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What are laxatives?
How do laxatives work?
Can you use laxatives to lose weight?
What are the side effects of using laxatives to lose weight?
Should I use laxatives to lose weight?
Is the use of laxatives to lose weight effective?
No matter where you may live, you would have heard of lots of people deciding to use laxatives to lose weight quickly. Using laxatives for weight loss fast has become a very popular fad with people wanting to lose weight. However, before you start using laxatives to lose weight, you need to know if it is effective or just another useless method. Let’s take a look at how this method is supposed to work.
What are laxatives?
Laxatives are substances (such as herbs, food or medication) that are used to treat constipation or to prepare your large intestine or colon for a surgical examination. Generally speaking, laxatives are not harmful or toxic substances. They are often prescribed by physicians to patients who are constipated thereby enabling these people to have an easy passage of waste material out of their bodies.
How do laxatives work?
Once consumed food moves down your digestive tract (esophagus → stomach → small intestines → large intestines → colon) in a wave-like movement called peristaltic action. If the peristaltic action is weak or non-existent, you will have difficulty passing stools. Laxatives induce this peristaltic action in the large intestines and colon, thereby creating a bowel movement.
Can you use laxatives to lose weight? – Goto top
There’s a double answer to this question: Yes and No! Let’s take them separately.
YES, taking of laxatives to lose weight can send you rushing to the toilet to get rid of a few pounds of feces mixed with water. This lost weight will be restored in about 48 hours when you consume water. This is nothing but fake weight loss! This temporary loss of weight could sometime lead to hospitalization.
Misuse (or abuse) of laxatives could, over a period of time, cause you to lose weight as food is forced out of the large intestines and colon. However, this is dangerous because overuse or prolonged use of laxatives to lose weight could lead to diverse (and sometimes irreversible) complications. This can be noted in a later part of this article.
NO, you cannot use laxatives to lose weight because, first of all, they were not created to lose weight but to solve constipation issues, or for preparation of the large intestines or colon for surgical examination.
Secondly, almost all nutrition and calories in the foods eaten are absorbed in the small intestine whereas laxatives work in the large intestine and in the colon, where only water and mineral absorption occurs. The laxatives hasten the elimination of undigested food remains from the small intestine before the large intestine could absorb the water and minerals. This is the reason for the many trips to the restroom: the undigested waste material is passed out with a lot of water.
Thirdly, after one has had a bowel movement, one ‘feels’ lighter but what has happened is that only unwanted food has been eliminated. This weight loss is merely water weight that has been lost and this lost water weight could be recovered in about 48 hours or so. Please remember that your body weight that is shown on the weighing scales is not just fat weight. It includes the bone weight, water weight, muscle and organ weight, fat, etc. Laxatives do not help you to get rid of fat weight. The water weight lost after laxatives are used is replaced when water is consumed. If it is not replaced, it could lead to dehydration and other serious problems.
What are the side effects of using laxatives to lose weight? – Goto top
Using laxatives to lose weight is actually misusing the laxatives and there are some frighteningly serious and sometimes irreversible damage to deal with. Some, but not all, side effects are:
- Chronic diarrhea: This is a very common side effect. You would be using the restroom more often and for longer times. You have to be near a toilet at all times as you would never know when you would need to use it. Diarrhea is dangerous as the continuous loss of water can lead to dehydration.
- Dehydration: The consistent loss of body water could become a serious, life threatening problem. Dehydration leads to general weakness, blurred vision, dizziness, kidney damage, even death.
- Rectal bleeding: Overuse of laxatives can cause damage to the lining of the large intestine, leading to the passage of blood with the stool and this is aggravated when there’s diarrhea.
- Electrolyte imbalance: Electrolytes are vital minerals (sodium, calcium, potassium, etc.) in precise amounts and ratios that help the body’s nerves and muscles to function properly. Laxative use can cause an electrolyte imbalance that could lead to muscle fatigue, stomach cramps, and the improper functioning of vital organs like the heart, kidneys and liver!
- Gastrointestinal damage: The prolonged use of laxatives to lose weight can damage the proper functioning of the gastrointestinal tract. As one gets habituated to laxatives to lose weight, the nerve endings in the large intestine and colon get weakened so they do not respond to stimulation and so cannot remove food from the body, leading to severe constipation and pain for a long period of time. This creates a vicious cycle where one has to keep on increasing the dosage of laxatives needed to have a bowel movement. Sometimes the colon, which is no longer functioning normally, would need to be surgically removed. Then there’s the additional risk of Crohn’s disease.
- Stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, fainting: As the laxatives damage the stomach’s lining, this could lead to very painful cramps, vomiting and or nausea. As your body becomes weaker due to diarrhea and dehydration, fainting is another problem.
- Osteomalacia: The loss of calcium and potassium as a result of the use of laxatives for weight loss usually weakens and softens the skeletal structure, making the bones fragile and easily broken.
- Dental problems: The loss of calcium could lead to missing, broken or brittle teeth. You could end up in hospital (for a variety of reasons) and you would be given potassium intravenously, a very painful treatment.
- Bloating: Continued loss of water through use of laxatives to lose weight could lead to water retention where your body stores water to survive. This would make you feel bloated and will actually increase your weight.
Then there’s the abuse of laxatives to lose weight: taking too many laxatives can make the user addicted to them and will become dependent on laxatives for bowel movement. This means, over a period of time, you would have to take more pills just to have regular bowel movements! Abusers of laxatives are sometimes troubled with bowel tumors (that can be benign or cancerous)!
What should not be forgotten is that the use (or abuse) of laxatives to lose weight can reduce or remove the effect of any other medication being used for any other complaint.
There is the social effect of the use of laxatives to lose weight. Instead of looking thin and beautiful and popular as you hoped, you become thin but you’re all by yourself. Because of the physical problems you’re undergoing, you will become shy and sad or bitter and angry. Not only will you be confused but you’ll also confuse some of your family and friends who love you.
Using laxatives for weight loss could also affect you psychologically as the different weights seen on your weighing scales could influence you mentally: you know you’re harming your body but that’s something you don’t want to do. This means you would need to see a psychologist or a health care provider to help you break this vicious circle.
People with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia or compulsive overeating tend to use laxatives to lose weight, assuming that the laxatives would get rid of unwanted calories consumed. But, as mentioned earlier, calories eaten are absorbed in the small intestines, so these people can have serious negative health consequences in taking laxatives to lose weight.
Interestingly, the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration) has recalled the use of phenolphthalein, found in many popular laxatives, as this ingredient has been linked to cancer.
Not only do laxatives mess up the body’s chemical balance, sudden stoppage of their use could lead to withdrawal symptoms.
Should I use laxatives to lose weight? – Goto top
The general idea is that you SHOULD NOT use laxatives to lose weight. The best way to lose weight is the good old way: eat a proper diet, drink lots of water and exercise regularly. Again, NEVER use laxatives to lose weight fast, as the consequences are terrible and long lasting.
Is the use of laxatives to lose weight effective? – Goto top
The answer is NO. Laxatives are safe and effective in solving constipation problems. They are NOT effective for weight loss, something for which they were not made. Any weight lost is temporary and there are side effects (short term and long term) that are seemingly dangerous.