Natural Laxatives: What You Need To Know About Them

Gentle solutions recommended in case of occasional constipation

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By Manu

Natural laxatives are capable of promoting proper intestinal functionality, but it’s important to know when and how to use them and what potential side effects they may have. We delve deeper into all these issues in the following article.

Why use natural laxatives?

Natural laxatives, such as certain foods or herbal remedies, can promote bowel movements in a gentle and non-invasive manner. They may be preferred over harsher chemical laxatives for individuals looking for a more natural approach to relieving constipation.

They can be very effective, but despite their general safety, especially if taken for long periods or in excessive doses, they can also cause serious side effects. For this reason, it is always advisable to take them after consulting with your primary care physician or trusted pharmacist.

However, many natural laxatives have fewer side effects compared to synthetic laxatives. They are often considered safer for long-term use and may be preferred by individuals seeking to avoid potential adverse effects associated with chemical laxatives. Moreover, some natural laxatives, such as certain fruits, vegetables, and grains, not only promote bowel movements but also provide essential nutrients, vitamins, and fiber that are beneficial for overall health.

The most common natural laxatives

Some of the most common natural laxatives include:

Fiber-rich Foods

Fiber helps add bulk to the stool and promotes regular bowel movements. Some fiber-rich foods that act as natural laxatives include:

  • Fruits: Prunes, apples, pears, berries, figs
  • Vegetables: Leafy greens, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes
  • Whole grains: Oats, barley, brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread

Prunes and Prune Juice

Prunes contain sorbitol, a natural sugar alcohol that has a laxative effect. Prune juice is often used to relieve constipation.

Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds are rich in soluble and insoluble fiber, which can help soften the stool and promote bowel movements. They can be added to smoothies, yogurt, or baked goods.

Chia Seeds

Similar to flaxseeds, chia seeds are high in fiber and can help regulate bowel movements. They can be soaked in water or added to foods like oatmeal or salads.

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera juice has a mild laxative effect and can help soothe the digestive tract. It’s important to use aloe vera juice specifically labeled for internal use and to follow dosage instructions carefully.

Magnesium

Magnesium supplements or magnesium-rich foods such as magnesium citrate or magnesium hydroxide can have a laxative effect when taken in higher doses. However, it’s important to use magnesium supplements with caution and under the guidance of a healthcare professional, as excessive intake can cause diarrhea and other adverse effects.

Coconut water

Coconut water acts as a natural laxative due to its hydration properties, supplying electrolytes like potassium and magnesium that support bowel function. Its modest fiber content aids in stool bulk. Being free from additives, it’s a wholesome choice for digestive health. While results vary, incorporating coconut water into a balanced diet can promote hydration and alleviate constipation.

Water

Let’s not forget about the most obvious remedy. Staying hydrated is essential for maintaining regular bowel movements. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day helps soften the stool and prevent constipation.

Laxative herbal teas

Herbal teas are valuable aids against constipation. Effective options include:

  • Mallow, lemon balm, and coriander: offer disinfectant and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Flaxseed, licorice, and fennel: aid evacuation, promote regularity, and reduce bloating.
  • Psyllium seed, dandelion, and artichoke: enhance intestinal peristalsis and detoxify.
  • Rhubarb, fennel, and mint: restore intestinal function and alleviate bloating. To minimize side effects like excessive evacuation or bloating, start gradually, consuming once daily, preferably before bedtime.

Laxative foods

Foods rich in fiber serve as natural laxatives by promoting smooth intestinal movement. These include bananas, cooked apples, plums, medlars, kiwi, lettuce, zucchini, legumes, cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots.

Hydration, with a daily intake of at least 2 liters of water, aids intestinal health, while limiting coffee consumption to one cup also supports regularity.

Traditional remedies advise a spoonful of olive oil to soften stool when experiencing difficulty. Certain fruits, such as pears, plums, strawberries, kiwis, apricots, and prickly pears, are also recommended by grandmothers for their ability to stimulate intestinal motility.

natural laxatives

Baking soda for constipation

Using baking soda for constipation relief is valued for its ability to dissolve stool and support colon cleansing. It facilitates air circulation in the digestive tract, alleviating cramps and stomach discomfort. However, individuals with high blood pressure or severe kidney issues should avoid it.

