By Dr. Mercola
Constipation is a common digestive problem that can affect anyone. In the United States alone, it’s estimated that 4.4 million people, or 1.62 percent of the population, are currently affected with this condition at any given time. Women, children and adults over the age of 65 years are prone to experiencing this problem. Pregnancy can cause constipation as well, and it’s actually a common occurrence after childbirth.1
To treat constipation, people often reach for laxatives to help them pass their bowels until they become regular. However, dependence on laxatives can lead to abuse,2 which can result in life-threatening situations that can affect your renal and cardiovascular systems.3
If you’re currently suffering from constipation, I believe it’s far safer and healthier to treat it through dietary and lifestyle changes. Relying on a laxative can have a negative effect on your health, and you may become so dependent that you may not be able to pass bowels without reaching for it.
How to Treat Constipation Naturally
Constipation is often marked by having difficulties of passing bowels, as well as an irregular schedule. It can recur from time to time, which can lead to complications such as hemorrhoids and anal fissures particularly if long-term changes are not made. Common causes of constipation include:4
Lack of exercise
Certain health conditions such as diabetes and pregnancy
Issues with your pelvic muscles
Blockages in your colon or rectum
Side effects of taking certain medications
To help remedy your digestive issues, I strongly recommend removing processed, unhealthy foods from your diet and replacing them with foods rich in insoluble fiber. The fiber does not digest in your stomach, which helps your stools bulk and move quicker through your digestive tract. You can also benefit from soluble fiber, which helps you feel full longer, helping you maintain weight.
To increase your fiber intake, I recommend eating a combination of vegetables, fruits and seeds to keep you palate satisfied. The table below is a good starting point:
Lastly, be sure to hydrate yourself by drinking clean, filtered water. Dehydration causes your stools to harden, which is a classic symptom of constipation. The recommended intake varies from person to person, but a good reference point to know you’re properly hydrated is when your urine has a slightly yellow color.
However, if you’ve tried changing your diet and you’re still suffering from chronic constipation, a magnesium citrate supplement may help remedy your current situation.
What Is Magnesium Citrate?
Magnesium citrate is essentially a combination of magnesium and citric acid. The former is composed of positively charged atoms, while negatively charged atoms comprise the latter.
Once the product dissolves in your stomach, it causes an osmotic effect, increasing the concentration of the solutes inside the intestines higher than the ones outside the surrounding tissue. This causes water to enter the intestines and become absorbed by the stools, making it easier to pass bowels once they are ready to be eliminated.5
How Magnesium Citrate Is Used
In low doses, magnesium citrate is mainly used as a laxative to help treat constipation, especially when dietary and behavioral changes have not been effective. Higher doses are only used to completely clean the bowels for medical reasons, such as for a colonoscopy, so doctors can look for possible diseases.6,7
Depending on the product you purchased, magnesium citrate can cause a movement anywhere within 30 minutes to three hours after intake.8 Be sure to plan ahead when taking it so the effects will not occur at an inconvenient time. You don’t want to feel a rumble in your stomach while you’re still on your way home from work or school!
The Potential Benefits of Magnesium Citrate
Some studies have been conducted regarding the use of magnesium citrate and how it can benefit your health. In a study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, researchers noted that an oral magnesium citrate is more effective at cleaning the colon compared to castor oil to help facilitate a better colonoscopy.9
Evidence also suggests that magnesium citrate may be a viable option to augment magnesium levels compared to other types of magnesium supplements. In a study published in the Journal of American College of Nutrition, researchers noted that magnesium citrate was more soluble and bioavailable compared to magnesium oxide.10
However, if you want to enhance your magnesium levels, take a supplement designed for this purpose only, because taking a magnesium citrate supplement regularly may cause you to go to the bathroom too often.
