Stop Taking Laxatives (What To Do Instead)
By Tyler Woodward
Did you know that over 2.5 million Americans are constipated? To deal with this Americans are turning to synthetic laxatives to “get things moving". Little do they know that laxatives are not the answer.
What Does Your Poop Say About You?
Chronic constipation can be defined as, “unsatisfactory defecation characterized by infrequent stool, difficult stool passage or both at least for previous 3 months”. The more commonly used definition of constipation is having less than 3 bowel movements weekly. It’s also worth noting the type of bowel movements that you are having. To classify the various type of poops, Ken Heaton from the University of Bristol invented the Bristol Stool Chart:
The “ideal” poop type should be somewhere in the range of the Type 3 & 4 poops. It’s not a huge deal to have poops more similar to the types 1-2 or 5-7, but if you’re consistently out of the “normal poop range” it’s likely worth trying to improve your digestion.
- Brown - Normal
- Red - Can be from eating red foods (like beets, tomato's red drinks), but most likely some form of bleeding in the intestines. Small amounts of blood can be normal, but a large amounts of bright red can mean you have intestinal bleeding and should seek medical attention.
- Black - Can be from supplementing with iron or using pepto bismol
- Green - Can be from eating green foods or green dyed foods, antibiotics or can mean a bacteria infections
- Yellow - Excretion of excess fat or an infection
You might think of the digestive system like a really long pipe that starts in the mouth, with the consumption of food, and ends in the anus, with the excretion of waste. You begin digestion by physically breaking down your food by chewing or mastication. Then the food proceeds to your stomach and eventually small intestines where the food is broken down into individual molecules and then absorbed into the bloodstream. Lastly, we have the large intestine which is often called the colon.
The large intestine is the last step in the digestive process. Any remaining nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream, much of the “biological material” that the body produces for digestion is recycled here, and whatever’s left is converted into poop. The large intestine is also the home of our “gut microbiome” of the digestive system, where billions of bacteria reside. Due to our modern diets and lifestyle habits many people struggle today with digestive issues or constipation and turn to laxatives for relief.
Synthetic laxatives often come with a host of harmful side effects including: laxative dependence, bloating, cramps, diarrhea, the list goes on. But the biggest issue with these synthetic laxatives is that they attempt to fix the symptom of constipation instead of addressing the root cause of poor gut health.
How Laxatives Work:
To combat these intestinal issues a number of laxatives have been produced. Here are the main types of laxatives:
- Fiber-Based Laxatives (bulk forming laxatives) - Made up of indigestible fiber that adds “bulk” to your stool, in attempt to increase the size of your poop and making you go to the bathroom
- Osmotic Laxatives - These draw water from the rest of your body into your intestines to soften your stools’ and make them easier to pass
- Saline Laxatives - These laxatives use mineral salts to draw water into the intestines.
- Stimulant Laxatives - These stimulate the peristalsis in your intestines helping to further “move things along” the digestive tract.
- Lubricant Laxatives - These are made up of fat-based oils that help to lubricate the walls of your intestinal tract, making stool easier to pass through.
Read More: What Causes Constipation?
Laxative Side Effects:
It’s worth noting that the majority of these laxatives come with a host of side-effects including:
- Laxative dependence
- Upset stomach
- Loose stools
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Rectal irritation
- Liver issues
- Nutrient deficiencies
Digestive Friendly Food Swaps:
Unsaturated Fats → Saturated Fats
Seed Oils (aka polyunsaturated fatty acids) are extremely unstable in our body due to the large amount of double bonds in these fatty acids. When exposed to our high body temperature they are likely to break apart (oxidize) releasing a free radical in the process causing oxidative stress and inflammation. Saturated fats are not only much more delicious, but extremely stable in our body and therefore do not contribute to inflammation. And if you’re worried about the increased cholesterol levels from eating saturated fats, don’t worry this myth has actually been disproved, check out my article, “Cholesterol Collusion” for more information.
Stems & Leaves -> Roots
Fiber supplements or laxatives are aimed at “adding bulk” to your stools. Fiber is indigestible in our body, meaning that it more or less leaves our body unchanged from how we ate it. The issue is that fiber can provide food to the “bad bacteria” in our colon/large intestine which can contribute to bacterial overgrowth. Overgrowth of this “bad bacteria” can contribute to increased inflammation, decreased ability to absorb nutrients and the bacteria spreading into the small intestine (SIBO - small intestine bacterial overgrowth).
