Pharmaca Blog

  • Wedding Beauty Countdown: 6 Months to Perfect Skin, Hair & Nails

    WeddingCouple’ve got the venue, photographer and dress all set, but don’t forget that glowing skin and shiny hair need advance planning, too. With wedding season just months away, here’s what to get started on now to get ready the big day.

    6 months: Get your hair and nails in shape

    Now’s the time to be sure your diet supports healthy hair and nails. Foods rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and zinc are key to fortifying the hair follicle, which leads to healthier hair. Salmon, nuts, legumes and yogurt are especially helpful, and biotin, a B vitamin found in peanuts and almonds, helps nails grow strong, too. For an extra boost, supplement your diet with Enzymatic Therapy’s Biotin Forte with Zinc and Pharmaca’s Omega-3 Clinical Strength Fish Oil.

    3 months: Shine the spotlight on skin

    Camera-ready skin needs to be smooth and glowing. This is the time to faithfully follow an exfoliation and moisturizing routine. Treat oily skin with a gentle exfoliator like evanhealy’s Lemongrass Facial Polish that deep cleans pores and reduces excess sebum and inflammation.

    Follow up with evanhealy’s Lemon Thyme Facial Tonic Hydrosol and Light Moisture Replenishing Fluid to balance and soften skin. Dry or mature skin can improve with weekly brightening treatments like Sanitas’ Pumpkin Enzyme Mask. This mask exfoliates with fresh organic pumpkin and moisturizes with powerful hyaluronic acid and squalane.

    It’s also a good time to experiment with self-tanning lotion so you can execute an expert sun-kissed look on the wedding day. The key to a streak-free finish? Gentle exfoliation before application of a self tanner. Try Weleda’s Birch Body Scrub to polish skin with natural plant wax pearls, then apply jane iredale’s Tantasia Self Tanner for natural-looking color (and no smelly self tanner scent!).

    1 month: Make those makeup decisions

    Makeup experts like the estheticians at Pharmaca can help you choose the right products for a natural, picture-perfect look. Makeup primers, for example, can keep you shine free and extend the life of your makeup. Jane iredale’s Absence Oil Control Primer is a colorless base that prevents oiliness and your makeup from changing color throughout the day. For creaseless eye shadow, blend jane iredale’s Lid Primer in Canvas or their Eye Gloss in Pink Silk over the entire lid before applying eye shadow.

    And don’t forget to shape your brows! Get help from an esthetician at Pharmaca, or read more about strategies for creating the perfect arch.

    1 week: Put together your emergency kit

    Having a kit with your essentials nearby can ease some wedding day stress from last-minute snafus or makeup problems. Facial powder, concealer, lip gloss, deodorant, floss, an energy bar, safety pins and a mini sewing kit are all good ideas. Pack them all in a cute bag like Danica’s Ephemera Linen Cosmetic Bag. These bags are thoughtful gifts for your bridesmaids, too!

    1 day: Pamper

    Feeling a little jittery? Calming lavender to the rescue! Treat yourself to a relaxing bath with Pharmaca’s Lavender Bath Salts, or a luxurious hair treatment with John Masters’ Lavender & Avocado Intensive Conditioner. A pampering way to put you in just the right mood.

    Wedding Day: Relax and enjoy the fruits of your preparation. Congrats!

  • 6 Great Gifts For Him

    No ties or socks here! For the men in your life, these unique yet practical gift suggestions offer something for everyone.

    Mountain man necessities—just add flannel

    Every Man Jack Cedarwood Set

    The woodsy, fresh scent of cedarwood is alive in this manly gift set, featuring a full-sized, aluminum-free deodorant, moisturizing face lotion, fragrance-free SPF 15 lip balm, and a rich foaming body wash. Gift ready and packaged in a reusable pail, this grooming kit features everything he needs to smell like a crisp winter walk in the woods.

    High-style grooming

    Kikkerland Crane Nose & Facial Hair Scissors

    The unique crane-shaped design of these scissors makes the task of trimming a little less tiresome! Kikkerland’s stainless steel blades get the job done while its smartly rounded scissor ends prevent painful mistakes. Whether he’s trimming the tree or carving turkey, he’ll look sharp throughout the holidays with this durable and dignified grooming tool.

