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What is a Laxative?

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Use a laxative and you'll be looking for the restroom

You’ve probably seen the cheerful men and women in commercials who happily reveal that laxatives helped regulate their bowel movements, but nobody ever seems to discuss the gritty details about how these constipation fighters actually work. Most people aren’t as open about laxative use as the folks on TV, but laxative use is fairly common amongst everybody from college students to senior citizens. Learn the basics of laxative use before deciding if this method of constipation relief works well for you.

Laxatives in a Nutshell

If you’re the type of person who likes to get right to the point, all you need to know is that laxatives help your bowels do what they’re supposed to do. What goes in must come out, and laxatives take control of the situation instead of letting you battle it out with your body. If you’re at the point where you’re wondering why you even bother to buy toilet paper, laxatives remind your colon that waste belongs in the porcelain pot and not in your intestines.

The Official Explanation

Some of you are reading this right now and going, Okay, give me the facts instead of sugarcoating everything and talking in circles. Not a problem. Here’s the deal — Constipation is caused by a variety of factors, including poor dietary habits, lack of physical activity, and emotional distress. More than just a minor annoyance, constipation is an acute condition that may lead to chronic health issues if left alone. Laxatives, also known as purgatives and aperients, stimulate the bowels, helping them express waste quickly and easily with very little effort on your part. When used properly, laxatives can improve your digestive health and make your overall quality of life better.

Types of Laxatives

There are hundreds of different laxative brands on the market, but most of them fall into a few common categories: Stool softeners, bulk-producing agents, lubricants, and hydrating agents. Chloride channel activators are also used occasionally, as are stimulants and serotonin agonists. Stool softeners do exactly what the name implies: They soften your stools by ensuring that water and fat are part of each stool. This makes it easier for waste to pass through
your colon, alleviating the pain commonly associated with the pushing and straining of constipation. Most softeners begin working less than 24 hours after ingestion, making them popular with folks who need fairly quick relief.

Bulk-producing agents have earned a decent reputation in the laxative world. Known for their ease of use and minimal risk of side effects, these agents work just as well for bowel maintenance as they do for constipation relief. Fiber is one of the most popular bulk-producing agents, which is why it’s in nearly every intestine-friendly food at the supermarket.

Lubricants and hydrating agents work more quickly than other types of laxatives, making them a tempting choice for folks who want immediate relief. Lubricants work in less than eight hours, and hydrating agents start doing their magic in as quickly as 30 minutes. Stimulants, serotonin agonists, and Chloride channel activators are not used very often and have been linked to a variety of unfavorable side effects.


Not all laxatives are the best choice for human consumption; in fact, many of them are just flat-out dangerous. You probably already know that not all FDA-approved items are safe, and laxatives are no exception. “Laxative Gut”, a condition characterized by a brown lining in the intestinal region known as melanosis coli, is one side effect associated with frequent laxative use. Heart problems, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and pancreatitis are also linked to laxative use. Keep in mind that all supplements should be used in moderation, and side effects are more likely to occur when laxatives are abused or used incorrectly.

Natural Remedies for Constipation

If the threat of pancreatitis and Laxative Gut don’t appeal to you, consider experimenting with some natural options for constipation relief. Apples are known for promoting colon health, as are bananas. You can also try an all-natural, oxygen colon cleanser such as Oxy-Powder to reduce or eliminate your symptoms of constipation.

Some patients also find that acupuncture, reflexology, and massage therapy to help alleviate bloating, gas, and bowel straining. Regardless of which option you choose, I wish you the best in your quest toward better digestive health!

-Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DABFM

Posted In: Colon Health,Colon Health Blog,Constipation
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