Laxatives: A Digestive System Reset?

can laxatives reset your digestive system

Laxatives are a common treatment for constipation, but can they reset your digestive system? The answer is not so straightforward. While laxatives can help relieve constipation by stimulating bowel movements and softening stools, they should not be the first line of treatment. Lifestyle changes, such as increasing fibre intake, staying hydrated, and regular physical activity, are typically recommended first. Overuse of laxatives can lead to dependency and negatively affect digestive health, causing side effects like bloating, gas, and dehydration. Therefore, it is important to use laxatives as directed and only when necessary.

To reset your digestive system, a gradual approach is needed to restore its natural function. This includes reducing laxative use, staying hydrated, eating a balanced diet rich in fibre, and engaging in regular physical activity. While laxatives can be a part of the solution, they should not be the sole focus of resetting your digestive system.

Characteristics Values
Purpose To treat constipation by softening hard stools or stimulating your bowels to get moving
Types Bulk-forming, osmotics, stool softeners, lubricants, stimulants
Availability Over-the-counter or prescription
Side effects Bloating, gas, stomach cramps, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, chronic constipation, intestinal blockage
Natural alternatives Chia seeds, berries, legumes, flaxseeds, kefir, leafy greens, apples, prunes, kiwi, coffee


Bulk-forming laxatives

It may take 12 hours to up to three days to feel relief from bulk-forming laxatives. They are safe to use daily, but it is recommended that they are only taken occasionally and for up to a week at a time. Stop taking them when your constipation improves, and consult a doctor if your constipation does not improve after a week. Bulk-forming laxatives should not be taken with other medications, as they may impact how the body absorbs them. They should also not be taken if one has symptoms of appendicitis or inflamed bowel, misses a bowel movement for more than two days with abdominal pain, or experiences a sudden change in bowel habits lasting two weeks or more.

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Stool softeners

Natural stool softeners can also be achieved through lifestyle changes such as drinking more water, getting regular exercise, and increasing daily fibre intake.

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Lubricant laxatives

Mineral oil should not be used by older adults, children under 6, or people who are bedridden. It should also not be taken at the same time as stool softeners, and it should not be used for more than a few days, as it can interfere with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and can cause pneumonia if inhaled. It may also cause leakage from the rectum, especially when taken at high doses, which can cause irritation and itching around the anus.

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Osmotic-type laxatives

Osmotic laxatives are medications used to treat or prevent constipation. They work by drawing extra water into the stool, making it softer and easier to pass. Osmotic laxatives are available over the counter and by prescription.

Osmotic laxatives are a type of laxative used for treating constipation. They pull water from the surrounding tissues in the intestine using a process called osmosis, resulting in softer stools that can be passed more easily. It is important to drink plenty of water while taking osmotic laxatives to improve their efficiency and reduce the possibility of gas and cramps.

Osmotic laxatives are mainly used for treating hepatic encephalopathy and preparing the bowel for surgery. They are also sometimes used for bowel preparation before a colonoscopy.

Some common osmotic laxatives include:

  • Polyethylene glycol (PEG)
  • Lactulose
  • Sorbitol
  • Magnesium citrate
  • Magnesium hydroxide (Milk of Magnesia)

Side effects of osmotic laxatives include nausea, bloating, cramping, flatulence, and diarrhoea. Overuse of osmotic laxatives can lead to dehydration and other complications.

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Saline laxatives

The active ingredients in saline laxatives include magnesium, sulfate, citrate, and phosphate. Magnesium-based laxatives, such as milk of magnesia or magnesium citrate, are members of the saline osmotic class. These laxatives can also be used for bowel cleansing before surgery.

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