DEAR DR. GOTT: I’m a male of 67 in reasonably good health. For some years I had constipation and stomach cramping. There were several diagnoses of IBS. The usual fixes were tried but only helped a bit and not for long.
Last year my primary care physician suggested I try magnesium tablets. These are sold as dietary supplements, but not specifically for my problem. I gave it a try, which involved several dosage adjustments.
For almost a year I’ve been essentially free of constipation and cramping. I take a 500 mg. Magnesium tablet with breakfast and again with supper. My stools are often soft but that seems a small price to pay for living pain free.
Are you familiar with this daily use of magnesium for constipation and do you recommend it?
DEAR READER: Magnesium is essential for good health and almost half of the magnesium in our bodies is in our bones. The mineral also plays an important role in the functioning of the immune system, blood sugar levels, muscle function, the rhythm of the heart and more.
Magnesium has a long-standing good reputation as a laxative; however, there doesn’t appear to be any documented research through reputable studies to support its use to cure either constipation or irritable bowel syndrome. One study conducted in Japan in 2006 centered around the relationship between water, fiber and the intake of magnesium for constipation. It involved over 3,800 subjects between the ages of 18 and 20. Oddly enough, constipation wasn’t found to be associated with a low intake of either fiber or water from fluids. Instead, it was connected with a low intake of magnesium and water from foods. It appears that magnesium relaxes the intestinal muscles, allowing for a smoother rhythm. It also attracts water to the colon that softens stool, making it easier to pass.
It is extremely important that readers speak with their primary care physician before taking supplemental magnesium because it is excreted through the kidneys. If an individual suffers from a kidney disorder, he or she could be at risk for an excess of the mineral in the system. Those on antacids should also gain clearance from a physician to avoid a buildup of unhealthy levels in the body. Further, as if this weren’t already enough, supplemental magnesium carries the risk of interfering with some prescription medications such as particular antibiotics, diuretics and chemotherapy agents. The appropriate amount recommended varies according to age, sex, and several other factors; however, the general recommendation is between 270 to 400 mg. for adult and teenage males per day and from 280 to 300 mg. for adult and teenage females per day.
When considering which form of magnesium to take, it is important to select a brand that does not contain calcium, since it can led to constipation. No one should take something that will compound the original problem for which they are taking a product in the first place. While rare, it is possible to overdose on magnesium.
One means of naturally combating constipation is to increase the amount of fiber in your diet. Exercise more unless there is a reason not to do so. Then consider such things as vitamin C that, when taken in excess, can cause diarrhea, so low doses might be the key; or chlorophyll which is promoted to help problems with constipation. Prior to considering magnesium supplements, perhaps natural dietary sources such as green leafy vegetables, peas, nuts and more might be just what the doctor ordered without the assistance of a supplement.
Readers who would like related information can order my Health Report “Constipation and Diarrhea” by sending a self-addressed, stamped number 10 envelope and a $2 US check or money order to Dr. Peter Gott, PO Box 433, Lakeville, CT 06039. Be sure to mention the title when writing or print out an order form from my website www.AskDrGottMD.com.