American Habits Are Causing a Laxative Shortage

Overuse of laxatives in the US blamed on poor eating habits, travel, and hybrid work
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 10, 2023 9:30 AM CDT
American Habits Are Causing a Laxative Shortage
Americans have come to rely on laxatives.   (Getty / Mariia Veklenko)

Overuse of laxatives by Americans is making it harder to find them at the store. The shortage, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, comes from a variety of factors. Along with an aging population and Americans' tendency to eat less fiber, poor eating habits developed during the pandemic and an uptick in travel and hybrid work schedules are making it harder for Americans to go number two. This increased demand for laxatives has made products like Miralax and Glycolax fly off the shelves, and fiber supplements are seeing double-digit growth. "It's crazy to think that our collective bowel dysfunction problems have gotten so bad that we're literally running out of stool softeners," Dr. George Pavlou of Gastroenterology Associates of New Jersey tells the Journal.

A new consumer group has also emerged. Younger buyers increasingly rely on laxatives, and companies are adapting to this shift, offering gummies products marketed to them. Discussions about bowel health have also become less taboo with younger generations, sparked by the viral #GutTok movement. But healthcare providers who observe the overuse of laxatives and supplements when addressing bowel issues are concerned. Misinformation about gut health on social media is rampant, along with the misconception that laxatives aid in weight loss. Eating disorder specialist Dr. Jenna DiLossi tells the Journal she's seen a recent spike in teens abusing laxatives. "When people have an excessive bowel movement and they feel completely empty inside, that gets wrapped up in thinness and health," she says.

Doctors stress the importance of balanced diets that are rich in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains as the first step in maintaining a healthy gut. Taking laxatives often highlights a preference for quick fixes—the New York Post rounds up examples of this on social media—over sustainable lifestyle changes, though doctors warn that starting to eat fiber also won't change things overnight. "A lot of people take it for constipation and then expect that it will work the same day," Dr. Wendi LeBrett, a gastroenterologist, tells Insider. She also notes that when working from home, people don't move around as much "so that definitely can cause or increase constipation." (Sidenote: don't spike cookies with laxatives if you're annoyed with people.)

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