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Many people live with constipation and in desperation, or on the advice of other individuals, turn to laxatives for relief. Laxatives are also frequently prescribed, even though the active ingredient in most laxatives is polyethylene glycol (PEG) 3350.
While many commercial laxatives say they are natural, they are not. Polyethylene glycol (PEG) 3350 is a petroleum derivative, it’s essentially a liquid plastic. In fact, more than 11,000 reports of side effects related to laxatives containing PEG have been reported to the FDA Adverse Event Reporting System (FAERS).
Common side effects of polyethylene glycol are diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramps, and flatulence. Patients having kidney disease should consult with their doctor before using this product. But before we go too far, let’s look at some basics.
What is Constipation?
Simply put, it is hard to pass, dry stools that require straining. On average it takes your body between 18 and 72 hours to convert food and have a bowel movement. Other signs of constipation can include nausea, sluggishness, cramps and bloating.
What Causes Constipation?
The most common reasons for constipation is a lack of fiber in your daily diet, accompanied by inadequate water consumption. On average adults need 35 grams of fiber a day to help the body form soft, bulky stools that are easy to pass. Most Americans consume half that number. To learn more about fiber intake click here.
Other factors can include:
Eating large quantities of dairy
Overuse of laxatives
Antacids containing calcium or aluminum
Parkinson’s disease or MS
What’s wrong with laxatives?
Laxatives provide relief but do not address the root cause of the problem. Stimulant laxatives also carry the additional problem of dependence. Your body can become dependent on them for bowel function, which can also be true for natural products such as senna. Long-term use of laxatives can also cause damage to muscles, nerves and the tissues of the bowel and intestines.
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) researchers are looking into polyethylene glycol (PEG) 3350, the active ingredient in Miralax and many other laxatives. This medication is not currently labeled for anyone under age 17 and advises use for no more than 7 days, although many individuals use this product daily.
Natural options for constipation
Many people are pleasantly surprised to find that making a few adjustments in their daily nutrition and eating habits make a world of difference in their overall health. Consuming enough water, fiber and making a few dietary changes is generally all that is needed to help keep things moving along.
Hydration–Make sure your body is well hydrated by drinking clean filtered water.
Fiber–Be sure your diet includes plenty of fiber, such as fruit, vegetables, psyllium, flax or chia seeds.
Magnesium Citrate–Magnesium is nature’s muscle relaxer. If you’re constipated, magnesium really gets things moving.
Probiotics–Fermented foods will help give your gut a boost by increasing ‘good” bacteria. You can also try probiotic supplements.
Colonics– The main purpose of a colonic is to hydrate the body, stimulate the muscle activity of the bowel and to remove waste from the colon. Hydration stimulates peristalsis within the colon and encourages waste removal through the individuals own muscle actions.
Dietary changes– Remove dairy from your diet. Include more whole foods, if this is a challenge try adding fruit and veggie smoothies to your routine.
Sweeteners– Avoid artificial sweeteners, excess sugar and caffeine.
Prunes or Prune Juice– Prunes contain sorbitol and high fiber which are digested slowly and as they move through the intestines they will collect water which helps to soften fecal material. Give this food time to work as taking too much can cause bloating, gas and cramps.
Blackstrap Molasses– A tablespoon of molasses before bedtime can ease constipation symptoms the next morning, due to its high levels of magnesium.
Herbs for constipation
Herbs effect everyone a little differently, some will find great benefit from one particular herb and others will not. If you are considering using herbs, please consult with your herbalist or healthcare practitioner to determine what herbs would work best for you. Senna, buckthorn and aloe are purgatives and are meant for short term use.
Aloe Vera– This can be taken as a liquid or in capsules form, it is also a gentle laxative. You can simply add an ounce or so to your smoothie or juice.
Triphala–This is a combination of three fruits amalaki, bibhitaki and haritaki.
Buckthorn-This is a mild laxative that is commonly combined with other herbs such as slippery elm or cascara sagrada.
Slippery Elm– This emollient herb soothes mucous membranes and helps to lubricate the intestinal tract.
Cascara Sagrada-This laxative is gentler then senna, which can cause cramping, bloating and gas.
Fenugreek– This seed is well known for providing constipation relief. Consider adding fenugreek seeds to soups, salads or main dishes for their nutritional benefits as well.
Dandelion– Another natural laxative, this can be enjoyed as a tea and is also available in many herbal coffee blends.
Senna– A natural chemical in this plant called sennosides irritate the bowel lining and force bowel contractions. Dr. Andrew Weil says that certain laxatives, including senna, are “irritant types.” They induce bowel movements “quickly, sometimes violently, by irritating the bowel.” Side effects of this herb can include diarrhea, cramps, watery stools and abdominal pain. While this is an effective remedy for some individuals, there are many remedies that offer a more gentle effect.
Most times constipation is easily relieved at home with items you likely have in your pantry, fridge or cabinet. Ideally a diet rich in whole organic foods and plenty of clean, filtered water and magnesium are your best option to prevent constipation and other gastric problems.
As always, before using any herb or supplement please discuss your options with your health care provider to determine what options are best for you, based on your overall health and medical history.
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