By Dr. Vik, MBBS, MRCP(GB), PhD
Magnesium and constipation
Constipation is a well recognized problem that affects people of all ages.
Studies have shown that constipation affects as much as 12% to 20% of the population, with an increased prevalence in elderly patients and women (Tramonte, 1997).
Many times simple remedies such as lifestyle modifications and increased dietary fiber can help.
However, given the magnitude of this problem, it is not surprising that many have failed to relieve their constipation symptoms with simple lifestyle changes, and require additional help for proper bowel movements.
Magnesium is an extremely useful supplement that offers constipation relief to many.
It is common knowledge that magnesium is useful in the treatment of constipation.
In fact, patients who are undergoing tests such as a colonoscopy or bowel surgery are administered a magnesium based laxatives to clear out the colon. Clearly, the effectiveness of magnesium is evident, given its use by medical professionals.
Magnesium is an ‘osmotic laxative’, meaning that it works by holding on to fluid within the bowel, increasing the moisture of stools, making them soft, more slippery and a lot easier to pass.
By holding onto water, magnesium ions increase the bulk of stool.
Magnesium sulfate is particularly effective, since it is poorly absorbed, passing through the digestive tract where it does its work. Magnesium sulfate is available in stores under the name Epsom salt.
It has been proven to be beneficial in the treatment of constipation safely and effectively (NHS Choices, 2014).
In fact, a recent study published in the Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology journal demonstrated significant benefit of magnesium sulfate present in a natural mineral water brand as a treatment for functional constipation (Christophe Dupontemail, 2013).
Previous studies have shown a link between low intake of magnesium and constipation (Murakami K & Group., 2007).
There are a number of different ways magnesium works to solve constipation problems.
As an osmotic laxative
As previously discussed, magnesium ions that are not absorbed by the digestive system remain within the lumen of the bowel. Here, they hold onto water, combining it with the stool that is formed from digested material.
This added water increases the bulk of stool. Increased stool bulk stretches the wall of the bowel, and this in turn stimulates the wavelike contractions of the colon (called peristalsis) that moves stool along.
Helps restore proper muscle movement
Vitro studies, that is, studies that are conducted in a laboratory setting, have shown that magnesium sulfate can help treat constipation by altering the levels of certain hormones in the body, including cholecystokinin and compounds such as nitric oxide (Izzo AA, 1996).
Nitric oxide has the property of relaxing smooth muscles. When this effect is exerted upon the colon, it can help to restore normal peristalsis, as it helps the colon to relax after contractions.
From a scientific point, this reiterates the efficacy of magnesium as a solution for constipation.
It isn’t just an improper diet and lack of exercise that cause constipation. Certain supplements that are taken by patients to treat other clinical conditions can cause constipation as a side effect.
Take calcium supplements for example. Calcium supplements are widely consumed to maintain bone health, and are particularly useful in preventing the development of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.
Calcium is recognised as a cause for constipation, and magnesium supplements can help offset the effect of calcium on the gut. Calcium has a tightening effect on muscles, while magnesium has a relaxing effect.
Taking a good quality magnesium supplement helps to balance out the tightening effect of calcium on the bowel.
Magnesium is necessary for the utilization of calcium in building strong teeth and strong bones. Those taking calcium for osteoporosis need to seriously consider taking a magnesium supplement as well.
When not balanced out by a proper amount of magnesium (generally 300 to 400 mg. per day), calcium tends to cause kidney stones, gall stones and may accumulate in joints, resulting in joint pain.
Magnesium helps to treat constipation in a number of different ways. But how does one obtain the required magnesium to keep the bowels moving normally?
However, due to modern farming practices, foods now contain much less magnesium than is needed.
A large amount of magnesium rich foods would need to be consumed in order to supply the body with a sufficient amount of magnesium.
It is therefore of prime importance that magnesium supplements be taken long term to maintain overall health and to prevent long term constipation.
Constipation is a common problem that results in a large number of visits to the doctors office. While changes in lifestyle and diet are helpful, the addition of a good quality magnesium supplement can be extremely beneficial.
Magnesium supplementation has been scientifically proven to increase stool bulk and improve bowel movements, providing effective and safe relief from constipation. Long term use if beneficial and is devoid of significant side effects.
Note: As with any over-the-counter remedy, talk with your doctor before starting on a magnesium supplement.
Supplemental magnesium may interfere with certain prescription medications. Those with kidney disease should not take a magnesium supplement unless instructed to do so by their doctor.
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Christophe Dupontemail, A. C. (2013). Efficacy and Safety of a Magnesium Sulfate–Rich Natural Mineral Water for Patients With Functional Constipation. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
Izzo AA, G. T. (1996). The osmotic and intrinsic mechanisms of the pharmacological laxative action of oral high doses of magnesium sulphate. Importance of the release of digestive polypeptides and nitric oxide. Magnesium Research, 133 - 138.
Medline Plus. (2013, 02 18). Magnesium in diet. Retrieved from Medline Plus: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002423.htm
Murakami K, S. S., & Group., F. i. (2007). Association between dietary fiber, water and magnesium intake and functional constipation among young Japanese women. Eur J Clin Nutr, 616 - 622.
NHS Choices. (2014, 07 12). Constipaton. Retrieved from NHS Choices: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Constipation/Pages/MedicineOverview.aspx?medicine=Epsom%20salts
Tramonte, S. M. (1997). The treatment of chronic constipation in adults. Journal of general internal medicine,, 15 - 24 .