Last updated: August 18, 2021

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Welcome to Monederosmart! Eating a balanced and healthy diet is something that many aspire to, but is often complicated by the busyness of everyday life. This, coupled with additional factors such as stress, can lead to constipation. Today we will talk about the best remedy for this condition: laxatives.

Few conditions are as uncomfortable as constipation, which can impair our ability to enjoy each day and carry out even the simplest of tasks. Fortunately, laxatives can help us cope with this condition and restore lightness to our bodies if used wisely.

In this guide you will learn everything you need to know about laxatives: what they are, what they are for, where to get them and more. Please note, however, that the content is purely informative and is not intended to replace the opinion of a health professional. If you are suffering from any discomfort, it is very important that you consult your doctor.




The most important things to know

  • A laxative is a substance that facilitates and promotes bowel movements. There are many reasons why a person may suffer from constipation, and laxatives are one of the most common ways to deal with this problem. Most are available over-the-counter, making them easily accessible.
  • There are three main types: bolus formers (which increase the size of the stool, making it easier to pass), osmotics (which soften the stool and make it easier to pass) and stimulants (which cause contractions and bowel movements, which induce evacuation).
  • Laxatives are variable and not all will be useful in all cases. In choosing the most appropriate laxative, it is important to consider the condition, risk factors that may be complicated by laxative use, the extent of discomfort experienced, and possible side effects that may occur.

The Best Laxative: Our Picks

Buying guide: What you need to know about laxatives

As mentioned above, laxatives can be your best friend if used wisely. But what do you need to know in order to use them responsibly? To answer your questions, in this section we will discuss all the most important points and characteristics of laxatives.

There are many laxatives that you can buy without a prescription at the pharmacy (Photo: Dolgachov/123rf.com)

What is a laxative and what are its advantages?

A laxative is a substance or medicine that relieves constipation, regulates bowel function and causes defecation. It facilitates the evacuation process when it becomes difficult due to constipation, which can be caused by stress, lack of activity or low water or fibre intake.

Most are available over-the-counter, making them easily accessible when suffering from constipation. They usually have an overnight effect. However, in most cases they are temporary solutions, so if discomfort persists, it is important to see a doctor.

Advantages
  • Relieves constipation
  • Helps with bowel movements
  • Relatively accessible
  • Universally available
Disadvantages
  • Temporary solutions
  • May cause pain
  • May cause dependence
  • May cause dehydration and other disturbances in the body

Bolus-forming, osmotic and stimulant laxatives - what should you look out for?

There are different ways in which a laxative can work and therefore different types of laxatives. All are effective, but their varied ways of working make them suitable for specific situations and conditions. Although the list is extensive, we will discuss the four most common types below.

Bolus-forming laxatives: These laxatives help increase stool bulk by absorbing intestinal fluids, which makes the stool heavier and helps it pass more easily. Most fibre supplements (the most common laxatives) are bolus-forming.

They are the safest option for long-term use and the gentlest on the digestive system. Their effect is slightly more gradual, unlike other laxatives that act quickly at the cost of side effects or discomfort. They can therefore be used on a long-term basis.

Osmotic laxatives: They draw water already in the body into the colon, causing the stool to soften and be more easily expelled. This water is present in the tissues surrounding the colon. Some osmotic laxatives require a prescription, others do not.

Although osmotic laxatives help relieve constipation, the increased water they cause in the colon can be counterproductive and can worsen diarrhoea and dehydration, so their use is not recommended for these conditions. Generally safe for long-term use.

Stimulant laxatives: These laxatives stimulate the intestinal system and cause contractions and movements in the intestinal system, which induces the expulsion of faeces. Unlike other types of laxatives, they do not alter the amount of fluids in the colon or bowel to facilitate evacuation. This results in stools that are usually firm.

Stimulant laxatives are the fastest acting, but are not recommended for long-term use. If used in excess, they may stop working and may even damage the intestinal walls. They may also cause intestinal spasms or pain, although this side effect is normal.

Bolus-formers Osmotics Stimulants
Recommended for use Long-term Long/medium-term Short-term
They usually come in the form of Supplements Medicines Medicines
They work by Increasing stool bulk Softening the stool with existing fluids in the body Causing contractions and movement in the bowel

What about natural laxatives?

There are many people who prefer to avoid industrially produced drugs and supplements, opting instead for natural alternatives where possible. Fortunately for them, there are many natural foods that can help to significantly reduce constipation.

