An increase in travel and hybrid work is making it harder to poop, and now people are overusing laxatives as a result
- There's a nation-wide laxative shortage, the Wall Street Journal has reported.
- One reason for high laxative demand is hybrid work and travel, which can lead to constipation.
The laxative aisle has become a barren wasteland as people fret over how soon their next bowel movement will come.
According to the Wall Street Journal, demand is surging for laxatives. Experts believe the current shortage is due to a combination of reasons including an aging American population, the fact that most Americans don't consume enough fiber, and TikTokers touting laxatives for weight loss. Constipation brought on from hybrid work and travel may be another culprit.
Dr. Wendi LeBrett, a gastroenterologist who runs a TikTok under the name @socalgastrodoc, told Insider that while laxatives can safely alleviate constipation, her first recommendation for adults struggling with their bowels is to increase fiber.
Hybrid work and travel could be disrupting our bathroom routines
Hybrid work and travel can disrupt your normal routine, triggering changes in normal bathroom functions, the WSJ reported.
In one of LeBrett's TikTok videos, she explains that "our digestive systems are creatures of habit. We want to feel comfortable when we're pooping."
Any changes to your typical routine including eating different foods, eating at different times, sleeping at different times and even using a different toilet can trigger stress, which can throw off the digestive tract leading to constipation or diarrhea.
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For example, LeBrett told Insider, "I know that personally, when I work from home, I actually find it harder to eat healthy, because I have so many delicious snacks to eat."
Working from home can also affect how much you move throughout the day. Specifically, "people are less likely to be commuting, walking around — so that definitely can cause or increase constipation," LeBrett said.
Before using a laxative, try adding in more fiber
While America is apparently ransacking the laxative aisle in hopes of relief, LeBrett doesn't recommend turning to laxatives first. Rather, she advises adding in more fiber to your diet — especially in the way of an old-time supplement, psyllium husk.
"I typically actually recommend starting with psyllium as my first line treatment," LeBrett said.
LeBrett also recommends that people add more fiber to their diet by increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables they eat. She said that she often recommends kiwi, which she says has been shown to be beneficial for constipation and bloating.
Other recommendations include mango and dragonfruit, which are both high fiber foods.
But it's important to know that adding fiber to your diet won't cure constipation immediately. "A lot of people take it for constipation and then expect that it will work the same day," LeBrett said. It typically takes a few days for people to experience the effects.
If you're looking to try psyllium husk, she recommends starting slow — taking one teaspoon a day, and working your way up, to prevent any unintended gastrointestinal side effects like bloating.
If fiber isn't working, then try a laxative like MiraLAX
If adding additional fiber to your diet isn't helping, then LeBrett said she'll have patients try a laxative like MiraLAX.
MiraLAX is a type of osmotic laxative, which encourages more water to be drawn into the stool, making it easier to use the bathroom. Osmotic laxatives like MiraLAX are safe for long-term use, she said.
But LeBrett advises against stimulant laxatives like senna and Dulcolax, which produce bowel movements by causing intestinal muscles to contract.
"I think stimulant laxatives are fine once in a while, but it's not something I would get regularly in the habit of doing," she said. Long-term use can affect "gut motility to the point where you can't get off them."
Chronic constipation could also be an indicator of other more serious health conditions, like a bowel obstruction, narrowing of the colon, or cancer, Insider reported previously.
If you're experiencing constipation, LeBrett recommends checking in with your doctor to make sure there isn't something more serious going on.
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