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Do Laxatives Help With Bloating? What to Know

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • Laxatives are medications meant to relieve constipation, which may relieve bloating related to constipation. However, laxatives aren’t recommended for managing bloat.
  • Bloating has many causes. It may be related to excess swallowed air, food intolerances, digestive disorders, constipation, overeating, or water retention right before a period.
  • A dietitian is an expert in digestive health and can help you make nutrition changes to improve your digestive health and reduce bloating. 

Bloating, that uncomfortable feeling of tightness or being too full of gas, is a common digestive complaint.

Bloating is not an indication for laxative use, but if you’re experiencing bloating because of constipation, taking a laxative may help. 

Read on to learn more about how laxatives may help with bloating, why you may be feeling bloated, and discover seven dietitian-approved remedies for bloating relief. 

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Do Laxatives Help With Bloating?

Laxatives are medications that treat constipation. 

Constipation is having hard, dry stools that are difficult to pass.

It’s a common digestive concern that often resolves with diet changes, staying hydrated, and completing regular exercise.

However, sometimes medications like laxatives are needed for relieving constipation. 

Bloating can sometimes occur if you’re constipated.

The build-up of stool or air from the fermentation part of digestion can become trapped and make your belly feel tight and distended. 

In cases like this, taking a laxative may help relieve the constipation, which in turn may help relieve bloating. 

How Laxatives Work

Some laxatives are available over-the-counter, while some require a prescription.

There are several types of laxatives, and each works differently to relieve constipation. 

  • Bulk-formers: Bulk-forming laxatives (psyllium, dietary fiber, and methylcellulose) draw liquid into the intestines to soften the stool and add bulk, stimulating the urge to have a bowel movement.
  • Hyperosmotics: Hyperosmotic laxatives (milk of magnesia, lactulose, sorbitol, and polyethylene glycol) draw water into the stool for easier evacuation.
  • Lubricants: Lubricant laxatives (mineral oil) coat the bowel and stool with an oily film to encourage an easier bowel movement.
  • Stimulants: Stimulant laxatives (bisacodyl, senna, cascara, and sodium picosulfate) increase gut motility (the muscle movements of the intestines) to move the stool along through the colon.
  • Stool softeners: Stool softeners (docusate and senna) add moisture to the stool, making it softer and easier to pass. 
  • Combinations: Some medications combine the action of several drugs. For example, a medication may act as a stimulant and stool softener. Your doctor can review options with you. 

The Risks of Taking Laxatives for Bloating

Healthcare providers generally consider laxatives safe for treating constipation, which may be causing your bloating. 

If you’ve ever had an allergic reaction to medications, it’s advisable to talk with your medical provider about safe laxative options. 

Bulk-forming laxatives sometimes cause bloating as a side effect and may not be the best medication choice for bloating related to constipation. 

Common side effects of laxatives may include:

  • Abdominal pain.
  • Headache.
  • Nausea.
  • Diarrhea.

Generally, laxatives are meant for short-term use and are not meant to treat chronic constipation. 

If you’re experiencing chronic constipation, it’s advisable to talk with your medical provider or a dietitian about managing your constipation in an alternative way. 

Why Am I Bloated?

It’s estimated that about 30% of the adult population experiences bloating.

It’s most common among people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 

There are several common reasons why you may experience bloating. 

7 Dietitian-Approved Remedies for Bloating Relief 

Keep reading for seven dietitian-approved tips for bloating relief. 

1. Increase Water Intake

Staying hydrated is a great way to keep your bowel movements regular and promote optimal digestion to relieve bloating. 

Dehydration is a common reason behind constipation.

When dehydrated, your stools can become hard, dry, and difficult to pass. 

Try carrying a water bottle with you to sip on between meals.

If you don’t like plain water, try adding a squeeze of lemon or lime or fresh berries to your water. 

Talk with your doctor or dietitian about how much water you should drink daily. 

2. Limit Salt and Sodium Intake

Research has linked high sodium (salt) intake to bloating.

A recent study explored the effects of high vs low sodium intake on bloating.

The results demonstrated that participants who consumed the higher sodium diet experienced more bloating than those on the low sodium diet. 

Here are five tips for cutting down your salt intake:

  1. Choose fresh foods and limit salty processed items.
  2. Use more herbs and spices when cooking, and skip the salt shaker.
  3. Limit the condiments.
  4. Read the nutrition label and look for “low” or “no-sodium” foods. 
  5. Talk to a dietitian for personalized advice on how to decrease your salt intake.

3. Avoid Trigger Foods 

Some foods may trigger bloating.

A good way to identify which foods may be causing your bloating is to keep a food diary. 

Each day, keep a record of what you eat and drink, as well as supplements you take.

Make note of what types of stools you have that day and if you had any bloating or other digestive issues. 

High-FODMAP Foods

FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. 

These foods contain short-chain carbohydrates (sugars, starches, and fiber) that are difficult for many people to digest, especially those with IBS. 

