Natural Stool Softener

Why Do Stools Need To Be Softened?

There are a few understood reasons why people become constipated. One common one is that the stool is too hard, and transits through the colon slowly. It is believed that the hardness is caused by the loss of water from the stool into the intestinal lining. However, on a more fundamental level it is unclear why in some people the balance of water absorbed and retained has become suboptimal.

Many natural laxatives have the effect of either reducing the loss of water, or increasing the resorption of water from the intestine back into the gut space. When water content is sufficiently high in the stool again, it becomes softer. Hence the interest in taking a natural stool softener for improving bowel regularity.

Herbal Stool Softeners

For example, the herbal supplement senna is frequently cited as a natural stool softener. Although the FDA does not openly endorse the use of senna (the FDA does not regulate herbal supplements), its herbal supplement status means that many are taking it to treat bowel irregularity. Senna belongs to a class of natural laxatives known as anthraquinones. The anthraquinone family of chemicals is large, and the various ones found in the senna plant are known as sennosides. When they are taken, they stimulate intestinal nerves that lead to faster passage of abdominal contents. Moreover, senna seems to reduce the loss of water into the colon walls, which has the effect of increasing water content in the stool and softening it as well.

Lubricant Laxative Stool Softeners

Mineral oil is one example of a natural substance (belonging to the class of lubricant laxatives) that some people take to improve bowel regularity. Rather than increasing the water content, the mineral oil stays in the gut and coats it. Although a side effect may be that the oil helps lubrication, it is far more likely that the coating of mineral oil reduces the amount of water loss, thereby increasing stool softness. Those who use mineral oil should understand that it should not be taken with certain types of stool softeners such as Dulcolax (chemical name docusate sodium). Dulcolax is known as an "anionic surfactant". These technical words merely means that it has some properties of "soap", being soluble in both oil and water. As a result, it breaks up the mineral oil in the colon, causing it to be absorbed into the body rather than stay in the colon to coat the food matter. This causes not only side effects but also rendering the mineral oil ineffective in coating the stool.

Fiber Intake To Soften The Stool

Softening of the stool can also be accomplished via increasing intake of fiber. Fiber supplements and common sources of fiber in diet (from particular high fiber fruits) can increase the bulk content of the stool, causing it to absorb more water and thereby becoming softer. However, this high or intense fiber treatment has been shown to help only about 30% of those who complain of chronic constipation according to recent studies. A popular brand of fiber supplement is Metamucil but there are many others.

Caveat Emptor: Substances Banned By The FDA

Aloe vera and the cascara plant have been used historically for treatment of constipation. However, in an FDA 2002 ruling, both were deemed to be lacking in sufficient safety data, and all over-the-counter (OTC) products containing cascara or aloe vera aimed at treating constipation have been banned. As safety data is not available for proper assessment, anyone should be cautious about claims attached to such products. Finally, remember that even if something is "natuarl", it does not mean that it is safe. Consult your doctor to get a better understanding of what to try and what to stay away from.

More Information

Look at these trusted sites for more information. The NIH has a short page on both regular and natural stool softeners in general. They give out reputable brand names. The NDDI (National Digestive Diseases Information) site talks a bit about stool softeners in the context of other types of constipation treatments. The Mayo Clinic has a short page on some stool softener remedies but is not as comprehensive as the others.

Muesli is a source of fiber for breakfast cereals but a high fiber diet has been shown to be effective in only a fraction of people with constipation.
Glycerol (or glycerin) is a three carbon compound with one oxygen atom each. It attracts water through the hydrophilic effect.
The senna plant is shrubby and common in temperate regions.
This watercolor by a USDA artist shows the cross section of a common prune.

© Copyright 2015 Natural Laxatives
Disclaimer: Information given on this site is not medical advice. If you have a medical problem or suffer from a serious medical condition, you should talk to a doctor. Information found here is a compilation of information found in other sources available over the internet and in publicly available journals. The author expressedly states here he is not a medical professional.

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