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Laxative Alternatives

March 30, 2009 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

One of the best types of testimonials I often hear about are from people who are able to stop using medications by adopting a healthier lifestyle or by utilizing a natural alternative. From my perspective, medications should only be used as a last resort. Unfortunately, my view may be in the minority. These days, medications are frequently used because they successfully mask bothersome symptoms and do so in a way that requires little to no effort from those using them. The problem with this philosophy is that every medication has the potential for side effects.

The senior population is a group that I’m especially concerned about. Seniors are often prescribed multiple medications and may often feel as though their options are restricted due to limited access to alternative care and/or a fixed income. Today I’d like to focus on a natural, inexpensive option for a very common problem in the elderly. But I urge my younger readers to consider this information as well. Not only do these same issues affect young and old alike, but the remedy discussed today may have far reaching health benefits beyond just “regularity”.

Fiber Rich Foods

Meet Metamucil

A study was recently published in the February issue of the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging. The goal of that trial was to determine whether oat fiber could serve as a viable alternative to laxatives in a treatment facility for the elderly. The rationale for a non-laxative option is that laxatives are known to promote nutritional malabsorption and weight loss in seniors under medical care. Here are some of the specifics of the experiment:

  • 15 elderly patients received 7 to 8 grams of oat bran per day mixed in with their food.
  • Another group of 15 seniors ate the same standardized hospital diet but with no added fiber.
  • Body weight, bathroom habits, eating patterns and laxative usage were monitored at the beginning, middle and end of the 12 week study.

The results of this research showed a few important trends:

  • 59% of the fiber users were able to discontinue their use of laxatives.
  • The group that didn’t have the added fiber actually increased their daily dosage of laxatives by 8%.
  • Those using the fiber did not lose weight. This was considered important because this group of participants was already classified as being “frail” at the start of the study.
  • Those consuming the laxatives did exhibit a decrease in body weight. This is consistent with the previous findings of malabsorption, which could lead to greater frailty and related complications.

A similar study was published in June of 2005 in the journal Gerodontology. In that research, 92 nursing home patients participated in an experiment to see if they could reduce or stop using laxatives by replacing them with a natural fiber supplement. The dosage of fiber used in this study was almost twice that of the first study. Here, 7 grams of fiber were given with a meal twice a day. The duration of this trial was also substantially longer at 2.5 years. Here’s a summary of what that study found:

  • 63 of the 92 patients were able to discontinue use of laxatives. That’s a success rate of about 69%.
  • From a cost standpoint, the hospital involved (New York Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn, NY) determined that providing the fiber (in lieu of the laxatives) could save approximately $3.50 a day per patient.

The authors of the study summarized the results in this way, “The fiber supplement was a safe and convenient alternative to laxatives and decreased the cost of medical care.”

Berries Are a Great Source of FiberI support using fiber supplements for managing constipation. But they’re not the only game in town. I’m confident that many of the volunteers who didn’t respond to the fiber therapy would likely benefit from some of the other suggestions I offered in a previous column entitled Constipation No More.

Please bare in mind that drinking extra fluids is a vital component to any fiber-enriched diet. Increasing fiber without drinking adequately can worsen constipation.

I think it’s also important to note that fiber can easily be acquired by making better dietary choices. A few of my favorite high fiber foods include: organic avocados, organic blackberries and raspberries and organic coconut flour. The beauty of using foods as a fiber source is that they provide other nutrients and phytochemicals (healthful plant chemicals) along with the┬ábulking agents. That’s a powerful combination for promoting good health.

Important Warning: It’s best to work with a health professional when trying to transition off of any medication. The specific needs of individuals and the differences among medications make any general recommendations impossible.

Be well!

JP

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8 Comments to “Laxative Alternatives”

  1. Mya Says:

    Hi JP,

    I have recently discovered that my body has been immnue to a axative tea I started taking in the summer and I’ve now had to increase my intake to 2-3 cups a day. I’m tired of trying to get off this aid and giving into it a couple days in. My doctor suggested I take “Apo- lactulose” a very sweet syrup that’s suppose to help instead of the harmful laxative “slim tea”. But because I’m on a very low calorie diet, I don’t think it’s the best thing for my weight loss. What should I do? I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, drink plenty of water and exercise a lot. I’ve also tried to take an all natural bulk fibre, which is horrible to shove down my throat!

    Please help me!!

    Thanks,
    Mya

  2. JP Says:

    Good day, Mya.

    There are a few options that I would personally consider if I were in your situation:

    1. I might supplement with magnesium. Many people start by taking 250-500 mg of magnesium citrate before going to bed. The desired effect is dose-dependent. So, some experimentation may be required.