    Give him his beauty sleep

    elizabethW Sleep Mask in Grey

    Planes, trains and automobiles—elizabethW’s sleep mask goes anywhere, helping to make his holiday travel a little more relaxing. An adjustable strap ensures a perfect fit, and with a sophisticated grey wool on top and grey silk on the inside, this sleep mask looks good, feels good and keeps the distractions out.

    Hydration for the holidays

    Earthlust Water Bottle

    Hunting for the perfect water vessel? Bag this buck while staying hydrated with a BPA-free, food grade stainless steel 1 L bottle, featuring a clip-friendly screw top and cool stag graphic.

    For a restful night’s sleep (even on Christmas Eve)

    BackJoy Sleep Sound Pillow

    The gift of a good night’s sleep is never overrated. This self-adjusting memory foam pillow supports optimal alignment for head and neck, while a down layer provides cozy comfort for the perfect night’s sleep. Hypoallergenic and features a washable cover.

    Drinks stay hot while looking cool

    Pharmaca Double Barrel Insulated Mug

    For on-the-go sipping, Pharmaca’s insulated travel mug keeps cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot—for up to six hours! The solidly snug lid keeps liquids in their place, while the barrel-shaped design does its job of looking good. From hot toddies on your weekend camping trip to coffee on the way to work to your afternoon iced tea, just about any drink flies in this double-walled barrel mug.

  • Six Best Gifts Under $20

    From hostess gifts to stocking stuffers, these six gift ideas will make holiday giving a breeze. For a bit of cheer this season, these well-priced products are also perfect as hostess gifts, the office Secret Santa exchange—even as a little treat for yourself.

    Scented soaps that smell good enough to eat (but please don’t)

    Caldrea Hand Soap in Glass Bottle

    No one can resist the unique, freshly scented soaps produced by the good people at Caldrea. Refill this beautiful, decorative glass bottle with your favorite scent—Basil Blue Sage, Lavender Pine, Ginger Pomelo or Sea Salt Neroli—and make handwashing a joyful experience this holiday season.

    (Shea) Butter up, buttercup

    Pre de Provence Butterfly Hand Cream Gift Set

    Pre de Provence products are well known for their buttery, moisturizing magic. This hand cream set showcases their most delicious scents—Original, Lavender and Verbena—in stowable sizes for handbags, car consoles and desk drawers. In between snowball fights and decorating the tree, Pre de Provence’s 20 percent shea butter formula will provide long lasting protection and a silky, soft finish.

    Classic colors for festive nails

    Deborah Lippman Jazz Standards Gift Set

    Primed to party, this glittering nail color duo makes a stylish gift. Classic red and glittering ruby are gorgeous layered, or work alone for glamour. This fabulous set is perfectly packaged in a petite ruby red clutch, and brings a touch of sparkle and cheer to any look this holiday season.

    The traveling spa that fits in your stocking

    SpaRoom Travel Aromafier

    Traveling for the holidays? Bring the comforts of home with you by packing this portable Aromafier, which runs on batteries, AC adapter, or plugs into any available USB port. With a few drops of essential oils, this mini aromatherapy diffuser creates a soothing, tranquil space, wherever you may be.

    Comfort for tired eyes

    ElizabethW Eye Pillow

    Like portable blackout shades for your eyes! Packable and travel-friendly, this silky eye pillow is filled with flaxseed and lavender to lull you into a deep, restful sleep.

    Big Dipper Sphere Holiday Flourish Candle

    Light the way home for the holidays

    Big Dipper Beeswax Holiday Sphere Flourish Candle

    Not your ordinary candle, the Big Dipper Holiday Sphere is made with non-toxic and sustainably produced beeswax, with an intricately carved design that’s beautiful even unlit. With a 50-hour burn time, this unique candle will burn brightly throughout the holidays, and the natural, chemical-free formula will fill your home with a subtle honey scent—and help improve air quality.

  • Simple Steps to a Less Stressful Holiday

    Beautiful woman doing meditation.Don’t let your holiday to-do list take away from the joys of the season! Integrate a few simple practices into your day to ensure you stress less, stay healthy and feel rested.

