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5 Ways Laxatives Can Affect Your Kid's Health

Published May 20, 2024

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Laxatives are commonly used to treat constipation, a prevalent issue among school-aged kids. However, the effects of laxatives on our little one’s health can be significant and in some cases, detrimental to their growth and lifelong health. Let’s review five different ways in which long-term laxative consumption can impact your kid’s health. 

1. Electrolyte Imbalance

Laxatives, particularly those that induce bowel movements through increased water secretion into the intestines, can lead to a significant loss of electrolytes such as sodium and potassium.  Studies show that electrolyte disturbances are a common side effect of laxative use, which can result in symptoms like muscle weakness, confusion, and irregular heartbeats.

2. Dehydration

Dehydration is another potential consequence of laxative use in kids. Since many laxatives work by drawing water into the bowels, prolonged use can lead to dehydration. Kids are particularly susceptible to  dehydration due to their smaller body size and higher water turnover rate compared to adults. Symptoms of dehydration include dry mouth, reduced urine output, and dizziness, which can be particularly dangerous for younger kiddos. 

3. Dependency and Reduced Bowel Function

Chronic use of laxatives can lead to dependency, where the kid’s bowels become reliant on the medication to function properly. Over time, this can cause the bowel muscles to weaken, resulting in a condition known as  lazy bowel syndrome. Prolonged laxative use can reduce natural bowel motility, making it difficult for our little ones to have bowel movements without the aid of laxatives. This dependency can complicate the treatment of constipation and affect our kid’s quality of life.

4. Behavioral Issues

Behavioral issues can arise as an indirect effect of laxative use in kids. The discomfort and urgency associated with frequent bowel movements can lead to increased irritability, anxiety, and stress in kids. A  study in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition suggests that kids experiencing chronic constipation and using laxatives, especially formulas with Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) regularly may exhibit behavioral changes due to the physical and psychological stress associated with their condition. Parents may notice changes in mood, increased tantrums, or reluctance to participate in usual activities.

5.Nutrient Malabsorption and Decreased Gut Health 

Frequent use of laxatives can interfere with the absorption of essential nutrients. Certain laxatives can  alter nutrient absorption in both the small and large intestines.  This can lead to deficiencies in nutrients such as vitamin D, calcium, and  magnesium, which are crucial for our little one’s growth and development. Laxatives that contain polyethylene glycol 3350 (PEG 3350) can also temporarily disrupt the  human microbiome, which is connected to both immune and brain health. 

Summary 

While laxatives can provide short-term relief for kids with constipation, their use should be limited and used under medical supervision due to potential risks such as electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, dependency, behavioral issues, and nutrient malabsorption. Consulting a healthcare provider and considering non-pharmacological approaches like increasing dietary fiber,  prebiotics, and hydration can help manage constipation effectively and safeguard your little one’s overall health for life.  

References

  • Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, "Electrolyte Imbalance and Laxative Use in Children", 2021. 
  • Pediatrics, "Dehydration and Laxative Use in Pediatric Populations", 2020. 
  • American Journal of Gastroenterology, "Long-term Effects of Laxatives on Bowel Function in Children", 2019. 
  • Journal of Pediatric Psychology, "Behavioral Changes in Children with Chronic Constipation and Laxative Use", 2021. 
  • Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, "Nutrient Absorption and Laxative Use in Pediatric Patients", 2022.
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