Let’s face it; Constipation is plain annoying. Even more annoying is how prevalent it is and how frequently it occurs. Constipation is one of the most reported digestive issues in the US. Also an estimated 14% of adults in the UK have experienced this condition at least once. 1 2
But what exactly is Constipation? Constipation refers to a situation where bowel movements become difficult or less frequent. Another regular hallmark of constipation is dry and hard stool. People who suffer from constipation often feel bloated and experience abdominal pain. They also find it difficult or even impossible to pass out stool despite getting the feeling.
The average amount of bowel movements expected in a full grown adult ranges from three times daily to three times in a week. Therefore, a situation where bowel movements occur less than three times per week is a strong sign of constipation. Another common sign is a feeling that you have not completely emptied your bowels. Untreated constipation could result into haemorrhoids, rectal bleeding or even faecal impaction. Faecal impaction refers to a condition where dried and hard faeces pile up and block the rectum or anus. 3
What causes Constipation
Constipation has several causes. The condition could develop as a complication of other diseases. Some of these causative diseases include; diabetes, colon cancer, hypothyroidism and Parkinson’s disease.
Another common cause of constipation is medication. Certain drugs and supplements could result in a constipation episode. These include; opioids, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, calcium channel blockers and iron supplements. From research, 90% of people on opioids often experience constipation.
Other causes of constipation include inadequate fluid intake, low fibre intake, a sedentary lifestyle, old age, fatty foods, processed foods and body changes such as pregnancy. 4
An intriguing cause of constipation is voluntarily ignoring the urge to pass stool. This action is commonly caused by factors like location, occupational duties, fear or sheer laziness. Regularly withholding stool is one of the most common causes of constipation.
How to treat Constipation
Now that we know the causes, let’s go through the methods of treating constipation. It is important to start treating constipation early so as to prevent further damage to the colon.
Mild constipation can be easily treated by changes in your diet. First, take in more fluids. Go for fruit juices or just water and ensure you took a lot before and after your meals.
Also, increase your fibre intake. The recommended daily intake of fibre is between 25 to 35 grams and natural fibre sources are vegetables, grains and fruits. Base your meals on these foods and in a few days, you should experience improved bowel movements. Eating right will not just help your bowels, it will also improve your general body health. This will prevent any reoccurrence of the condition and heal any damage it might have done.
Regular exercise is yet another effective way of curing this condition. Exercise reduces the length of time taken by food when passing through the large intestine. This causes lower amounts of water to be absorbed into the body hence the stool produced is soft and easily removed. Exercise also helps your intestinal muscles contract more easily which helps the stool move quicker. Abolishing the habit of ignoring the urge to pass stool is also very important. Always respond to this important call of nature as soon as possible.
In certain cases, however, these simple solutions are not able to cause the desired improvement in bowel movements. This condition is called chronic constipation and in this case, the use of laxatives is the preferred course of action. A laxative is a substance which helps loosen stools and improve the movement of the bowels. Laxatives are developed specifically to treat constipation. Examples include; polyethylene glycol, castor oil, sodium phosphate, magnesium citrate and milk of magnesia. 5
How much Magnesium should I take for constipation
In this article, we will be focusing on magnesium as a laxative. Magnesium is an essential body mineral which is important to over 300 enzymes in the body. The mineral helps keep the skeletal and muscular systems healthy and it’s crucial to the body’s energy production process. Magnesium is also very important for cardiovascular health and it serves as a regulator for blood sugar. Proper levels of body magnesium has been proved to lower the risk of developing conditions like kidney stones, migraines, osteoporosis and yes; constipation. Some natural sources of Magnesium are green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole grains food like wheat bread. The recommended daily values of magnesium consumption, given by the National Institutes of Health, are 400 – 420 mg for adult males and 310 – 320 mg for adult females.
Certain magnesium compounds are well-known laxatives. Prominent among them are magnesium citrate, magnesium oxide and milk of magnesia (magnesium hydroxide). Among these magnesium supplements, magnesium citrate is the most effective laxative on the market. This is because magnesium citrate is better absorbed by the body when compared to the other forms of magnesium. 6
Magnesium supplements cure constipation via an osmotic process. When ingested, these supplements stimulate the absorption of water into the intestines. This helps soften hard stools and to clear the rectum and anus resulting in improved bowel motility. Of these supplements available, magnesium citrate requires the least time to act as its effect is felt within 30 minutes to 3 hours. Magnesium supplements also help cure indigestion and they serve as antacids. An antacid is a substance that alleviates pains caused by heartburn or acid reflux. 7
Keep risks in mind
Despite their effectiveness at curing constipation, magnesium supplements could be very dangerous when taken in excess. Excessive use of magnesium could result in serious complication such as nausea, diarrhoea, arrhythmic heartbeat, dizziness, breathing problems, fainting and even death. 8
Therefore, it is important to know the right amounts of magnesium to take. This is in order to achieve maximum constipation relief while avoiding the dangers of overuse.
Magnesium Citrate recommended dosage
For magnesium citrate, it could be helpful to take the supplement on an empty stomach. The supplement majorly comes in liquid form and the recommended dosage for an adult is 240 mL/day. Children aged 6 to 12 years should take a dose of 50 to 100 mL/day. Children aged 2 to 6 years should be placed on 4 to 12 mL of the supplement. 9
Magnesium Oxide recommended dosage
For magnesium oxide which is commonly in caplet forms, the recommended daily dosage for children (> 12 years) and adults is between 1000 to 2000 mg. These caplets should be taken with a generous amount of fluid. 10
Magnesium Hydroxide recommended dosage
Milk of magnesia is produced in the suspension and tablet forms. For tablets, the recommended dosage is 8 tablets/day (400mg/tablet). For the 800mg/5mL suspension, 15 – 30 mL/day is the recommended amount. 11
It is important to note that all magnesium supplementation should be put on hold once the constipation has been cured. Also supplementation should be stopped if adverse side effects such as chest pain, breathing problems, vomiting or fainting are experienced.
Lifestyle and dietary changes are very effective in curing constipation. However, they could be ineffective in curing the more chronic occurrences. In these cases, magnesium supplements are the easiest and immediate most effective options. Nevertheless, these supplements need to be taken with caution as excessive use could be harmful.