    Take a few moments for yourself. Whether it’s a luxurious bath or just a quick nap, boost your relaxation quotient by setting a serene mood for a mini getaway. Light up a candle from Tru Melange that’s been infused with essential oils—especially calming oils like lavender, sandalwood and ylang ylang. Adding a few drops of the same essential oils to a diffuser can be even more powerful. We’re loving SpaRoom’s new Aroma Harmony diffuser, which also plays music via Bluetooth and displays different colored lights. Set it next to the bathtub for an instant spa!

    Don’t forget to exercise. A consistent exercise program helps the body improve its response to stress, and releases calming, mood-boosting hormones. Whether it’s a full yoga class or just a 15-minute walk, regular activity is vital to our physical and emotional health.

    Take comfort in soothing herbs. For extra-stressful times, support your system with WishGarden’s Deep Stress, a blend of calming herbs such as ginseng, skullcap and nettle leaf. Take it preventively throughout a stressful period, or just whenever you need relief from in-the-moment stress.

    Watch your diet. Eating lots of fruits and veggies—and restricting caffeine, alcohol and refined carbs—can go a long way toward nourishing the adrenal glands and supporting your body’s stress response, says Kate Brainard, ND. More specifically, she recommends increasing potassium, reducing sodium and adding in plenty of fruits, leafy green vegetables, whole grains and lean protein.

    Get adequate sleep. Sleeping well is vital to equipping your body to handle the stresses of the day. Unfortunately, stress is just the thing that can keep us up at night! That’s where herbs and other nutrients like melatonin, 5-HTP and L-theanine come in, since they can help calm the mind. In addition, herbs such as passionflower and valerian are soothing and relaxing to the nervous system. Kate recommends Natural Factors’ Tranquil Sleep (a blend of melatonin, 5-HTP and L-theanine), Deep Sleep by Herbs, Etc., or Bach’s Rescue Sleep.

    Ask a practitioner for customized advice for easing seasonal stress.

  • The 5 Best Gifts For Her This Holiday

    For the women in your life, cover all your gift-giving bases with a wide selection of joyful gifts from Pharmaca. Dive in and find the perfect gift for her this holiday season!


    Give her a spa day...without having to go to the spa

    Avene Revitalizing Hydration Kit

    This French skin care is loved for its secret ingredient: the mineral-rich thermal waters of Avene, a tiny town in the south of France. For centuries, Avene’s springs have been revered for their powerful healing benefits, and the town has become a pilgrimage destination for those seeking the spring’s skin-healing properties. Give the gift of an at-home spa day with this hydration kit, including travel-friendly Thermal Spring Water mist, Hydrance Optimale Rich Hydrating Cream, Hydrance Optimale Hydrating Serum and Micellar Lotion Cleanser Make-up Remover—all in a stylish and portable zippered bag.


    Ensure pretty, protected hands

    Jurlique Petite Hand Care Collection

    Jurlique offers its petite hand care collection in limited edition Lavender, Citrus and Jasmine scents, as well as their signature Rose Hand Cream. Botanically infused and deeply moisturizing, these gorgeously packaged hand creams are perfect to stow in a handbag, car or desk for instant hydration and protection. Give her the whole set—or get four gifts in one!


    Bring warmth to a cold winter’s day

    Tea Forte PUGG Ceramic Tea Pot

    Brew the perfect cup of tea in the perfect little pot. The experts at Tea Forte perfected the art of serving up a piping hot cup with this adorable ceramic tea pot, generously serving tea for two using either loose leaf or tea bags. With a festive snowflake design, she’ll look forward to each cup. Rather forget about the chill outside altogether? This sweet little pot is also available in cheerful Cherry Blossom, Poppy Field or Spring Grass design.


    Soothe and relax tired muscles

    ElizabethW Hot-Cold Wrap

    Soothe tired muscles in style with elizabethW’s Hot-Cold Wrap. An insert of calming flaxseed and lavender is covered in a silky case—choose from Midnight Garden, Venetian Blue, red silk or soft grey wool designs. The perfect stocking stuffer, this wrap can be heated up or cooled down for instant muscle and joint relief.