Magnesium citrate works by inducing a sudden rush of water into your intestines, helping induce bowel movements after a certain period of time.11 If you have gone more than three days without experiencing a bowel movement and have tried to rectify your situation by adjusting your diet and hydrating sufficiently, consider taking a magnesium citrate supplement to help alleviate your condition.12
A Few Considerations Before Using Magnesium Citrate
Before using magnesium citrate, you need to be aware if your body is allowed to ingest it in the first place. There’s a chance it may affect certain health conditions, or it may negatively interact with any medication you’re currently taking. If any of the following applies to you, I advise you not to use magnesium citrate:13
• Planning to become pregnant, already pregnant or breastfeeding
• Currently taking any prescription medication to treat a health condition
• Allergic to certain medicines and foods
• Have used magnesium citrate before and experienced allergic reactions
• Currently on a low-sodium or restricted-sodium diet
Magnesium citrate can increase the risk of developing side effects associated with medications such as aluminum salts (aluminum hydroxide) or anticoagulants (warfarin). Similarly, the effectiveness of drugs such as bisphosphonates, digoxin and tetracyclines may be reduced by magnesium citrate.14
Alcohol and magnesium citrate should not be mixed. Since both products can induce digestive discomfort, combining them can drastically raise the chance of it happening.15
If you currently have a weakened kidney due to an illness, do not take magnesium citrate. Elevated levels of magnesium can overwork your kidneys because this mineral is usually expelled through your urine. Those who have hemorrhoids or anal fissures should avoid it as well, because it can cause rectal bleeding, which can be life-threatening if not treated right away.16
The Ideal Dosage of Magnesium Citrate
According to Dr. Carolyn Dean who wrote the book “The Magnesium Miracle,” your magnesium intake depends on your age and sex. The RDA for magnesium is usually between 310 to 420 milligrams per day, but you may be able to go as high as 600 to 900 milligrams to maximize its benefits.
To know if you’ve reached the right dose, Dean recommends observing your intestinal reaction. You should start out with 200 milligrams of magnesium citrate first, then gradually increase until you develop slightly loose stools. This is a good indicator that you have optimum magnesium levels.
Various Side Effects of Magnesium Citrate
Since magnesium citrate is mainly used to treat constipation, it’s no surprise that it can produce unpleasant effects on your stomach if it does not agree with the supplement. Commonly reported issues include:17
Hypermagnesemia (high levels of magnesium in the blood)
General Dietary Sources of Magnesium
Remember that a supplement like magnesium citrate can be useful if you’re looking to alleviate constipation. But if you want to improve your magnesium levels for optimal health, then you should simply eat a varied, nutritious diet. Leafy greens typically contain good levels of magnesium, but make sure they are organic and grown in healthy soil, because it is a major factor in influencing magnesium levels in produce. Below are several options you may want to regularly add to your diet:
Fruits, vegetables and certain species of fish also contain healthy amounts of magnesium to help meet your daily requirements:
Raw Cacao Nibs
An ounce (28 grams) of raw cacao nibs contains 64 milligrams of magnesium, as well as various nutrients, antioxidants and prebiotic fiber to help optimize your health. Organic, unsweetened cocoa powder can be used as an alternative.
One medium avocado already contains 58 milligrams of magnesium, plus a healthy serving of beneficial fats, fiber and vitamins. It’s also a good source of potassium, which can help maintain sodium levels in your body.
Various Seeds and Nuts
Seeds from pumpkin, sesame and sunflower contain 48 percent, 32 percent and 28 percent of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of magnesium, respectively. As for nuts, your best options include cashews, almonds and Brazil nuts.
Wild Alaskan salmon contains high levels of magnesium. A half fillet alone can provide 13 percent (around 53 milligrams) of the RDA.
A cup of winter squash can provide 7 percent of the RDA, or 27 milligrams.
Herbs and Spices
Adding herbs and spices to your everyday meals is an easy way to up your magnesium intake and other nutrients. Magnesium-rich options include coriander, chives, cumin and mustard seeds, fennel, basil, cloves and parsley.
Other Benefits of Magnesium for Your Overall Wellbeing
Aside from helping soften your stools, magnesium plays a crucial role in several biological functions. Optimal levels of this mineral may benefit various aspects of your health, such as:18
• Heart Health
Scientific evidence strongly suggests that magnesium plays an important role in maintaining heart health due to its role as an electrolyte. An electrolyte deficiency can reduce your heart’s ability to pump blood, and your brain won’t be able to function properly.19 One complication that can arise from magnesium deficiency is arrhythmia, or an abnormal heartbeat.20
• Blood Pressure Management
Controlling your blood pressure is important, because a high pressure can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Sufficient magnesium intake may help lower these risks, according to Dr. Yiqing Song from Indiana University. He explains that magnesium dilates your arteries, which can lower blood pressure.21
• Bone Density
Magnesium works with calcium to help maintain healthy, dense bones, which is why you’ll notice that those who are deficient in this mineral have an increased risk of developing osteoporosis. Maintaining a healthy balance of magnesium, calcium, and vitamins K2 and D can help promote bone health well into your adulthood.
