Is It Safe to Take Laxatives for Weight Loss?
Laxatives are medications that help you have bowel movements and relieve constipation. It is not unusual to feel lighter after taking laxatives and having a bowel movement. This leads many people to believe that laxatives may help them with losing weight. However, using laxatives for weight loss is neither safe nor effective. There are other safer ways to achieve a healthy body weight.
In this article, we’ll look at whether laxatives help with weight loss. We’ll also discuss the risks of using laxatives for weight loss.
Do laxatives help you lose weight?
Laxatives have been in use for over 2,000 years. Overusing laxatives is common because these medications are available over the counter without a doctor’s prescription.
Research suggests that laxative abuse is indeed common. Many people start taking laxatives to treat constipation and develop laxative dependency due to long-term use.
Some people, commonly young women with an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia nervosa, abuse laxatives under the mistaken belief that taking laxatives will cause their bodies to absorb fewer calories.
However, doctors say laxatives are not a healthy or safe way to lose weight. In fact, laxative use is an ineffective weight loss strategy. Some people do experience a temporary reduction in weight, but this is due to water loss. It is not the same as losing body fat. In the long run, you do not lose weight on laxatives. Also, laxative use does not prevent further weight gain.
But I weigh less after laxative use!
It’s true that laxatives can temporarily lower body weight and cause you to weigh a few pounds less. This is because laxatives such as stool softeners help your gut absorb more water from nearby body tissue into the gut. This helps to soften the stool and make it easier to pass. The additional water that leaves the body with the stool can cause you to weigh less after laxative use. But this effect is temporary, and the small amount of weight loss you notice is from losing water, not fat. Losing water weight does not help with long-term weight control.
It’s also worth knowing that laxatives do not lower calorie absorption. Stimulant laxatives stimulate the intestinal wall muscles of the small intestine and large intestine. This encourages the movement of stool through the digestive tract and helps to stimulate bowel movements. Many people think that the faster movement of food through the gut reduces calorie absorption, but in reality, it does not happen to any significant degree. Therefore, stimulant laxatives reduce body fat or lead to long-term weight loss.
What are the risks of chronic laxative abuse?
Some of the risks and health issues that can occur from misusing laxatives as weight loss products include:
Many laxatives work by drawing water into the intestinal tract and stool to soften it. These are called osmotic laxatives. They help to reduce straining and relieve constipation. However, if you abuse these laxatives when you are not constipated or are using them frequently, you can develop diarrhea or alternating diarrhea and constipation.
Bulk-forming laxatives work by drawing water into the stool. However, these bulking agents work only if you drink adequate amounts of water. If there isn’t enough water, bulk-forming laxatives can lead to dry, hard stool and bowel obstruction. Other side effects of bulking agents may include bloating, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Stool softeners draw water from the body into the gut to make the stool softer and easier to pass. Taking these laxatives too frequently can lead to dehydration. Symptoms of dehydration may include thirst, dry mouth, lightheadedness, weakness, headache, dark urine, and decreased urination. Prolonged dehydration from laxative abuse can lead to kidney damage and kidney failure.
Certain types of laxatives can lead to the absorption of high amounts of common electrolytes from the gut. Abusing these laxatives can lead to low levels of essential electrolytes like sodium, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. An imbalance of these electrolytes can cause a range of health conditions, including serious and potentially life-threatening issues like abnormal heart rhythm (heart palpitations).
Changes in intestinal function
As mentioned above, certain laxatives work by stimulating the intestinal wall muscles. Misusing laxatives can lead to laxative dependency, meaning the gut becomes dependent on the laxative and does not move the food along the intestinal tract on its own. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to have a bowel movement without a laxative. A “lazy colon” can also lead to problems like infections, irritable bowel syndrome, and liver damage.
Wrapping up: Laxatives are not safe or effective for weight loss
The only safe, sustainable, and healthy way to lose weight is to eat a healthy diet, regulate food intake with portion control, and exercise regularly (at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day). Taking laxatives for weight loss is neither safe nor effective. If you weigh less after taking laxatives, this is likely due to losing water weight. The effect is temporary, and laxatives will not help with long-term weight loss. On the contrary, laxative abuse can put you at risk of serious health complications.
If you are unable to lose weight despite eating a healthy diet, avoiding sugary drinks, and exercising regularly, talk to your doctor about other healthy ways to lose weight. Your doctor may prescribe weight loss medications if appropriate. Laxatives for weight loss are not safe, and they do not lower body weight in the long term.