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How to Use Laxatives for Weight Loss
Although most people believe that laxatives can represent an efficient way to produce weight loss, which is not well founded and has not been proven so far.
Laxatives that are most frequently used for this purpose are the ones that stimulate the intestines to evacuate the content and these are available in a large number of over the counter formulas.
Use of laxative does not represent an efficient way of losing weight, first of all, because it usually leads to laxative abuse and can cause many serious disorders and second of all, because their working mechanism does not cause real weight loss. Considering that, they are also not effective in preventing weight gain.
Laxative induced weight loss occurs mostly because of the increased loss of fluids and stool and has nothing to do with the usual mechanisms that prevent or reduce the absorption of calories from the food that is ingested. They basically cause the large intestines to empty sooner than needed and this way it doesn’t allow them to absorb the calories from food.
This belief in not well founded, because the emptying process takes place after the nutrients and calories have already been absorbed by the small intestine. There have been no clinical studies so far that could prove that laxatives can help overweight people eliminate body fat.
The weight loss that occurs is strictly caused by losing the water and stool and once you start eating and drinking again, the body goes back to extracting the water and nutrients from the food and usually causes a rebound process of water retention.
This means that your body will be aware of the fact that it no longer has the necessary amount of water and will retain any amount of water that it can find. So, you will not only lose no weight, but you may feel like you’ve even gained some because of the extra water retention.
Why choose laxatives for weight loss?
Many people these days find this to be an easy option for weight loss, probably because they are not fully aware of how the laxatives really work. This problem appears to be increasing in prevalence and has become the second most common problem in patients with bulimia, after induced vomiting.
It has been proven that the highest incidence of laxative use for this purpose has been amongst people suffering from bulimia nervosa. In these cases, people ingest very large amounts of laxatives, usually in excess of the amount that has been recommended by the manufacturer.
People with eating disorders will often become panicked after noticing the major side effect of water retention and mistake that for fat and use even more laxatives to get rid of that extra fat. This results in a vicious circle that causes them to increase the dosage more and more every time and this way lead to laxative abuse.
Although several types of laxatives are used experimentally by patients, in the final analysis, most of them end up using laxatives that cause rapid evacuation of the colon. These are usually formulas that contain senna extracts, cascara sagrada or any other substance that causes an irritation to the colon and causes the defecation process.
The most common pattern for the people with eating disorders is to start trying to lose weight by taking one or two pills and gradually develop tolerance to these. After a while, the evacuation of the intestinal content will no longer happen, because the body gets used to the irritating substances, so the patient will feel the need to take more pills. Sometimes, several doses of laxatives will be needed in order to produce the same initial effect. The diarrhea that will result after taking the laxatives will cause the weight to decrease in a small percentage, but if the patient steps on the scale and sees this instant weight loss, he will be convinced that the weight loss is due to a decrease in body fat.
However, what is lost basically consists in fluids and electrolytes that are found in the lower bowel area.
Usually, overweight people continue their diet habits normally, but will take laxatives immediately after the meal, in order to eliminate the consumed aliments from the body. This process does not happen as wished, because very little of the ingested food reaches the intestine so fast in order to be lost. Studies have shown that a very small amount of ingested food can be eliminated this way.
Still, the amount lost after a diarrheal stool seems to be very reinforcing to the patient.
High amounts of fluids that are lost can cause significant medical complications that can even become life threatening, because of the severe dehydration that occurs.
People who don’t suffer from eating disorders such as bulimia can also try laxatives in order to acquire weight loss, especially if they are unaware of the possible threats. So, before trying laxatives for weight loss, you should know all the dangerous side effects that you are exposing your body to.
Interferences of laxatives with normal gastro-intestinal functions
Because the laxative medication does not allow the intestines to perform its metabolism properly, there is a series of gastro-intestinal disorders that can result from their use.
