The Long-Term Effects of Using Mineral Oil as a Laxative

Senior woman drinking water
Westend61/Getty Images

Mineral oil is an over-the-counter, petroleum-based product commonly used to treat constipation as a lubricant-type laxative. Unlike bulk-forming laxatives or stimulant laxatives, lubricant laxatives like mineral oil work by coating the intestines and stool with a waterproof film, which keeps moisture in and lubricates the intestinal walls.

By keeping your intestines and stool well-hydrated, the stool is softened and it easier to pass through your system and, ultimately, to eliminate.

Mineral oil, along with other ingestible laxative products like Milk of Magnesia (magnesium hydroxide), have long been successfully used to treat constipation. So much so that some doctors would recommend it over other laxative options.

But when you're dealing with chronic constipation, you may want to consider other laxative options due to the long-term effects of using mineral oil.

Long-Term Effects of Mineral Oil  

When considering treatment for chronic constipation, you must consider the long-term effects of the treatment you choose. Like other common laxatives, prolonged use of mineral oil can ultimately cause a dependence, which comes with its own issues. Other side effects of ingesting mineral oil can range from mild to serious, and while rare, should be considered before starting a long-term treatment plan. In addition to understanding the long-term effects like its impact on nutrient absorption or rectal issues, you should be sure that you are not on the list of people who shouldn't use mineral oil.

Impact on Vitamin and Mineral Absorption

When taken with meals, ingesting mineral oil can interfere with the absorption minerals like calcium, phosphorus, and potassium. It can also interfere with absorption of vitamins, particularly the fat-soluble ones, like vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin K.

 This negative impact on nutrient absorption is the reason why mineral oil is commonly taken at night on an empty stomach, which can come with its own unpleasant side effects like stomach upset and nausea.

To ensure your body is still getting all of the nutrients it needs while you are taking mineral oil, consider taking nutritional supplements at least two hours before or after drinking mineral oil.

Mineral Oil and Rectal Issues

Ingesting mineral oil regularly and in large doses can also cause a number of anorectal side effects, including:

  • Rectal Leakage: Sometimes the mineral oil passes through your digestive system and does not assimilate with your stool or urine. In this case, the oil may leak out of your sphincter onto your undergarments and can seep through to upholstery -- leaving an unsightly stain.  
  • Anal Itching: Oral ingestion can occasionally cause anal itching, also called pruritus ani or anusitis. When your dog has this, he scoots his butt across the carpet.
  • Delayed Healing: If you have postoperative wounds in your anorectal region, taking mineral oil orally can interfere with healing.
  • Dependence: Long-term use of mineral oil can disturb your bowel, which can disrupt normal bowel movements and ultimately lead to dependence.

Mineral Oil and Lung Inflammation

In addition to those side effects and long-term issues associated with ingesting mineral oil, if you continually inhale its vapors while you're taking it orally, you could develop lipid pneumonitis or lung inflammation. This condition is more likely to develop if you take your dose at bedtime or if you are older and confined to bed rest.

Who Should Avoid Taking Mineral Oil?

Certain people should not use mineral oil, including:

  • Children 6 years old and younger
  • Elderly, bedridden patients
  • Pregnant women
  • Patients with esophageal or gastric retention, dysphagia, or a hiatal hernia
  • Patients diagnosed with swallowing abnormalities
  • People taking certain types of medications like blood thinners should consult their doctor before using mineral oil as a laxative

Overdosing on Mineral Oil 

You can overdose on mineral oil. If you're taking mineral oil as a laxative, symptoms you may experience if you have taken too much include:

  • Dehydration from severe diarrhea
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Abdominal pain

If you suspect an overdose, you should seek medical attention immediately. That said, mineral oil is practically non-toxic and a likely lethal dose would require ingesting more than one quart for a 150-pound person, according to Clinical Toxicology of Commercial Products.

Sources

National Institutes of Health, Medline Plus: Mineral Oil Overdose (2014).

National Institutes of Health, Toxnet: Mineral Oil - Human Health Effects

Weinstein, M. First Do No Harm: The Dangers of Mineral Oil, Paediatric Child Health (2001).

Continue Reading