Often, these foods absorb water and ferment in the colon, causing uncomfortable digestive symptoms, including bloating.

Learning to eat a low FODMAP diet may help relieve bloating.

Here is a partial list of High-FODMAP foods:

  • Garlic and onions.
  • Wheat.
  • Fruits, honey, and high-fructose corn syrup.
  • Beans and legumes.
  • Broccoli, asparagus, brussels sprouts.
  • Dairy products.
  • Fruits with pits (apples, avocados, cherries, apricots, plums, mangos).

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Dairy Products  

Lactose intolerance is when your small intestines can’t break down and digest lactose, a sugar molecule found in milk and dairy products (yogurt, ice cream, cheese). 

Having lactose intolerance may cause symptoms such as bloating, gas, or diarrhea after eating lactose-containing foods. 

If you notice that you tend to get bloated after eating dairy products or drinking milk, consider fortified plant-based milks and lactose-free dairy products. 

Carbonated Beverages 

Carbonated beverages like sodas, sparkling water, beer, or champagne may cause bloating in some people.  

The carbon dioxide gas that causes the drink’s fizzy bubbles can also cause uncomfortable gas in your intestines. 

So, skip the bubbly beverages and instead stick with water flavored with lemon or other fruit, iced tea, lemonade, and other non-carbonated drinks. 

4. Incorporate Anti-Inflammatory Foods 

Some foods may increase inflammation in your body, which can cause some level of bloating. 

Typically, whole, unprocessed foods are associated with lower levels of inflammation.

  • Fish.
  • Nuts.
  • Legumes.
  • Fruits and vegetables.
  • Herbs and spices. 

While there is no defined “anti-inflammatory diet,” experts generally recommend the Mediterranean diet or the dietary advice to stop hypertension (DASH diet) as being low in inflammatory foods. 

Learning to shop for and eat anti-inflammatory foods may help relieve your bloating. 

5. Consume Probiotic-Rich Foods

Having a healthy microbiome (beneficial gut microbes that help with digestion) may help decrease excessive fermentation that is causing bloating. 

While more research is still needed on this topic, probiotics have been shown to sometimes help with bloating.

You can find many probiotic supplements available, and can also get some probiotics through your foods.

Fermented foods can contain small amounts of probiotics that may help your digestion.

While the impact on your digestive system may not be as significant as a supplement, these are still tasty foods that you can include in a balanced diet.

  • Sauerkraut.
  • Miso.
  • Tempeh.
  • Fermented pickles.
  • Yogurt (with live cultures).
  • Kefir.
  • Kombucha.

6. Try Digestive Enzyme Supplements

If food intolerances are causing your bloating, consider taking a digestive enzyme to support your digestion.

Digestive enzymes help break down food into its smallest components to be absorbed into your bloodstream and used by your body. 

Your pancreas produces most of your digestive enzymes, but sometimes there may be reasons why you are lacking certain enzymes. 

Talk with your doctor or dietitian about what digestive enzyme may be helpful for you.

Take the enzyme at meal times for easier digestion and less bloating.

7. See a Dietitian

If you are experiencing persistent bloating, a registered dietitian can help you determine if your bloating may improve with changes to the foods and beverages you consume. 

Dietitians are uniquely trained to understand how food affects the body and how it responds to stress, travel, and illness. 

Dietitians also work with other healthcare specialties and can guide you to other medical help if needed.

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Takeaway

Laxatives may improve symptoms of bloating if it’s related to constipation.

If you’re not backed up, you should try other strategies to relieve bloat. 

Discovering the root cause of bloating can help determine which treatment is best.

For example, people with a food intolerance might feel better after eliminating specific foods, while someone who is sensitive to salt may have less bloating after decreasing their sodium intake. 

If you’re not sure where to start—you can follow this list with dietitian approved tips.

If bloating persists, it’s recommended that you talk with your doctor.   

How a Dietitian Can Help

A registered dietitian is a digestive health expert and licensed healthcare professional.

They offer comprehensive nutrition counseling to help you manage your digestive health through nutrition and lifestyle changes. 

Talk with a Nourish dietitian today to get started on a journey toward better digestive health and less bloating.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do laxatives relieve bloating?

Laxatives can help relieve constipation, which may relieve bloating symptoms caused by being backed up.

However, laxatives aren’t a long-term solution for treating bloating. 

Rather, it’s important to get to the root cause of the bloating and take steps to correct it, such as eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, staying hydrated, and learning which foods cause you to bloat.

How can I decrease bloat fast?

To relieve bloating fast, try going for a walk, staying hydrated, and consider over-the-counter medications if you are constipated or have excess gas.

How do you empty your bowels when bloated?

To empty your bowels while bloated, stay active and hydrated to promote bowel movements. 

Eat a balanced diet with fiber-rich foods, and consider a laxative if you are constipated and need short-term relief.

Consult a dietitian if bloating persists to learn ways to optimize your digestion and decrease bloating.

References

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