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Herbal Laxatives to Treat Constipation

February 27, 2011

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Constipation is a gastrointestinal problem that affects almost everyone at some point in his or her life. Constipation causes painful or difficult bowel movements. When you experience constipation, initially reducing pain and eliminating hardened or dried stool from the bowels is the first objective. Laxatives, stool softeners, and colon cleanses are widely available for possible treatment of constipation. However, the use of these products can have severe side effects as well as a risk of colon dependency. Herbs and spices have been used for thousands of years for all different types of diseases, conditions and symptoms. Herbal remedies are available to relieve constipation. There are three types of herbal laxatives used to treat constipation- a bulking agent, mild laxative, and purgative or stimulant.



            Bulking agents help with flaccid constipation where the muscles of the colon have been weakened. Herbal bulk laxatives are rich in fiber which when combined with water expand creating a natural contraction in the colon to push out stool, feces or food residue. Bulk laxatives are safe and effective.  They are not habit forming and there is no risk of colon dependency. Herbal bulk laxatives can also be used for cases of intestinal inflammation, hemorrhoids and colitis. Bulk herbal laxatives include psyllium seeds and husks, flaxseeds, fenugreek, and kelp. Psyllium seeds and husks are the most popular bulk herbal laxatives. They are gentle and effective at relieving constipation.



            Mild laxatives are gentle diuretics, which increase the flow of bile to the large intestine. Mild laxatives are best used on tense, and over contracted colons. They relax the colon to allow stool and feces to pass. Mild laxatives are not bulking agents or stimulants. They reduce muscle spasm, and soften stool to help evacuate the stool from the bowel. Mild laxatives include dandelion root, chickweed, yellow dock, licorice root, hibiscus, burdock root, ginger, and milk thistle. Dandelion root and licorice root are the gentlest laxatives. They can be combined with other herbs in infusions and decoctions to relieve constipation.



            Herbal stimulants are the most frequently used laxatives. Stimulants are very potent and may cause painful cramping. Purgatives contain anthraquinones, which irritate the colon muscles to cause a contraction. They should not be used regularly due to the risk of dependency, allergic reaction and irritation. Herbal stimulants include aloe gel, buckthorn, cascara sagrada, senna and rhubarb.

            Herbal remedies for constipation can be consumed in foods or made into infusions or decoctions. The leaves, flowers and upper part of the plant are used in tea infusions, where as the roots are used in tea decoctions. Consult an herbalist, or naturopathic physician before starting the use of any type of laxative. Always use herbal laxatives as directed. If used incorrectly or taken for an extended period of time the colon muscles can weaken, the body can become dehydrated, potassium levels drop and you can experience other symptoms such as diarrhea and irregular heartbeat. Herbal laxatives should only be used for a short period of time, no more than 10 days.