Laxatives: Get to Know Market Challenges and Consumers’ unmet needs

April 2021

Laxatives - those pills, powders, and liquids that many of us take to relieve constipation - can carry such side effects as headaches, dehydration and even death. Laxatives are not always a safe way to deal with constipation. Many people will consult their physician before using laxatives because the medical community is aware of the possible consequences laxatives might cause.

Moderate use of laxatives is considered safe, but overuse can be harmful. If you regularly take large doses of laxatives, your body may become too dependent upon them to have a bowel movement. Then when you do not ingest enough laxative to have a bowel movement, your body will begin to have painful stomach cramps or diarrhea. Laxative dependency also becomes more likely when individuals eat less fiber in their diets or do not drink enough fluid.

One common problem concerning laxatives is that it is difficult for patients to accurately measure the correct dosage. This leads people to take excessive amounts that can lead to severe dehydration and death from heart arrhythmias. The laxative industry is huge, but the facts and figures are hard to come by. Thousands of substances purporting to be laxatives are on sale in the UK alone, yet too often they’re ineffective at achieving their advertised purpose.

What are the most common types of laxatives?

Laxatives are typically divided into two categories - bulk-forming and stimulant (also known as ‘osmotic’) laxatives. Bulk-forming laxatives increase the size of stools, while stimulant laxatives increase their frequency. Examples of the first type include natural food fibres such as bran and psyllium, and products containing these. Among many other compounds, carrots, red pepper and Jerusalem artichokes are rich sources of a plant fibre called inulin.

These substances are able to absorb water from the gut. When taken in sufficient amounts – around 30g of inulin or 6g of fibre – they swell up to form a gel which adds bulk to faeces. This helps to relieve constipation by making it easier for them to pass out of the rectum. Stimulant laxatives are typically chemicals such as senna and bisacodyl which stimulate the muscles that line the intestine.

Like any other products, laxatives are sold through retailers based on their unique benefits and target audience. Laxatives are available under various brand names depending on the manufacturer, type of product and region. Some of the popular brand names in the market include Colace, Docusate Sodium, Docusate Sodium-Magnesium Hydroxide and others. Laxatives products vary in their forms such as tablets, capsules; granules or dissolvable beads and tablets.

Laxatives are used for the treatment of constipation and loose stool. The laxative market is mainly driven by factors such as increase in geriatric population, rising prevalence of lifestyle diseases such as metabolic syndrome and Crohn's disease, and increasing awareness about health care products. Laxatives help relieve constipation by promoting the normal bowel movement.

Stimulant laxatives are primarily used for geriatric patients who are suffering from chronic constipation and hard stools. Stimulant laxatives work by raising the amount of peristalsis in the intestine so that a person can have regular bowel movement to prevent the effects of impaction. Bulk-forming laxatives are mainly used for people who have difficulty in passing stool, due to obstruction of gastrointestinal tract due to tumors, strictures or other diseases. Bulk-forming laxatives work by helping tissues in the colon by forming smaller particles (bulk) that help pass through the colon faster.

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