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How Can You Get Off the Laxative Merry-Go-Round?

Have you ever felt the need for a laxative? These medications are popular, but there are downsides to regular use.

Laxatives remain one of the most popular products in the pharmacy. Millions worry that if they do not have a bowel movement every day they will become sick. Sometimes a laxative habit can develop over time for other reasons, as you will read below. Is there any reason to worry about frequent laxative use?

Connection Between Laxative Use and Dementia:

A new study suggests a link between regular laxative use and dementia (Neurology, Feb. 22, 2023). To detect this, investigators analyzed data from more than half a million people in the UK Biobank database.

People who used osmotic laxatives on a regular basis were at greatest risk. These compounds, such as lactulose, milk of magnesia or polyethylene glycol (PEG3350), attract water into the colon so that stool is more easily passed.

The increased risk for those taking just one laxative was 28% higher than for people who rarely or never took them. On the other hand, those who regularly took two different laxatives had a 90% increase in risk. The absolute risk over a decade was 0.4% for people who did not use laxatives and 1.3% for those who did. The investigators did not determine whether laxative use itself is harmful or whether constipation might be a marker for an independent risk factor.

Trying to Stop Laxative Abuse:

Q. Years ago I had a serious eating problem (anorexia) and began to use laxatives to help me keep weight off. I eventually became dependent on them and now would like to discontinue their use.

When I try to stop using laxatives, I am, of course, unable to have a bowel movement on my own and end up taking a laxative again. How can I break this cycle?

A. Your dilemma demonstrates the danger of laxative abuse. Regular use of laxatives for months or years can reduce the digestive tract’s ability to function normally. Laxatives can also disrupt your electrolyte balance by causing intermittent diarrhea.

The best approach to overcome this problem is fiber, fluid and patience. It can take time for your body to adjust. Here are some suggestions for facilitating the process:

  • Boil two tablespoons of flax in three quarts of water. Add two ounces to orange juice each morning.
  • Take psyllium (Metamucil, Per Diem Fiber, etc).
  • Chew sugarless gum.
  • Consider a magnesium supplement if your kidneys are functioning normally.

The Last Resort Constipation Remedy:

If all else fails, you may want to try “Power Pudding” (AKA “Special Constipation Remedy”).  The recipe for making this nurses secret remedy is found in our Guide to Constipation and our Guide to Digestive Disorders.

Should you like to see how to make Power Pudding and the flax recipe, we have prepared a special video with detailed instructions:

Share your laxative story in the comment section below. Have you ever become dependent on laxatives? How do you combat constipation? Let us know your secret?

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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