    Help her fight dryness with nourishing argan oil

    Pre De Provence Argan Essentials Set

    Pre de Provence’s luxurious argan oil-based products fight off winter dryness, returning skin to a naturally healthy state. Showcasing their “best of” products, this comprehensive Pre de Provence kit includes all the necessities—a rich, lathering mini bar soap, exfoliating body scrub, emollient body butter, body oil and gentle, foaming bath gel. Plus, this nifty little travel kit tucks neatly into your getaway bag for a post-holiday escape weekend in the sun and surf. Cabo, anyone?

  • Make Every Day a Spa Day!

    SpaLadyFor most parts of the country, November is when cold sets in, humidity substantially drops, we turn on heaters in our homes and cars, and our skin reflects the drying effects with redness, irritation, flakiness—even acne.

    But we can pre-empt the effects of these combined stressors with some of our practitioners’ favorite products, customized for different skin types. Pamper yourself with luxurious lotions, skin-saving serums and detoxifying masks—all wrapped up in a perfect package of natural, good-for-you ingredients. Bonus: These recommendations make great gifts! Check them out at a Spa Day Event near you.

    Dry/sensitive skin

    If your skin is sensitive or prone to dryness, slough away dulling surface cells before drenching it in soothing products that can calm irritations. “I recommend exfoliating several times a week to remove flaky skin for a dewy glow,” says Laeh Benjamin, esthetician at Pharmaca’s Table Mesa location.

    Start with Derma E's Microdermabrasion Scrub to gently scrub away dead skin. Follow with Jurlique’s Calendula line; calendula, which has long been used for its soothing, anti-inflammatory properties, effectively addresses a variety of irritated skin problems and is a great solution for dry winter skin. Pair Jurlique’s Calendula Rescue Relief Restorative Treatment Serum with their Redness Rescue Relief Daily Moisturizer to absorb the full benefits of calendula’s healing properties. Benjamin also recommends a burst of hydration throughout the day. “There are some great hydration sprays out there—we like Sanitas’ Moisture Mist, which contains hyaluronic acid to help pull in and hold moisture to the skin.”

    Normal/combination skin

    Even normal skin can go unpredictably haywire in the harsh winter elements.Dry patches and less oil production in the T-zone can stress skin, leaving it uneven and unhappy. Use of retinoids and glycolic acid can also increase dryness in winter, so it may be beneficial to back off of these ingredients in favor of a milder, gentler regimen.

    A two-part routine may also be beneficial. “Using two different cleansers or moisturizers—one in the T-zone and another for outer cheeks—can balance out areas of the face where there may be heavier or lighter natural oil production in the skin,” explains Benjamin. Juice Beauty’s Daily Essentials line can be just the thing, featuring organic skin care products formulated for everyday use. Smooth on Juice Beauty’s Organic Treatment Oil, packed with antioxidant-rich organic cranberry seed, grape seed and carrot seed oils blended with essential fatty acids and botanicals that provide deep hydration. Follow up with Juice Beauty’s Nutrient Moisturizer, a rich and restorative plant-derived daily moisturizer.

    Oily skin

    Dry, cold air and changing seasons can sometimes kick your skin’s oil production into overdrive. Manage and maintain oily complexions with a few powerful products, starting with Astara’s Purifying Gel Cleanser. Follow it up with their Blue Flame Purification Mask, which isfortified with detoxifying, antibacterial and healing botanical agents, as well as soothing and hydrating bioactive components—making it ideal for blemished, acne-prone and oily skin, and for those exposed to environmental pollutants.

    Another one to try: Dr. Hauschka’s Blemish and Clarifying line, specially formulated for oily skin types, including a Clarifying Toner to help refine the appearance of large pores, neutralizing oil with all-natural plant extracts of anthyllis, calendula, nasturtium, echinacea, witch hazel and daisy. And Primavera’s Oil-Control Balancing Lotion includes rice silk powder to help improve absorption of natural ingredients like organic sage and grape essential oils, and leaves a soft, matte finish. “Balance is key,” says Benjamin. “Finding lighter-weight products, as well as a great cleansing routine, will help skin look its best.”

