Cathy Burkemper


Q: I seem to be constipated a lot and have to take some type of laxative to help me.  I am confused as to all the different types.  Can you please explain them to me and advise me as to what I can do perhaps through my diet?

A: There are many things that can contribute to constipation, such as lack of exercise, age, muscle disorders, bowel diseases and poor diet.  But, most of the time it is due to insufficient amounts of fiber and fluids in the diet.  Pay attention to what you are eating and drinking and you may see a big difference.

There are four basic types of laxatives.  I will go over each of them and give you some examples of each.

• Bulk-forming – These increase bulk and water content in the stools.  They are the only type of laxative that can be taken safely on a daily basis.  Bran (food or supplement) and psyllium are good choices.

• Stool Softeners – These do just what the name says.  The most widely used ones contain mineral oil.  They should not be used on a regular basis as they can cause other problems.  They can also reduce the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.  Flaxseed oil can soften stools and does not have any side effects.  In fact, it is good for you as it provides essential fatty acids.

• Osmotic agents – These contain salt or carbohydrates that draw water into the colon.  Occasional use is fine, but you can become dependant on them.  Keep in mind that you can also draw out your minerals with these products.  Popular ones include milk of magnesia and epsom salts.

• Stimulant laxatives – These work by irritating the intestinal wall, thereby creating peristalsis.  These also can become addicting.  They include dulcolax, colace, castor oil, cascara sagrada and senna.

Drinking 2 ounces of aloe vera juice every morning and evening can also heal and cleanse the digestive tract and help form soft stools.  Try George’s, as it tastes almost like straight water, and you don’t have to worry about over-doing it, resulting in diarrhea.


This herb information is for health education purposes only.  It is not intended to replace the services of licensed health practitioners.  Consult with a physician for any condition that requires professional care.

Do you have questions about herbs or vitamins?  Send them to Cathy Burkemper, CNHP and Certified Herbalist.  Write to:  Herbs & More, 16021 Manchester Rd., Ellisville, MO  63011.