Magnesium oxide, known chemically as MgO, is a naturally occurring mineral that appears as a solid white powder. It has a variety of health-related and commercial or industrial applications. Despite its usefulness, it can have unwanted effects. It is important to use magnesium oxide with care and always follow usage guidelines.
While almost every organ in your body requires magnesium to function normally, it is especially important to your heart, muscles and kidneys. The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) reports that most people in the U.S. do not meet daily minimum dietary requirements for magnesium. Despite this, the UMMC states that deficiency symptoms usually appear only when an accompanying medical condition that further depletes magnesium levels, or your diet contains too much coffee, soda, salt or alcohol. As a dietary supplement available over-the-counter or by prescription, magnesium oxide helps replenish and restore magnesium levels.
Magnesium oxide is useful as a medication for conditions such as heartburn or acid indigestion. Its properties as a base with a pH of 10.4 help reduce acid levels in the intestinal tract. It is also a highly effective laxative. Doctors often prescribe magnesium oxide to empty the bowel before surgery or a procedure like a colonoscopy. Because magnesium oxide can affect absorption of and react with other medications, do not use it on a regular basis as an antacid for more than two weeks unless instructed to do so by your doctor. If you are using it as a laxative, the maximum time is one week unless your doctor provides different instructions.
As an industrial component, you can find magnesium oxide used in paper production, the production of magnesium salts such as Epsom salts, acetates and chlorides and as a component in some types of cement. In addition, steel and nickel refining, fiberglass production and industrial processes that require pH modification also use magnesium oxide. The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for magnesium indicates that although it is relatively safe to use in the workplace, magnesium oxide can cause mild skin and eye irritation. When inhaled, magnesium oxide can irritate the nose and throat and fumes can cause a condition called metal fume fever. Signs of metal fume fever include flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills and muscle weakness. Additional symptoms include a metallic taste in the mouth, throat irritation, a dry cough and an increased white blood cell count. It normally lasts for a maximum of 48 hours.
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