Amid growing demand for laxatives, many brands are out of stock across the country.
This shortage of polyethylene glycol 3350, the generic name for over-the-counter laxatives, has people looking for alternatives and doctors advising against overusing laxatives.
Christine Meyer, a physician and value-based care consultant in Exton, Pennsylvania, confirmed to Fox News Digital that there is a current shortage of laxatives.
More specifically, Miralax and Dulcolax are increasingly difficult to find in local pharmacies and retailers, she said.
George Pavlou, a gastroenterologist at Gastroenterology Associates of New Jersey, also told Fox News Digital that his patients have had difficulty finding traditional laxatives and laxatives.
Reasons for the shortage of laxatives
The growth of the elderly population is a big factor contributing to the increase in demand, according to Meyer.
Constipation tends to get worse as people age, and as our population ages, demand for these medications has likely increased, she said.
A growing awareness of the importance of gut health may also be a contributing factor, Meyer said.
Gut health is widely recognized as an important aspect of overall well-being, she said. Young people are becoming more aware that chronic constipation needs to be treated to improve overall health.
Side effects of certain weight-loss medications may also lead more people to seek out laxatives, the doctor said.
Many GLP-1 medications can cause constipation as a side effect, Meyer noted. As these medications are used more frequently, the side effect of constipation is being treated through over-the-counter modalities.
And some people are using laxatives strictly for weight loss, doctors agreed.
There has been bad advice on social media to use these products to lose weight, Pavlou said.
The COVID pandemic may also have played a role, Pavlou said, as people’s lives, routines, eating patterns and exercise were disrupted.
It’s difficult to predict when the current shortage will be resolved, Meyer said, as it will depend on drugmakers’ ability to increase production.
Warning signs of laxative abuse
If someone turns to laxatives several times a week, or on an ongoing basis, it could be a warning sign of laxative abuse, according to family physician Dr. LaTasha Perkins, who practices at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C.
If a person seems concerned about their bowel movements or food intake, that could be another sign, she said in an interview with Fox News Digital.
Large weight reductions over a short period of time that are not related to medical problems can also be a warning sign that someone is abusing laxatives, the doctor noted.
If someone isn’t interested in eating in a group and wants to eat in private, or spends a lot of time in the bathroom, that could also be a sign of laxative abuse, Perkins said.
Also watch out for signs of dehydration. If they feel dizzy when they stand up, this could be a warning sign.
Risks of laxative abuse
One of the main risks of laxative abuse is dehydration, Perkins said.
Part of the way laxatives work is that they draw excess water out of the body and help you have a bowel movement, which can cause dehydration, the doctor said.
Removing excess water [out of the body] it can also cause you to lose electrolytes like sodium and potassium, which are needed for basic bodily functions, she continued. You may also feel tired.
Those with chronic medical problems involving the heart may be at even greater risk, Perkins added, because electrolytes are very important for heart function and laxative abuse can exacerbate these problems.
It can also cause problems controlling your blood pressure if you’re dehydrated, she said.
People with diabetes may also be at risk if laxative use creates problems with glucose control.
Above all, it’s important to stay hydrated and absorb nutrients, the doctor advised.
By abusing laxatives, you shorten the time your body can absorb these nutrients, which can also cause vitamin deficiencies.
Laxative abuse can have serious health consequences, including electrolyte imbalances, gastrointestinal problems and addiction, Meyer warned.
If you suspect someone is abusing laxatives, encourage the person to seek help from a healthcare professional, she said.
Safer Options for Relief
To promote digestive health without laxatives, the first rule is to maintain adequate hydration, Perkins told Fox News Digital.
If you don’t urinate every hour or two, you’re probably not getting enough fluids, she said.
And not all drinks are created equal. Perkins emphasized the need to stick to hydrating fluids.
Caffeinated drinks cause more frequent urination, even if you’re not properly hydrated, she said. To have a bowel movement, you need water, as the colon likes to use excess water to have a bowel movement.
It’s also important to eat a proper, high-fiber diet to maintain normal bowel movements, noted Perkins.
Constipation is linked to digestion, she said. Minimize foods that cause constipation, such as processed foods and sugary sodas.
If you’re experiencing constipation, watching how you eat and drink is a good place to start incorporating changes to find relief.
Meyer suggests increasing your fiber intake by consuming more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
Probiotic supplements can help relieve constipation in some individuals, experts said, as they promote healthy gut flora.
If you’re trying to lose weight, normal bowel movements are important, but focusing on that alone is dangerous, she said. You need to eat well, stay hydrated and manage stress. Weight loss is a lifestyle change and there is no quick fix.
She added: Using laxatives is definitely not the way to lose weight healthily if you are careful and patient.
It’s always important to consult a healthcare professional before starting any new treatment for constipation or digestive issues, Meyer noted, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are taking other medications.
If necessary, a doctor can provide a prescription medication to help treat chronic constipation, she said. They can provide personalized advice and recommendations based on your specific situation.
Fox News Digital has reached out to the makers of Dulcolax and Miralax for comment.
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