Constipation – The Trouble With Laxatives

Lyn Jullien

Constipation is often a taboo topic, with embarrassment causing people to be silent about their own suffering. Yet it affects over 4 million people in the US, and drives $500 million in sales of laxatives in the US every year.  Unfortunately, laxatives promote dependence of colon function. There are many natural approaches to dealing with constipation, for both short term symptoms and long term healing.

Why Is Constipation A Problem?

The delayed transit of solid wastes through the colon can cause severe discomfort, because the longer waste stays in the colon the more water is absorbed through the intestinal wall, making it harder and more painful to pass. However, constipation has other negative effects on health – the water being absorbed back in to the body contains toxins, which then enter the blood stream and must be dealt with by the body, putting additional strain on the liver, lungs, kidneys and other organs that detoxify.

What Do Laxatives Do?

Most over the counter laxatives are stimulants, which means they stimulate movement of waste through the colon. Unfortunately, they also promote dependency, allowing the colon to be ‘lazy’. Laxatives also over stimulate, so over time with continuous use, they can cause the colon to stop functioning correctly. While sometimes necessary as an emergency remedy, laxatives should not be taken long term. Even safer forms of laxatives, such as Osmotic agents which allow water to enter the colon to make passage of waste easier, can cause dependency.

What Are The Alternatives?

There are many nutritional options to try, and they are the safest remedy with the most long term benefits. A high fiber diet is often stated as the best remedy – this doesn’t mean just more bran on the cereal (for those who experience bloating or discomfort after eating wheat, bran can be irritating). For a soothing affect on colon function, the fiber from fruit and vegetables is best, as it also contains water. Other great options are brown rice, and beans, and oatmeal . Try these whole foods to promote movement in the colon:

  • Banana
  • Kiwi
  • Pear
  • Prunes & Figs
  • Walnuts
  • Almonds

The Power Of Prunes

8 oz of prune juice can produce a good laxative effect, and is a great short term remedy. To restore long terms health to the bowel, however, include 3-4 whole prunes (1/4 cup) in the diet on a daily basis. The fiber content promotes bulk and decreases transit time of waste in the colon. It also provides food for friendly bacteria in the gut, which helps the assimilation of nutrients and the protection of the digestive tract from harmful bacteria.

Prunes, or dried plums, are a sweet sticky fruit, and can be eaten on their own, added to cereal, used as a pancake topping or in stews to add a bit of sweetness.

If you suffer from long term constipation, always check with your health care professional for a complete health assessment.

Sources for this article include:

  • Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Balch and Balch
About the Author: Lyn Jullien (BA, MSc, DipNT, DipNat) is a Nutritional Therapist and Naturopath and an active member of the Association of Registered Complementary Health Therapists. She has taught Nutrition courses and looks for simple life style changes to promote better health.
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