Skip to main content

Remember magnesium for a healthy digestion

- and for the utilization of other nutrients

Remember magnesium for a healthy digestionA healthy and regular digestion requires magnesium, a nutrient with several different mechanisms of action. Irritable bowel syndrome and constipation, both of which impair quality of life, are linked different conditions such as headache, bad mood, eczema, and aching joints. It is therefore essential to address such digestive disorders. In this article, we will take a closer look at magnesium and its role in a healthy digestive system as well as why magnesium deficiencies are so common.

Magnesium is important for our muscles, nervous system, bones, and a number of related functions. A magnesium deficiency can easily affect the digestion, simply because the intestinal system consists of muscle tissue, and because there is a rather extensive supply of nerves to the intestines. In fact, irritable bowel syndrome is believed to be a result of impaired communication between the brain and intestines, also known as the gut-brain-axis. The reason why many people are unable to feel an improvement from lactic acid bacteria, fiber, and water is because their symptoms are rooted in the nervous system.

Magnesium’s role in enzyme processes and energy turnover

Magnesium is involved in over 300 different enzyme processes, several of which are relevant for the digestion. It activates enzymes that are important for the body’s uptake of fat, protein and carbohydrate. Magnesium activates ATP (adenosine triphosphate), a molecule that delivers energy to a number of cellular functions. The nutrient has a key role in the body’s ability to produce energy. Without magnesium, we would not be able to move, let alone survive.
Magnesium is also important for our ability to utilize vitamin D, calcium, potassium, and zinc. Too little magnesium may therefore affect the immune system, our bone formation, blood pressure, and a host of other functions, because other nutrients are unable to function optimally.

Magnesium’s laxative effect

Magnesium’s laxative effect is linked to the following mechanisms:

  • Magnesium causes the smooth muscle tissue in the intestines to relax – including the sphincters between the small intestine and colon and between the colon and the rectum
  • When the intestinal sphincters are relaxed, food as well as stool are able to pass through the digestive tract without blockages caused by muscle tension
  • Magnesium attracts water in the large intestine. This softens the stool and helps the intestinal peristalsis move the matter forward. It is therefore essential to get enough magnesium and liquid.

Stress triggers constipation and irritable bowel

15-30 percent of the Danish population suffers from constipation and digestive irregularity. Stress is often a contributing factor. To begin with, stress in itself can deplete the body’s magnesium levels. But stress is also an ancient “fight-or-flight-reaction”, where the brain and muscles are instantly supplied with huge amounts of blood from the digestive tract to help these tissues perform optimally in challenging situations. These primeval reactions, needless to say, have a negative effect on the digestive system, especially if they drag out. It is therefore vital to relax and get plenty of sleep so the digestive system is sure to get
enough blood and energy. It is also important to get enough magnesium.

Magnesium sources and official recommendations

Magnesium is found in kernels, almonds, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grain, avocado, cabbage and other vegetables, seaweed, and dark chocolate. Ordinary tap water (especially hard water) also contains magnesium. Before the industrialization, the average daily intake of magnesium from green, coarse diets was around 500 mg. Now, most people in Western societies do not even reach the recommended daily intake levels for this nutrient. This is mainly because they eat refined and unhealthy diets. Stress, stimulants, and medicine can also increase the need for magnesium.

Things that may cause a magnesium deficiency

  • Stress
  • Unhealthy diets and prolonged periods of dieting
  • Lack of vitamin B6 (causes poor magnesium uptake in the cells)
  • Too much calcium from dairy products and calcium supplements
  • Too much phosphorous and sodium
  • Too much oxalic acid, which we get from tea, spinach, cocoa, and rhubarb
  • A large intake of alcohol and other stimulants
  • Diuretics
  • Chronic diarrhea

The quality and uptake of magnesium supplements

There are many kinds of magnesium supplements, and it is usually a good idea to look at the label and check the quality of the product.
Some magnesium supplements contain both organic and inorganic magnesium forms, which helps improve the utilization of the nutrient. Not all magnesium supplements are absorbed equally well. If the tablets pass through the digestive tract without being dissolved, they will not have an effect. An easy way to test your supplement’s ability to dissolve is to put a tablet in a glass of water. This should ideally happen within a few minutes. The faster a magnesium tablet dissolves in water, the better your guarantee that the magnesium content of the tablet is released in the small intestine.
Magnesium carbonate and magnesium acetate are magnesium compounds with good absorption. Magnesium oxide, which is found in many different supplements and in Magnesia (a laxative), is not absorbed very well but has a local effect in the intestine. It is best to take a magnesium supplement in the evening, as it contributes to improved sleep and helps your digestion at night.

Remember to drink plenty of liquids

There is a connection between magnesium deficiency, liquid deficiency, and constipation, so it is vital to drink plenty of liquids. The normal liquid requirement is around 30 ml for each kilo of body weight. A person, who weighs 60 kilos, should therefore drink around 1.8 liters of liquid daily. Heavy sweating increases the need for liquid.

Constipation can cause a lot of other symptoms

Constipation is common cause of headaches, mood swings, eczema, muscle aches, and aching joints. When the liver breaks down toxic metabolic compounds and other toxins, they are carried to the intestinal system with the bile. It is commonly known that constipation poses a risk of toxins being absorbed in the large intestine, from where they are transferred to the bloodstream, instead of being excreted. In fact, constipation poisons the body. Depending on where the toxins are deposited or how the immune system reacts, different symptoms may occur.

A healthy digestion is linked to physical and mental well-being

Many people find that their mood improves, and their headaches disappear, when their constipation vanishes, and they have 1-2 daily bowel movements and are able to empty their system completely, which is considered ideal.


Abdullah M. Al Alawi et al. magnesium and Human Health: Perspectives and Research Directions. International Journal of Endocrinology. 2018

KU Medical center The University of Kansas. The Benefits of Magnesium. 2018

Lorn Alison. Magnesium and Constipation.

  • Created on .