People with ulcerative colitis (UC) may have low magnesium levels due to the symptoms they experience. Supplementing magnesium and eating magnesium-rich foods may help a person with UC avoid a deficiency in this nutrient and further health complications.

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Magnesium is an essential mineral that people need for many functions in the body. It helps control muscles and nerves, preserve bone health, and maintain heart rhythm, among other functions.

Low magnesium levels may have adverse health effects.

This article explains why people with UC may become deficient in magnesium and how doctors diagnose it. It also explores the possible consequences of low magnesium and lists other supplements that may benefit people with UC.

UC is a chronic form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It affects the gut’s ability to digest food properly and absorb essential nutrients, which can result in malnutrition.

Experts advise that symptoms such as diarrhea may also contribute to nutrient deficiencies, such as low magnesium, dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Flares of symptoms, certain surgical treatments, and complications of UC may make it difficult for some people with the condition to get enough nutrients from food alone.

Furthermore, someone with UC may restrict the foods they eat to avoid foods that trigger their symptoms. Doing so may further lower nutrient levels. A restrictive or limited diet may not include all the essential vitamins or minerals key to a balanced diet. Therefore, someone with UC may have lower magnesium levels or a deficiency based on their diet.

Research shows that 18–62% of people with UC have malnutrition due to an imbalance in dietary intake.

A 2022 study found that people with IBD have lower magnesium levels than those without the condition.

The researchers carried out a hair mineral analysis and suggested that magnesium either plays a primary role in the development of the disease or results from IBD symptoms. The same study linked magnesium supplementation with improved UC disease activity and sleep quality.

The authors of a 2022 study noted that magnesium deficiency might have the following effects on people with IBD:

Experts suggest that low magnesium levels may also contribute to the following conditions:

A person with UC should consult a doctor if they are experiencing any of the above symptoms.

The following foods are good sources of magnesium:

Tap, mineral, and bottled water can also provide magnesium. However, the amount of magnesium in water varies by source and brand.

Magnesium supplements are available in a variety of forms, including:

  • magnesium oxide
  • magnesium chloride
  • magnesium citrate
  • magnesium glycinate
  • magnesium lactate
  • magnesium aspartate

Learn more about the types of magnesium supplements.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) advise that people may absorb the following forms more efficiently, and they may be more available in the body:

  • aspartate
  • citrate
  • lactate
  • chloride

Additionally, the NIH notes that very high doses of zinc from supplements may interfere with magnesium absorption.

People can buy magnesium supplements in the form of powders, liquids, or tablets. Retailers also sell transdermal products, which people apply topically to absorb through the skin. Additionally, people can add magnesium sulfate, which some refer to as Epsom salts, to a bath or foot soak.

Learn about the best types of magnesium supplements.

A 2018 review indicates that 60% of adults do not achieve the dietary intake of magnesium that experts recommend. However, the review suggests that the available tests for magnesium status are variable in their results, meaning diagnosing a deficiency is challenging.

The absorption and metabolism of magnesium in the body also make it difficult to tell whether a person has enough of this mineral.

A doctor may test a person’s blood or urine to check for a magnesium deficiency. They will also ask the person whether they have been experiencing any symptoms that suggest a deficiency. These include:

Anyone with a magnesium deficiency should ask a doctor or nutritionist to assess whether they have other nutrient deficiencies.

Research indicates that people with IBD commonly have the following deficiencies:

Doctors may recommend additional supplementation or advise the person to eat more of certain types of foods.

In addition, experts may recommend that people with IBD follow an anti-inflammatory or Mediterranean diet, as this eating pattern contains a suitable quantity of the nutrients that a person needs.

Learn about other types of diets to follow with UC.

A person with UC may be deficient in magnesium due to symptoms such as diarrhea, a restricted diet, or other complications. Low magnesium levels may further affect gut health and cause additional health problems, such as osteoporosis or fatigue.

Doctors will test someone’s magnesium levels and ask about symptoms of deficiency. Many foods contain magnesium, but a doctor may sometimes recommend taking a supplement.