Did you know that each year, Americans spend more than $700 million on laxatives? The United States supposedly has the highest rate of laxative use compared to several other countries.
Yet, statistics show that as many as 40% of people use laxatives incorrectly. At least 15% of diarrhea cases are due to incorrect laxative use. (1) Furthermore, laxatives are often abused by people who seek to lose weight. The individual mistakenly believes that the laxatives can work to rush food and calories through the gut and bowels before they can be absorbed. But that doesn’t really happen. Let’s explore this question: Why do laxatives give a false sense of elimination? What are healthier alternatives to laxatives?
What are laxatives?
Laxatives are substances that can help an individual have a bowel movement, an indication that the body is cleansing. They are used to relieve and prevent constipation. Because different types of laxatives work in different ways, their effectiveness can vary from person to person. In general, bulk-forming laxatives (also referred to as fiber supplements) are the gentlest on the body and safest to use long term. Stimulant laxatives are the harshest and should be used sparingly.
When a bowel movement is forced, it can disrupt the body’s natural mechanisms. Laxatives should only be taken to relieve or prevent constipation, because they can produce adverse reactions that can physically impair the digestive system. Constant intestinal movements as a result of using laxatives tend to give individuals a false sense of waste elimination. While it is true that some of the individual’s bodyweight does shed during the process, it is important to keep in mind that ultimately it’s really just water weight.
A common misconception of laxatives is that they can help with weight loss. What you really need to know is that overusing laxatives can be dangerous. Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting are potential side effects. Diarrhea causes too much water loss. This could lower the blood pressure, increase the heart rate, cause dizziness and fainting. Laxatives can also change levels of important minerals in your body. This can lead to kidney stones, heart and muscle problems.
Health Consequences of Laxative Abuse
- Disturbance of electrolyte and mineral balances. Sodium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus are electrolytes and minerals that are present in very specific amounts necessary for proper functioning of the nerves and muscles, including those of the colon and heart. Upsetting this delicate balance can cause improper functioning of these vital organs.
- Severe dehydration may cause tremors, weakness, blurry vision, fainting, kidney damage, and, in extreme cases, death. Dehydration often requires medical treatment.
- Laxative dependency occurs when the colon stops reacting to usual doses of laxatives so that larger and larger amounts of laxatives may be needed to produce bowel movements.
- Internal organ damage may result, including stretched or “lazy” colon, colon infection, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and, rarely, liver damage. Chronic laxative abuse may contribute to risk of colon cancer. (2)
Your Other Options
Before using any laxatives, try these lifestyle changes:
- Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day.
- Eat more foods high in fiber (fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains).
- Exercise every day.
- Go to the bathroom when you feel the urge.
- See your doctor if you have been constipated for three or more days.
During our search for natural solutions to constipation, we came across this article from Everyday Roots. Claire lists 16 Home Remedies to relive constipation. She has some fantastic suggestions. If you need to find a solution to your potty problems, you should read this article.