By Dr. Ritu Krishnatreye, B.H.M.S.
Although it is best to try to solve constipation problems through changes in one’s diet, there are times when an over-the-counter or prescription constipation solution product may be needed for temporary relief.
The purpose of this article is to help you select the laxative that is right for you.
Laxatives are available in various forms, such as liquids, tablets, granules, chewing gum, caramels and chocolate-flavored wafers. The various types of laxatives also differ in how they work and how quickly they work.
There are basically six types of products used to treat constipation:
stool softeners, bulking agents, osmotic laxatives, stimulant laxatives, lubricant laxatives and suppositories/enemas.
Each of this work in a different way to bring relief.
Also known as fiber supplements, bulking agents work in the same way as fiber contained in foods.
Fiber adds bulk to stools, which helps to naturally stimulate peristalsis, the wave-like contractions of the colon that move stool along.
Fiber also helps to hold moisture in stool, making it softer and easier to pass. This type of laxative is the safest of all laxatives.
Bulk forming agents can be derived from the following:
Bulk forming agents are one of the safest of all forms of laxatives, and can be used even in elderly. Unlike most other laxatives, bulk forming laxatives are not habit forming, and can be used on an ongoing constipation solution.
Stool softeners are usually sold over the counter, and contain a drug called docusate.
Popular brands include Colace and Docusate Calcium. Stool softeners are best for individuals who need to avoid straining during defecation.
For a possible constipation solution, osmotic laxatives draw moisture into the intestines, which helps to moisten stool. A moist stool is softer, more slippery and easier to pass.
Osmotic laxatives are available in different forms, such as enemas, powders or liquids.
Some common osmotic laxatives are Milk of Magnesia, Epson Salt, Miralax and Fleet Phospho-Soda.
To get the benefits of an osmotic laxative without most of the dangers, consider taking a magnesium supplement.
Just 400 mg. of supplemental magnesium a day may provide effective, ongoing constipation solution.
Since most Americans don’t get enough magnesium in their diets, taking a magnesium supplement may actually result in numerous health benefits.
However, individuals with kidney disease should not take a magnesium supplement unless instructed to do so by their doctor.
Stimulant Laxatives work by stimulating the wave-like contractions of intestinal muscles, called peristalsis.
They contain an irritant (such as bisacodyl) that causes the bowel to squeeze or contract to move stool along and out.
Stimulant laxatives are available as a liquid, tablets, suppositories or enemas. In most cases, stimulant laxatives are best used in combination with bulk forming laxatives.
Stimulant laxatives are the fastest acting of all the laxatives and are dependable.
However, they are also associated with several side effects, including the following:
Mineral oil is a form of lubricant laxative, also called stool softeners.
Mineral oil is also called liquid paraffin, since it is a derivative of petroleum. It acts an emollient, slowly softening stool once it is absorbed.
Mineral oil laxative (stool softeners), when used for a longer duration, can result in the following:
Suppositories are laxatives that are directly inserted into the rectum.
They are a quick and effective way to treat constipation. Enemas are also used for rapid relief - a chronic constipation solution.
They are only recommended for those that can’t find relief using other laxatives.
If suppositories or enemas are used for a longer period of time, they can cause metabolic disturbances, such as hyperphosphatemia (increase in blood phosphorus levels) and hypocalcemia (decrease in blood calcium levels).
Ideally, laxatives should only be used for short periods of time.
If you use laxatives and still can’t get relief from constipation, or if you experience other symptoms such as loss of appetite, bloating, rectal bleeding, nausea or vomiting, consult your doctor immediately.
Probiotics provide a gentle, natural constipation remedy. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that reside in the intestines.
A healthy gut maintains a perfect balance of good as well as bad bacteria. Good bacteria keep a check on the growth of bad bacteria and maintain a healthy intestinal environment.
When bad bacteria multiply too much, it may result in digestive problems like bloating, flatulence and constipation. Maintaining a good balance of healthy bacteria in the gut helps to maintain bowel regularity, pH and intestinal cellular health.
Probiotics are available in drinks like Kombucha and kefir, yogurt, fermented foods like sauerkraut. Probiotic supplements may also be taken.
Apart from supporting a healthy digestive system, probiotics also enhance the immune system.
(Here are 2 videos by Paul Schneider, the host of this website, discussing how to make 2 powerful probiotics at home)
Before turning to laxatives or other constipation relief products, make sure you incorporate some lifestyle changes such as increase of fiber rich foods, plenty of fluids and daily exercise into your day-to-day routine.
Though for many this will be a satisfactory constipation solution, if the problem continues, you may need a laxative to get things moving again. A magnesium supplement can work like a laxative without the usual side effects.