Miralax, one of the most popular fiber supplements, is becoming difficult to obtain
America is facing a shortage of laxatives due to soaring demand – and experts say hybrid working and poor eating habits are to blame.
Demand for polyethylene glycol 3350, the generic name for laxatives such as Miralax and Glycolax, is starting to exceed supply.
An aging population with more digestive problems is partly to blame, plus the fact that most Americans generally don’t eat enough fiber, which makes bowel movements easier.
Lingering effects of the pandemic, as people started eating unhealthily, exercising less and feeling more anxious due to lockdowns – all of which contribute to gut disorders – may also play a role.
And now more and more people are working a hybrid schedule, leading to irregular meal and bathroom times.
The hashtag #guttok has over 1.1 billion views on TikTok, while guttok without the hashtag has over 207 million views
Eating stimulates the reflex that causes waste to travel through the intestines, so if workers skip breakfast and lunch, this will restrict bowel movements.
Dr. George Pavlou, president of Gastroenterology Associates in New Jersey, told the Wall Street Journal, “It’s crazy to think that our collective bowel dysfunction problems have gotten so bad that we literally have no bowel movements anymore.”
Laxatives are medications that loosen stool and promote bowel movements and are used to treat and prevent constipation. They work by drawing in water or physically stimulating the colon to contract.
Some people also use laxatives like budget Ozempic to feel leaner, psychologists say.
Searches for laxative pills on Amazon have more than tripled in the past year, according to analytics firm Pattern.
Meanwhile, the companies that produce the fiber supplements Metamucil and Benefiber have reported huge sales growth in recent years.
Dow Chemical, which makes pharmaceutical ingredients for drug companies, is building new factories that workers say are partly intended to produce more polyethylene glycol — the laxative that has been difficult to obtain since the pandemic. Polyethylene glycol is also used in cleaning products and moisturizers.
Older people exercise less and more often use medications that cause constipation as a side effect. Doctors often recommend that they take laxatives or fiber supplements, which help the body form stools that are easier to pass.
Surprisingly, more and more younger customers are using fiber supplements, suppliers say.
Haleon, the manufacturer of Benefiber, a popular plant-based fiber supplement, said 18-42 year olds are using the supplement at higher rates than ever.
Jissan Cherian, head of marketing at Haleon, noting that the message hasn’t changed, said: “The demand has changed.”
He thinks this move is due to millennials’ increasing focus on wellness and an increasing awareness of the relationship between gut bacteria and depression.
Earlier this year, Haleon launched a gummy version of its product aimed specifically at young adults.