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Are Prebiotics the Same as Laxatives?

Published March 28, 2024

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In the world of gut health, terms like prebiotics and laxatives often get intertwined, leading to confusion about their roles and effects on digestive health, especially in kids. In this blog post, we'll discuss the roles and functions between prebiotics and laxatives, highlighting their differences. 

How Prebiotics Work 

Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that nourish beneficial bacteria in the gut, promoting a healthy balance of gut microbiota and supporting digestive health in kiddos. They serve as food for probiotics, helping them thrive and exert their beneficial effects on gut function and overall well-being.

How Laxatives Work 

Laxatives, on the other hand, are substances that stimulate bowel movements and alleviate constipation by either drawing water into the intestines or promoting muscle contractions in the digestive tract. While some laxatives may have prebiotic-like effects due to their fiber content, not all laxatives function as prebiotics, and their primary purpose differs from that of prebiotics.

Understanding the Differences 

While both prebiotics and laxatives can influence digestive health, they operate through distinct mechanisms and serve different purposes in supporting gut function. Prebiotics aim to nurture a healthy gut microbiome, while laxatives are primarily focused on relieving constipation by stimulating bowel movements.


Prebiotics

Laxatives

Definition

Non-digestible fibers nourishing beneficial gut bacteria

Substances stimulating bowel movements to relieve constipation

Primary Effect

Promotes a healthy gut microbiome

Alleviates constipation by promoting bowel movements

Mechanism

Nourishes gut bacteria, aiding digestion

Stimulates bowel contractions or draws water into the intestines

Purpose

Supports overall gut health and microbial balance

Addresses constipation issues with prompt relief

Examples

Inulin, chicory root, bananas, carrots

Miralax, Senna, Lactulose


Summary

Prebiotics and laxatives are not the same. Prebiotics support gut health by nourishing beneficial bacteria in the gut, while laxatives aid in relieving constipation by promoting bowel movements through various mechanisms. Understanding the difference between the two is essential for making informed choices about gut health support for little ones.

References

  1. Gibson GR, Hutkins R, Sanders ME, et al. Expert consensus document: The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) consensus statement on the definition and scope of prebiotics. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 2017;14(8):491-502.
  2. Rao SS, Rattanakovit K, Patcharatrakul T. Diagnosis and management of chronic constipation in adults. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 2016;13(5):295-305.
  3. Attaluri A, Donahoe R, Valestin J, Brown K, Rao SS. Randomised clinical trial: dried plums (prunes) vs. psyllium for constipation. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 2011;33(7):822-828.
  4. Ford AC, Suares NC. Effect of laxatives and pharmacological therapies in chronic idiopathic constipation: systematic review and meta-analysis. Gut. 2011;60(2):209-218.
  5. Hill C, Guarner F, Reid G, et al. Expert consensus document: The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics consensus statement on the scope and appropriate use of the term probiotic. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 2014;11(8):506-514.