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Are There Problems With Mineral Oil for Constipation?

You can use mineral oil for constipation, but regular use for a long time could lead to vitamin deficiencies. Add another approach.
Mineral oil on counter

Some people are rarely bothered by constipation, but numerous others spend a lot of time and energy managing this condition. One reader has been taking mineral oil for constipation and wonders if there are downsides.

Side Effects of Mineral Oil for Constipation?

Q. What are the side effects, if any, from prolonged use of mineral oil as a laxative? I eat lots of fruits and vegetables, but I still have problems with constipation. Mineral oil works well for me.

Friends tell me I should not take it every day. My doctor says to “slack off,” but doesn’t tell me the reason why. Can you offer some insight?

A. Mineral oil (liquid paraffin) is sometimes recommended as a temporary treatment for the management of childhood constipation (Evidence-Based Child Health, Jan. 2013).  Side effects may include “abdominal pain, distention and watery stools.” Unfortunately, there’s very little research on long-term consequences.

Mineral Oil and Nutrient Absorption:

We worry because the daily use of mineral oil as a stool softener may impair nutrient absorption. You might not absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) well if you take mineral oil around mealtime. Over a long period of time, you might develop vitamin deficiencies that could be troublesome.

Other Approaches to Avoiding Constipation:

You don’t have to rely exclusively on mineral oil for constipation. Instead, you may find something in our eGuide to Controlling Constipation of value. This online resource contains recipes for Power Pudding and pumpkin-bran muffins. Some people also find sugar-free gum helpful, while others rely on psyllium, such as Metamucil.  

You may also find it helpful to listen to our interview with Dr. Robynne Chutkan. It is Show 1115: How You Can Conquer Constipation

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .

Backed Up? This guide teaches you some simple lifestyle changes, home remedies and medicines for preventing and treating constipation, including a Pumpkin-Bran Muffin recipe, along with Joe and Terry's ten tips to combat constipation.

  • Gordon M et al, "Cochrane Review: Osmotic and stimulant laxatives for the management of childhood constipation (Review)." Evidence-Based Child Health, Jan. 2013. DOI: 10.1002/ebch.1893
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When my husband was about to swallow mineral oil for constipation, I stopped him and suggested extra virgin olive oil instead. He followed my recommendation and said he thought it worked better than mineral oil. Plus, extra virgin olive oil has nutritive properties that mineral oil does not.

Some people advocated administering daily doses of mineral oil at bedtime to reduce the decreasing absorption of fat soluble vitamins. Taking the dose just before lying down, however, caused another concern, the potential for pneumonia from aspiration of the mineral oil.

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