Constipation troubles everyone. Google shows hundreds of thousands of searches every month for “constipation” and related terms including laxatives. Though laxatives remain a common “go-to” to relieve constipation, a condition called Lazy Bowel Syndrome and its relationship to laxatives is a good reason to consider avoid them altogether.
What is Lazy Bowel Syndrome?
Lazy bowel syndrome is a term that describes slowed, weak or stopped muscle movement in the colon that results in waste moving slowly (or not at all). It’s also known as atonic colon or colon stasis. Lazy bowels increase the likelihood you’ll become constipated.
What Causes Lazy Bowel Syndrome?
Several causes of Lazy Bowel Syndrome have been identified.
Some are basic, like dehydration. If you don’t drink enough water every day, waste becomes difficult to move. Lack of fiber in the diet is another factor that can make one susceptible to lazy bowels.
A rare condition like Hirschsprung’s disease features a section of the colon that lacks nerve cells and therefore cannot move. But it’s exceptionally rare. More importantly, it’s congenital, or present from birth, so it’s likely it would have been identified early.[i]
In addition to a lack of water or fiber, other common causes of Lazy Bowel Syndrome include:
- Excessive fasting, or regular restricted eating
- Narcotic use
- Eating disorders, like bulimia and anorexia
- Nervous system conditions, such as Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis[ii]
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
That’s right, laxatives – the over-the-counter medication you take to relieve constipation – can create a condition that stops or slows your bowels and causes constipation.
How Can Laxatives Cause Lazy Bowel Syndrome?
The way laxatives work can cause tolerance to develop with frequent use. Laxatives stimulate or irritate the bowels to get them moving. With frequent use, the muscles and nerves of the colon get used to these stimulants and irritants and become desensitized.
Then, greater doses of laxatives are needed for them to work at all. Worse yet, the nerves and muscles of the bowels get “lazy” and stop responding to the signals sent by the brain, the normal way the bowels are supposed to get active and moving.[iii],[iv] The bowels have become dependent on ever-increasing doses of laxatives to function.
Some call this laxative addiction. Some medical authorities call it laxative abuse.
Whatever you call it, the result is a greater likelihood you’ll become constipated – caused by laxatives!
How Can I Know if I Have Lazy Bowel Syndrome?
Frequent constipation may be the clearest sign you have lazy bowels. Other symptoms to look for are:
- Less than 3 bowel movements a week
- Bowel movements that are painful
- Straining when you “go”
- Lower back pain or pain around the kidneys
- Regular bloating and gas when you eat
- Nausea after eating, and even in between meals
- Frequent headaches (the gut has been called the “Second Brain”)
- A limited appetite
Really, if you eat a regular diet of roughly three meals a day and don’t have a bowel movement daily, your bowels may be sluggish. Fortunately, laxatives aren’t the only way to get things moving again.
What to Do to Keep Your Bowels (Colon) Healthy
Chronic constipation or constipation due to a medical condition should be addressed with one’s healthcare provider. In some cases, prescription medications and other more aggressive treatments may be warranted. As is the case, it is always recommended to speak with your doctor before starting any new treatment or therapy.
With that said, OTC laxatives aren’t the only way to deal with or prevent constipation and deal with lazy bowels. Here are 5 all-natural ways to keep your bowels healthy.
Staying hydrated is vital to colon health. Your colon regulates water balance within the body, so if you’re not getting enough, it’s not getting enough. And without enough water in the colon, waste becomes hard making it difficult to move, conditioning the colon muscles to “give-up.” Drink plenty of water to prevent this.
If you’re a coffee drinker, you may want to reduce to eliminate coffee if you’re constipated or experiencing any symptoms of lazy bowels. Coffee can cause dehydration in the digestive tract/bowels.
Get Enough Fiber in Your Diet
And that doesn’t even include other types of fiber!
Why is this significant? Well, the average adult only consumes about 15 grams of fiber daily.[vi]
Fiber is important to your bowel as it holds water and makes stool soft. Prebiotic fiber does this and it also provides a valuable food source for the beneficial probiotic bacteria that live in the colon.
If the average adult doubled the daily fiber intake, that 30 grams would meet the American Heart Association’s recommended daily fiber consumption – and still be far-off from what our ancestors ate.
The takeaway? Eat plenty of daily fiber for healthy bowels.
Add Probiotics to Your Diet
The benefits of probiotics for digestive health and nutrition are well established. We’ve talked about the general benefits of probiotics here. We’ve also discussed how probiotics support immune function and weight loss management too.
The bottom line is that you’ll only benefit by making probiotic foods like miso, kefir, tempeh, and others a regular feature of your diet. Probiotic supplements like Flora Infused are also an excellent way to get the probiotics you need.
Bowels benefit from regular exercise. By exercising, you stimulate blood flow, encourage muscle tone – even in the digestive tract, and reduces the amount of time it takes waste to move through the colon. Exercise even encourages a healthy balance of probiotic bacteria in the digestive tract.[vii]
The best part, you don’t have to do a lot. As WebMD notes, a few 10-15-minute walks daily can do the trick.[viii]
Try Natural “Laxatives”
There are many herbs or herbal combinations used by traditional medicines to relieve constipation like psyllium, senna, and Triphala.
Recently, magnesium supplements including magnesium citrate and oxygenated magnesium have become popular. Oxygenated magnesium like the featured in Cleanse Infused continues to grow in popularity for the way it gently cleanses and empties the bowels naturally. Oxygen dissolves waste and magnesium supports muscle health and water balance in the colon.
Taking digestive enzymes is another way to support healthy bowel movements. Digestive enzymes like those in Digest Infused provide a more complete break down of all the food you eat. This reduces or eliminates undigested food moving into the colon, making it easier for waste to move through.
- [i] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hirschsprung’s-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20351556
- [ii] Winge K, Rasmussen D, Werdelin LM. Constipation in neurological diseases. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry 2003;74:13-19.
- [iii] https://health.cornell.edu/sites/health/files/pdf-library/LaxativeUse.pdf
- [iv] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/constipation/in-depth/laxatives/art-20045906
- [v] Ibid.
- [vi] https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/increasing_fiber_intake/
- [vii] https://universityhealthnews.com/daily/digestive-health/the-benefits-of-exercise-for-digestive-health/
- [viii] https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/exercise-curing-constipation-via-movement