When purchasing an herbal laxative, you will probably have the option of products that contain a single herb or products that have an herbal blend. Some of the blends may contain chemical additives, so if you are determined in maintaining a natural path for your treatment, you should read the label to be sure you know what is in it. Most herbs that help with constipation or stool softening are either high in fiber or contain elements called anthroquinone glycosides. High-fiber herbal laxatives include linseed, psyllium, fenugreek, and cat’s claw. Herbs that are high in anthroquinone glycosides are cascara, Chinese rhubarb, and senna.
A fiber-based herbal laxative typically works on constipation the same way high-fiber foods do. By adding bulk to the waste matter in the intestines, bowel movements are softened, making them easier to pass. To receive the maximum benefit from a fiber-heavy herbal laxative, it should ideally be taken along with a large glass of water. This helps the fiber break down, and speeds up the laxative effect. Another benefit of using a high-fiber herbal laxative is that in some cases, this type of treatment can also help cleanse the colon.
One of the drawbacks to using a high-fiber herbal laxative is that it may not work very quickly. Depending on the duration of constipation, you may not experience any effect from the herb for 12-24 hours. In some cases, it may take as many as 48 hours to accumulate enough fiber in your digestive system to stimulate evacuation.
Herbal laxatives that contain anthroquinone glycosides are generally believed to have a more stimulative effect on digestion, and usually work much more quickly than fiber. These compounds are absorbed directly into the bloodstream where they target the part of the nervous system that stimulates bowel evacuation. Unlike fiber, however, this type of herbal laxative has no real stool-softening component, so even though the bowel movement may occur more quickly, it may be uncomfortable or even painful.
Before you decide on any type of herbal laxative, it is probably a good idea to first consult with your physician. This is especially true if you have any stomach or bowel disorders. In addition, if you are taking prescription medication, your doctor will be able to tell you if there is any danger of drug interaction between your current medications and any herbal laxative you might choose.