Want to lose a few pounds? We here ya. But you gotta keep it healthy. Some weight loss methods are unproven or just plain risky, including laxatives.
Lots of folks think laxatives are an easy, fast way to shed pounds. But IRL laxatives are not an effective — or even safe — way to lose weight. Here’s the lowdown (along with better weight loss solutions).
Laxatives can loosen your stool or stimulate bowel movements. This helps your turd make its grand poo-debut with less discomfort or straining. A 2012 research review showed that most poopers take laxatives for constipation or before a medical procedure.
Different kinds of laxatives
Lubricants (Fleet): Oil (usually mineral oil) coats your bowels and poo. This softens your stool, making it easier to pass.
Stimulants (Dulcolax, Senokot): They contract your intestinal wall muscles to help move your stool along.
Stool softeners (Colace, Surfak): You guessed it! These laxatives soften your poop to reduce straining and constipation.
Osmotics (Milk of Magnesia, MiraLax): They transfer moisture from nearby body tissue to your colon. This softens stool and triggers bowel movements.
Bulking agents (Metamucil, Benefiber, Citrucel): These fiber supplements absorb liquid in your intestines to bulk up and soften your turds.
Some laxatives help turds absorb more water. This helps you poop them out more easily. But with this method, water from other parts of your body gets flushed down the toilet right along with Mr. Hanky.
So, you might experience some short-lived weight loss — But it’ll only be water weight. Laxatives have no effect on actual fat.
Lots of laxatives draw water from the rest of your body into your colon. That’s why dehydration is a super common side effect. You need to slay your water intake while taking laxatives. This can help prevent a thirst trap.
Here are some symptoms to look out for:
You might develop an electrolyte imbalance
You’ve prob heard about electrolytes and know that they’re important. Well, the rumors are true. Electrolytes are substances that conduct electricity when dissolved in water. A 2004 research review showed that they’re vital for your cells and tissues to function on fleek.
Some common electrolytes are:
Laxative use — especially when abused — can lead to an electrolyte imbalance. This can get dangerous.
One small 1994 study of 24 people found that laxatives can cause major changes to urinary sodium and potassium levels. A larger 2012 study of 2,270 people showed that laxatives increase the overall risk of electrolyte issues.
- muscle aches
- heart palpitations
More serious side effects include:
Laxative abuse is when you take laxatives more often than you should in order to lose weight. It can be very dangerous and is also fairly common.
A 1995 research review showed that laxative abuse occurs in an estimated 4 percent of people. A 2012 research review showed that laxative abuse is common in people with an eating disorder (ED) like anorexia or bulimia nervosa.
A 2002 study also suggested that laxative abuse is common in obese and overweight teenagers. But keep in mind, anyone can abuse laxatives.
Laxative abuse risks
Laxative abuse can lead to long-term and even life-threatening conditions. These include:
- rectal prolapse
- intestinal damage
- chronic constipation
- electrolyte imbalance
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- damage to your colon’s nerves and muscles
- short- or long-term damage to your digestive system
Laxative abuse symptoms
Laxative abuse can cause a huge range of side effects. You might experience multiple symptoms at once.
Minor symptoms include:
PSA: Don’t dismiss minor symptoms. They could be a warning sign that something is off.
More severe symptoms include:
- bloody stool
- heart palpitations
- muscle weakness
- feeling lightheaded
- shaking or shivering
- chronic stomach pain
- intense abdominal cramping
- fluctuations in blood pressure
Is it addictive?
Laxatives are usually safe when used in the short term. But some believe long-term use can lead to dependency. What does the science say?
Laxative addiction is likely emotional, not physical. There’s little evidence to back the idea that physical addiction is possible. The chance you’ll grow intolerant is also unlikely. But more research is needed.
If laxatives are affecting your health or happiness, get help ASAP. Long-term use can lead to dangerous (and sometimes irreversible) side effects. Just remember, you’re not alone ❤️. You have nothing to be ashamed of. There are tons of amazing resources that can help.
A good first step is to chat with your doctor. You can also see a trained mental health professional or try a therapy app.
Not ready to see a doctor? The National Institute of Drug Abuse offers a variety of free services. You can reach out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357).
There are also additional resources available online like counseling services, hotlines, and treatment options.
Here are some more potential side effects of laxative abuse:
Liver damage: This is rare but possible. One 1975 study found that laxative use contributed to liver damage in one participant.
Kidney damage: A 1994 case report showed that overusing laxatives can lead to kidney failure.
GI damage: A 2001 study showed that laxative abuse can mess with GI function and damage your pancreas.
Rhabdomyolysis: A 2010 case report showed that this condition is linked with laxative abuse. It’s the result of rapid muscle tissue deterioration which releases harmful proteins into your blood.
If you’re using laxatives to lose weight — or if you’re binge eating, purging, or restricting — seek professional help. They can help you come up with a recovery plan. There are so many safer, better ways to lose weight without risking your health.
Here are some safe and proven ways to help you lose weight:
Up your fruit and veggie game. They’re low in calories, but rich in fiber and nutrients. Bonus: One study showed that eating more produce is linked to a lower body weight.
Ditch the sugar. Delicious? Yes. Processed snack food? Also yes. Processed sugar is high in calories, but has little nutritional value. 2001 study showed that drinking sugary drinks may be connected to obesity. Opt for a healthier sweetener like stevia.
Pump up the volume on your workout routine. Physical activity — even taking walks — can help you lose weight. A 2013 research review showed that working out can help you keep the weight off once you hit your healthy target.
Try to practice portion control. You can still eat all your fave foods. Just enjoy them in smaller portions. That way you can lose weight without feeling deprived.
Be pro-protein. A high protein breakfast is a great way to start your day. That’s what the science says anyway. A 2010 study showed that a high protein breakfast reduces appetite so you can avoid that afternoon snack attack.
The only reason to take laxatives is to get your #PoopGameStrong again, or if a doctor recommends you take them before a procedure. They are not a good way to lose weight.
Laxatives might help you drop a few temporary pounds of water weight, but that’s about it. The risks don’t outweigh the benefits. It’s just not worth it fam.