Laxatives are understood to mean all substances that accelerate the defecation and thus help with constipation. A constipation is when, over a longer period, defecation occurs at most three times a week and is possible only under strong pressing.
In addition to chemical laxatives, natural home remedies can help with constipation. Compared to laxatives, they are generally better tolerated and have fewer side effects. By the way, laxatives should in any case only be used to treat constipation and not to lose weight.
This is how laxatives work
Laxatives have been known for millennia. For example, in ancient Egypt, blockages were treated with castor oil. Even today, laxatives are still commonly used, about nine million Germans regularly take laxatives, about a third even reaches back daily on laxatives.
During digestion, water is gradually removed from the rather liquid stool in the large intestine. This thickens the chair and makes it firmer. Most laxatives start at this point: They either ensure that the withdrawal of water from the chair is obstructed or that the elimination of water in the chair is promoted. This makes it softer, gains in volume and can be excreted more easily.
Use of laxatives
Laxatives can either be taken orally or introduced directly into the intestine. If a suppository or enema is used, the laxatives usually work very fast. In the case of oral ingestion, on the other hand, it takes much longer before the effect begins: The tablet is best taken in the evening before going to sleep, as the effect only starts after six to ten hours, depending on the laxative.
If you are taking a laxative for the first time, keep in mind that after the bowel has been completely emptied, it may take longer than usual for the next stool to start. However, it is often mistakenly believed after the first ingestion that the bowel is still blocked and once again used for a laxative.
How exactly a laxative is used, and what risks and side effects it has, also depends on what type of laxative it is. Generally, laxatives are divided into the following categories:
- Swelling and fillers
- Osmotic laxative
- Hydragoge laxative
Below you will find more detailed information about each type of laxative.
Swelling and fillers
The sources and fillers include, for example, wheat bran, linseed, agar-agar or psyllium. They are all of plant origin. Swelling agents in the intestine absorb water and swell up. This increases the amount of stools and makes the chair softer. In order for the swelling agents to absorb enough water, it is particularly important to drink enough. Because if there is too little water in the digestive tract, in the worst case it can lead to an intestinal obstruction.
Swelling agents have the advantage that they act locally in the intestine and have few side effects. However, the intake of the swelling substances can cause bloating. In addition, they show no effect in organic diseases of the intestine. Swelling agents can only be taken orally.
The group of osmotic laxatives includes lactose, lactulose, Epsom salt, Glauber's salt and sorbitol. They soften the stool by binding water in the intestine. Due to the larger chair volume, the stool stimulus is triggered. In addition, the chair can be better eliminated due to the softer consistency. Just as with the intake of swelling and filling agents, sufficient fluid intake is also important for osmotic laxatives.
Osmotic laxatives can be taken orally as well as introduced directly into the intestine. They are often used before surgery, as they lead to a complete emptying of the intestine.
The disadvantage is that there is often an increased mineral and vitamin loss when osmotic laxatives are used. This can lead to deficiency symptoms over time. In addition, some osmotic laxatives such as Glauber's salt may not be taken in hypertension, as the hypertension may otherwise worsen. In addition, certain medications, such as the birth control pill, may interact.
Hydragogenic laxatives include herbal ingredients such as aloe, rhubarb, buckthorn bark and senna leaves, as well as synthetic laxatives such as bisacodyl or sodium picosulfate. Also, the highly laxative castor oil is assigned to this group of intestinal laxatives.
Hydragic laxatives prevent thickening of the stool in the colon by promoting the inflow of water from the intestinal wall into the intestine. Some laxatives of this group also help to improve the proper movement of the intestine, so that the chair can be transported easily.
Anthraquinone-containing laxatives (senna leaves, buckthorn bark, aloe and rhubarb) often cause diarrhea and thus result in a high loss of water and electrolyte. In addition, they irritate the intestines and are suspected to be carcinogenic. Diarrhea and cramps can also occur with synthetic laxatives. In addition, they lead to habituation over time.
Lubricants must be introduced directly into the intestine. They ensure that hardened stool portions can be better emptied by lubricating the intestinal walls and softening the stool. Lubricants include laxatives such as paraffin oil or glycerine.
The use of laxatives with glycerin can cause severe irritation of the intestinal mucosa. When using paraffin oil, the potassium and calcium levels can fall sharply. In addition, long-term use can cause damage to the anal area and paraffin can accumulate in the body. The foreign bodies can cause chronic inflammation in the body, which in the long term can lead to degeneration of cells and thus cancer.