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In Germany alone, about 25 percent of the population suffer from constipation almost regularly. However, the number of unreported cases of people suffering from permanently delayed digestion is likely to be much higher. Two main reasons for this are the unbalanced food range and the everyday life characterized by lack of exercise in our modern times.
The sales market for laxatives for the treatment of constipation or slowed digestion has increased significantly in view of this increasing burden on our digestive tract. However, not every preparation is recommended without hesitation, since numerous pharmaceutical laxatives keep a long list of side effects. In addition, many laxatives are only suitable for short-term applications and therefore cannot be used for permanent digestive problems. However, it is often not necessary to take aggressive pharmaceuticals. Especially in the field of nutrition and naturopathy, there is a wealth of gentle alternatives to artificial laxatives.
How do laxatives work?
Under the term laxative (also: Laxatives or Laxatives) is commonly understood to mean medicinal products that facilitate digestion and thus promote bowel evacuation. The effect of laxatives is mostly based on stimulation of the intestinal peristalsis. Behind this lies the entirety of all movements of the intestinal muscles, which combined trigger the wave-like muscle contractions that convey the food porridge through the intestinal loops. If the intestinal peristalsis is reduced for some reason, such as poor nutrition or a lack of exercise, the digestive process will also slow down. This initially leads to stool (coprostasis), which sooner or later provokes such an extreme backlog of stool that constipation occurs. The jammed stool causes blockages within the intestine, which no longer only delays the bowel movement, but also completely stops it. In order to stimulate the intestinal peristalsis and thus resolve constipation or stool stool, laxatives apply at various points depending on the type and ingredients:
- Swelling substances:
Many remedies aim to increase the stool volume and thus increase the pressure on the intestinal muscles. For this purpose, the preparations usually contain swelling substances that swell in the intestine with the addition of water. It is therefore important to drink a lot after taking laxatives. The same effect can also be achieved with laxative foods such as brown rice or wheat bran, which also contain a healthy portion of fiber. This is plant-based biomaterial in cereals, fruits and vegetables that cannot be digested and therefore increases the stool volume, including cellulose. Dietary fiber is a natural source that can be fed into the body with daily nutrition without the use of artificial laxatives.
Some laxatives also contain various lubricants that allow the stool to pass through the intestine more easily. In artificial preparations, these are mostly chemical substances, paraffins or docusate sodium. Corresponding substances are often sold in combination with other laxative or lubricious substances, such as sorbitol or sodium dodecyl sulfate, in the form of laxative suppositories or enemas. In the case of natural laxatives, on the other hand, this is mostly done by vegetable mucilages such as those found in linseed or brown rice. The positive thing about the natural lubricants is that they sometimes have an anti-inflammatory and regulating the intestinal flora, which is why, in contrast to laxatives, they are also recommended for people with chronic diseases of the gastrointestinal tract.
In order to make the chair not only more slippery, but also softer, some laxatives are designed to add more liquid to the faeces. Depending on the preparation, this is done by ingredients such as Glauber's salt (sodium sulfate) or Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate), by sugar alcohols such as sorbitol or by lactose. The substances improve the passage of liquid through the intestinal walls, which means that more water can be stored in the intestine and the stool softened. Herbal preparations also have a similar effect, whereby the focus here is rather on an increased basic release of water into the intestine. Ricinoleic acid, for example, is a more than famous medicinal ingredient. For a long time, the essence of castor oil was considered the number one natural laxative until medicinal herbs with similarly good hydration properties were known, such as rotten bark and senna leaves. The latter two contain anthrachione, which is very similar in effect to ricinoleic acid.
When are laxatives an option?
Constipation, which requires taking laxatives, can happen for a variety of reasons. The most common culprit here is digestive food, which the modern food industry literally produces on the conveyor belt. While carbohydrates such as sugar and starch, which significantly impair digestion, are used excessively in the production of food, the content of vegetable fiber, for example in the form of cellulose, is rather deficient. These healthy fiber suppliers would prevent gastric blockage. In this regard, the worst causes of constipation include:
- Finished products,
- Fast food,
- and white flour products.
