Magnesium for Digestive Health: Does It Help?

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Magnesium is an essential mineral that’s needed for a number of critical functions in the body—from muscle contraction to blood pressure regulation. It’s concentrated in many foods, including fruits, vegetables, and beans, and can also be taken in supplemental form. Maintaining healthy magnesium levels can improve your overall health, including your digestive health.

Taking magnesium may be able to help relieve constipation. It might also reduce symptoms of certain digestive conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and heartburn. However, taking too much magnesium may negatively impact your digestive health by causing diarrhea.

Here’s what you need to know about taking magnesium for digestive health.

Magnesium’s role in the health and function of the gastrointestinal system is still being investigated. Researchers believe magnesium may influence the gut-brain axis, a signaling pathway between the digestive tract and the central nervous system (which includes your brain).

Magnesium is also known to impact gut motility, which is the movement of food through the digestive system. The mineral affects gut motility by relaxing the intestines and drawing water into the intestinal tract. It is for this reason why magnesium can help improve conditions like constipation.

Additionally, preliminary research suggests that magnesium may impact the diversity of the microbiota, a term for the trillions of microorganisms that live in your gut. Studies in animals suggest that having low or deficient blood levels of magnesium can result in decreased levels of beneficial bacteria, such as Bifidobacterium species. Low levels of blood magnesium can also lead to compromised gut integrity and higher levels of inflammatory proteins.

Because of the impact it can have on your digestive system, magnesium might be able to improve your digestive health in several ways.

May Improve Certain Digestive Diseases

People with digestive disorders like IBD—which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis—and celiac disease tend to have lower magnesium levels compared to the general population. This is due to decreased absorption of magnesium in the digestive tract as well as magnesium losses through diarrhea. Because of this, magnesium supplements may be recommended for people with digestive conditions who need help maintaining healthy magnesium levels.

Research shows that people with Crohn’s disease who have lower levels of magnesium tend to have increased disease activity as well as higher rates of poor sleep quality. Low magnesium status can also worsen inflammation in the body, which can exacerbate symptoms of inflammatory conditions like IBD. Therefore, magnesium supplementation may help improve symptoms and overall disease activity in people with IBD. However, more research is needed to say for certain.

May Calm Heartburn and Indigestion

Magnesium-based medications are commonly used to treat digestion-related discomfort from heartburn and indigestion (dyspepsia).

Heartburn is a painful burning feeling in your chest or throat you can experience when stomach acid goes up your esophagus. Magnesium can provide relief from heartburn by neutralizing excess stomach acid. This is why magnesium is a key ingredient in antacid products, such as Pepcid (famotidine).

Indigestion is discomfort in the upper abdomen you can get for a variety of reasons, including eating too quickly. Magnesium supplements, such as magnesium oxide, have been shown to benefit people with functional dyspepsia, also known as chronic indigestion.

While older, a 2011 study found that daily treatment with a product that contained a combination of a medication called simethicone, plus activated charcoal and magnesium oxide, for one month was effective for reducing the intensity of dyspepsia symptoms, such as post-meal fullness, bloating, and stomach pain compared to the placebo group. However, it’s unclear if magnesium oxide would have the same effect when used on its own.

Magnesium supplements are commonly used to treat constipation, a common condition characterized by infrequent bowel movements, hard poop, frequent straining, and a sensation of incomplete emptying. 

Magnesium supplements, such as magnesium oxide, are effective for relieving symptoms of constipation. Magnesium oxide is an osmotic laxative, meaning it helps relieve constipation by drawing water into the intestines. This increases the water content and volume of your stool, which stimulates the bowels and makes it easier to have a bowel movement.

Magnesium oxide is considered a safe and effective short-term treatment for constipation in adults and children. In fact, magnesium oxide has been shown to be just as effective as the herbal laxative senna for relieving constipation. A small 2021 study that included 90 people with chronic constipation found that daily treatment with 1.5 grams of magnesium oxide for 28 days was as effective as daily treatment with 1 gram of senna for improving the frequency of spontaneous bowel movements and participant-reported quality of life.

Although magnesium oxide is the most studied form of magnesium in the treatment of constipation, other types of magnesium, such as magnesium sulfate and magnesium citrate, may also be effective.

While magnesium can help treat constipation, it is not effective against diarrhea. In fact, diarrhea is actually a main side effect of magnesium—especially when you take too much of the supplement.

Magnesium carbonate, magnesium chloride, magnesium gluconate, and magnesium oxide are forms of magnesium that can particularly cause diarrhea. Magnesium salts like these can cause diarrhea because of unabsorbed salts sitting in the intestines and the stimulation of food passage through the intestines.

Keep in mind only magnesium supplements and magnesium-containing medications can cause this digestive effect. Accidentally taking in too much magnesium from your food is usually fine since your kidneys can get rid of any excess magnesium through your urine.

Magnesium needs vary depending on sex and age. Here are the current daily recommendations for magnesium intake. Keep in mind that these recommendations refer to total dietary magnesium intake, including magnesium from food and magnesium from dietary supplements:

Age Male Female During Pregnancy
Birth to 6 months  30 milligrams (mg) 30 mg
7–12 months 75 mg 75 mg
1–3 years 80 mg 80 mg
4–8 years 130 mg 130 mg
9–13 years 240 mg 240 mg
14–18 years 310 mg 360 mg 400 mg
19–30 years 400 mg 310 mg 350 mg
31–50 years 420 mg 320 mg 360 mg
51+ years 420 mg 320 mg

Modern-day diets are often too low in magnesium to support healthy blood levels. In fact, research shows more than half of Americans fall short of meeting their daily magnesium needs.

