Don’t be led astray with laxatives

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Don’t be led astray with laxatives

Does it seem like over-the-counter laxatives are everywhere?  Typically we associate laxatives as a remedy for someone having problems with constipation. While laxatives are still primarily used for that problem, lately, marketing strategists have taken a different path suggesting that their product can “beautify your insides,” help you lose weight, and “purify” your colon – all nonsense.

What not to believe about laxatives

Likely you have heard advice stating the importance of “cleansing your colon,” by using laxatives, enemas, or “colonic irrigation.” Do not believe these statements.  Your colon is very efficient at keeping itself clean and needs no extra help. In fact, colonic irrigation is a scam and can be dangerous. Any ad or claim that promises to “remove toxins” or make your intestines beautiful is also false.  If you are eating unhealthy foods, taking a laxative will not make up for it.

Another claim made for marketing laxatives is for weight loss. Laxatives are not an effective weight loss aid.  Bulk laxatives – which are basically fiber supplements – might help with weight control by making you feel a little fuller so you may consume less calories.  But claims that they will take off pounds quickly are greatly exaggerated.

Laxatives are also not meant for anyone to rely on long-term. Regularity of bowel movements is supported best by healthy habits such as eating foods high in fiber – fruits, whole grains, beans, and vegetables. Fiber adds bulk to the stool, absorbs water, and stimulates colonic contractions. If you currently do not consume many high fiber foods, increase your intake gradually in order to avoid gas and bloating and increase your fluid intake. Another good measure for preventing constipation is regular exercise.

What are the best laxative options for constipation?

While a person should not be using laxatives for frivolous things, there are times when even your best efforts at preventing constipation, may need some intervention.  If you find yourself in a situation of needing a laxative to get things moving again, here are your best options:

·      Stimulant laxatives – This type of laxative cause fluid secretion in the colon and irritate the lining of the colon to produce contractions. Sometimes herbal ingredients such as senna, cascara sagrada, and other harsh stimulants may be used in this type of laxative. Stimulant laxatives do act forcefully and quickly.  Always follow directions carefully and use them only for a day or two. Be aware they may cause cramping and diarrhea. Brand names that are considered stimulant laxatives are Ex-Lax, Senokot, and Dulcolax. 

·      Bulk forming laxatives – These laxatives contain psyllium or other kinds of fiber which are effective and more gentle with less side effects than stimulant laxatives. These “natural” laxatives require you to increase your fluid intake.  Brand names considered to be bulk forming laxatives include Metamucil, Fibercon, and Citrucel. Generic bulk forming laxatives are just as good and much cheaper.  

·      Lubricating laxatives – Mineral oil and glycerin are considered lubricating laxatives.  They make stool oily thus easier to pass. Some stool softeners work this way as well and may help prevent constipation.  

·      Osmotic laxatives – A good example of an osmotic laxative is Milk of Magnesia. These product contains magnesium salts or sodium biphosphate. They are fast-acting and are good to use if bulk forming laxatives don’t work.

One type of laxative not to use is any that contain sodium phosphate unless recommended by your doctor.  Such oral or rectal products, sometimes called saline laxatives are mostly used to prepare for certain bowel procedures such as colonoscopy, not for constipation. These products work by drawing water into the large intestine, which softens the stool and makes it easier to pass. The FDA however, has warned that these laxatives have been linked to kidney damage and other complications, including deaths resulting from dehydration or electrolyte imbalance in the blood. People taking drugs that affect kidney function, such as diuretics, ACE inhibitors, and some other blood pressure drugs and NSAIDS, are at increased risk for adverse effects.