Laxative AlternativesMarch 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”.
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.”
I 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 bulking 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.
Tags: Constipation, Fiber
Posted in Detoxification