Laxatives have been the number one category in over-the-counter medications for decades, and are probably the most unneccesary pills people take-not because they are not constipated, but because there are so many better solutions to the problem!
'Regular' bowel elimination should be once for every meal you eat, like babies. Things slow down for most people because of a combination of diet and lifestyle. One of the funniest calls I ever received in my practice was before caller ID, when I picked up my office phone to hear "Kim, I know why they call it a 'movement'! ! I mean it just starts at one end and goes the whole way around and it's done! I was only in the bathroom a couple of minutes!" I was thrilled with her discovery, but had to ask who it was. This was a woman who had literally spent time equivalent to years of her life in the bathroom; my grandfather, who died of colon and liver cancer, took the newspaper to the bathroom and spent an hour or more on the toilet every evening. Wrong message to your body!
What slows things down? First is lack of fiber. Best fiber isn't bulking supplements, it is fruits and vegetables. I have always encouraged at least three raw foods at a meal, and that should provide plenty of fiber to stimulate the colon wall and start elimination. Second is dehydration. The colon exists to reclaim water from fecal matter, and if there is not enough moisture the matter forms concretions that plug the diverticuli and plaster the colon wall. Third is lack of exercise-the colon is a muscle and reflects overall muscle tone. Massaging firmly up the right side of the abdomen, across the middle, and down the left can help get things going, as can the coresponding reflex points on the bottom of the feet.
Fourth, and less recognized, is emotional tension. Constipation results when the muscle cannot move matter, or when the muscle is too tight to allow matter to move through. Licorice root, which often helps children move their bowels, actually works to calm the adrenal glands, so they relax and let things happen. I had a client last week who has dealt with constipation off and on throughout her life, but which had not flared since she started her health program-which did not include senna, cascara, or other herbs traditionally associated with constipation. She acknowledged having had exceptional family stress over the previous couple of weeks but taking a prescription laxative she had on hand had made things worse. That is actually quite common, especially in people who report very skinny stools, since traditional laxtives contract the muscles. (Milk of Magnesia is the opposite-it provides magnesium, which relaxes muscles) It's also what is happening to people who can't use the bathroom except at home; many of those individuals were subjected to ridicule or shame when they were potty training or had childhood 'accidents'.
My husband once had a t-shirt that said "God watches you poop". Rather than being embarrased, it would do us all good to relax a little and celebrate the process. It's exciting to have things work like they should, especially when you know that the average American has over 20 pounds of impacted fecal matter lining their colon.. Prop your feet up on a stool, or squat on the toilet (with support so you don't fall)-to provide a more natural path through the rectum than the right angle we create when we sit-and take a couple of deep breaths. That's all it should take to 'move' on to more exciting things than an evening read!