While the temporary use of medicinal laxatives is sometimes necessary, and always justifiable when required as an emergency means, there can be no doubt that the continued use of drugs of any sort is highly injurious to the intestines, and in many cases to other organs with which the drug comes in contact, particularly the liver and kidneys, which are burdened with the elimination of a certain part of the drugs employed.
All laxative drugs are irritant poisons. They affect the stomach as well as the colon and small intestine. Their long continued use in time gives rise to gastric and intestinal catarrh, colitis and the varied evils which accompany these disorders, especially hemorrhoids, appendicitis, intestinal toxemia and certain aggravation of the constipation which they are given to relieve.
Most drugs which act upon the bowels produce their effect only after having been absorbed and circulated through the blood. This has been proved to be true even in the case of saline laxatives, which are absorbed in the upper part of the intestine, and acting through the nerve centers controlling the colon, produce a laxative effect long before the drug has reached the colon through the intestine.
The effects of many other laxative drugs may be produced by injection under the skin.
It is thus evident that the action of laxative drugs is not confined to the intestine, but through absorption into the blood stream these irritating substances are brought into contact with all the tissues.
Among the most largely used laxative drugs are aloes, senna, rhubarb and cascara. All of these drugs contain substances which are irritant poisons derived from anthracene.
According to Levin, when a preparation of aloes is "employed for a length of time, there occurs, in consequence of the persistent congestion of the descending colon and rectum, dilation of the hemorrhoidal veins." Fallopius said that "out of a hundred persons who make habitual use of aloes, ninety are attacked by hemorrhoids."
Sollman says that: "When injected hypoder-mically, aloin causes a tubular nephritis, acute Bright's disease." The extensive use of this irritating drug in various popular laxative drugs and much advertised nostrums may well be one of the active causes of the alarming increase in disease of the kidneys, which has occurred within the last thirty years.
Rhubarb, according to Sollman, contains a poison that produces a secondary constipation.
Saline laxatives throw an enormous burden upon the kidneys, and when often repeated give rise to a very obstinate colitis.
They also impair digestion, in time, setting up gastric and duodenal catarrh and producing achylia, a condition in which the stomach glands produce no hydrochloric acid, thus leaving both the stomach and the intestine a prey to the various sorts of pernicious bacteria which are constantly finding their way into the stomach through the mouth, especially through the medium of flesh foods, milk, and cheese.
The effects of laxative mineral waters are essentially the same as those of saline laxatives, which they are.
Saline laxatives are particularly injurious to bedridden patients, because of the slow emptying of the stomach usual in such cases, in consequence of which the stomach is more than ordinarily damaged.
Calomel, a drug which since the time of Paracelsus has been extensively used as a laxative, and in conditions resulting from constipation, one of the most common of which is popularly known as "biliousness," is often a potent remedy, affording prompt relief, but when its use is often repeated, it becomes a highly dangerous and injurious agent. All metallic drugs are combated by the liver, which absorbs as much as possible of the poison into its own tissues as a means of protecting the rest of the body. Thus the liver is particularly subject to injury. Bennett, of Edinburgh, showed more than a hundred years ago that calomel does not increase the action of the liver, and his observations have been in recent years confirmed by Rutherford and others.
Every chronic sufferer from constipation should know that there is no laxative drug known, the constant use of which is harmless. All laxative drugs are irritants. The more certain their action as laxatives, the more certainly will their continuous use for any length of time be followed by serious injury. Said an eminent German physician, "Nothing is so bad as the chronic use of laxative drugs."
Dr. Neville Wood some years ago, suggested the use of pure liquid paraffin, a product of petroleum. Schmidt, Lane and others have made much use of this preparation and have noted excellent results. The writer has made use of this remedy in hundreds of cases with great success.
Petroleum oil, as found in its native state, has been long used by primitive people and pioneers as a remedy for constipation. Arbuthnot Lane informed the writer that he had learned from authentic sources that petroleum has been used for centuries by the Kaffirs, and it is well known that it was employed as a domestic remedy in America long before it was used for illuminating purposes. The oil was found floating upon the waters of certain streams, and was collected and sold by itinerant peddlers, and occasionally in drug stores.
Paraffin is not acted upon by any of the digestive juices, and is not absorbed. It prevents the drying of the feces, lubricates the colon and rectum, and also to some extent prevents the absorption of toxins from the intestine. It may possibly to some degree encourage fermentation by preventing the absorption of digesting food stuffs, and in the same way may tend to encourage putrefaction. The writer, on this account, has found it of use to combine it with agar-agar, so as to facilitate intestinal action by increasing the bulk of the feces. By the addition of some syrup, carbohydrates and concentrated fruit juice, honey, or malt syrup, the tendency to putrefaction in the colon may be antagonized, and thereby any possible evil results avoided.