Laxatives For Weight Loss – Do They Work And Are They Safe?

Countless methods have been employed by people in an attempt to lose weight, with some being safe and effective while some are ineffective as well as harmful to health. 

Laxatives for weight loss are among the many things practiced by people who are trying to lose weight. It is also one of the most popular and ancient methods that are wrongly used for weight loss by most young women especially. (2).

Using laxatives for weight loss has been described by a gastroenterologist as an age-long myth that does not seem to go away. (3).

However, when you have not been able to have a bowel movement, they help bring you relief and this could be a plausible explanation as to why they are considered by people for weight loss. (3).

About 49.1% of Americans tried losing weight yearly according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention using data from a 2013-2016 report.

Also, looking at ages, races, and incomes, about 56.4% of women tried losing weight as against 41.7% of men. 60. 2% of women between the ages of 40-49 have tried to lose weight at some point in the year past. (4).

This shows that more women are trying to lose weight than men.

Interestingly, the use of laxatives to shed weight quickly has become very common and it has been estimated that more than 4% of the general population indulges in abusing laxatives. (1). 

What Are Laxatives?

Laxatives also called purgatives or cathartics are medications that are used for the relief of constipation, they help in emptying the bowel of fecal matter. 

They do so by stimulating bowel movements, loosening up the stool, making it easy to be passed out. (1).

Many types of laxatives are available and each works in a particular way to bring about its effects. (5)

When used for the occasional relief of constipation, laxatives are very effective, safe and harmless. They are also used to evacuate the colon before a colonoscopy or rectal surgery. (2) (5).

Also, quite many people believe that laxative use is an easy and stress-free way of losing weight because it helps in increasing the frequency of bowel movement. 

Consequently, this has made the use of laxatives for weight loss to become very popular (1).

What Are The Various Types Of Laxatives That Are Available?

Here are the types of laxatives available, taking note of how they work as well as examples.

Osmotic Laxatives draw water into the colon through the process of osmosis. They have a salt concentration that is higher than that of the surrounding body fluids.

Because of these, it is advised that you drink sufficient water when using osmotic laxatives to prevent dehydration (5).

Stimulant laxatives. They work by triggering the intestinal wall muscles to contract thereby increasing the movement of stool through the bowel. They are available in oral form and as suppositories. (2).

Lubricant Laxatives These laxatives come as mineral oils and they coat the surface of the stool as well as the bowel to make for easy passage of stool 

Bulk Forming Laxatives These are fibers that move through the digestive tract absorbing water to form a bulky and soft stool, making it easy to be passed out. Also, these laxatives are passed out undigested.

Stool Softeners. These laxatives help absorb water into hard and dry stools makes the stool soft and easy to be passed out. (1).

Are Laxatives Effective For Weight Loss? 

While it may be true that laxatives could increase weight loss, this is only temporary because a lot of laxatives work by absorbing water into the intestines. 

 So, using laxatives for weight loss means that you will lose weight due to loss of water through the passage of stool. (1).

Using laxatives inappropriately and or for weight loss is a completely terrible idea because they are not effective and neither are they safe. (2). (3).

A comparative study of purging and vomiting in bulimics examined the daily food consumption of 30 bulimics, where 10 of them purged and 20 vomited daily.

The study showed that those that lost weight did so because of dietary restraint or other methods but not due to laxative use. (9).

A study also reported that a significant number of bulimics who abused laxatives did so intending to achieve thinness and because they are dissatisfied with their bodies. (10).

According to a dietician, taking laxatives to lose weight is just like you are playing with fire, as he says that it does not work. (8).

There are no studies that show that using laxatives can bring about a lasting weight loss. Rather, only harmful side effects such as electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, and dependence among many can occur. (1).

Taking laxatives for weight loss will give you a positive result at first but it is the water you are losing with little or no fat loss.

You should also know that your weight or weight loss depends on a lot of factors such as genetics, metabolism, hormones, and health issues, medications you are on, diet and exercise routines. (2).

Some of these factors can be controlled while others are out of your power.

However, your body weight does not depend on the excess stool you will pass out when you take laxatives. (2).

The “water weight” lost after taking laxatives returns soon after you take fluids and the body is rehydrated. 

Therefore, if you refuse to rehydrate yourself, there is a high risk of dehydration, damage to your body organs and death could occur. (7).

What Are The Side Effects Of Using Laxatives For Weight Loss?

Dehydration

This is one of the commonest side effects of laxatives and this is because many of them work by absorbing water from surrounding tissues into the intestines which causes water loss through the stool. (1). 

To avoid dehydration, fluids should be taken to replenish lost water. The symptoms of dehydration are dry skin, increased thirst, decreased urine output, headache, dizziness among many others. (1).

Severe symptoms of dehydration that may require hospitalization include kidney damage, blurry vision, tremors, and fainting. Death could occur in severe cases. (7). 

Electrolyte imbalance

Hyperosmotic laxatives could cause electrolyte disturbance and dehydration in certain people, the elderly as well as those with kidney impairment. (5).

Laxatives for weight loss could result in the loss of integral electrolytes, resulting in an imbalance of electrolytes in the body. (1). 

When the balance of electrolytes such as potassium, sodium, phosphorus, and magnesium are disturbed, proper functioning of the heart, colon, muscles, and nerves will also be impaired. (7).

