Laxatives for Weight Loss?

man holding toilet paper in the bathroom

​Many people today take dieting to the extremes to keep up with society’s beauty image and to lose weight. Some experiment with the use of laxatives as a quick weight loss solution. They attempt to lose weight as fast as they can instead of choosing healthy long-term plans that include proper nutrition and exercise.

dulcolax laxative tablets

Knowing a choice is unhealthy doesn’t seem to matter. Laxative abuse has numerous, unpleasant consequences. It can lead to death. People who have frequent laxative induced bowel movement tend to have a false sense of cleansing.

The quick weight loss caused by the use of laxatives is mostly water. Several laxative types pull water from the body into the intestines that will make passage easier. When using laxatives ceases, most, or all, weight loss is quickly regained. Laxatives are not the ideal way to lose weight permanently.

Overuse is unhealthy and can cause unpleasant side effects. Laxatives also cleanse the body of necessary calories and nutrients. They affect natural fat absorption and upset electrolyte levels. Laxatives cause the following problems.

Stomach Cramping – Laxatives cause painful stomach cramps. Even when used for sound reasons, choose a laxative that is gentle and specifies on the packaging that it will not cause cramps.

Become Nauseated – Some people experience the uncomfortable feeling of nausea that can last as long as three days after a laxative is taken.

Causes Vomiting – The medication found in laxatives upsets the stomach lining, and vomiting can occur.

Get Diarrhea – The common side effect of diarrhea when using a laxative can lead to dangerous dehydration.

Rectal Bleeds – A side effect of frequent diarrhea and bowel movements is rectal bleeding.

Become Faint – Laxative use can cause fainting to occur. It is usually due to weakness from dehydration and diarrhea.

Become Dizzy – Using laxatives causes dizziness. It is another side effect of dehydration.

Dehydration and Electrolyte Imbalance – Electrolytes are needed for the human body to function. They are substances that dissolve in body fluids that are vital in helping tissues and cells work normally.

Laxatives cause a loss of essential electrolytes like sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, phosphate, and calcium. An electrolyte disorder can result from long-term imbalance. The symptoms are:

  • ​Irregular heartbeat
  • ​Cramping
  • ​Mental changes
  • ​Muscles fatigue
  • ​Seizures
  • ​Confusion
  • ​Coma
  • ​Thirst
  • Headaches
  • ​Death

​Chronic diarrhea creates a water loss that leads to dehydration, a life-threatening situation. Dehydration causes kidney damage, fainting, blurry vision, weakness, and death.

Intestine Function Damage – Using laxatives consistently as a dieting method may cause permanent gastrointestinal tract damage. The body may become dependent on the laxatives. Some think that when the laxatives are halted, the intestines slow down and lose the ability to remove food. 

Severe constipation results – The nerve endings may change also. They will no longer respond to stimulation. A cycle is created that requires larger doses of laxatives to cause a bowel movement.  

All researchers do not share the dependency theory. It is more likely true of stimulant laxatives that induce a bowel movement by speeding up action in the intestinal tract. More research is required to evaluate long-term laxative effects and the dependency risk.

Abusing laxatives to lose weight is often an indication of an eating disorder, especially in young adults. Other extremes are typically coupled with this form of weight loss like restricting calorie intake, excessive exercise, or purging. Care from psychologist or health care provider is necessary.

man holding toilet paper in the bathroom

Studies of Laxative Use

A small study measured eating habits and food intake of 30 bulimia nervosa patients. Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder involving consumption of large amounts of food followed by laxatives or self-induced vomiting to prevent weight gain.

When compared to other methods used, researchers found laxative to be ineffective in controlling weight. Another study drew the same conclusions, noting laxative use to be more prevalent among obese and overweight teenagers than patients of average weight.

There are no studies that support laxative used leading to weight loss that lasts. A study of 24 patients showed laxatives significantly altered participants’ levels of potassium and sodium. A more prominent study of 2270 people revealed the laxatives typically used in colonoscopy preparation increased the electrolyte disturbance risk.

All have concluded using laxatives can alter the body’s electrolytes and cause many adverse side effects. There are other dangerous side effects found in laxative use research. A few studies linked using laxatives to severe conditions that include kidney failure and rhabdomyolysis.

One study showed laxative abuse might have been the cause of rapid muscle tissue deterioration and a harmful protein released into the bloodstream known as rhabdomyolysis. A study of recovered anorexia patients who were former laxative users had long-term pancreatic damage and a change in gastrointestinal function.  

A case study of a patient reported laxative use was partially responsible for liver damage. Another case study reported laxative overuse seemed to be the cause of severe kidney failure that requires dialysis.

Dialysis is a treatment that aids in the removal of toxins and waste from the blood. There is more research that needs to be conducted on the safety and potential long-term effects of laxative use.

There Are Better Weight Loss Methods

Anyone using severe food restrictions, purging, or laxatives, needs to stop the unhealthy weight loss method and seek professional help to prevent long-term health consequences. There are many more effective and safer ways to lose weight than putting one’s health on the line.

Here are some proven, simple ways to lose extra pounds.

  • ​Eat more vegetables and fruits. They are rich in fiber and low in calories. Higher vegetable and fruit intake has been associated with lower body weight.
  • Increase physical activity. Aerobic exercises a few times each week aid in weight loss and prevention of weight gain. Try running or yoga for weight loss.
  • ​Reduce portion sizes. Smaller portions have fewer calories. Using a smaller plate can cause people to eat less.
  • ​Eat a breakfast high in protein. A protein-packed breakfast reduces food intake and appetite during the day.
  • ​Decrease added sugar intake. Sugar is low in nutrients and high in calories that lead to weight gain. Research has associated obesity with drinking sugar-sweetened beverages.


Complications of laxative abuse, Annual Review of Medicine

Laxative abuse: a hazardous habit for weight control, Journal of American College Health

The changes in electrolytes balance after artificially induced acute diarrhea by laxatives, Journal of Korean Medical Science

Does laxative abuse control body weight, Human Nutrition. Applied Nutrition Journal

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