On the other hand, certain types of fibers have antibacterial properties that are capable of fighting the “bad” bacteria in your gut and helping excrete it from your body, keeping your microbiome balanced. These are generally roots like carrots or mushrooms that originate from underground and have had to evolve over time to protect themselves from bacterial predators. Consuming a raw carrot daily between meals can work wonders for your digestive system.Gluten -> Sourdough + Gums -> Gums
Gluten & Gums - Just like fiber gluten and gums (carrageenan, guar gum, xanthan gum) are types of indigestible proteins and carbohydrates respectively. Unlike fiber these have no added benefits other than increasing inflammation, inhibiting digestion and nutrient absorption. These foods have become much bigger issues in recent years due to e modern manufacturing processes, but in the past these ingredients were unlikely to be found in our food at least to the extent they are today. In fact, before commercial yeast was invented bakers relied on bread to rise naturally through a fermentation process that actually breaks down the majority of the gluten in wheat. This is known as sourdough bread and has all the nutrients, texture and deliciousness of bread without the digestive consequences.
Excess Water -> Juices
This one in particular may come as a surprise, but overhydration is real. Water is generally electrolyte poor, meaning that water does not contain any of the electrolytes (magnesium, sodium, phosphorus, calcium and potassium) that are stored in your bloodstream and in your cells. When you drink lots of water, it dilutes your bloodstream and you lose lots of these electrolytes through your urine. This is not to say that it’s not important to be hydrated, but make sure you are getting adequate amounts of electrolytes through salting your food, drinking juices, or coconut water. Swapping out some water for juice, especially when you’re backed up, will keep your electrolytes in balance while also providing you with the fluid you need to help get things moving.
Pro-Tip: Salt Your Foods! - There’s a reason that you crave salty foods and that it tastes so good, sodium (The Na in NaCl -table salt chemical formula) is an electrolyte and is required in large amounts by your body to function properly. Instead of using saline laxatives to draw salt from other areas of your body into the intestines, why not just consume adequate amounts of salt in the first place?
Coffee -> Coffee
Let’s be honest, coffee is delicious and actually has a ton of health benefits and can also help with digestion. Coffee acts as a stimulant in the body and can thereby help to trigger “peristalsis” or in lay terms “get things moving along”, as I’m sure most coffee drinkers have experienced with. If coffee has been too effective at this for you, then I recommend drinking the coffee with a meal and don’t drink it black. I personally love to add some of our zuChocolate collagen and some honey or maple syrup to my morning coffee to make it absolutely delicious.
Difficult To Digest Foods -> Easily Digestible Foods (Temporarily).
This is going to vary slightly from person to person, but find whatever foods work best for you. I recommend drinking lots of juices, fruits, high-quality organic eggs and meat, and depending on the person you could even opt for starchy carbohydrates like rice and potatoes or sourdough bread.
I recommend letting your digestive system recover for a few weeks and then you can start phasing back in the foods you love, but may not always agree with. For example, a lot of people have issues with digesting dairy, but if you take a break from eating it for a few weeks, improve your digestive health and slowly phase it back in, you’ll very likely find it much easier to digest.
Sedentary Lifestyles -> Moving more
Although this is not a dietary tip, moving more can be extremely helpful for facilitating digestion. Many of us live much more sedentary lifestyles than our ancestors did and don’t move nearly as much as a result . Doing some form of exercise daily or at the minimum walking 5-10,000 steps daily can really help to get things moving and stimulate “peristalsis”.
Dietary Supplements (The Icing On Top Of The Cake)
Supplements can be a very useful and convenient way of improving and resetting your digestion. There are a number of dietary supplements that can be extremely helpful in getting things moving, fighting bacterial overgrowth, and resetting your digestive system. To simplify things for you we’ve created our supplement formulation, zuPOO, designed to keep your digestive system running smoothly.
zuPOO is a research-backed supplement that contains the clinical dose of 8 individual ingredients designed to work synergistically to flush you out and any "bad bacteria" with it. zuPOO contains:
- Milk Thistle
- Buckthorn Bark Powder
- Senna Leaf Powder
- Cascara Sagrada
- Bentonite Clay
- Cape Aloe Leaf Extract
- Cayenne Red Powder
- Slippery Elm Bark Powder
My goal in writing this article, as always, is to provide you with logically-based principles that you can use to form your own conclusions regarding any information you may come across within this subject. Remember, I am not a doctor or medical professional. I just look at the science and put it into layman’s term, so anyone can understand it and make better, more educated decisions for themselves as a result. I really hope you found this article interesting and if you have anything to add to this article, or any comments or criticism, feel free to reach out to me on our facebook groups (The Thermo Diet Community Group, The UMZU Community Group) or on Instagram @tylerwoodward_fit. Also, please feel free to share this article with anyone that might be interested.
Thanks for reading!
Until next time… be good