To prepare a baking soda laxative, mix one heaping teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of warm water, stirring thoroughly before drinking. It’s typically taken for 3-4 consecutive days, with the option to adjust the dosage slightly if needed.

Immediate effective laxatives

If you want to empty the intestine quickly, you need to opt for irritating laxatives such as senna, castor oil, and rhubarb. Let’s review their properties and, if you intend to use them, it’s important to follow dosage instructions carefully and to consult with a healthcare professional if you have any underlying health conditions or concerns.

Castor oil

Castor oil is a potent natural laxative that has been used for centuries to relieve constipation. It works by stimulating the smooth muscle contractions of the intestines, leading to increased bowel movements. Castor oil contains ricinoleic acid, a fatty acid that acts as a strong laxative by causing irritation in the intestines, which promotes bowel movements.

However, it’s important to use castor oil with caution and under the guidance of a healthcare professional, as excessive or prolonged use can lead to dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and dependency on laxatives. Additionally, castor oil has a strong taste and may cause nausea or abdominal cramping in some individuals. It’s typically taken orally, often mixed with a beverage or food to mask its taste.

Senna

Senna is an herbal laxative derived from the leaves of the Senna plant. It stimulates bowel movements and is commonly used for short-term relief of constipation. However, it should be used with caution and under the guidance of a healthcare professional, as prolonged or excessive use can lead to dependency and other side effects.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a plant known for its stalks, which are used in cooking and traditional medicine. It contains compounds like anthraquinones, which have laxative properties. These compounds stimulate the colon’s muscles, promoting bowel movements. Rhubarb is often used as a natural remedy for constipation. However, it’s important to use it cautiously and under guidance, as excessive consumption can lead to digestive issues. Additionally, only the stalks should be consumed, as the leaves contain toxic compounds.

Psyllium Seed

Psyllium seed comes from the Plantago ovata plant and is commonly used as a natural laxative and dietary fiber supplement. It contains soluble fiber, which absorbs water and forms a gel-like substance in the intestines. This gel adds bulk to the stool and helps regulate bowel movements by promoting regularity and preventing constipation. Psyllium seed is often used as an ingredient in fiber supplements or added to foods like oatmeal or smoothies. It’s important to drink plenty of water when consuming psyllium seed to prevent it from causing blockages in the digestive tract.

Additionally, psyllium seed may help lower cholesterol levels and improve heart health due to its ability to bind to bile acids in the gut. However, individuals with certain medical conditions, such as difficulty swallowing or narrowing of the esophagus, should use psyllium seed with caution and under the guidance of a healthcare profession

Natural laxative side effects

Side effects of natural laxatives vary but can include diarrhea, abdominal pain, muscle weakness, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalances. When used occasionally and in appropriate doses, laxatives are generally safe; however, prolonged or excessive use can lead to complications. Pregnant individuals experiencing constipation should prioritize fiber-rich foods over herbal remedies.

Despite being labeled “natural,” laxatives can still pose risks, and their effectiveness may correlate with side effects such as dehydration.

Natural laxatives for weight loss

Using natural laxatives for weight loss is a detrimental practice that can severely impact health. While they are sometimes turned to for quick weight loss, this approach is misguided. While it may lead to temporary reductions on the scale due to fluid loss, it doesn’t target fat mass.

Moreover, reliance on laxatives for weight control can signal underlying eating disorders such as orthorexia, anorexia, or bulimia. Serious side effects may include dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, weakness, abdominal pain, and colitis.

Natural laxatives for the elderly

Constipation often becomes more prevalent among individuals over 65 due to factors like decreased physical activity and inadequate hydration. Lifestyle adjustments are key to addressing this issue naturally:

  1. Incorporate light daily physical activity.
  2. Maintain hydration by drinking water regularly, even when not feeling thirsty.
  3. Start the day with a breakfast featuring whole grains and dried plums.
  4. Prioritize fiber-rich vegetables like cabbage, chard, and spinach.
  5. Consider drinking psyllium infusions, a fiber supplement that aids in relieving constipation while assisting in regulating the hunger-satiety cycle.

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