Now all these can, in turn, result in symptoms such as confusion, seizures, and coma which can be very dangerous. More common symptoms are fatigue, headaches, muscle pain and palpitations among others. (1).

Electrolyte imbalance can be life-threatening in severe cases. (6).

Laxatives Abuse Could Cause Dependence.

Developing dependence on laxatives is truer for stimulant laxatives when used for a long term. They are however very safe when used for short terms. (1).

Stimulant laxatives act by stimulating the gut muscles and taking them too frequently could cause dependency, though more research is needed to verify the long term use and the risk of dependency. (1), (6)

However, professionals believe that taking too much stimulant laxatives causes the gut muscles to stop moving stool on their own, thereby depending on laxatives to do so.

The frequent use of laxatives may lead to irritation of the lining of the gut and increasing your chances of experiencing bloody stools. (6).

Dependency to laxatives may cause the colon to stop responding to the normal doses of laxatives such that more and more quantity is needed to cause passage of stool. This results from overuse or abuse. (7).

Dependency on laxatives could cause irritable bowel syndrome, internal organ damage, lazy or stretched colon, infection of the colon, and chronic overuse could increase the risk of colon cancer. (7)

Other dangerous side effects of laxatives use include Liver damage, gastrointestinal damage, kidney failure, and Rhabdomyolysis among others. (1).

What Are The Safer Ways Of Losing Weight? 

Unhealthy ways of losing weight like laxative use, meal skipping and selection, purging or vomiting should be avoided. Instead, seek help and choose to use safe and more effective ways that do not put your health at risk. (1).

There are many safe and healthy ways of causing effective and long-lasting weight loss.

Here are some proven, safe and effective ways to lose weight without causing harm to you.

Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated is a very important and safe way to lose weight. It gives the muscles, heart, and cells enough water to function. (3).

Drinking water helps boost your metabolism by 24-30% within 1-1.5 hours which helps you to burn more calories resulting in weight loss. (11).

Incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet

Fruits and vegetables have many amazing health benefits and there is a lot of evidence that they can help you to prevent gaining weight. (14).

A review of several studies shows that adding vegetables such as spinach and carrots to your diet gives helps give you a feeling of fullness and that dietary fiber whether from fruits and vegetables or any other source is also helpful in weight regulation (13).

Keep only healthy foods around you.

When you desire to lose weight, you must keep healthy foods near you to avoid eating unhealthy foods when you get too hungry. (11).

Keep, yogurt, whole fruits, nuts, and hard-boiled eggs within your reach. Whole grains that are in their less-processed forms have a more gentle effect on insulin and the blood glucose levels. They help keep you satisfied. (13).

Increase your physical activities

Exercise helps you to burn calories and as such, is a very effective way to set yourself on the path to weight loss. (3).

Engaging in aerobic exercises a few times in a week is a great way to prevent weight gain and maintain weight loss. (1).  

Eat Breakfast That Is High In Proteins

Protein-rich breakfast helps to reduce your appetite as well as reduce your food consumption throughout the day. This helps curb your appetite and increase healthy weight loss. (1).

Taking high protein foods improves metabolism and it has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to lose weight. (11)

Reduce Your Sugar Intake

Cutting back on sugars and starches is a very healthy way to lose weight. This helps you consume fewer calories because your hunger levels will go down

Rather than burn sugar to make energy, your body begins to burn off stored fats which will eventually lead to weight loss. (12).

Reducing your sugar intake helps keep your insulin levels under control, it also causes your kidney to excrete excess water and salt out of your body reducing water weight and bloating. (12).

Other effective and healthy ways to lose weight are drinking green tea, black coffee, eating smaller meals, taking probiotics, getting quality sleep, intermittent fasting, eating spicy meals, and consuming fiber supplements among many others. (11).

Finally, laxatives should be used as a remedy for constipation and not weight loss as they do not have the likelihood to bring about long-lasting weight loss.

Also, abusing laxatives could only result in very harmful and undesirable side effects few of which are, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalance among many others. (1). 

In as much as keeping a healthy weight reduces your risk of certain health conditions, you must seek to lose weight using safe and effective ways. (6).

Moreover, laxatives for weight loss only give you an instant but short-lasting feeling of being light while putting your health in potential jeopardy. 

Instead, it is safer to explore many of the tried and true methods of losing weight such as exercise, eating right and drinking lots of fluids to stay hydrated. 

 References:

 (1).https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/laxatives-for-weight-loss 

(2). https://www.self.com/story/4-things-you-need-to-know-about-using-laxatives-for-weight-loss

 (3).https://www.womenshealthmag.com/weight-loss/a26900675/laxatives-for-weight-loss/

(4).https://www.wbur.org/commonhealth/2018/07/12/half-americans-lose-weight-cdc

(5). https://www.drugs.com/drug-class/laxatives.html

(6). https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325892.php#seeing-a-doctor

(7). https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/general-information/laxative-abuse

(8). https://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/nutrition/diet/can-use-laxatives-weight-loss/

(9). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3860494

(10). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8807348

(11). https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/26-evidence-based-weight-loss-tips#section1

(12). https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-to-lose-weight-as-fast-as-possible#section1

(13). https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-causes/diet-and-weight/

(14). https://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/nutrition/pdf/rtp_practitioner_10_07.pdf

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