Constipation is a common problem in our society and, in general, it means your bowel movements are not frequent, the stools you pass are generally hard, or you are regularly forced to strain during the process. However, what this condition means to you could be far different than what it means to the next person.
A “normal” number of bowel movements can span from three per day to three per week. In other words, there really isn’t a certifiable “normal” for how often you go to the bathroom. For our purposes, you can accurately diagnose yourself with constipation if you pass hard, dry stools fewer than three times per week.
Now, most people are well aware of fiber’s importance in preventing this. High-fiber foods make for a healthy digestive tract and the healthy movement of your intestines and colon. Most people also know of the key role water plays in this as well. Drinking enough water will help prevent and treat constipation. These two areas represent the bulk of the research done to date on constipation.
But a new study, from Japan, focuses on a nutrient seldom discussed in these matters. What role does magnesium hold in this? Could this famous mineral have an association with water and/or fiber? To that end, researchers looked at nearly 4,000 young women who were suffering from constipation. They estimated their intake of magnesium through food by using a questionnaire and eating habits.
They found that for 26% of this group, constipation was a problem. Oddly enough, dietary fiber didn’t seem to have an association with a risk of constipation. Neither did water from liquids. More strangely still, getting little water from foods was linked to a higher risk of constipation. And for the finale: low magnesium intake was linked to a higher prevalence of constipation.
The conclusion was that not eating enough food containing water and not getting enough magnesium through food are both, on their own, risk factors for constipation where fiber intake is low.
The body uses this essential mineral for an extraordinary number of things. It’s needed by your cells, tissues, organs, bloodstream and bones. Its ability as a natural calcium blocker makes it a unique and natural way to protect the heart, lower blood pressure, improve vision in glaucoma patients, and reduce the pain of migraine headaches.
Constipation is one item on a long list of health problems in which magnesium may play an intimate role.
It is widely available in supplement form and it’s also found heavily in these foods: whole grains, legumes, nuts, fortified cereal, spinach and other leafy greens, lentils, soybeans, cheese, avocados, shrimp, and peanut butter. Still, many of us are deficient in magnesium, as we don’t get enough each day, we lose too much of it in our urine, or our digestive tract doesn’t absorb it properly. Signs of a serious deficiency that should be checked out immediately include depression, loss of appetite, confusion, disorientation, painful cramps, tingling, seizures, fatigue, irregular heart rhythms, and a change in personality.
Here are some things to know about magnesium:
- If you take calcium, zinc, or manganese supplements,
you’ll likely need to take extra magnesium, too.
- Certain drugs make you less able to absorb it or actively
deplete it, such as diuretics, ACE inhibitors, H-2 blockers,
dilantin, macrodantin, antibiotics, bisphosphonates, calcium
channel blockers, aminoglycosides, cholestyramine,
corticosteroids, cyclosporine, and digoxin.
- At overly high doses, supplements can cause nausea,
diarrhea, and vomiting.
- At normal doses, it is safe.
- Anyone with kidney or heart disease should take it only
under doctor supervision.
- For men over 30, the recommended intake is 420 mg a
day. For women, it is 320 mg. Since we usually don’t fulfill
this each day, many doctors advise supplements at doses of
up to 350 mg a day.
- Therapeutic doses range all the way to 600 mg a day.
- Since it can interfere with other nutrients, it’s advisable to
take a multi-mineral supplement as well.