    Magnesium is thought to relax intestinal muscles and draw moisture into the colon which both acilitate the smoother passage of stools.

    2. I would consider eating dried plums/prunes as part of my daily caloric intake. Here’s why: http://www.healthyfellow.com/405/the-forgotten-superfruit/

    3. Another good option is adding a reliable probiotic supplement to your daily routine. Many years ago, I knew a gentleman who resolved his nearly lifelong constipation by taking a daily dose of these healthy bacteria.

    4. I’d make sure that I was getting at least some healthy fats daily – fish oil would be on the top of my list. Adequate fat intake supports healthy elimination.

    5. Do you enjoy coffee? There are pros and cons to drinking it. One of the pros is that it can keep things “moving along”.

    Please note that I can’t specifically suggest any treatment to you – even if it’s 100% natural. I’m not a physician and I don’t know your complete medical history. But I hope that what I’ve shared may give you and your doctor more natural options to work with.

    Be well!

    JP

  3. Mya Says:

    Hi JP,

    Thanks for the quick response, your suggestions are definately ones I will try, especially because they are all natural! As for my medical history, I am very healthy for the most part, just have about 10-15 pnds to lose before I get to my suggested weight of 135 lbs. This issue has really started affecting my daily life because I feel so dependant and helpless. Hopefully your ideas will assist me in some way. Will it be ok to try a few of these remedies together or should I try these individually? and which do you reccommend I start with.

    Thanks so much!
    Mya

  4. JP Says:

    Mya,

    You’re welcome. :)

    My philosophy is to start with one remedy and then progressively add more, if they’re needed.

    I would personally try out the magnesium first. It’s an essential mineral that is often lacking in our diets and it’s relatively inexpensive. I think I would probably start off with 500 mg prior to retiring at night. If I *didn’t* see results within a few days, I would bump up the dosage by 250 mg (totaling 750 mg).

    If I needed additional support, I would likely include a good probiotic as a secondary step. There’s a product called Culturelle and a yogurt by the name of Activia which may help to move things along. In the case of probiotics, it could take up to a few weeks for the desired effect to become evident.

    http://www.culturelle.com/

    http://www.activia.us.com/bifidus.asp

    My third step would be to eat more fat – healthy fats such as fatty fish (salmon) and/or nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts). If that’s not an option, I would try supplementing with a good fish oil product. I’d personally start off with 2 (1,000 mg) soft gels twice-daily, taken with meals.

    Forth on my list would be prunes and my fifth choice would be coffee.

    Sometimes success is found using the first thing “you” try. Other times it requires a little bit of experimentation and mixing and matching. The description I’ve laid out today is how I believe I would personally try to solve this issue.

    I hope you find the right strategy that brings you relief. Please let me/us know how it works out for you. Fingers crossed!

    Be well!

    JP

  5. Mya Says:

    Hi JP,

    You’re great help :)

    I’m starting a few of these methods this weekend….wish me luck!

    Thanks,
    Mya

  6. JP Says:

    Good luck, Mya!

    Please let us know how it works out!

    Be well!

    JP

  7. Mya Says:

    Hi JP!

    So I thought I would let you know that I am doing a lot better with my situation :) I haven’t made too many changes to my everyday lifestyele, just increased my intake of raw veggies and fruits and lean protien also started to consume black coffee twice a day. I know it’s not the best solution but it’s working! I need something thats simple and accessable so I can maintain it in my diet. Thanks for the help! I have another question for you, I am considering to add a fat burner pill to my diet, I know it’s usually not the best bet to go with but I have a vacation coming up and I need all the help I can get in order to get a beach body in a month ;) So any suggestions? I’m willing to try anything quick and effective to add to my healthy eating and routine workouts!

    Thanks so much,
    Mya

  8. JP Says:

    Mya,

    That’s fantastic news! I’m very happy to hear it! :)

    I hate to be a spoil sport but I can’t really recommend much on the fast-track weight loss front. There are certain supplements that may help but they generally bring about modest and rather slow going reductions in weight.

    Adding a standardized green tea supplement *may* give you a bit of an added edge – and it’s generally health promoting. That much I can say. Some experts advise looking for a supplement that provides approximately 100 mg of EGCG per capsule and taking it 3 times a day. Please note the caffeine content varies based on the product you choose.

    When professional athletes need to slim down fast, they often adopt a low carb diet to help reduce weight and to shed excess water weight. This often brings about a more toned appearance. The key is to eat non-starchy, high fiber, nutritious foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids (mostly in fish). A moderate protein, low carb and higher fat diet tends to make you feel full which can ultimately help you drop some weight too.

    I hope this helps! Keep up the good work!

    Be well!

    JP

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