    For aging/mature skin

    Fine lines can deepen and become permanent without proper hydration.Restore moisture while brightening skin with Jurlique’s Purely Bright Facial Treatment Mask, an innovative mask that delivers their patented vitamin C-rich VitaBrightKX formula directly to the skin’s surface for even tone and skin brightening.

    Next, turn your attention to infusing skin cells with a boost of hydration.Peptides are important for plumping and smoothing, functioning as moisture-binding agents and assisting skin cells in repair and regeneration. MyChelle’s Peptide + Anti-Wrinkle Serum delivers a potent blend of peptides, argan plant stem cells, lipids and botanical extracts to boost collagen formation and reduce the signs of visible aging.

    Of course, it takes teamwork to get best results, and no hydrating team is complete without hyaluronic acid. As skin ages, it loses essential hyaluronic acid, a major supplier of moisture to the skin. Derma E’s Hydrating Day Creme with Hyaluronic Acid restores this much-needed element, and serves up a gorgeous glow to deprived winter skin. Benjamin agrees: “For aging skin, both peptides and hyaluronic acid are wonderful to keep moisture in the skin.” As skin’s surface cells experience renewal, Benjamin also recommends weekly exfoliation and using a hydration spray throughout the day to keep skin looking fresh.

    Just for men

    Take a gentlemen’s spa day—every day—with products tailored to your skin’s specific needs. Every Man Jack’s Signature Mint Face Scrub uses coconut-derived ingredients to cleanse, while jojoba beads exfoliate dry and dead skin, and marine extracts and vitamin E soothe and moisturize. Then, reach for Weleda's Men’s Moisture Cream, featuring jojoba oil to hydrate and marshmallow root to calm skin irritations. “Men love this product,” said Benjamin “It’s deeply moisturizing but lightweight—not too heavy.”

    For little ones

    Kids and babies can get in on spa day with formulas created specifically for delicateskin. Make bath time fuss-free with Babo Botanicals’ Oatmilk Bubble Bath, a rich, lathering bath that hydrates as it cleans. Follow the fun and lock in skin softness and hydration with Burt’s Bees' Baby Bee Nourishing Lotion. Post bath, Little Twig’s Conditioning Detangler makes for tear-free and easy brushing.

    At-Home Manis and Pedis

    Our hands take a lot of abuse, especially in the winter when dry knuckles and ragged cuticles prevail. Return your hands to their happy place by removing old polish with SpaRitual’s Extra Strength Conditioning Lacquer Remover, a non-drying, sugar-derived solvent that keeps nails from splitting and cracking.Neaten and tidy with Deborah Lippmann’s Cuticle Care Cuticle Remover, and SpaRitual's TrueBond Manicure System Mini Kit provides salon results with primer, basecoat and topcoat to preventing chipping and cracking. Finally, smooth on Pre de Provence’s 20% Shea Butter Hand Cream forlong-lasting, deep hydration to keep skin soft and provide a moisture barrier between you and the cold.

    Ask a Pharmaca practitioner for more ideas for at-home spa pampering.

  • Fall Makeup Trends: From Neutral to Noticeable!

    Woman with makeup brushIf your go-to makeup products are all in the neutral brown, taupe or beige family, fall is the right time to bring in a splash of on-trend color. Adding a shimmery metallic eyeliner, colorful eyeshadow or berry-toned lipstick can brighten sallow fall skin and move you out of the neutral zone. For everyday wearability, be sure to choose just one feature to highlight with color or shine and keep the rest neutral.

    Bold lips

    Rich berry shades are the right choice to complement this year’s fall fashion colors. “Jane iredale’s new PureMoist Lipstick in Katerina is a deep berry that looks good on all skin tones,” says Lauren Mohney, esthetician in Carlsbad. For a more casual look, Lauren likes jane iredale’s PureGloss Lip Gloss in Kir Royale, a sheer plummy berry shade that treats lips with avocado oil, moringa seed oil and natural fruit extracts.

