Do herbal laxatives cause colon cancer?

August 19, 2013
Volume 3    |   Issue 66

If you suffer from constipation, natural remedies are a great alternative to over-the-counter laxatives. They tend to be milder and don't have the side effects. One popular alternative is herbal laxatives. But now these are coming under suspicion for causing colon cancer. But do they?

The reason for the suspicion is due to the condition melanotic mucosa or melanosis coli. This is a condition where the colon takes on a dark color rather than the normal pink or red color. The cause of the condition is the compound anthraquinone, which is in some herbal laxative teas. Anthraquinones have many medicinal and non-medicinal uses. But many people use them for dyes, which would explain why they can discolor the colon.

Because of the discoloration, many researchers have wondered if the compound could contribute to colon cancer. While you can understand the reasoning, there isn't any evidence that this compound damages the colon (other than changing the color). Most gastroenterologists consider the compound and the color change to be harmless.

However, that doesn't mean that herbal laxatives are the best way to treat constipation. Yes, they can help - and they can help without the harsh side effects some laxatives can have. They will produce some gas, which helps move things along. But my concern is whether the laxative is addressing the underlying cause of the constipation - or just relieving the symptoms.

The goal in health care is to treat the cause, not the symptom. Constipation has many causes. Infections can cause it. So can mineral deficiencies, bacterial or hormonal imbalances, medications (constipation is a side effect), heavy metal overload, and, of course, not eating enough fiber. So it's vital you find out what is causing the constipation, fix that condition, and then let your body adjust.

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One of the most common causes of constipation is a simple magnesium deficiency. Magnesium acts like a muscle relaxant, which is why buffered aspirin works for a heart attack - it helps the heart muscle relax. The walls of the colon are muscular. They expand and contract to move waste along. If the muscles become rigid, they don't function properly and you become constipated. Simply taking magnesium up to bowel tolerance (usually less than 1,000 mg daily) can fix the problem quickly and inexpensively.

You'll also want to take a good probiotic like Advanced Probiotic Formula to ensure the balance of bacteria in your colon. Good colon health includes plenty of good bacteria. Probiotics alone can fix many constipation problems.

Another great way to relieve constipation is a periodic juice fast for one or three days. If you fast for longer periods of time, you'll want to have your doctor supervise your fast just to make sure your body handles it well.

Your insider for better health,

Steve Kroening

Steve Kroening is the editor of Nutrient Insider, a twice-a-week email newsletter that brings you the latest healing breakthroughs from the world of nutrition and dietary supplements. For over 20 years, Steve has worked hand-in-hand with some of the nation's top doctors, including Drs. Robert Rowen, Frank Shallenberger, Nan Fuchs, William Campbell Douglass, and best-selling author James Balch. Steve is the author of the book Practical Guide to Home Remedies. As a health journalist, Steve's articles have appeared in countless magazines, blogs, and websites.


Naidu, A. S., Bidlack, W. R., and Clemens, R. A. Probiotic spectra of lactic acid bacteria (LAB). Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 1999;39(1):13-126

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