Laxatives And Weight Loss

A lot of people resort to laxatives when they’re looking for fast ways to lose weight. In fact, studies have shown that about 10% of women, aged between 23-25 have made use of laxatives in an attempt to lose weight. However, this causes a lot of concern, because laxatives are not made for this purpose. Although, they might achieve their aim, to an extent by losing a few pounds. This loss of weight is mostly temporary. Laxatives for weight loss are not a safe or desirable solution for healthy and sustainable weight loss.

What Are Laxatives?

Laxatives are medications that can be used to increase bowel movements, and also decrease the intensity of feces. These drugs are also used in the treatment of constipation. However, laxatives differ in the mechanism of action and also have varying side effects. They are also used to empty the colon for various abdominal evaluations, such as colon and bowel examinations.

What Are The Types Of Laxatives?

There are many types of laxatives, that performs different functions. Below are some of them and how they work;

  1. Bulk-forming agents: These are food materials or drugs that can add more weight and moisture to stools, so they pass more comfortably and easily through the gastrointestinal tract, especially in the lower parts of the intestine. These materials act specifically on the small and large intestine. These bulk-forming materials work by absorbing water from the body, subsequently increasing the water content of the stool. This is why they should be taken with a lot of water. This kind of laxative has mild adverse effects, which makes it one of the preferred laxatives. Examples of bulk-forming laxatives are food with a lot of fiber, such as spinach, drugs like Fibercon, Citrucel and so on.
  2. Dietary fibers: This category of fibers can be found in food. Examples of food material that contains a lot of fiber are banana, apples, broccoli, nuts and so on.
  3. Emollient agents: These agents are used for softening stools. They are surfactants that add water and fatty substances to the feces, enhancing their easy passage through the intestine. Emollients work on the small and large intestine. Examples of these agents are Gibs-Eze, Colace and so on.
  4. Hyperosmotic agents: Hyperosmotic agents are substances that make the intestine retain more fluid in them, thereby creating an osmotic effect that would enhance and stimulate intestinal movement. These laxatives work on the large intestine. Examples include lactulose and glycerin. Lactulose works based on this principle, they hold water in the colon, and also increases the acidity of the colon, thereby increasing peristalsis in the colon. In addition, glycerin also works by utilizing the osmotic effect, however, some sodium constituent of glycerin might cause irritation in the colon.
  5. Stimulant agents: These are laxatives that act specifically on the mucosa and the nerve networks of the intestine. They act by changing the water and electrolyte secretion in the colon. In addition, they also enhance the peristaltic activity of the intestine. However, abusing these type of agents could turn out dangerous. An example of stimulating agents is bisacodyl. The stimulating agent is the most powerful kind of laxatives, and therefore should be used under a physician’s guidance, or with care and caution. The long-term use of this drug could change the integrity of the colon epithelia. For example, it has been recorded that stimulating agents are capable of damaging the haustral folds in the colon. This makes the user of the drug lose the ability to pass stool through their colon by themselves.
  6. Saline laxatives: These are osmotic materials that cannot be absorbed into the intestine, but still holds water in the lumen of the intestine. This increases the pressure within the lumen of the intestine. This pressure increases the movement and removal of materials in the intestine. Saline laxatives act on the small and large intestine. However, they are capable of changing the water and electrolyte balance of the body. This is why it’s advised to always take the drug with a lot of water.

How Can Laxatives Help With Weight Loss?

According to studies, laxatives are used mostly by 23-25-year-olds, and people who want to lose weight within a short period of time. In fact, statistics have shown that about 4% of the population uses a laxative for this purpose. However, laxatives are not meant for this purpose, although the persons using laxatives for this purpose might achieve some weight loss, it’s usually temporary. It’s largely an ineffective way of losing weight. There have been no studies that support the idea that laxatives could help with weight loss. Besides the fact that laxatives are not effective for losing weight, it’s also accompanied by many side effects.

Side Effects Of Using Laxatives

  1. Dehydration: This is one of the most common side effects of laxatives. This is because laxatives work by absorbing water from the body tissues into the lumen of the intestines. This water adds moisture to the stool and enhances the rate at which it moves in the bowel. However, the body tissues would have less amount of water, due to the loss of water to the lumen of the colon. This condition can become severe, especially when the individual uses it for a long time. This could lead to body dehydration if not well managed.
  2. Disruption of the intestinal mucosa: The long-term use of laxatives could wear out the tissues of the large intestine. This might lead to the user losing the ability to pass out stools, as a result of the overstimulation of the nerve plexus of the colon.
  3. Electrolyte imbalance: This can be attributed to the mechanism of action of laxatives. They absorb water from the body tissues and retaining them in the lumen of the intestine. This upsets the balance of electrolytes in the tissues. Metabolic alkalosis is the most common electrolyte balance associated with the use of laxatives. Other imbalances associated with laxatives are hypokalemia, low blood pressure, increased heart rate, fainting and postural dizziness.

Should You use Laxatives for Weight Loss?

Laxatives are capable of reducing weight loss, but temporarily.  Should you use laxatives for weight loss? It’s best to follow the normal route of losing weight, such as diet modifications, burning more calories than you’re consuming, exercise and so on.


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