Magnesium is involved in hundreds of different enzyme processes in the body, including ones that are important for our digestion. Magnesium is found in various compounds, and it has been known for a long time that magnesium oxide has a laxative effect. Because this particular magnesium compound only works locally in the intestine, it is difficult for the body to absorb it and is therefore not suited for supplementation if you want to correct a magnesium deficiency. In this article, we will look closer at dietary magnesium, the absorbability of different magnesium compounds, and magnesium’s role in our digestion and nervous system, which are closely related. We will also look at other symptoms that may be caused by a magnesium deficiency.
Our digestion is vital for our health and well-being. Most people have a bowel movement in the morning and perhaps again later in the afternoon. In the case of hidden constipation (fecal retention), people have normal bowel movements but with incomplete emptying of the bowel. This may result in abdominal pain, gas, and a frequent urge to go to the bathroom.
Around 15 percent of the population is believed to suffer from constipation, and that also includes problems like irritable bowel – a condition that is becoming increasingly common.
Constipation is a disturbance in the function of the large intestine or the rectum. There is also a risk of toxins being absorbed from the blood in the large intestine. This is why constipation can lead to a host of different physiological and mental symptoms.
The most common reasons why people are constipated are stress (especially in the morning when they normally need to empty their bowels), lack of exercise, lack of fluid, too little dietary fiber, imbalances of the gut flora, food intolerance, local inflammation, too much calcium, jet lag, iron tablet therapy, and the use of morphine preparations. Lack of magnesium is also a common cause.
Magnesium’s role in the digestion and nervous system
Magnesium is involved in over 300 different enzyme processes that are important for our nervous system, stress tolerance, muscles, relaxation, fluid balance, calcium interaction, and vitamin D utilization. All of these functions have direct or indirect importance for our digestion. Stress leads blood from the intestines to the brain and muscles to fuel the primeval “fight-or-flight reaction” that prepares us to either stay and fight or run away – rather than to digest our food and empty our bowel. Stress can also result in tension, and if the intestinal sphincters are all tight, the intestinal content has difficulty with passing. Combined with a disturbed fluid balance, this may result in hard and pebble-like fecal matter.
Moreover, if there is too little magnesium to activate vitamin D, it may affect the gut flora, immune defense, and inflammatory control mechanisms.
Magnesium is one of the minerals that we need in the greatest quantities. It is primarily found in a coarse and green diet that includes whole grains, oats, kernels, seeds, almonds, nuts, avocado, broccoli and other types of cabbage, beans, and quinoa. It is important to get plenty of dietary magnesium because magnesium-rich foods also contain fiber that stimulates the intestinal peristalsis. Also make sure to get plenty of fluid that helps give the fecal matter a normal consistency.
- Common symptoms of being magnesium-deficient
- Tension and inner unrest
- Muscle cramps
- Sleep disturbances
- Neurological disturbances
- Poor immune health
Magnesium supplements and their absorbability
Magnesium oxide is an inorganic magnesium compound that has been used as a laxative for decades. Magnesium oxide works by absorbing fluids and softening the fecal matter to help it pass more easily.
Numerous studies have shown that magnesium oxide has a positive effect on different types of constipation. The same goes for magnesium hydroxide, another inorganic magnesium compound.
It is difficult for the body to absorb magnesium oxide, which is why this magnesium source is not suited for supplementation to correct a magnesium deficiency. It is much easier for the body to absorb other magnesium compounds such as magnesium carbonate, magnesium acetate, and magnesium citrate.
There are also supplements that combine different magnesium sources. They work locally in the intestine and help improve the digestion at the same time as being absorbable. That way, they can be used to correct a magnesium deficiency and any symptoms caused by too little magnesium.
The actual uptake of magnesium in the body requires sufficient stomach acid to help ionize the different magnesium compounds.
It’s important in any case to use magnesium supplements that have the right quality. Otherwise, the magnesium will pass through the digestive system without being absorbed. You can make a simple test by placing a magnesium tablet in a glass of water. Wait a few minutes and see if it dissolves. If it does, you have more of a guarantee that the tablet dissolves in the stomach. Some preparations are made with a blend of different magnesium compounds, half of which are ionized through contact with water alone. That is a great advantage for people with low stomach acid.
- Good advice if you are constipated
- Eat a coarse and green diet that is rich in fiber
- Avoid refined foods such as white bread and sugar
- Avoid oxidized and scorched fats
- Drink plenty of liquids
- Exercise at least 30 minutes daily
- Get plenty of sleep
- Allow enough time in the morning to have a proper bowel movement
- Go to the toilet when you feel the need
- Take a magnesium supplement
- Avoid magnesium oxide if you have any magnesium deficiency symptoms
Terry O´Neil. Magnesium for Constipation. Michigan Medicine, University of Michigan. 2021
Amy Richter. Does Magnesium Treat Symptoms and IBS? Healthline.com. 2021
Hideki Mori et al. Magnesium Oxide in Constipation. Nutrients 2021
Shi, Sheng-Mei MB et al. Effectiveness of vitamin D for irritable bowel syndrome. Medicine 2019
Role of magnesium in Vitamin D Activation and Function. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. March 2018
Frida - Parametre (fooddata.dk)
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