Stool softeners are a form of laxative that is commonly used as a treatment for constipation. Laxatives may either cause bowel movements or loosen the stool. A laxative may be a food, a compound of herbs or other natural substances, or a drug. Laxatives can be used to cause the elimination of undigested food in the colon or large intestine.
Laxatives come in both oral and suppository form. The suppository laxatives usually work more quickly than oral ones.
These laxatives generally work in the small and large intestine, and take anywhere from half a day to three days to have full effect. Stool softeners work by causing more water and fat to be incorporated into the stool. This makes it easier for the peristaltic action to move it.
One common drug used as a stool softener is docusate. It’s especially useful if the stools are hard, you have hemorrhoids, or for anyone who should not strain during bowel movements.
Docusate can be taken orally, which has effect in 1 to 3 days after starting to take it, or it can be given with an enema, causing a bowel movement within 20 or 30 minutes.
People using docusate may become dependent on this laxative, there are other, less dependency-causing ones out there.
Some brand names using docuste are: Dulcolax – Stool Softener, Ex-Lax Stool Softener, Docu Soft, Correctol Softgel Extra Gentle, Docucal, Doculax. In the UK is is sold as Docusol and DulcoEase.
Natural Stool Softeners
Nature’s own stool softener is fiber. There are many foods that are rich in fiber – beans, fruits and grains. I have discussed the value of fiber in the diet in another article. Here’s a summary.
The top beans containing fiber are adzuki, french, yellow, navy and white beans, containing from 15 – 19 grams of fiber per serving.
Top fruits containing fiber are oranges, apples, pears, dried prunes and figs.
The bran of grains is high in fiber and helps clean the colon. Check out rice bran, all-bran, wheat bran, oat bran and corn bran to help regulate the colon.
Other Natural Constipation Relief
There are other compounds that can be used to aid in relieving constipation. Be careful not to mix and match though – consult a physician before trying these out.
Lubricants operate in the colon and make the stool more slippery, so that it moves through the intestines easily. Mineral oil is one compound. It works by helping keep water in the stool and not absorbed by the colon. Do Not Use Mineral Oil if you are using a stool softener such as docusate!
Bulking Agents, or roughage, works in the intestines to cause the stool to retain more water by making it bulkier. It will also form a gel like substance that makes it easier for the movements of the intestines to force it along. It is important to drink lots of water when using bulking agents. You can take bulking agents as a regular part of your diet, since they have a very gentle effect as a laxative.
Some bulk producing foods and compounds are bran, psyllium husk (Metamucil), apples, broccoli and prunes.
If you have hard stools, or just have to strain to have a bowel movement, you may want to discuss using stool softeners with your doctor. There are a wide variety to choose from, and the best type will depend on your conditions and circumstances. You can start with some natural stool softeners like psyllium husks, and if that does not work, perhaps try some gentle over the counter laxatives. Always inform your physician of any medications you are taking.