Medical News Today: Does magnesium citrate work for constipation?

Constipation is a widespread issue, and most people experience it at some point in their lives. Many people use magnesium products, including magnesium citrate, to treat this uncomfortable condition.

Before taking magnesium citrate, it is essential that a person understands how it works, its side effects, and how it interacts with other substances.

There are times when magnesium citrate may not be the best option for treating constipation, and choosing other alternatives may help avoid any complications.

Causes of constipation

Magnesium citrate is an ingredient in some laxatives.
Magnesium citrate is an ingredient in some laxatives.

Constipation is when a person has fewer than three bowel movements a week. Stools are usually hard, dry, or lumpy, and may be difficult or painful to pass.

In many cases, addressing the underlying cause for constipation may reduce the need for medications, including magnesium citrate. These include a low fiber diet, immobility, dehydration, or medical conditions.


How does magnesium citrate work for constipation?

Compounds such as magnesium citrate work by pulling water into the intestines. This water combines with the dry stool, making it easier to pass. Medications that work in this way are called osmotic laxatives.

When used correctly, many people find that magnesium citrate is a simple solution to occasional constipation.


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Is magnesium citrate safe to use?

Magnesium citrate is generally safe for adults who do not have any health issues, and who only use it from time to time.

Because magnesium citrate pulls water into the intestines from other areas in the body, people using it should drink plenty of water with it. They should also drink additional fluids throughout the day to prevent dehydration.

Magnesium is not a good choice for treating chronic constipation or constipation that requires ongoing treatment. Using it too often can lead to excessive dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.

Doctors often use higher doses of magnesium citrate as colon cleansers before surgery. The compound can have a powerful effect if a person takes too much. It is essential to read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully whenever taking magnesium citrate.


Side effects

Magnesium citrate may cause stomach cramps.
Magnesium citrate may cause stomach cramps.

Magnesium citrate may help treat constipation, but it might also cause a few side effects. Typical side effects from using magnesium citrate include:

  • stomach cramps or a bubbling feeling in the stomach
  • intestinal gas
  • nausea or vomiting
  • high magnesium levels
  • changes in other electrolytes in the blood, such as sodium, calcium, or potassium

When the stool does come out of the colon, there is also a chance it will be loose or watery. Diarrhea is common after taking magnesium citrate. These side effects are usually mild and do not pose a serious risk to otherwise healthy people.

Drinking alcohol along with magnesium citrate may make diarrhea and other intestinal side effects worse.

Who should avoid magnesium citrate?

Magnesium citrate may interact with drugs, including specific antibiotics and medications that doctors prescribe to lower calcium concentration in the urine, such as potassium or sodium phosphate.

People on low-sodium or restricted-sodium diets should also avoid magnesium citrate.

Magnesium citrate can also decrease the body’s ability to absorb some medications. People taking any medication should speak to their doctor before using magnesium citrate.

People should not use magnesium citrate if they have rectal bleeding.

People who have had certain procedures or have specific medical issues should also avoid magnesium citrate. Examples include:

  • obstructions in the colon or stomach
  • heart conditions or damaged heart muscles
  • major kidney disorders
  • high magnesium or potassium levels
  • low calcium levels

People with a medical condition should talk with their doctor before using magnesium citrate to make sure it is safe to use.

Magnesium is safe to use for minor or occasional cases of constipation. It is not for long-term use. Anyone experiencing chronic, long-lasting episodes of constipation should avoid magnesium citrate.

Using magnesium citrate regularly may cause the body to become dependent on it, making it difficult for a person to pass stools without using laxatives. Anyone with chronic constipation should talk to their doctor to find long-term solutions for their symptoms.


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Dosages of magnesium citrate

Magnesium citrate is an active ingredient in many branded over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives. Liquid oral solutions without any other active ingredients may be best for treating constipation.

Dosages vary based on the brand or concentration of magnesium citrate in the bottle. Always follow the dosage and read the instructions on the label carefully.

It is essential to mix the solution with water and drink additional water when taking magnesium citrate. Mix the dose with at least 4 to 8 ounces of water, and drink a few extra glasses of water throughout the day. This may help replenish any fluids the body loses through the stool.

Very high dosages of magnesium can cause magnesium toxicity, so always use as directed.

Always consult a doctor before giving magnesium citrate or any other laxative to children. Pregnant or nursing mothers should talk to their doctor or pharmacist about the correct dosage. Doctors may recommend other medications or supplements to help with symptoms.

People can find magnesium citrate medications in drugstores or online.

Alternatives to magnesium citrate

Apart from using magnesium citrate to relieve constipation, people can try:

Using magnesium hydroxide

Magnesium hydroxide is an ingredient in OTC products, such as Milk of Magnesia. It also draws water into the intestines to help soften stool and encourage a bowel movement.

People also use magnesium hydroxide to reduce stomach acid and treat other digestive symptoms, such as heartburn or an upset stomach.

Drinking Epsom salt

Also known as magnesium sulfate, people often use as Epsom salt to treat constipation.

Like the other forms of magnesium, drinking dissolved Epsom salt draws water into the intestines, softening the stool.

Increasing fiber intake

Increasing fiber intake may help to treat constipation.
Increasing fiber intake may help to treat constipation.

People who are unable to take magnesium due to a medical condition or intolerance can try soluble fiber. Soluble fiber adds bulk to the stool, helping it get through the intestines.

People can choose from a variety of OTC fiber supplements, many of which contain fiber from plant sources, such as psyllium husk, glucomannan, or wheat germ.

People who experience occasional constipation can often improve their symptoms by increasing the amount of fiber they eat. Healthful sources of fiber include:

  • whole-grain cereals and pasta
  • fruits and vegetables
  • beans and pulses
  • prunes

Other methods

People can also try the following methods to relieve constipation:

  • polyethylene glycol (Miralax)
  • lactulose
  • bisacodyl (Dulcolax)
  • Senna


Preventing constipation

While magnesium citrate may be an efficient way to relieve constipation quickly, it is not a long-term solution. Taking steps to prevent constipation from developing may be the best way to avoid future symptoms and reduce the need for remedies, such as magnesium citrate.

Some tips to help prevent constipation naturally include:

  • eating a diet rich in whole, natural foods, including a variety of fruit and vegetables
  • adding more fiber to the diet, whether through food or natural fiber supplements
  • drinking lots of water throughout the day to avoid dehydration that can lead to constipation
  • exercising regularly to keep the bowels moving


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Outlook

Most people will experience constipation from time to time, and it does not usually cause concern. It is generally okay to take magnesium citrate for occasional constipation, and it typically works quickly.

However, people should never use magnesium citrate to treat chronic constipation. People with frequent constipation should talk with their doctor.

Anyone experiencing side effects from magnesium citrate, or who finds that it does not work for them, should contact their doctor to talk about alternative treatments.

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