5 Types of Laxatives

by Melissa Chichester

Maintaining good digestive health is one of the most important ways to manage your health – and it’s more complex than you think. 

Digestion helps your body get the nutrients it needs from food, including proteins, fats,  carbohydrates, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and water. As these nutrients enter the digestive system, they are broken down and distributed for use. 

Unfortunately, this process can slow down and lead to constipation – and when that happens many people turn to laxatives. And although they can be purchased over the counter, there are still important considerations to make before turning to them for relief. 

What are laxatives?

Laxatives are made to help relieve constipation and promote regular bowel movements. They are for occasional use, not daily use. Over-the-counter laxatives usually work within a few hours or overnight. However, results vary from person to person.

Types of laxatives

Laxatives are common at convenience stores. Here are some types of laxatives you may have seen. 

  • Stool softeners make waste softer and easier to pass
  • Saline laxatives such as magnesium citrate pull water into the small intestine to encourage elimination
  • Bulk-forming laxatives absorb water and help form stools. Metamucil is a common bulk-forming laxative. 
  • Lubricant laxatives like mineral oil enemas help soften stools and make them easier to pass
  • Stimulant laxatives are very common and speed up digestive movement to encourage elimination

How to keep your digestive system running smoothly 

Digestive system disruptions are very common and can happen for many reasons. Dehydration, lack of exercise, certain medications, and not eating enough fiber can all contribute to constipation. If you experience this regularly, it is essential to speak to a doctor about it. In the meantime, here are some lifestyle habits that will help support healthy digestion and regular bowel movements. 

  • Drink water frequently to help food move through your digestive system
  • Eat high-fiber fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Chew your food thoroughly to support healthy digestion – this also tells your brain when you are full
  • Manage stress – stress can impact digestion 
  • Exercise regularly to keep things moving 

Constipation is very common and laxatives can provide occasional relief. Despite being created to relieve constipation, reliance on laxatives may create electrolyte imbalances in the body and lead to dependency. Most importantly, persistent constipation should be evaluated by a medical professional.