Mineral oil is a home remedy used to relieve constipation. When the oil is taken by mouth as a laxative, it coats the digestive tract, forcing water that is in the area to soften the stools. The slick nature of mineral oil also helps elimination become literally a smoother process and reduces the amount of straining involved. Mineral oil may be used as the essential element in an enema, administered rectally to relieve constipation. Mineral oil is available at the drugstore without a prescription but should be used with caution. Side effects can occur when using mineral oil as a laxative.
Altered Bowel Function
The purpose of a laxative is to alter the bowel function, but the change is not necessarily beneficial when the side effects become unpleasant. Some people may experience too much of a laxative effect and develop bouts of diarrhea. Diarrhea solves the straining problem that is sometimes a part of constipation, but it causes too much fluid loss. Drinking lots of water to prevent dehydration is in order if mineral oil causes diarrhea as a side effect.
Another side effect of mineral oil as a laxative is that prolonged use (more than a week) may cause a person to stop feeling a natural urge to defecate. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), overuse of laxatives may cause dependency because the body does not remember how to eliminate on its own.
Taking mineral oil by mouth can cause nausea, vomiting and stomach cramping. Because mineral oil is taken generally at night on an empty stomach, nausea is a common side effect of oil-based laxatives. Vomiting is not as common a symptom and may require consultation with a physician if a person cannot keep food down for more than a day.
Reduced Absorption of Vitamins
Mineral oil can carry the dangerous side effect of reducing the amount of vitamins and minerals absorbed into the digestive tract. Malnutrition can result due to a lack of Vitamin E, Vitamin D, Vitamin K and Vitamin A if mineral oil is used for more than seven days, according to the ACS. Taking mineral oil as a laxative within 2 hours of eating may also block the absorption of nutrients even if used for less than a week.
Rectal leakage may become a side effect for people who exceed the doses of mineral oil suggested by their doctors. Oil and fecal matter may seep out through the rectum and may especially be a problem if the oil is administered rectally. Leakage of this kind can become uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing. The risk of contamination of foods and surfaces within the home is also high.
Unwanted and potentially dangerous interactions with prescription drugs may be a side effect of using mineral oil as a laxative. The American Cancer Society reports that some people who take anticoagulant medications (blood thinners) or birth control pills may find that their prescription drugs may not work properly when used along with mineral oil. People taking any type of medications or supplements should consult with their doctors before beginning to use mineral oil for laxative purposes.