Laxatives For Weight Loss – Should You Use Or Avoid?

Some people may take these medicines to shed those pounds – but beware!

Reviewed by Dr. Pallavi Srivastava, Clinical Nutritionist Dr. Pallavi Srivastava Dr. Pallavi SrivastavaClinical Nutritionist facebook_icontwitter_iconinsta_icon
Written by , MSc (Biotechnology), ISSA Certified Fitness Nutritionist Charushila Biswas MSc (Biotechnology), ISSA Certified Fitness Nutritionist Experience: 6 years
Edited by , BSc, Professional Certificate in Food, Nutrition and Health Ravi Teja Tadimalla BSc, Professional Certificate in Food, Nutrition and Health Experience: 8 years
Fact-checked by , MSc (Biotechnology), Certified Health & Nutrition Life Coach Payal Karnik MSc (Biotechnology), Certified Health & Nutrition Life Coach Experience: 2.5 years
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Laxatives are basically bowel movement stimulants. But many dieters use laxatives to lose weight as they seem to speed up the movement of the digested food through the digestive tract, thereby preventing the absorption of calories. But do laxatives make you lose weight? Well, while laxatives may work in weight loss, overuse or continuous use can cause serious health issues. So, if you are considering using laxatives to lose weight, you must know what you are getting into. This article discusses the types of laxatives, how much weight you can lose using laxatives, and the side effects you must be aware of.

What Are Laxatives?

Image: Shutterstock

Laxatives are herbal or chemical medicines that help loosen the stool and improve bowel movement (1). According to the American Gastroenterological Association, doctors commonly prescribe laxatives to those dealing with constipation (2). According to an online 2018 survey involving a sample of 16,053 American adults, 24.0% (4,702 individuals) experienced constipation. Among them, 37.6% had sought advice from a healthcare professional regarding their symptoms and 47.8% of the respondents reported using medication.

Laxatives help add bulk to the stool and push out the waste from the digestive tract. There are various types of laxatives, as discussed in the next section.

Types Of Laxatives

Image: IStock
  • Bulk Forming Or Fiber Laxatives: Fiber is naturally present in husk, veggies, fruits, etc. Fiber laxative is recommended by doctors for slow transit constipation, bloating, and cramping. These laxatives absorb water and add bulk to the stool (3).
  • Osmotic Laxatives: These are chemical hydrating agents that draw water into the intestine and soften the stool (3).
  • Lubricant Laxatives: These are laxatives that contain mineral oil as one of the components and make the stool slippery and easy to pass (3).
  • Stimulant Laxatives: These laxatives stimulate the lining of the digestive tract to help flush the stool out from the body (3).
  • Guanylate Cyckase-C Agonist Laxatives: These increase the amount of water in the GI tract (3).
  • Emollient Laxatives or Stool Softeners: These help soften the stool and are generally recommended for people recovering from surgery or women who have just given birth (3).

How Long Does It Take For Laxatives To Work

Lifestyle changes such as eating fiber-rich foods and drinking adequate water can help manage constipation. However, if these changes don’t improve your condition, you can use OTC laxatives to provide relief. It is important to note that every type of laxative works in different ways and depends on factors such as one’s health.

  • Saline Laxatives And Stimulant Laxatives – They take 6 to 12 hours to work.
  • Osmotic And Bulk-Forming Laxatives – They take 12 hours to 3 days to work.
  • Suppositories – They take 15 to 30 minutes as they are administered via the rectum.

While various different types of laxatives are used in combating constipation, the graph below mentions top ten laxatives that were prescribed in the UK in 2021. A recent study portrays Macrogol 3350 as the most commonly prescribed laxative, with an estimated 6.8 million prescription items, emphasizing on its leading usage in the medicine industry.

Leading Laxatives In England

Source: Statista

There’s not a single laxative doctors specifically recommend for weight loss. So, why do dieters use laxatives to lose weight? Are they effective? Let’s find out.

Do Laxatives Aid Weight Loss?

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Laxatives do not aid weight loss. They are meant to help people get relief from constipation. But here’s why many people use/abuse laxatives for weight loss.

Laxatives speed up the movement of the digested food in the small intestine. The small intestine is where all the nutrients get absorbed. And when the nutrients are not absorbed properly, the body absorbs fewer calories. But will this help you lose the flab and achieve a toned body and a healthy mind? No. You may lose water weight, but not fat. After losing 1 to 2 pounds, your weight loss will stall.

You may continue using laxatives to lose more weight, but they will only harm your health. Moreover, there is no scientific research supporting the effectiveness of laxatives for weight loss. Yet, people with eating disorders use laxatives to lose weight and look a certain way. This is an unhealthy practice and laxative abuse only further deteriorates your physical and mental health.

Remember the following points about laxatives.

What You Need To Know Before Using Laxatives For Weight Loss

  • There Are Various Types Of Laxatives: As listed above, there are different laxatives that work in different or similar ways to help flush out the toxins in your digestive tract. So, you must talk to your doctor to determine the laxative that is best for you.
  • Laxatives Are Not Meant For Weight Loss: Laxatives are meant for helping people with severe/recurring constipation. They help flush out the stool and offer relief from constipation.
  • Laxatives Do Not Aid Fat Loss: All you are going to lose is the initial water weight. You are not going to lose fat or build lean muscle mass.
  • Laxatives Should Not Be Used For Prolonged Periods: If you suffer from constipation, use it for 1 to 2 days.

What if you use laxatives for more than 2 days to lose weight?

protip_icon Did You Know?
Studies show that 56.3% of people with eating disorders have reported abusing laxatives for purging (4).