A lack of fluids can also cause poor digestion. It is therefore sensible to counter constipation in addition to taking laxatives, by providing a sufficient supply of vitamins and minerals and drinking at least two to three liters of water a day so that the body's electrolyte balance can be regulated again. This is all the more important since laxatives often mean increased fluid consumption because they deprive the body of additional water for softening the stool.
And lack of exercise, which has become a real widespread disease due to our modern and often seat-bound everyday life, significantly affects digestion and can be a reason for the need for laxatives. Constant sitting slows down the intestinal peristalsis, which results in delayed digestion. In addition, there are everyday aspects that also hit our stomach considerably and can impair healthy digestion, such as:
- Alcohol and drug use,
- Inner unrest,
- Performance pressure,
- emotional distress,
- Stress at work
- and even pollutants in the environment.
The digestive tract is not only responsible for the utilization of food, but also the occasionally first organ complex that raises the alarm in the event of an unbalanced lifestyle. It is understandable that he goes on strike if something is wrong in his personal environment. In addition, medicinal side effects may be mentioned as conceivable triggers of constipation. Here it is substances contained in the medication that temporarily paralyze the digestive tract.
Important: In the event of chronic constipation, private treatment with laxatives is strongly discouraged! There are usually serious underlying diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome or an intestinal obstruction behind the symptom, which is why prompt medical clarification must have priority over any private measures.
Side effects of artificial laxatives
The list of possible side effects is not entirely without, especially with artificial pharmaceuticals. Flatulence and mild abdominal cramps shortly after ingestion are the most harmless consequences. For example, the increased liquefaction of the stool can lead to diarrhea. On the one hand, this is questionable with regard to dangerous drainage of the body, because the longer the preparations are used, the higher the risk of a critical lack of fluids and a disturbed electrolyte balance. On the other hand, the diarrhea increasingly flushes important minerals out of the body.
A potassium deficiency in particular can have devastating consequences, because the mineral is essential for the liver, kidney and bladder functions, as well as for muscle and thus heart health. With side effects such as kidney problems, liver problems, cardiac arrhythmias or a massive muscle weakness, which can also affect the intestinal muscles, is not to be trifled with.
With laxative suppositories and enemas in particular, allergic reactions to certain ingredients are known, which usually result in an unpleasant burning sensation in the anus region. There is also a constant warning about a certain habit of getting used to rectal laxatives. So there is a kind of “addiction risk”. This is far from conducive to digestion. Because those who use strong laxatives as standard to empty their intestines not only get used to an unhealthy misuse of medication, but also take away basic functions from their intestines. Long-term problems that may result from long-term use of such laxatives are:
- or even stool incontinence.
Likewise, long-term use of active pharmaceutical ingredients is basically irritating to the stomach and intestines. Anyone who uses laxative medications for several weeks therefore risks serious damage to their digestive organs, which, in addition to severe gastrointestinal infections, do not rule out the development of colon cancer.
Strong laxatives can also be particularly dangerous for women. Since the preparations intervene aggressively in the body's metabolism, there may be interactions with hormone preparations such as the contraceptive pill. Both increased and no effects of the pill were reported. Many artificial laxatives are also unsuitable for pregnant women who are known to suffer from indigestion very frequently. The targeted stimulation of muscle contractions in the abdominal cavity by the preparations can, under certain circumstances, lead to premature labor, and in the very early stages of pregnancy even to miscarriage.
Natural laxatives as a gentle alternative
As shown, there are a number of reasons why natural home remedies are preferable for the removal of artificial preparations. Many natural remedies have a much longer application history than artificial laxatives. For example, castor oil was used by the ancient Egyptians around 2400 BC to treat constipation. Wheat bran, on the other hand, was a proven laxative for the Assyrians, who used it for constipations around 1500 BC. Hildegard von Bingen, the mother of herbalism, finally relied on psyllium and fennel for constipation - two medicinal herbs that are still considered the most important natural laxatives for pregnant women because they have a particularly gentle effect. However, there are a number of other natural laxatives that can make the use of aggressive pharmaceuticals superfluous when used correctly.
