possible to overdo it.
In that case, you could end up dealing with diarrhea, stomach cramps, and nausea, per the NIH. Just something to have on your radar, according to Dr. Shin: “Even though it is rare, excessive use of magnesium for constipation could lead to elevated levels of magnesium in the body known as 'hypermagnesemia.’”
Magnesium may interact with some medications, too. Dr. Firoozi recommends talking to your doctor if you’re interested in taking magnesium and you’re on any of these medications, although talking to your doctor is a good first step for anybody:
Proton pump inhibitors
What else can help and prevent constipation?
The causes of constipation can be complicated, and some people can struggle with a chronic issue with going No.2 as a result. But if you’re dealing with constipation as a one-off, doctors say there are a few things you can try to get relief:
Drink more fluids. Stools that have less liquid in them are harder to pass, and you’re more likely to have hard stools when you’re dehydrated, Dr. Firoozi says.
Increase your fiber. This can be through your diet or a supplement, Dr. Shin says.
Follow a regular sleeping and eating schedule. “The body has an internal rhythm and motility of the bowels naturally increases during times of waking or after meals,” Dr. Shin says. “It is important to take advantage of this rhythm to prevent constipation.”
Get moving. Dr. McAbee recommends having some form of exercise daily to boost your bowel activity.
When To See A Doctor For Constipation
If you have an issue with constipation once in a while and it gets better when you tweak your diet and lifestyle habits, Dr. Firoozi says you’re probably fine to just keep on doing you. “But if this is something that’s affecting your daily life and something that you’re having a tough time getting control of by traditional or natural methods, you should see a doctor for help,” he says.
Bottom line: Magnesium can be a helpful tool in easing constipation, both as a fast-acting medication and supplement. But, if you find that you’re relying on magnesium to go, it’s time to talk to your doctor to see what could be going on with your health.
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