    Vivid eyes

    Metallics and bright colors are a great way to make eyes pop this fall. ZuZu Luxe eyeliners add a touch of metallic sheen, and Lauren likes ZuZu’s Liquid Eyeliner in Luxor, which is a coppery bronze that complements green eyes; Black Pearl, a shimmery black with blue undertones best for blue eyes; and Nile, a peacock green liner that’s fantastic for brown eyes.

    Colorful eyeshadows are another on-trend look, and using highly blendable formulas make these brights surprisingly easy to wear, both day and night. For a flash of color try jane iredale’s Pure Pressed Eye Shadow in Red Carpet, teal blue Magic or vibrant Violet. A little applied close to the lash line (not the whole eyelid) and blended lightly upward works best. Color and metallic combine in W3LL People’s Elitist Mineral Shadow in Gilded Green, a sheer wash of green that can be layered for a more dramatic look.

    With vivid color or metallic shadows, finish with black or dark brown eyeliner and mascara to look polished.

    If you are unwaveringly faithful to your neutral brown eyeshadow, turn to mascara for your pop of color. Dr. Hauschka’s Volume Mascara in Aubergine or Royal Blue adds subtle interest and makes the whites of your eyes appear brighter.

    Luminous cheeks

    Glowing, luminous cheeks are important this fall and easy to incorporate into our beauty routine. Jane iredale’s 24-Karat Gold Dust in Champagne, Silver or Gold brings just the right glimmer to cheekbones when applied lightly with a fan brush. Or add 24-Karat Gold Dust to your regular cream blush for a subtle glow.

    Knock-out nails

    If makeup with color and shimmer are out of your comfort zone, try incorporating fall trends with nail color! Dark berry shades like SpaRitual’s Nail Lacquer in Tapestry or metallic browns like Deborah Lippmann’s Superstar are just right for fall. And if your favorite summer polish was sky blue, transition to fall with SpaRitual’s Oasis, a rich shimmery navy.

  • Flu Prevention Basics (Video)

    Whether or not you got a flu shot this year, there are a few simple ways that you can help prevent influenza. Here, Dr. Tori Hudson, ND, talks about her recommendations for natural flu prevention, including nasal irrigation with sprays or neti pots, drinking green tea, taking elderberry supplements throughout the season and keeping Boiron's Oscillococcinum on hand to take at the first signs of flu. And don't forget to wash your hands frequently, drink lots of water and keep coughs covered!

  • My 3 Favorite Natural Cough & Cold Remedies (Video)

    Want effective, natural cough and cold remedies on hand when members of the family are sick? Learn about Dr. Tieraona Low Dog's must-have natural medicines that have been shown to shorten the duration of the common cold, including zinc, umcka loabo and elderberry.

  • Treating Chronic Constipation

    SpringladyConstipation is one of the most common gastrointestinal complaints doctors see; experts say that at least 4.5 million people—the majority of them women—suffer from constipation symptoms that are serious enough to warrant medical attention. Because it can be an embarrassing topic, however, many patients self-treat their constipation and avoid discussing it with their doctor. Here are some ideas about why—and how—to treat chronic constipation.

    What is chronic constipation and why does it matter?

    For some, constipation can simply mean straining, and for others it means infrequent bowel movements (that differ from normal patterns for that individual). Most complementary and alternative medicine providers, myself included, would agree that a daily bowel movement—or even up to three per day—is optimal. But that might not be feasible for women, since their bowel movement frequency is generally less than that of men.[i] Studies have suggested that the majority of women have bowel movements every other day or less.[ii] Because there can be a wide range of what’s considered normal, from three times per week to three times per day, it is important to clarify what’s normal to you with your health care provider.

    The current standard definition of constipation means experiencing two or more of the following symptoms for three or more months, without the use of laxatives:

    • Straining with defecation more than 25 percent of the time
    • Lumpy or hard stools more than 25 percent of the time
    • Incomplete evacuation more than 25 percent of the time
    • Two or fewer bowel movements per week

    Chronic constipation can lead to a decrease in absorption of select nutrients, internal or external hemorrhoids, pelvic floor dysfunction (e.g. urinary incontinence, or bladder, rectal or uterine prolapse).