Vegetables soften the stool and promote digestive secretions
As far as nutrition is concerned, people with constipation can do a lot to help their digestion get back on their feet. When it comes to vegetables, sauerkraut is considered to be very digestive. Although you should enjoy it in moderation, because the cabbage vegetables also promote intestinal winds, it is rich in histamine and vitamin C, which stimulates the production of stomach acid and thus enables proper pre-digestion of the food. The herb also provides a large amount of fiber, which is also helpful for digestion. Since sauerkraut is also a fermented variant of white cabbage, it also has a high lactic acid content. The lactic acid bacteria found in it, which can also be found in beetroot, are known to strengthen the intestinal flora, which is another bonus for indigestion. Sauerkraut as a side dish, as well as sauerkraut soup and salad are therefore an ideal way to eliminate constipations. The less tasty, but all the more efficient sauerkraut juice is an additional recommendation because it supports not only gastric juice but also fluid secretion in the intestine.
Speaking of liquid: the consumption of plant-based foods that are particularly hydrated is also highly recommended in the event of constipation. The more liquid in a food, the easier it is for the digestive tract to use. Vegetables such as
- and tomatoes
you should also absolutely include them in your laxative nutritional measures. The good thing about these vegetables is that they not only provide the body with a lot of liquid, but because of their high water content, the stomach and intestines are hardly burdened by other, difficult to digest components. In addition, a wealth of vitamins and minerals are dissolved in the vegetable's own water cocktail, which also benefits digestion.
Our tip: Tomato and fennel rice to aid digestion
Ingredients: (for two servings)
- 200 grams of brown rice,
- 400 milliliters of vegetable broth,
- two beef tomatoes,
- half a fennel bulb,
- a clove of garlic,
- a small onion,
- three tablespoons of tablespoons of olive oil,
- three stalks of parsley,
- Sea salt and mild peppers.
Step 1: Boil the brown rice in the vegetable broth to a slimy consistency. The resulting slime additionally supports the laxative effect of the dish.
2nd step: While the rice is simmering, onions, garlic, tomatoes and fennel are peeled or washed. The garlic is now finely chopped or crushed. Cut the onions and tomatoes into small, bite-size cubes. The washed fennel is cut into tender slices.
3rd step: Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onions until translucent. Then garlic, slices of fennel and tomato pieces are added step by step and seared. Finally, season the vegetables with chopped parsley, peppers and sea salt and mix in the rice.
Fruit is not just a laxative
In addition to their high vitamin content, which can be rated as extremely positive when constipated, there is a lot of fiber hidden in fruits that can quickly help the intestinal peristalsis to get back on its feet in the event of constipation. The consumption of dried fruit is particularly recommended. Since the dried fruit types act like highly concentrated suppliers of ballast and nutrients, even small portions get a relatively large number of digestive substances (e.g. fructose or sorbitol) into the gastrointestinal tract. When choosing your dried fruit, you should pay attention to the right types of fruit. These primarily include:
- and sloes.
In addition, as with vegetables, the following applies: Water-containing fruit helps with removal! In the event of constipation, you should therefore also select fruit types such as:
- or grapes.
Many types of fruit, including in particular plums and various berry fruits, also serve as an ingredient for medicinal plant recipes to promote digestion. Elderberry, rhubarb root, blackthorn and plums in particular are often used for the production of laxative juices (e.g. plum juice), digestive schnapps and gastrointestinal tea. Numerous types of fruit therefore contain laxative ingredients not only in their fruits, but also in their herbs and roots.