Although the effectiveness of natural laxatives is less than those in the form of drugs or supplements in severe cases, they can certainly make a big difference for mild cases. Some of the most common, popular and effective natural laxatives are:

  • Plum
  • Papaya
  • Flaxseed
  • Castor oil
  • Chia seeds
  • Coffee

What side effects do they cause?

Like any other substance that interacts with the body, laxatives (both natural and commercial) often cause side effects. These effects are temporary and should not be a cause for concern. However, we understand that they can be bothersome. Therefore, it is important to consider them before you start taking a laxative.

Bolus formers: The most common side effect of this type of laxative is stomach bloating. Gas is also common. Although less common, stomach pain or cramps may also occur in some cases, although these usually disappear quickly.

Osmotics: As with bolus-forming laxatives, osmotic laxatives can cause stomach bloating, gas and stomach pain or cramps. Another recurring side effect with these laxatives is increased thirst because they use water from the body to promote evacuation. Diarrhoea is also quite common.

Stimulants: Because they cause bowel movement and contractions, stimulant laxatives may cause cramping or abdominal pain. They may also cause your urine to change colour to a lighter one, or even turn brown in some cases. They can also cause belching and some gas.

Buying criteria

Nobody wants to suffer from constipation! However, we should not get carried away and make hasty decisions about laxatives. There are several important factors to consider when comparing different types and brands of laxatives. This will help us to achieve optimal results and feel our best.

Condition

The first thing to consider when comparing laxatives is the condition that is causing your constipation. Ignoring this factor and choosing a laxative arbitrarily may yield unsatisfactory or, worse, counterproductive results. There is a type of laxative that is right for you. Below we review the most common conditions:

Chronic constipation: Chronic constipation is when you constantly have difficulty going to the bathroom. Many people with chronic constipation may have as few as three bowel movements per week. Even if they have regular bowel movements, people with chronic constipation have a very difficult time.

The best type of laxative for this is the bolus-forming laxative. As mentioned above, these laxatives do not usually cause discomfort and are gradual in their effect, which makes them perfect for long-term use in chronic constipation. We recommend opting for powdered supplements, as they are very effective and easy to prepare.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome: This condition inhibits the proper functioning of the digestive system and causes frequent constipation, stomach pain, bloating and variation in bowel/bowel habits. There is no cure for this disorder, but its symptoms can be alleviated with the help of some laxatives.

Both bolus-forming and osmotic laxatives are suitable for this condition. If you opt for an osmotic laxative, remember to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration and discomfort. Stimulant laxatives, however, should be avoided at all costs as they can disrupt already irregular bowel activity.

Constipation due to poor diet, stress or lack of activity: Unlike the conditions mentioned above, all of these factors can be prevented or remedied with just a little willpower and willingness. Taking action to prevent these conditions will help improve your quality of life.

Constipation from these causes is usually not serious (as long as action is taken to prevent it from progressing), and sufferers often want quick relief. For them, stimulant laxatives are a good option. However, it is very important to follow the specified doses and not to overuse them.

Risk factors

Many people have special conditions or conditions that may cause unwanted effects with the use of laxatives. Packages will always specify when they should not be used, so it is very important that you read the contraindications before taking a laxative. Some of these factors are as follows:

Pregnancy or breastfeeding: Some laxatives, such as milk of magnesia and bolus formers, are generally suitable for use during pregnancy. However, others can be dangerous, so it is very important that you consult your doctor. Laxatives should not be given to children under 6 years of age.

Interaction with other medications: If you are taking any medication and need to take a laxative, it is very difficult to determine whether they conflict. Therefore, it is essential that you consult your doctor to avoid the laxative inhibiting or altering (which can be dangerous) the functioning of your medications.

Other medical conditions: These include diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and gastrointestinal diseases or conditions. As always, it is very important to consult your doctor before taking a laxative if you have any of these conditions.

Extent of discomfort

Some cases of constipation can be difficult to deal with, while others are transient and not too much of a problem. Some people may instinctively and automatically turn to laxatives if they suddenly find it difficult to go to the toilet, but sometimes this may be too much.

If your discomfort is prolonged or has been present for two days or more, a laxative is a good idea. However, if your discomfort is mild and temporary, we highly recommend trying one of the natural laxatives listed above. As well as being effective, they can be much more affordable.

Time of action

Some cases of constipation are more urgent than others. There are times when we can wait a couple of days for laxatives to work, while at other times we are looking for more immediate results. Each type of laxative has a usual time of action, and we discuss each one below:

Type of laxative Usual action time
Bolus-forming 2 to 3 days
Osmotic 2 to 3 days
Stimulant 6 to 12 hours

(Featured image source: Thanthima Limsakul/ 123rf.com)

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