For years, many have sworn the effectiveness of laxatives in losing excess weight. But can laxative agents aid in weight loss?
The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) does not evaluate many over-the-counter supplements claiming weight loss assistance. As a result, some products, including laxatives, should not get taken as a primary source of weight control or dietary supplement.
However, because laxatives don’t explicitly market themselves as weight supplements, many still claim that they discover results when taking them. How can you know that you aren’t doing more harm than good, and are laxatives safe for prolonged use?
Before you begin regularly taking laxatives for your health, make sure that you know of all the associated risks. You must also know when you should take them, as well as when to stop and seek medical help.
What Are Laxatives?
Laxatives are a mild form of medicine intended to treat constipation or irregular bowel movements. There are several different types of laxatives, some more natural than others (1).
Many people rely on digestive aids as part of their regular medication needs, and many well-known brands adequately test them before selling. But even the mildest laxatives depends on chemicals which can create prolonged health concerns, regardless of any natural components.
The majority of laxatives directly target the colon, although some may stimulate the lower intestine, the liver, kidneys, and even the stomach. These medicine types may need to get ingested as a syrup or a pill, or they may act as a suppository.
Some laxatives are milder than others, but they may take longer to begin working. They may come as prepackaged powders that mix with water, or they may just come in a pill or liquid.
Other laxatives may naturally come from certain types of oils. Castor oil, for example, has acted as a laxative for many years and may get added to other liquids safely.
Which type of laxative is best for you depends on the nature of your symptoms. Dietary fiber is a naturally-occurring source of laxatives, while stool softeners flood fat cells with water to make them pass through the digestive system more quickly.
Lubricant laxatives, on the other hand, helps stool pass by weighting down waste to force it to leave. However, few lubrication methods are natural, such as mineral oil or castor oil, and may create prolonged side effects or health risks.
Do Laxatives Help You Lose Weight?
Because laxative medicines are efficient at purging excess stool and toxins from your body quickly, they have gotten used by those expecting to see weight loss results from their use. However, there remains little to no medical evidence to support that claim.
Most digestive aids sold in stores do not explicitly advertise as a weight loss supplement or dietary pills. But despite these products remaining labeled only for discomfort or softening stool, some still claim that they lose weight taking them.
Laxatives are effective at removing excess water and the related weight that comes with it. But removing water from the body only leads to temporary weight loss.
Those users expecting laxatives to perform as a regular weight loss supplement may wind up damaging their body in the process. As a result, it’s difficult to justify their prolonged use, especially for those attempting to shed additional weight.
If someone were to depend on laxatives specifically for weight loss, they would be best suited to depend on dietary forms of fiber. Because these laxatives are frequently fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods, they are far healthier to ingest over extended periods.
How Long Do the Effects of Laxatives Last?
The duration of the effects of laxatives depends on what type of medicine the user took. The more pharmaceutical in nature the drug happens to be, the longer the duration and its side effects.
Choosing a natural source of fiber, such as bananas, prunes, and dark, leafy vegetables last for as long as it takes to digest. Suppositories may act within minutes, while pills and other medicated types may take hours to end their effects entirely.
Some laxatives, such as bulk-forming agents, are intended for use as a regular maintenance supplement. As long as they remain taken under the proposed use directions, your risk of side effects should stay minimal, if at all.
Bisacodyl, which is an organic compound that gets included in many over-the-counter laxatives, can last for at least 12 hours at a time. Although it’s safer than other types, it should still only get taken as directed.
Because some types may last for hours or even days on end, repeated abuse shows symptoms before long. As a result, it remains recommended that someone only take laxatives when they need to aid their body’s natural digestive process.
What are the Side Effects of Laxatives?
Taking laxatives daily for weight loss may result in damaging your digestive tract, especially the colon. Because you’re forcing your body to push stool out more frequently, you may wind up wearing out these organs sooner than they naturally would.
As is the case with any medication type, side effects run from milder sensations to highly dangerous health risks. As laxatives target the digestive system, these risks should get seriously considered before taking over long periods.
When taken correctly, the risk of laxative-induced issues is minimal. But with repeated, abused use of these medications so does the chances of a severe health risk developing.
Milder side effects often present themselves in the form of abdominal cramps. Some discomfort remains expected when taking these medication types.
Other side effects may form in repeated, uncontrollable flatulence, bloating, constipation, or even diarrhea. Stronger forms of medication can create more serious health concerns, such as dehydration, hypertension, electrolyte imbalance, dizziness, and fainting.
Patients who also suffer from bulimia or other eating disorders have also reported developing a dependence on abusing laxatives. Over time, your body struggles to operate without them.
Some who repeatedly take medication may develop dark colored stool, prolonged pain in your intestines, or repeated vomiting. Worst still are cases where uses produce kidney damage.
Finally, there is the risk of obstructing your digestive tract rather than clear it away. That may occur from not consuming enough water with the supplement, causing it to harden or clump together instead.
What Will Happen if You Take Laxatives Every Day?
The average person is not going to need to take laxatives. However, as is the case with all medicines, when you do run into digestive issues they need to get swallowed as required.
Extended use of laxatives may prevent you from noticing early warning signs of constipation, as well as other digestive ailments. Your body may find that it struggles to remove wastes naturally after too many uses.
Those who do regularly abuse laxatives may make it difficult for your body to absorb other medications. If you depend on prescription drugs for specific diseases, they may not wholly take because of the laxative.
Your digestive system is more than just your stomach and colon. It also ties together your liver, kidneys, intestines, and even blood cells.
Repeated abuse can harm one or many of these organs. Although they may seem practical at purging additional weight from the body, they are not considered safe as acting primarily as a fat loss supplement.
How Often is it Safe to Take a Laxative?
Due to the varied side effects, laxatives can create, as well as their prolonged risks, some users are hesitant to their use. However, as is the expectation with any medication type, safe, directed use reduces unnecessary health risks.
If you have suffered from irregular bowel movements, or it’s a struggle to use the bathroom, you likely need to try a laxative supplement. Laxatives must remain taken as their labels direct the user.
Most, if not all, medications should advise the user when it’s time to stop taking them and see a medical professional. Depending on the laxative type, that may be a few repeated doses or following a week of using it.
Even though the majority of digestive aids are available without a prescription, they must remain monitored strictly. Otherwise, you may find that your constipation has worsened rather than ceased.
Should You Use Laxatives for Weight Loss?
At the time of this writing, the medical community has not discovered enough supporting evidence to suggest that laxative medications can lead to extended weight loss. In fact, repeated use or even abuse of these substances can cause many health concerns.
The safer alternative is proper dieting and exercising. Although laxatives are safe for their intended use and medical needs, they should not get taken explicitly for weight loss.
Doing so can lead to digestive issues, organ failure, or physical dependence on laxatives. These medicines are also popular among those who suffer from eating disorders, especially types of bulimia.
Laxatives should not get used as a weight loss supplement. Instead, they must only get used as directed. Although more in-depth medical studies should occur for a more definitive ruling, many medical journals have reviewed them over the past few decades.
Rather than risking health and safety, speaking with a nutritionist or health expert is a better choice. They can best explain your exact dietary requirements, as well as promote natural digestive health.
Janice Thompson is a nutritionist. She loves to share her healthy lifestyle and diet tips.