Sour milk products and cereals strengthen the digestive tract
As already shown on sauerkraut, the bacteria of lactic acid offer a special kind of digestion-promoting effect. For the intestinal bacterial environment they mean a real "troop reinforcement" that provides active support in the decomposition process of food. Drinking lactic acid products is recommended, as is the consumption of digestive fruits and vegetables - this is not only true in the event of constipation. With regular consumption, dairy products can ensure in advance that the digestive processes are strengthened so that constipation does not even occur. Products with a high lactic acid content are, for example:
- or whey.
With a view to the useful laxative effect of cellulose, you can also sprinkle yogurt with wheat bran, linseed or psyllium. For linseed in particular, it is advisable to soak them in a little water beforehand. The resulting mucus foam strengthens the stomach walls and allows food residues to slide effortlessly through the intestine.
Juices and teas donate more than just liquid
In terms of proper hydration, constipations are a clear case for fruit and vegetable juices. The same fruits and vegetables, which in their pure form ensure better digestion, offer ideal help even when pressed. Whether plum juice, sauerkraut juice or elderberry juice - they all support the stomach with the rapid removal of stuffing food residues by simply flushing the blockage out of the body. A good tip in this context is cloudy apple juice. The pectins contained here ensure regular bowel movements and excellent detoxification of the body.
The real secret weapon among natural laxatives are herbal teas. Anise and fennel tea in particular are known for their extremely good laxative effects. The two herbs are so gentle that they can be recommended without hesitation even to expectant mothers and children. Overall, the following tea herbs are particularly recommended as herbal laxatives:
- Rotten tree bark,
- Shepherd's purse,
- Rhubarb root,
- Red clover,
- Senna leaves,
- Silver thistle,
- and plums.
Depending on the ingredients, laxative tea herbs either stimulate intestinal peristalsis, increase enzyme secretion in the digestive tract or soften stool by stimulating water secretion in the intestine. In order to achieve a compact healing effect, it is usually sufficient to combine one or two gentle tea herbs (for example fennel or peppermint) with a more substantial herb such as rotten bark.
Recipe for a delicious laxative tea:
- 10 grams of anise,
- 10 grams of fennel,
- 20 grams of licorice,
- 60 grams of rotten tree bark.
Mix the dry tea herbs together. Put a teaspoon of the herbal mixture in a cup and pour about 250 milliliters of hot water over it. In order to relieve constipation or constipation, two cups of the decoction can be drunk per day, preferably after meals.
Other tips for resolving / preventing constipation:
- To temporarily use laxative food in case of constipation is unfortunately only half the battle. It makes more sense to permanently change your own diet so that easily digestible or digestive foods dominate the menu.
- Easily laxative tea herbs like anise or fennel can also be consumed regularly in moderation to support digestion. Without any specific complaints, however, one or two cups a day should remain. Alternatively, you can have a bitter stomach after eating.
- Exercise or exercise is important both for constipation and otherwise to keep the intestinal peristalsis fit. Therefore, make sure to meet your minimum level of exercise every day. Many mobile devices now offer free pedometers for this purpose, which make it easier to check your own movement habits. Above all, people who predominantly pursue professional activities that are carried out while sitting should proceed very conscientiously here.
- Avoid stress and deadline pressure in everyday life. Both can have a very long-term negative effect on digestion. The same applies to mental stress, worries and grief. So make sure that you treat yourself and your digestive tract with enough rest and relaxation. Regulated sleeping times as well as regular breaks are essential for this. In addition, relaxation methods such as yoga or meditation can provide more balance.
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Miriam Adam, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch
- Parinaz Moezi, Alireza Salehi, Hossein Molavi, et al .: "Prevalence of Chronic Constipation and Its Associated Factors in Pars Cohort Study: A Study of 9000 Adults in Southern Iran", MEJDD
- Sun Hwan Bae: "Diets for Constipation", Pediatr Gastroenterol Hepatol Nutr. 2014 Dec; 17 (4), p.203-208
- Volker Schmiedel: "Constipation This is how the intestine gets going". Dr. Falk Pharma GmbH (2007), 14th edition, S1-29.