cake comic 7 copyNatural Laxatives

Not exactly everyone's favourite subject, I know. Mention laxatives in a public place and heads will turn, children will giggle and people will blush. For some strange reason, we find the subject so embarrassing.

But when we are dieting and losing weight, constipation is not uncommon. Any change in diet can upset our digestion to create either constipation or the opposite, diarrhoea.

Avoiding constipation is important as the side effect of being bung up can be lethargy, insomnia, bloating and stomach pain. The longer constipation lasts, the more difficult it becomes to clear it.

Constipation is most commonly caused by large stools lodged in the colon that lack enough water to allow them to be soft enough to pass easily.

So to avoid constipation make sure that you drink enough water and eat enough food with fibre. Bran cereal is, without doubt, the best. Eat a bowl once a day. Or, you might like to consider eating a small bowl of bran as a starter with every meal. This is not exactly the most appealing starter for most people but it does have some significant advantages when losing weight.

- bran bulks out the meal with minimal calories and helps you feel full without overloading your system.
- bran increases the speed that the food passes through your digestive tract reducing calorie absorption.
- bran significantly reduces the possibility of constipation.
- a high fibre diet reduces significantly a person's chances of developing serious bowel diseases such as bowel cancer.

Bran isn't a laxative as many people tend to think. Bran simply increases the bulk, so you produce a greater quantity of stool.

Should constipation develop, then intervention is advised. In serious cases, consult your pharmacist without delay. Over the counter remedies are highly effective without necessarily causing diarrhoea. But should you wish to try a more natural alternative then you might like to consider consuming a litre of orange juice.

The slightly acidic nature of orange juice combined with the amount of vitamin C and water make for an excellent gentle laxative. Vitamin C supplements can achieve the same effect, but deliberate dosing with large amounts of any vitamin is not always recommended.

Prunes and prune juice contains a good quantity of the sugar sorbitol. Sorbital is not absorbed from the intestines and acts as an osmotic agent, which means it draws water into the stools, making them softer. "Liver salts" which are essentially magnesium salts act in a similar way (note: only ever use magnesium salts that are sold only and exactly for this purpose).

Syrup of figs is a gentle stimulant laxative, i.e. rather than adding bulk or drawing in water to the bowel, they stimulate the bowel into action.

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