This article is reviewed by a team of registered dietitians and medical doctors with extensive, practical clinical and public health experience.
Laxatives For Weight Loss: Things You Need To Know Before Taking It
Laxatives have been around for over 2000 years. The Ebers Papyrus from 1500 BCE is an Egyptian medical manuscript detailing various herbal treatments for ailments including constipation.
Beecham’s Pills were the first modern-day laxative produced in England around 1842. They contained ginger, aloe, and soap and acted as a mild laxative. Today there are hundreds of laxatives available as it seems everyone suffers from constipation at some time in their lives.
Most laxatives work by helping the gut absorb more water from the body or by keeping water in the gut around the stool. This water softens the stool, making it easier to pass.
The proper use of laxatives is for treating constipation by softening the stool or stimulating bowel movements. Many believe that passing more stools will lead to weight loss. However, this is only temporary since you are losing water, not fat.
Laxatives are meant to be taken for a short time to relieve constipation. Long-term use, especially by those trying to lose weight, can lead to serious medical problems.
Types of Laxatives
Laxatives are usually put into four common categories: bulking agents, saline and osmotic products, stimulant agents, and surfactants. Bulk-forming laxatives and stool softeners are mild laxatives with few adverse effects.
These contain fiber that absorbs water thus making your stool softer and easier to pass. Fiber supplements are the gentlest on your body and safest to use. Metamucil and Citrucel fall into this category as well as the more natural psyllium seeds.
These pull water from the rest of your body into your intestines to help soften your stools. Examples include saline products that contain magnesium, sulfate, potassium, or phosphate salts; poorly absorbed sugars like lactose, sorbitol, mannitol, and glycerin suppositories. Common brands are Phillips Milk of Magnesia, Miralax, and Colace.
These cause the muscles in your intestine to squeeze your stool so it moves along more rapidly. Examples include surface-active agents like Docusate and bile salts; diphenylmethane derivatives like phenolphthalein, bisacodyl (Dulcolax), and sodium picosulfate; ricinoleic acid like the age-old castor oil; anthraquinones found in plants such as senna (Senokot), aloe, and rhubarb.
Commonly known as stool softeners that contain surfactants that moisten the stool for better passage. These include mineral oil and glycerin suppositories.
There are many natural laxatives available that can be just as effective as over-the-counter products at preventing constipation, often without the side effects of pharmaceutical products.
There are two types of fiber, soluble absorbs water and insoluble which do not absorb water but increase the bulk of the stool so it moves better through the intestines. Make sure you drink lots of water when using any of the following:
- Chia seeds for natural fiber.
- Berries for fiber
- Legumes include beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas, and peanuts and also help reduce inflammation of the intestines
- Flaxseed for fiber and omega-3 fatty acids
- Kefir as a probiotic helps stool consistency and transit time through the intestines
- Castor oil stimulates stool movement
- Leafy greens rich in magnesium, a common ingredient in OTC laxatives
- Senna a plant that increases bowel movement; Swiss Kriss
- Apples high in fiber while increasing beneficial gut bacteria
- Olive oil acts as a lubricant
- Rhubarb, oat bran, prunes, aloe vera, coffee, psyllium seeds are other natural options.
Your body absorbs calories, fat, and most nutrients before they get to the large intestine. What is left of your food is waste that your body does not need and that is mostly full of water and some minerals. So, using laxatives to lose weight will mainly affect the large intestine thus not helping to lose fat that has been metabolized before it gets to the large intestine. Most of what you lose is water, not fat. As soon as you drink something, you will gain the weight back.
Who Should Use Laxatives?
People who use laxatives are usually grouped into four categories:
- Individuals who suffer from an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia or binge eating. Their goal is to get thin or to eliminate ingested food so they will not gain weight.
- Middle-aged people begin using laxatives when constipated or are worried when they do not have a daily bowel movement. As the body ages, metabolism slows down affecting how often a bowel movement happens.
- People engaged in certain types of athletic training.
- People who consider themselves overweight and want to drop pounds easily and fast.
How to Use Laxatives?
Dosages and how long to take a laxative vary with the type of laxative and the medical problem you are treating. Follow instructions on the laxative or from your doctor. General guidelines:
- For powdered laxatives, mix in a glass of water or juice.
- For liquid laxatives, mix in milk or fruit juice.
- For suppositories, once a day after a bowel movement.
- If it has an unpleasant taste, follow with a glass of citrus fruit juice.
- Mineral oil at bedtime before lying down.
- Stimulants are taken on an empty stomach for rapid effect.
Safety of Laxatives
Laxatives are medicines for relieving constipation. They are not recommended to reduce body fat or promote long-term weight loss. Doctors believe it is an unsafe and ineffective strategy.
Some side effects happening if you misuse laxative includes:
Diarrhea that lasts longer than a week may seriously affect your body over time. Overuse of laxatives can cause loss of bowel muscle tone. Because your muscles become weak, you may have trouble passing stool on your own causing constipation and diarrhea. According to the Cleveland Clinic, prolonged diarrhea can result in the following symptoms:
- Dark-colored urine
Electrolytes are important minerals and salts that maintain your body’s homeostasis. These include calcium, sodium, potassium, chloride, phosphate, and magnesium. Symptoms of imbalance may include:
- Heart problems
- Muscle weakness
- Throwing up
- Impaired intestinal function
Using laxatives too often and for too long can damage your intestines. This can lead to a greater chance of having colon cancer. According to the Addiction Center, laxative abuse can have other serious side effects on various organs including the liver, kidneys, pancreas, heart, and muscle tissue.
Long-term use of laxatives may become an addiction. Research indicates this addiction is usually emotional, not physical.
Better Options for Weight Loss
If you want to lose weight, first try to change your lifestyle habits. This includes eating a holistic, nutritious diet of fruits, veggies, whole grains, healthy oils like olive, and low-fat meats and fish. Stay away from packaged foods, fast foods, and those high in sugar and carbohydrates. Drink a lot of filtered water as this helps avoid constipation which can make you feel heavier.
Other habits include consistent exercise, sufficient restful sleep, limits on alcohol, and no smoking. With these changes, weight loss may become obvious without taking laxatives. You can also try intermittent fasting and eating smaller portions.
Laxatives are medicines for relieving constipation. They are not recommended for weight loss as they temporarily cause water loss, not fat loss. There is no evidence to support the use of laxatives as a safe or effective weight-loss method. Also, laxatives have several potential side effects, including diarrhea and dehydration. Changing your lifestyle is the most effective way to reach a healthy weight.
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