No. The colon is very efficient at keeping itself clean. You need no laxatives, enemas or “colonic irrigation” to do this. (Colonic irrigation is an out-and-out scam, and can be dangerous, too.) Don’t believe any ad that promises to “remove toxins” or make your intestines beautiful. If you eat an unhealthy diet, taking a laxative won’t make up for it.
Not really. Bulk laxatives (which are basically fiber supplements) might help with weight control by making you feel a little fuller, so you may consume fewer calories afterwards. But claims that they will quickly take off lots of pounds are greatly exaggerated. Many dietary supplements and “teas” that promise weight loss contain herbal laxatives, which are not safe or effective.
There’s no strict definition of constipation. Some people have a bowel movement daily or twice daily, others only three times weekly, with no problems. Fewer than three times a week is usually regarded as constipation. If you have chronic problems with bowel movements, if your stool is always hard and causes you to strain, or if you experience bloating, cramping or bleeding, you should see your doctor.
The chief causes are a low-fiber diet, lack of fluids and being sedentary. Many medications, including antacids, and dietary supplements such as iron can cause it. Travel, emotional stress, depression and lack of access to toilet facilities (on a long bus trip, for example) can bring on constipation.
Healthy habits promote regularity. Don’t rely on laxatives. Increase your fluid intake and eat more fiber—found in fruits, whole grains, beans and vegetables. Fiber adds bulk to the stool, absorbs water and stimulates the colonic contractions that produce the urge to defecate. Increase your fiber intake gradually to avoid gas and bloating. Regular exercise—such as daily walking—will also help.
Use occasionally. Bulk-forming laxatives, which contain psyllium or other fiber (such as Metamucil, Fibercon, Citrucel and generics), are effective, gentle-acting and less likely to produce side effects than stimulants. Some also have sorbitol or other sugar alcohols, which have laxative properties. Lubricating laxatives (such as mineral oil and glycerin) make stool oily and thus easier to pass. Some stool softeners also work this way. Osmotic laxatives (such as milk of magnesia) contain magnesium salts or sodium biphosphate. They are fast-acting. Follow directions, and don’t take large doses.
Stimulant laxatives (such as Ex-Lax, Senokot and Dulcolax) cause fluid secretion in the colon and irritate the lining of the colon to produce contractions. They may contain herbal ingredients such as senna, cascara sagrada and other harsh stimulants. Many people reach for these first because they act forcefully and quickly. If you try them, follow directions carefully and use them only for a day or two. They may cause cramping and diarrhea. Castor oil is a strong stimulant laxative and should be used only on medical advice.
It has long been thought that stimulant laxatives could harm the colon or cause dependency. But a study published in 2005 in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found that stimulants did not harm the colon when used at recommended doses. The researchers did not find evidence for laxative dependency or rebound constipation. However, laxative dependency has been little studied.
Several yogurt brands, notably Dannon’s Activia, now claim to promote regularity. These yogurts contain live bacteria that, according to some research, may shorten transit time through the intestine or have other effects that may help prevent constipation. Still, how much of a difference this would make is questionable. Yogurt with live cultures is also promoted for controlling diarrhea.
An excellent choice. They are high in fiber, but that does not account fully for their laxative effects, because prune juice, which has little fiber, also works. Both the fruit and juice naturally contain high amounts of sorbitol and other substances that promote bowel movements. But their laxative effect is not completely understood.