One of the most common complaints I see in our office is young children experiencing tummy aches and constipation. Interestingly, these two complaints tend to appear together and are often accompanied by seemingly unrelated symptoms, such as difficulty with focus and concentration problems, which often have parents exploring the possibility of ADD/ADHD.
It’s really not surprising that these symptoms would present together. Our digestive system is actually interrelated to many other systems of the body, such as our immune system and central nervous system. That’s why if these complaints are not addressed immediately, and are allowed to continue into adulthood, they may advance to stomach pain, constipation (or other bowel irregularities), menstrual dysfunction, and/or depression and anxiety.
When a child has stomach pain and constipation, and gets checked by the family MD, the result is usually a drug, and most likely that drug is MiraLAX. As a pediatric chiropractor, MiraLAX is on my Top 3 List; this list includes the top 3 medications children are usually taking when they first come to see me.
Let me be clear; I am in no way suggesting that I am an expert on medication. I am, though, an expert in how the human frame works, what it needs, and what changes the physiology of the human body. I can, without a doubt, share that anything put into our body changes the physiology on the inside. In the case of any medication, not only will it affect the symptom, and the system related to that complaint, but it will change the physiology of your entire body. When a new patient comes to my office, I have to consider the possible reactions the medications they are taking (or have taken) are having on their body.
Yet, I do often wonder if there’s something deeper at work and a recent article on constipation in children and common medications used to alleviate their symptoms was an eye-opener. For those not familiar, MiraLAX is commonly referred to as a “miracle” laxative. It’s available without a prescription and according to Merck & Co, manufacturer of the drug, it’s “safe” and “without harsh side effects”. Yet in December of 2011, the FDA placed MiraLAX on its Adverse Event Reporting System (AERS) due to a connection to “neuropsychiatric events”. Yes, “neuropsychiatric events” as in autism, dementia, depression, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, among others.
The active ingredient in MiraLAX that sparked the warning is “polyethylene glycol”, specifically Polyethylene Glycol 3350 (PEG for short). This ingredient is also found in many other laxatives you may be familiar with including Dulcolax and many more.
Polyethylene glycol is manufactured from “ethylene glycol”, which is used in automotive antifreeze and brake fluid. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “It and its toxic byproducts first affect the central nervous system (CNS), then the heart, and finally the kidneys. Ingestion of sufficient amounts [as little as 30 ml — KM] can be fatal.”
There have been several other serious complications linked to polyethylene glycol containing laxatives. Topping the list is kidney damage, allergy related hives and anaphylaxis (especially for children), and esophageal perforations.
Clearly the ingredient is not fit for human consumption. Oh, that’s right, it wasn’t intended for that. PEG is a chemical manufactured by Dow Chemical Company and is used in paint, rubber, textile manufacturing, detergents and toilet bowl cleaners! For the properties that make polyethylene glycol such a great thing for the toilet, you can check out this very detailed and interesting article on MiraLAX here.
You should also know…
- Despite all of its well-established risks, MiraLAX has never been tested for safety in pregnant women and children.
- MiraLAX was approved by the Food and Drug Administration only for use by adults, and for no longer than 7 days. Many take these laxatives daily and for extended periods of time.
- The use of laxatives is particularly common throughout pregnancy and PEG containing laxatives are recommended to many pregnant women.
- In March 2012, the FDA Adverse Reporting System showed 2257 reported adverse events related (in any way) to PEG products (up from 7 in 2001). Included in these reports are serious kidney, urinary, bowel, blood, skin, and neuropsychiatric symptoms – and at least 3 children’s deaths.
- A citizen petition “To Investigate Polyethylene Glycol 3350 Product Safety for Use with Pediatric Patients” was filed with the U.S. Federal Drug Administration on June 6, 2012. You can view a PDF of the report here. It’s a little dry, but still makes for some very interesting reading.
For anyone with constipation issues, especially a child, it’s important to address the problem at its source within the body. Laxatives may be offering short-term relief, but the tradeoff is long-term health problems in the future. I prefer to take the approach of working WITH your body and the parts you are given, to make your body strong and heal from the inside-out. For those interested in learning more about my approach, you can find more information on my website.