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BEACON Senior News

6 important tips to stay safe on laxatives

Oct 30, 2023 10:52AM ● By Suzy Cohen

Laxatives are intended to stay in the gut, yet certain types can have indirect repercussions on the central nervous system if overused or abused.

One in particular, MiraLAX® (PEG 3350), is an osmotic laxative. It draws water into the colon to soften stools, stimulate peristalsis and ultimately induce a bowel movement. Like all osmotic laxatives, MiraLAX has the potential to minimally alter electrolyte balance in the blood, though it’s rare when used according to the recommended instructions on the label.

MiraLAX is FDA-approved to treat constipation in adults only, and is only meant to be used for a week. In this short time frame, you should not experience any untoward effects.

However, overusing, misusing or abusing laxatives can lead to more harmful consequences. The FDA has received reports of behavioral changes over the years, especially in children taking PEG 3350. However, the relationship between the two hasn’t been proven in a clinical trial, and the laxatives remain popular all over the world.

Impacting the water-to-mineral balance with laxatives—or any drug for that matter—may cause the following shifts. Part of the problem is that laxatives are flushing things out of you, including the good stuff! Poor probiotic status in the long term causes low GABA and B12, which may lead to emotional problems and even more gut problems than you started with.

Laxatives also notoriously cause:

Hypokalemia (low potassium in the blood)

Hyponatremia (low sodium in the blood)

Hypermagnesemia (high magnesium in the blood)

Gut problems, notably the destruction of healthy gut microflora

Symptoms from these electrolyte imbalances may cause headaches, teary eyes, depression, anxiety, aggression, confusion, dizziness, muscle cramps and nausea. 

When taking laxatives, prevent adverse reactions with these tips:

1. Follow instructions on the label and don’t exceed its recommended duration of use.

2. Stay hydrated by drinking water or Pedialyte®, which helps restore some balance to your potassium and other electrolytes.

3. Drink enough fluids each day in order to offset dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.

4. Don’t combine laxatives.

5. Take a probiotic to restore gut flora.

6. Change your diet so you won’t be so reliant on laxatives.

Schedule an appointment with a gastroenterologist to identify the underlying cause of your constipation, and consider consulting with an endocrinologist to evaluate the possibility of hypothyroidism, an often overlooked cause of chronic constipation. 

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