• Muscle Control
Magnesium plays a critical role in your muscles by helping them relax after a contracting action. Without it, your muscles will always be in a state of contraction, which can be painful and hamper athletic performance.22 Deficiency in this mineral can lead to constant cramps, muscle spasms and prolonged muscle soreness.23
• Blood Sugar Regulation
Magnesium may have a beneficial effect for people who have type 2 diabetes. It’s believed that this mineral plays a role in helping control your blood sugar levels, according to the World Journal of Diabetics.24 Furthermore, increasing your magnesium levels may help improve insulin sensitivity, according to another study.25
Other Types of Magnesium Supplements That May Benefit You
You may also be interested to know that there are other types of magnesium supplements sold on the market. That’s because this mineral must be bound to a specific substance. There’s no such thing as a 100 percent magnesium supplement, so it’s better to be aware on how each product can affect your body before you purchase the wrong one:
This supplement is a chelated form of magnesium, which tends to provide the highest levels of absorption and bioavailability. It is generally used for people who are trying to correct a mineral deficiency.
Magnesium Sulfate/Magnesium Hydroxide
Also known as milk of magnesia, magnesium sulfate/hydroxide is generally used as a laxative, similar to magnesium citrate. Be aware that you can overdose on this supplement, so only take the amount prescribed by your doctor.
Magnesium Chloride/Magnesium Lactate
Contains 12 percent magnesium only, but it has a better absorption rate compare to other magnesium supplements, such as magnesium oxide.
This supplement is a combination of magnesium and taurine, a type of amino acid that can help maintain proper electrolyte balance in your cells.26 The combination of the two can help promote a calming effect on your body and mind.
Contains 45 percent magnesium, which has antacid properties that may help relieve you from the symptoms of acid reflux, heartburn or indigestion.27
This is a newer type of magnesium supplement that looks promising due to its impressive ability to penetrate the mitochondrial membrane, resulting in higher energy levels. I personally prefer this type to augment my magnesium levels.
A non-chelated type of magnesium supplement, which is bound to an organic or a fatty acid. It typically contains 60 percent magnesium, and can help soften your stool as well.
Remember to Balance Magnesium With These Other Vitamins
If you decide to use any type of magnesium supplement, I strongly recommend increasing your intake of calcium, vitamin K2 and vitamin D through your diet to achieve well-balanced nutrient levels. Increasing magnesium alone can lead to hypermagnesemia, a condition that can cause serious side effects such as respiratory paralysis, abnormal cardiac conduction, narcosis and low blood pressure.28
Ideally, your calcium to magnesium ratio should be 1:1. If you’re lacking in this vital mineral, I suggest increasing your calcium intake first because it helps with muscle contraction, which can balance the muscle-relaxing effects of magnesium.29 Vitamin K2, on the other hand, is essential because it helps direct calcium to your bones to prevent arterial calcification. As for vitamin D, it’s an important nutrient vital to many processes, and can be obtained by simply getting sensible sun exposure daily.
Frequently Asked Questions About Magnesium Citrate
Q: How long does it take for magnesium citrate to work?
A: Depending on the product you purchased, magnesium citrate can take anywhere between 30 minutes to three hours to take effect.30
Q: When is the best time to take magnesium citrate?
A: Ideally, you want to take magnesium citrate at a time most convenient for you. Follow the instructions on the label of your supplement to help you plan ahead.31
Q: What does magnesium citrate taste like?
A: Most manufacturers of magnesium citrate drinks sell their products in different flavors to suit your taste. Common choices include cherry, lemon and grape. Capsules, on the other hand, typically don’t have a flavor as they’re swallowed immediately anyway.32
Q: How much magnesium citrate should I take?
A: It’s recommended to start with a small amount. You can begin with 200 milligrams, then gradually increase the dosage until your stools loosen. That’s the signal you’ve reached the optimal amount.