Laxatives are effective in quickly flushing toxins out of your body or relieving constipation. Some people use laxatives for weight loss. This can be a very unhealthy decision to make and can lead to a number of long term negative effects on your body. Abuse of laxatives can cause your gastrointestinal system to become damaged and continuous usage can also cause you to become addicted to laxatives.

Do Laxatives Help You Lose Weight?

Although many people believe that using laxatives for weight loss is effective, this is not the case. Laxatives work by stimulating the large intestine to empty, but by the time anything you have consumed reaches the large intestine, your small intestine has already absorbed the foods and calories you have taken in. All that is expelled from your body through a bowel movement initiated by laxative use is indigestible fiber, electrolytes, water, minerals, and waste products. As soon as you rehydrate your body by drinking water or other fluids, the weight returns. If you decide not to rehydrate your body, you will become dehydrated, which can cause damage to your organs and even death.

Dangers of Using Laxatives for Weight Loss


Nutritional Malabsorption

Over usage of laxatives for weight loss causes frequent bowel movements, which can lead to you becoming malnourished. This is because your body don't have enough time to digest some vitamins and minerals that it needs. If you also have a medical condition that interferes with your body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients, you are at an even greater risk of becoming malnourished. Medical conditions that cause malabsorption include celiac disease, pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis, HIV/AIDS, alcohol abuse, lactose intolerance, Crohn’s disease, and prior bowel or stomach resection. Symptoms that you are not absorbing enough nutrients include foul swelling, bulky stools, fluid retention and associated swelling, distended abdomen and muscle wasting.


Intestinal dysfunction

Excessive use of laxatives for weight loss can cause permanent damage to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Your body can become reliant on laxative use and can cause your GI tract to become unable to function properly without use of laxatives. If this occurs and laxative use is stopped, you may be unable to have a bowel movement, which can cause severe constipation. Chronic use of laxatives can also cause damage to the nerves surrounding the bowels, leading them to be unresponsive to stimulation. This leads to more and more laxatives being needed in order to have a bowel movement.

Abusive use of laxatives for weight loss purposes can be a symptom of an eating disorder, especially in early adulthood. In many cases there are other behaviors as well, such as restricting the number of calories taken in, exercising excessively, or purging. If you or a loved one is experiencing these symptoms, seek help from a medical professional right away.


Electrolyte Imbalance & Dehydration

Your body requires electrolytes in order to function. Excessive use of laxatives causes your body to lose necessary electrolytes including calcium, sodium and potassium. If you lose too many of these electrolytes over time, you can develop an electrolyte disorder. This type of disorder can cause a number of health problems including irregular heartbeat, muscle fatigue, cramping, mental changes, and death. Chronic diarrhea caused by on-going laxative use can cause dehydration, which can result in kidney damage, blurred vision, fainting, weakness, and ultimately, death.


Interaction with medications

If you are taking specific medications or have certain medical conditions, then laxatives to lose weight can cause negative interactions. Medications, such as some bone and heart medications, certain types of antibiotics, and blood thinners can cause dangerous interactions when combined with laxatives. Be sure to read the labels and contact your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions. It is also important not to exceed the recommended dosage of laxatives and other medications.


Complicating Conditions

Other problems caused by using laxatives for weight loss include:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Stomach cramps

  • Fainting and/or dizziness

  • Rectal bleeding

When to See a Doctor

See your doctor right away if you experience symptoms such as rectal bleeding or bloody stools, unusual tiredness, dizziness or weakness, pain or severe cramps. You should also see your doctor if you notice bowel pattern changes or constipation that has lasted longer than a week. If you find that you are unable to have a bowel movement without the use of laxatives, talk to your doctor about ways to recover from laxative dependency.


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