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Does Magnesium Cause Diarrhea? – Yes, It Sure Does!

Magnesium is one of the seven essential nutrients that the body needs in large amounts to function and remain in good health. Although most people are aware of the benefits of certain vitamins and other supplements, magnesium is often overlooked as an important nutrient. However, a magnesium deficiency can cause real health issues, so it’s worth thinking about. But does magnesium cause diarrhea? Find out as you read on.

Magnesium: Background Info

Magnesium was first discovered in 1808 by Sir Humphry Davy, an English chemist, through the electrolysis of a mixture of mercuric oxide and magnesium oxide. It was named after Magnesia, a district of Thessaly in Greece where compounds of magnesium have been found. Nowadays, magnesium can be derived primarily from seawater but also from the minerals carnallite and dolomite.

In the human body, magnesium is the 11th most abundant element by mass and is an essential component of over 300 enzymes involved in processes that help regulate numerous bodily functions. Around 60% of the magnesium in your body is found in the bones while the rest is in the soft tissues, muscles, blood, and other fluids.

Here are some of the many health benefits that magnesium provides:

  • Supports muscle and nerve function
  • Boosts exercise performance
  • Promotes heart health
  • Helps with digestion and converts food into energy
  • Creates new proteins from amino acids
  • Regulates blood sugar levels
  • Prevents migraine attacks
  • Has anti-inflammatory properties
  • Supports bone development
  • Creates and repairs DNA and RNA
  • Helps combat anxiety and depression
  • Improves sleep quality

The National Institutes of Health declares the recommended daily amount of magnesium intake for adult females at 320 to 360 milligrams and 410 to 420 milligrams for adult males. However, many Americans do not get sufficient magnesium in their diet.

Fortunately, eating a few servings of magnesium-rich foods a day can help you meet your needs for this important nutrient. Some of the foods that are high in magnesium include:

  • Tofu
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Dark chocolate
  • Nuts (like almonds, cashews, and Brazil nuts)
  • Seeds (like pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and flax seeds)
  • Legumes (like chickpeas, soybeans, and peanuts)
  • Whole grains (like wheat, barley, and oats)
  • Fatty Fish (like mackerel, salmon, and halibut)
  • Leafy Greens (like kale, spinach, and broccoli)
  • Fruits (like bananas, avocados, and blackberries)

It’s a good idea to start by getting more magnesium from your diet. After all, magnesium-rich foods provide additional nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Consuming large amounts of magnesium through foods may not be enough to cause side effects since your body is able to get rid of excess natural magnesium through urination.

But if you feel that diet alone is not enough to provide you with the required amount of magnesium, work with your doctor so he can consider your specific health concerns and recommend the most appropriate supplement for you.

Magnesium is available to be taken orally in powder, capsule, or liquid form. They have different absorption rates and are used to treat different ailments. Here are some of the best magnesium supplements to take:

  • Magnesium sulfate – Also called ‘Epsom salt’ and is used as a soak to relax muscles
  • Magnesium lactate – For heartburn, indigestion, or stomach upset
  • Magnesium citrate – Has a laxative effect for constipation issues and is used to prepare for a colonoscopy
  • Magnesium oxide – Also used to treat constipation
  • Magnesium glycinate – For muscle cramps and sleep difficulties
  • Magnesium threonate – For stress, mood, or sleep issues

If your digestive system cannot tolerate oral magnesium supplements, you can use injectables or apply topical oils or creams that can be absorbed through the skin.

Does Magnesium Cause Diarrhea?

Magnesium is a major mineral because your body needs higher amounts of it compared to trace minerals like iron or zinc. Too much magnesium in the diet should not be a problem for healthy adults but taking supplements is a different matter. Does magnesium cause diarrhea?

Ohio-based internal medicine specialist Dana Habash-Bseiso, MD, says, “Too much magnesium can lead to nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal cramping.” But she also adds, “To overdose on magnesium, you would have to be taking very high amounts. Deficiency is much more common than toxicity.”

Magnesium is poorly absorbed orally and a lot of it often passes through the intestines, causing diarrhea. The more magnesium you consume, the more likely you are to have diarrhea. So you need to cut back on your magnesium intake in order to reduce or resolve diarrhea.

Moreover, magnesium in supplements can interact with certain types of antibiotics and other medications. Consult with your doctor or pharmacist if you are planning to take a magnesium supplement, especially if you regularly use antacids or laxatives that contain magnesium.

Some people use magnesium sulfate as a laxative because it attracts water into the intestines. Results can be felt in as fast as 30 minutes up to 3 hours. However, this should only be done with a doctor’s supervision.

Magnesium lactate is often recommended to treat digestive issues but it should always be taken with food to avoid side effects like diarrhea. People with a heart or kidney condition should only take this form of the mineral with the doctor’s advice.

Another complication, which rarely happens but still needs to be considered because it can be life-threatening, is magnesium toxicity. People with poor kidney function are at high risk for this due to their kidney’s inability to remove excess magnesium from the body. Magnesium toxicity can lead to breathing difficulties, irregular heart rate, and even cardiac arrest.

Effects Of Low Magnesium Levels

Your body does not produce enough magnesium on its own, so you must make up for the lack either from the food you eat or by taking dietary supplements. Magnesium deficiency is common in the US, affecting approximately 50% of adults. However, it is more prevalent among women and older adults.

Unfortunately, magnesium is often overlooked as an important nutrient but it should be considered since a lot of health problems can occur due to magnesium deficiency. Here are the signs of low magnesium levels:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shaking
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle spasms
  • Sleepiness
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Personality changes
  • Seizures

The symptoms mentioned above are non-specific and may be indicative of various medical disorders aside from magnesium deficiency so it is important to get the proper evaluation. Magnesium deficiency can be caused by a poor diet, digestive problems, long-term diuretic use, kidney problems, alcoholism, and certain medications.

When you have low magnesium levels, it seldom manifests in the form of symptoms. Often, these signs only become apparent when your levels have become severely low. However, chronically low levels can heighten the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, migraine headaches, and type 2 diabetes.

The Bottomline

Ideally, a well-balanced healthy diet is enough to ensure that our nutritional needs are met. Getting enough magnesium from food alone may require intensive meal planning but it can be done.

Supplements can be an easy way to increase your magnesium intake, but you should always consult your doctor before taking over-the-counter supplements. You have to ensure that there will be no contraindications or drug interference from medications that you are already taking. Does magnesium cause diarrhea? Yes, it does, but it seems to be a small price to pay compared to the hazards of being deficient in magnesium.

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Coreen Tan-Tambasen


A Mass Communications graduate as well as a registered nurse in the Philippines, Coreen has been a freelance writer since 2015. Most of her writing projects are in the health and medical niche, and she is committed to sharing interesting articles about digestion and gut health that can be applied to everyday life.

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