top of page

The Effect of Laxatives on the Digestive System

Updated: Dec 24, 2023

The bidirectional effect of laxatives on the digestive system

The effect of laxatives on the digestive system can be bidirectional:

Intended effect: Laxatives are taken to stimulate bowel movements and relieve constipation. They work by different mechanisms to increase motility in the intestines, soften the stool, or draw more water into the digestive tract. This allows easier passage and elimination of stools.

Unintended effects: However, laxatives especially if taken long-term can disrupt the balance of fluids and electrolytes in the body. Frequent diarrhea can lead to dehydration and loss of important minerals. The digestive system can also become dependent on laxatives to stimulate bowel movements.

Active stimulant Laxatives

One popular weight loss supplement available in the market today takes the form of tea. Stores all over sell slimming tea, dieter's tea, and others but all of them are actually the same. They may appear to be effective, but what is not seen may actually harm you. Overuse of stimulant laxatives may damage nerve cells in the colon that naturally control muscular contractions. The muscles may get worn out from being over-stimulated. This can further worsen constipation once someone stops taking laxatives.

One of the effects of drinking stimulating tea is frequent bowel movements. This gives people the feeling of body cleansing. It may get toxins out of your body but it isn't exactly the only thing that slimming tea does to the body. Laxative and "slimming" tea contains herbs that are natural laxatives. These include aloe, senna, rhubarb root, cascara, buckthorn, and castor oil. These plants have been used since ancient times because of their potency in treating constipation and inducing bowel movement.

Cascara, castor oil, and senna are substances that are recognized as laxatives available over the counter and are also regulated as drugs. Scientific studies show that diarrhea induced by stimulant laxatives causes malabsorption of important vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. The reason for this is that laxatives do not act on the small intestines where most of the calories are absorbed. Instead, they work on the large intestines. If taken in large amounts for prolonged periods, it can affect fat absorption in the body. This may lead to greasy diarrhea and loss of weight. Abuse of laxatives is very common among people who suffer from bulimia and anorexia nervosa.

While weight loss can be guaranteed by overdosing on laxatives, it may also cause permanent damage to the gastrointestinal tract and the weakening and softening of the bones, a condition is known as osteomalacia.

One should be wary of these findings because the labeling of slimming teas in the market today can be absolutely misleading. For instance, they commonly refer to the laxative qualities as: "natural bowel cleansing properties" and do not specifically use the word "laxative". Some even use the term "low calorie" on their labeling. These products, in fact, contain essentially no calories or nutrients whatsoever; unless of course, they are sweetened.

Adverse effects of using stimulant laxatives generally occur when taken in high doses and longer than recommended. These include nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, fainting, rectal bleeding, electrolyte disorder, and dehydration as well as injury and worse, death. It was also reported that excess use of stimulant laxatives causes severe constipation and pain if taken for long periods of time, due to the loss of the colon's function.

Mild laxative herbs

There are also gentle laxative herbs that don't harm the normal activity of the digestive system. Nevertheless, it is still important to consume them under the supervision of a qualified herbalist. Here are some examples of such herbs:

Liver drainers

Rumex Crispus

Black walnut ( Juglans nigra )

Cynara scolymus (artichoke)

These herbs stimulate the activity of the liver, causing an increased secretion of stomach acid and bile juices thus encouraging bowel movements.

Bulk Laxatives

Flax seeds (Linum usitatissimum)

Psyllium ( Plantago spp).

These herbs contain many soluble fibers and therefore tend to absorb large amounts of liquid. This activity increases the volume of the stool and softens it. It is important to consume bulk laxatives with a large amount of water, to increase the volume of the stool and prevent constipation.


Althea officinalis (Marshmallow bark)

The inner gel of the Aloe Vera plant

These herbs help to moisten and soften dry stool.

The effect of laxatives on the digestion system can be consumption of medicinal herbs can be in many different ways (infusions, liquid extracts, capsules, powder), depending on the type and part of the herb. It is very important to get a professional herbalist's advice before consuming medical herbs, in order to achieve the most accurate and safest treatment for you.

The effect of laxatives
Laxative tea


bottom of page