I read with alarm in the NY Times this weekend about the growing number of children who are dependent on laxatives, in particular Miralax, which pediatricians widely recommend for longterm use in kids. Miralax increases water content in the colon by means of the drug polyethylene glycol 3350 or PEG. Many children have been on the stuff for years, despite the lack of testing of PEG in young children and despite the label’s recommendation that the drug be used for ages 17+ and for up to only 7 days. I have no idea what the eventual health implications of longterm PEG use might be, but it’s uncontroversial that when we mess with the body’s natural urge to eliminate, we screw up the signaling and movement patterns in the colon. Hence the companion article in the NY Times containing advice about how to “retrain” your kid’s bowels. Incredible.
I really sympathize with parents whose kids can’t go. I have a close relative with this issue, and it’s painful, embarrassing and delicate. But before putting kids on long-term drugs that override and cancel their body’s normal urges, please consider some traditional and natural approaches to this problem. Diet is the biggest issue. To get more water in your child’s colon? How about having him drink a lot of water every day, keeping a nice cold bottle with him most of the time.
If your kids are consuming loads of starchy refined carbs, dairy products and animal protein, but minimal fresh produce and higher fiber grains, think about slowly reworking their diet to include more servings of fresh fruits and veggies, and whole grain pastas, breads, cereals, etc. to the extent possible. I know kids can be super picky, but maybe if you try to explain to them how badly their body needs these things, they will consider being a little more open-minded about trying new foods. They are suffering, after all, and kids are not dumb.
Also think about getting more magnesium into their diet, via whole foods or, if necessary, a supplement. Greens, grains, nuts and seeds are all high in magnesium, which supports healthy muscle function. The colon pushes food out by muscular contraction so magnesium can help.
Ongoing childhood constipation needs to monitored closely, it usually won’t just resolve itself. As one doctor commented in the NY Times piece: “timing is everything when you’re trying to retrain a kid who has lost the urge to poop to feel it again. Have them sit after they eat, he advised, cautioning not to let distractions get in the way. ‘If they sit and watch TV, or are just running outside, they might have that urge but they’ll suppress it.’ Miss the window of that urge and it will quickly pass.”
On the other hand, don’t turn your kid’s bowels into a war zone that features an epic power struggle between you and your child. I’ve seen parents fall into this trap and lose big-time. Kids can and will “hold it in” to make a statement or win this war. Your goal here is to gently guide your child’s system back into harmony with its normal and natural patterns of elimination. No judgment or criticism should be offered, just gentle oversight and guidance to allow their bodies to readjust and self-regulate.