Side Effects Of Using Laxatives For Weight Loss

Woman feeling dehydrated with excessive use of laxatives
Image: IStock
  • Dehydration

One of the first effects of overusing laxatives is dehydration (5). Most laxatives tend to draw water into the digestive tract from the surrounding tissue to soften the stool, leading to dehydration. When you are dehydrated, your cell function and metabolic ratei  XThe minimum amount of energy the body needs to sustain basic life functions when at rest. will go down, and your brain function will be compromised.

  • Electrolyte Imbalance

Electrolytes play an important role in proper cell function, cell division, cell signaling, etc. And the main electrolytes are sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, phosphate, and magnesium. Overusing laxatives lead to an imbalance in the electrolyte levels that can involve the renali  XThe urinary system or urinary tract consisting of the kidneys, bladder, ureters, and urethra. and cardiovascular systemsi  XIt’s also called the circulatory system and includes the heart and blood vessels. (6). If you are using laxatives and suffer from a headache, muscle fatigue, weakness, and heart palpitations, stop their use and consult a doctor immediately.

  • Kidney Failure

Constant use of laxatives may lead to kidney or renal disorders (5). When that happens, over time, your kidneys may become weak and fail.

  • GI Tract Damage

Long-term use of laxatives may irritate the GI tract lining, leading to inflammation and loss of function (5).

  • Rhabdomyolysis

Rhabdomyolysis is caused due to severe injury and muscle death (7). Using laxatives for days to lose weight may lead to muscle loss, weakness, and even muscle death. This can lead to an overdose of harmful protein in the bloodstream causing further complications.

  • Liver Damage

Taking too many chemical tablets is not good for your liver. Using too many herbal laxatives may lead to liver damage. However, more research is needed in this regard.

  • Depression

Since laxatives do not actually help you lose the flab, you will not lose weight after losing the initial water weight. This may trigger obsessive-compulsive actions and depression.

  • Other Side Effects

Dizziness
Diarrhea
Nausea
Abdominal cramps

Now that you know there are so many disadvantages to using laxatives as weight loss agents, you may want to consider the next best options to lose weight quickly. Well, here’s what you’ve got to do.

Steffani, a YouTuber, talks about her experience of how laxatives cause weight loss. She shares that she had anorexia, an eating disorder, and while laxatives helped her lose some pounds, they also led to laxative abuse. She recounts, “I was overdosing with them that much that it did not matter when I took them– I had to go to the bathroom all the time because my stomach was upset (i).”

protip_icon Did You Know?
Overusing laxatives may lead to addiction. The intestines may become dependent on them and cause a constant state of dehydration. Consequently, when water is introduced back into the body, the resultant weight gain could be extreme (8).

Ways To Lose Weight Quickly

Ways To Lose Weight Quickly
Image: Shutterstock

According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2015 and 2018, one in five adults aged 20 and above followed a diet plan on a given day, and weight loss or low-calorie diets were the commonly followed diet plans (9). However, several fad diets show no improvement. Following the points given below may help you know better:

  • Understand that quick weight loss is not sustainable. You may go for it if you have an upcoming occasion but do it safely. Eating lesser calories than required by your body will eventually slow down your metabolism and make you look tired and worn out on the day of the special occasion.
  • Choose a diet plan that you can sustain. Most VLCD and crazy diets are not sustainable. Use the substitute method to slowly get into the habit of eating clean. Substitute high-calorie foods with low-calorie, high-fiber, high-protein, and healthy fats.
  • Snack on low-calorie foods like hummus and baby carrot, cucumber, tomato, nuts, etc.
  • Exercise regularly, and you will be physically and mentally fit.

Thus, it is important to note that while laxatives can be used for weight loss, incorporating healthy eating habits, increasing water intake, and focusing on improving digestion through fiber-rich foods is a more sustainable and long-term approach to maintaining a healthy weight.

Conclusion

Eating mindfully is the key to losing the excess flab without taking any crazy pills or diet. Laxatives are meant for people with chronic constipation. They are not ideal for weight loss and do not prevent caloric absorption. In turn, they can result in other health problems and illnesses. Hence, take your health seriously. Taking laxatives for weight loss is not advisable.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is milk a laxative?

While consuming too much dairy products can lead to constipation some people can get things going with a glass of warm milk.

Do laxatives clean you out?

Yes, laxatives make your bowel movement regular, helping to flush out waste and toxins from your body. However, overuse for a prolonged time is not recommended.

How much weight can I lose with laxatives?

Laxatives are not meant to be used for weight loss.

Do models take laxatives?

No, laxative is not recommended for models or anyone trying to lose weight.

Key Takeaways

  • Laxatives are herbal or chemical medicines that help loosen the stool and improve bowel movement.
  • Osmotic laxatives are hydrating agents that draw water into the intestine and soften the stool.
  • Excessive use of chemical and herbal laxatives is not good for the liver.
laxatives for weight loss

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Discover ways to incorporate laxatives for weight loss in this insightful video. The video gives you all the information about what to do and what not to do for a safe weight loss experience. Click on the video below to know more!

Personal Experience: Source

References

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Mechanisms of Action of Laxative Drugs
    https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-642-69508-7_11
  2. American Gastroenterological Association Technical Review on Constipation
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3531555/
  3. Laxatives
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537246/
  4. Laxative Abuse
    https://www.addictioncenter.com/drugs/laxative-abuse/#:~:text=Taking%20laxatives%20to%20improve%20bowel,misuse%2C%20abuse%2C%20and%20dependence
  5. Complications of laxative abuse
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/14489120_Complications_of_laxative_abuse
  6. Laxative Abuse
    https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/11898640-000000000-00000
  7. Rhabdomyolysis: Pathogenesis Diagnosis and Treatment
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4365849/
  8. Special Diets Among Adults: United States 2015–2018
    https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db389.htm
  9. Laxative Abuse Cessation Leading to Severe Edema
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8299158/
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