    How can laxatives support normal large intestine function and relieve constipation symptoms?

    Laxatives can be helpful temporary solutions to relieve symptoms and to help retrain the bowel. There are a variety of different types of laxatives that work in different ways. Here are the six basic laxative types.

    1. Bulk-forming laxatives.

    These can be derived from psyllium husks, ground flax seeds or methylcellulose, a synthetic material. Their basic function is to absorb water in the intestine to soften the stool, but they can also result in increased flatulence and bloating. They do act faster than food fiber but slower than other laxatives and typically take about a week to work. Bulk-forming laxatives improve transit time and are very compatible with increases in dietary fiber such as leafy greens, ground flax seeds sprinkled on whole grain, high-fiber cereals, and fresh fruits, especially berries.

    2. Emollients and stool softeners

    These agents aid the mixing of watery and fatty substances in the bowel both to soften the stool and to lubricate the stool so it can be passed easier. They also prevent dehydration of the stool by stimulating fluid secretion. Stool softeners can be taken orally or rectally and typically work very fast, usually within 24 hours, so they’re ideal for someone who is in pain because of hard stool. Glycerin suppositories or mineral oil are common examples, but mineral oil should be used sparingly because it can decrease absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Herbs such as buckthorn bark also serve as stool softeners.

    3. Saline laxatives

    Magnesium salts have been used for decades for constipation, and act fairly quickly. They work by exhibiting a sponge-like action that draws water into the colon to soften the stool and promote transit. When looking for an appropriate product, it’s important to note that magnesium sulfate is more potent than magnesium citrate or magnesium hydroxide and should be used with caution. In addition, individuals with renal impairment or hypertension should avoid saline laxatives.

    4. Hyperosmotics

    These are the newer laxatives on the block. Available as an oral prescription, hyperosmotics create a high concentration gradient to draw fluid out of the bloodstream and into the colon. Examples of hyperosmotics include lactulose, lactitol and sorbitol, and produce effects in 2-3 days. Note: Hyperosmotics can also produce some bloating and flatulence.

    5. Osmotics

    A polyethylene glycol electrolyte solution is what’s normally given to empty the colon before a colonoscopy. The good news is that it can also be used to treat severe fecal impaction. MiraLax is a newer prescription that uses polyethylene glycol to help relieve constipation.

    6. Bowel stimulants

    These laxatives stimulate sensory nerve endings in the colonic mucosa to trigger peristalsis. They also promote fluid secretion into the colon and improve the consistency of the stool. Aloe, senna, cascara sagrada and castor oil are all potent stimulants that can produce a rapid response. They should only be used for more severe cases and should not be used long term.

    Are there natural solutions to constipation that I should consider?

    Alternative medicine practitioners also often recommend these other methods of treating constipation:

    • Probiotics to help restore normal colonic microflora, specifically the lactobacillus species
    • Digestive enzymes, which enhance the digestive process
    • Bitters, which work by increasing the secretion of digestive fluids. Consider yellow gentian and dandelion root for this purpose. Dandelion root also helps stimulate gall bladder function and improve bile secretion.
    • Turkey rhubarb has been used as a purgative for at least 2,000 years, and encourages bowel movements by stimulating peristalsis
    • Triphala, whose use for chronic constipation is based on principles of Ayurveda. This unique combination of three herbs, or more specifically, three fruits, haritake, amla and bibitake, that gently stimulate the intestines, restore tone to the colon and thus enhance the elimination process while providing a cleansing effect.

    When it comes to chronic constipation, most individuals will only need reassurance, education and basic advice. Others will need further evaluation and/or more sophisticated treatment interventions, whether by exclusively natural methods, conventional methods or an integration of both.

    Working with your health care provider will help ensure that there is no significant underlying cause of your constipation. Your doctor can also help you get symptom relief, improve general health and provide prevention strategies for the future, all with minimal side effects.

    [i] Heaton K, Radvan J, Cripps H, et al. Defecation frequency and timing, and stool form in the general population: a prospective study. Gut. 1992; 33:818-824.
    [ii] Toglia M. Pathophysiology of anorectal dysfunction. Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am. 1998; 25:771-780.

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