Phenolphthlein, an ingredient in some popular laxatives, is set to be banned from over the counter sale in the US following animal studies linking it with cancer. About a fifth of Americans use laxatives, over half of which contain phenolphthalein. A
Phenolphthlein is also associated with a host of other side effects including, like all laxatives, the very condition it is supposed to treat chronic constipation if used long term. Alternatively, too frequent use can cause persistent diarrhea and, in severe cases, nerve, muscle and tissue damage to the intestines.
Overuse is also associated with low blood potassium, loss of essential nutrients, and impaired absorption of vitamin D and calcium (the latter of which can cause softening of the bones). The best way of avoiding and treating constipation is to eat a good, mixed diet, high in unrefined cereals, pulses, fruit and vegetables. Unlike drug treatment, this kind of diet will not only not expose you to greater risk of cancer, it will also actually help protect you against it.