Laxatives, natural or not, aren't a constipation solution


Q. Can constipation cause cancer? My mother is convinced that a daily bowel movement is essential for good health. She insists that constipation leads to colon cancer. I worry that she is hooked on laxatives. Haven't I read in your column that regular use is harmful?

A. Researchers have repeatedly found an association between constipation and colon cancer. Constipation could be a symptom rather than a cause, however. A diet low in fiber (lacking in fruits, vegetables and whole grains) may not have enough of the nutrients that protect against cancer.

Laxatives are not the solution, though. Many herbal laxatives - including senna, aloe, cascara sagrada and buckthorn - can be irritating to the digestive tract. There is also concern that some ingredients in these "natural" products may be carcinogenic.

To avoid constipation, drink six to eight glasses of water daily, exercise regularly and eat a diet that is high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. If that approach is not adequate, taking bran or a bulk-forming laxative containing psyllium, polycarbophil or methylcellulose usually produces the desired result. Regular use bulk-forming laxatives does not appear to be troublesome.

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