While increasing dietary sources of magnesium, such as fruits, vegetables, and beans, can help increase magnesium intake, some people, including those with digestive conditions like IBD, may require magnesium supplements. Magnesium supplements contain different forms of magnesium in varying doses. Because there are so many choices when it comes to magnesium supplements, it’s best to consult a healthcare provider to learn which form and dose is most appropriate for your specific health needs.  

Consider that the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL)—or the maximum daily intake of a nutrient unlikely to cause harm—is currently set at 350 mg per day. The UL only applies to supplemental magnesium.

While the UL is set at 350 mg per day, research shows higher doses of magnesium are safe and effective in treating certain health conditions, such as constipation. For instance, magnesium dosing for constipation varies, but most studies investigating the effects of magnesium oxide supplements for constipation have used 1-2 grams per day—or 1,000 mg-2,000 mg—taken in divided doses.

While doses of magnesium above the UL can be safely consumed, you generally shouldn’t exceed the UL unless recommended by a healthcare provider.

There are several forms of magnesium from which to choose, including magnesium oxide, magnesium citrate, and magnesium glycinate. 

Some types of magnesium are more appropriate for certain health conditions. For example, magnesium oxide is effective for relieving symptoms of constipation, but may exacerbate other digestive conditions, like diarrhea. 

Additionally, some forms of magnesium are better absorbed by the body than others, making them a better choice for supporting overall magnesium status. Magnesium citrate, magnesium glycinate, magnesium acetyl taurate, and magnesium malate is better absorbed by the intended target compared to other forms of magnesium, such as magnesium oxide and magnesium sulfate. 

If you’re unsure which form of magnesium makes the most sense for your health needs or need dosing recommendations, consult your healthcare provider for advice.

Magnesium is found in foods like leafy greens, seeds, and beans.

Some of the best dietary sources of magnesium include:

  • Spinach: 156 mg per cooked cup, or 37% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Pumpkin seeds: 156 mg per ounce, or 37% of the DV
  • Swiss chard: 150 mg per cooked cup, or 36% of the DV
  • Dark chocolate: 129 mg per 2-ounce serving, or 31% of the DV 
  • Chia seeds: 111 mg per ounce, or 29% of the DV
  • Edamame: 100 mg per cup or 24% of the DV
  • Black beans: 120 mg per cup, or 28% of the DV
  • Brown rice: 84 mg or 20% of the DV
  • Almonds: 80 mg per ounce, or 19% of the DV
  • Cashews: 74 mg, or 18% of the DV

Magnesium is found in a variety of plant foods, so the best way to support healthy magnesium levels is to consume a varied diet high in nutrient-dense foods, especially vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans. 

If you want to increase your magnesium intake, adding more magnesium-rich foods to your diet can help. 

Here are a few helpful tips for increasing your magnesium intake:

  • Add leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard to salads, soups, and grain dishes.
  • Swap out animal-based proteins for magnesium-rich beans and lentils.
  • Enjoy nuts and seeds as a nutrient-dense snack.
  • Satisfy your chocolate cravings with magnesium-rich hot cocoa sweetened with monk fruit.
  • Make delicious, plant-based soups and chili using black beans, chickpeas, and lentils.

In addition to magnesium, these foods contain other ingredients that help support digestive health, such as fiber, which promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract and helps keep your bowel movements regular and comfortable. 

While magnesium supplements are generally considered safe and are usually well-tolerated, they can cause adverse side effects, including digestive symptoms.

For example, certain forms of magnesium, including magnesium oxide and magnesium chloride, are associated with side effects such as:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Mild abdominal pain

If you find your magnesium supplement is causing you digestive distress, you may need to change your dose or try a different, more absorbable form of magnesium. 

Taking too much magnesium can also cause side effects. While magnesium oxide is safe for most people, taking high doses of it can lead to high blood levels of magnesium in susceptible populations, such as those with kidney disease. This can be dangerous and even fatal in some situations. For this reason, high doses of magnesium oxide should only be taken under a healthcare provider’s supervision.

Certain people are more susceptible to developing high magnesium levels when taking magnesium supplements. For example, older adults with bowel conditions and people with kidney disease are at risk for developing high blood levels of magnesium when taking high-dose magnesium supplements.

Additionally, people taking certain medications, such as blood pressure and blood sugar-lowering medications should speak with their healthcare provider before taking magnesium supplements as magnesium may increase their effects. 

In addition to supporting optimal magnesium status, there are many other ways to support and protect the health of the gastrointestinal system. 

Following a high-fiber diet, managing stress, eating around the same time each day, and taking probiotics are just some ways to promote digestive health. 

If you’re currently experiencing gastrointestinal issues like constipation, diarrhea, or stomach pain, consider making an appointment with your healthcare provider. They can rule out underlying digestive conditions and provide you with more evidence-based ways to improve your gut health. 

Magnesium plays an essential role in health, including digestive health. The mineral may benefit people with digestive conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and constipation. 

Magnesium supplements in particular may ease symptoms of constipation and reduce disease activity in people with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Magnesium can also help relieve heartburn and indigestion. However, if you take too much of the supplement, you may get diarrhea.

Although magnesium is found in a number of foods, some people, such as those with certain digestive diseases, may require supplementation in order to maintain optimal magnesium status. If you’re interested in taking magnesium to improve digestive health, it’s best to work with a healthcare provider who can help you choose an effective and safe form of magnesium best suited for your specific health needs.

Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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