Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Normal Bowel Function
The function of the colon is to reabsorb water, store, and evacuate stool. About two quarts of fluid and residue enter the colon from the small bowel each day. The lining of the colon actively reabsorbs water and minerals, leaving a solid, formed stool. Stool is stored in the left side of the colon. Contractions in the sigmoid colon hold the stool above the rectum. When the colon fills with stool, the stool moves into the rectum: This is sensed as an urge to defecate. The anal sphincter muscles relax and a wave of contraction in the colon pushes out a large amount of stool. This is termed a mass movement.
What is Constipation?
Constipation is a common problem with a variety of possible causes. This term may be used to describe several different symptoms. The normal frequency of stool passage is from three times a day to a movement every three days. Going more than three days without a bowel movement is therefore considered abnormal. Some people feel miserable if they do not defecate on a daily basis. Hard stools, straining to pass a bowel movement, or a sense of incomplete evacuation may also be termed constipation. If a person is uncomfortable as a result of bowel problems, then treatment is justified to relieve or minimize these symptoms.
Laxatives used to alleviate constipation
Laxative dependence is a frequent problem associated with constipation. Ideally, constipation should be managed solely with fiber, and laxatives should rarely be used. Stimulant laxatives bypass normal reflexes involved in defecation. They work on the nerves and muscles in the colon. The result is strong contractions that push the stool out of the colon. With continued use, they gradually become less effective. Some examples of stimulant laxatives are senna, bisacodyl and cascara sagrada. Many herbal preparations contain various combination of stimulants.
If a patient has been taking a stimulant laxative on a regular basis, it may be impossible to abruptly stop taking it. It may be necessary to continue a mild stimulant such as senna every night in addition to Miralax and adequate dietary fiber. Once a normal bowel habit has been established, the senna should be gradually tapered and eventually stopped completely.
There are many long-term side-effects of abusing laxatives, such as diarrhea, abdominal cramps and flatulence. The more serious dangers include persistent constipation (because the body becomes dependent on laxatives for a bowel movement), chemical imbalances in the blood and dehydration. Laxative abusers risk chemical imbalances due to the loss of salts and minerals. These chemical imbalances can seriously affect the body’s electrolyte system and hinder the body’s ability to absorb vitamins. Laxative abuse can also lead to gastrointestinal tract damage and the weakening of the intestinal musculature. Liver disease in extreme cases is possible.
Laxative abuse is particularly common with stimulant purgatives, which raises several concerns. The first concern is laxative dependence (mentioned above), in which the peristalsis (wave-like contraction of the colon) can no longer be achieved naturally and must be stimulated through various substances. Another concern is potassium imbalance, resulting from the force movement of digestive materials and the inability of the intestines to absorb the nutrients fast enough. Yet another concern is the possibility that laxatives could permanently damage the digestive tract after years of abuse.
Laxatives used as colon cleansers
Many colon cleanse products on the market contain harmful or addictive laxatives. A true cleanse should make your body stronger, not make it dependent.
Supplements and do-it-your-self cleanses represent a big market nowadays and large pharmaceutical companies join the selling campaign. Unfortunately, to feed consumer’s need for ‘instant gratification’, laxatives are added to many cleansing products, because the result is rapid bowel evacuation. Aside from being a harsh way to evacuate the bowels, laxative use can be habit forming, bringing the opposite effect desired by those who cleanse.