All about herbal laxatives!

Herbal laxatives have been used for millennia.

They are widely available over the counter in pharmacies and health stores, and are used daily by millions of people.

Why are we so constipated? It is a good question indeed.  Being a naturopathic colon hydrotherapist I get to talk about this subject frequently and in great length. Today however I would like to focus on laxatives, the different categories they fall into, their properties and when to use them.

What is a laxative?

A laxative is any substance or food that increases bowel movements. Herbal laxatives are herbs that assist with the above; they vary in strength and the nature of their action.

There are three main categories of herbal laxatives: purgatives, demulcents and carthatics.

Purgatives are strong laxatives, referred to as “attaching laxatives”, and are normally used during an episode of acute constipation. They have a stimulating effect on the muscles of the colon therefore promoting peristalsis and only used for a limited period of time. The most commonly used purgatives are rhubarb root, cascara bark, aloe, yellow dock and senna. It is advised to use these herbs combined with calming digestive herbs such as chamomile or fennel.

Demulcent or otherwise known as “lubricating laxatives” due to their actions, are used to counteract dryness, lubricate the colon or bulk the stools to ease bowel movements. These type laxatives are suitable for chronic constipation and can be used long term. They are indicated for constipation caused due low intake of fibre in the diet or a sedentary lifestyle. These laxatives are suitable for people that suffer from haemorrhoids, elderly people and those bedridden. The most commonly used demulcent laxatives are phyllium husk and flaxseed (bulking laxatives) as well as castor oil, olive and sesame oil (lubricating laxatives). High intake of water is crucial to “activate” bulking laxatives.

Carthatic laxatives these are the strongest types of laxatives and only recommended for occasional use. These are restricted herbs. They are also referred to as “drastics” as they also eliminate abdominal fluids and have strong diuretic properties.

Other very popular laxatives worth mentioning are Epson Salts (Sodium Sulphate) and Magnesium citrate. These are referred to as Osmotic laxatives due to their action. They draw water to the intestine to soften the stool and expel it in the form of “diarrhoea”. If they were herb they would belong to the purgative laxatives group.

I recommend the use herbal laxatives and carefully choose them depending on the individual case. We also use them in conjunction with colon hydrotherapy. The only suitable laxatives to used before a colonic treatment are bulking laxatives.

Take good care of your bowel!

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