Let’s face it, at some point in our lives we’ve probably all experienced the discomfort that accompanies constipation and been forced to purchase an over-the-counter (OTC) laxative. As long as we got the welcomed relief of a bowel movement, little attention was paid to how the laxative actually managed to release the “clog” and get the plumbing working properly again.
Did you know that there are different types of laxatives that work with your body in different ways to relieve or prevent constipation? There are 3 main laxative types that are available OTC.
TYPES OF LAXATIVES AND HOW THEY WORK
1. BULK-FORMING LAXATIVES = work by swelling up inside your intestines, softening the stools, and adding bulk. This prompts your bowels into action, pushing and moving the stools through the intestines. Bulk-forming laxatives may take several days until the full effect is achieved. Normal ingredients are: bran, ispaghula husks, methylcellulose and sterculia. They are available in tablets/capsules, powders or granules.
2. OSMOTIC LAXATIVES = work by reducing the amount of water absorbed by the bowel and increasing the amount absorbed by the feces. The additional water helps to soften the stool and allows for easier passage through the intestinal tract. These can take several days to work properly. Osmotic laxatives contain ingredients like magnesium salts, lactulose, psyllium, macrogols, phosphates and sodium citrate. They are offered as powders, liquids and enemas.
3. STIMULANT LAXATIVES = as the name suggests, they work by stimulating the intestines to increase the speed of the movements necessary to help push the stool on its way out of the body. Stimulant laxative ingredients can include: senna, glycerol, bisacodyl, docusate sodium and sodium picosulfate. They usually require 8-12 hours to work. They are available as tablets or capsules, liquids, suppositories and enemas.
Other laxative choices that fall into one of the above categories but are sold under different names include:
* Lubricant laxatives = coat the surface of the stools, trapping water inside, and allowing for easier elimination. Usually come in glycerin suppository form and the suppositories also lubricate the anal opening.
* Stool Softeners = soften stools by adding more fluid to the feces.
* Saline laxatives = also a softener that draws fluid from nearby tissues into the bowel.
HOW TO KNOW WHICH ONE TO TAKE?
* Bulk-forming laxatives should be tried before any other method. They are best for people who are unable to take in enough fiber from their diet and suffer from hard, small stools that are difficult to pass. You must use them on a daily basis and drink plenty of fluids to avoid intestinal blockage. They can also help ease other bowel-related problems like irritable bowel syndrome and hemorrhoids.
* Osmotic laxatives are recommended if bulk-forming laxatives were not effective and emptying of the bowel becomes more urgent. They take about 48 hours to work. Good fluid intake is needed for them to work properly.
* Stimulant laxatives should only be used if adding more fiber to your diet has not helped, or the bulk and osmotic laxatives were not effective. They are quite harsh and should be used when recommended by your doctor. Stimulants increase the bowel’s normal contractions to help move the stools out of the body and are the most likely to cause side effects.
Eating healthy and including enough fiber in your diet can prevent the need for a laxative. The body will normally be able to correct bouts of constipation on its own but, every now and then, may require a little help to get the job done. Understanding how each type of laxative works can help you make the best choice to aid your body in regaining its natural routine of elimination.