Chronic use of laxatives can have serious sequelae, the most severe ones being the loss of the normal colonic peristalsis and the cathartic colon (loss of the normal colon function). Normal colonic peristalsis is represented by the movements that the intestines exert in order to physiologically eliminate their content during the defecation process.
Use of laxatives for a long period of time does not allow these movements to take place normally. The stool is produced, usually as a result of bowel irritation and not the normal peristaltic moves. This is not dangerous if it only happens a few times, however if it becomes a habit the peristaltic moves will continue to lack and the body gradually gets used to not produce them anymore.
The intestines become “lazy” because they no longer need to action as long as the stool is evacuated with the help of laxatives.
In time, the muscles get atrophied and in severe cases they are not able to regain their functions even if the laxative administration is stopped.
If the colon reaches the point where it can no longer function properly, it will need to be surgically removed.
Diarrhea – Although it is perceived as the desired effect after laxative use, you should know that normally, a laxative should cause the elimination on normal stools and not diarrheic ones. However, depending on the working mechanism of the laxative that is used, diarrheic stools often occur as a result of laxative administration.
Diarrhea is not desired because of the large amount of water that is lost along with the stool and that usually leads to dehydration.
Another important side effect that takes place at the gastro-intestinal tract is malabsorption. This is a consequence of chronic laxative use and can become a life threatening disorder.
Malabsorption is caused because the intestinal content is eliminated prematurely. Although the absorption of nutrients and vitamins usually takes place in the small intestine, if the elimination is rushed, some of these components might not get enough time to be absorbed from food and can cause their serum levels to slowly decrease.
In time, if fluids and the minerals they contain continue to be eliminated before they get absorbed, the body’s reserves will decrease and some pathological processes can develop.
Usually, during a diarrheal stool, the individual will not only lose his intestinal content that would have normally been evacuated, but he will also lose minerals, nutrients and electrolytes.
You probably know, that if you suffer from diarrhea your doctor will prescribe along with anti-diarrheal medication, some rehydrating salts as well. This is because only a few diarrheal stools can cause severe dehydration because of the electrolytes you lose in the process. Imagine how much you can lose if you have diarrheal stools every day or even several times a day.
Purging, whether it happens due to some form of diarrheal disease or because of laxative use, usually results in a depletion of potassium, sodium and chloride. These three elements are called “electrolytes” and are essential for many metabolic processes including nerve and muscle cell functioning. This is why, after diarrhea you may experience weakness, depression, tiredness and in severe cases even cardiac arrhythmias and death can occur.
Calcium can also be improperly absorbed because of laxatives. As you know, calcium is an important element in the healthy bone growth process, but it is also important in heart and liver functions. Because of that, abuse of laxative medication can lead to irregular heart function and kidney damage.
Constipation – is another side effect that laxative abuse can cause. This happens because the function of the colon gets impaired. The body learns to respond to the cues of the laxatives and loses its ability to adequately function on its own. As a result, the individual experiences not only physical but psychological complication also, because the constipation might make the individual feel “fat”.
Abdominal cramping – often occurs when stimulant laxatives are used, because the peristaltic moves and the secretion of water in the bowel are increased. The pain is very similar to the one you experience during a diarrheal episode and can become very severe when large doses of laxatives are used.
Fatigue, nausea, stomach cramps, bloating and pain – are the main results of dehydration that occur during chronic use of laxatives. There can be various side effects at the gastro intestinal tract level because the normal function of the intestines is disturbed. Fatigue is due to loss of electrolytes like potassium that are involved in the function of muscles cells. Bloating and pain occur because of the increased peristaltic moves that force the intestinal content out.
Stomach problems such as nausea or cramps do not usually occur in the beginning of laxative usage, but develop later on, when the entire GI tract gets weaker and is no longer functioning properly.
Types of laxatives used in weight loss and their side effects:
The laxative medication can have multiple ways of producing the same effect and can be categorized into several classes. Though laxatives can be classified according to their chemical groups or their mechanism of action, the most useful classification is according to their clinically observed effects. There is an important overlap in their effects, depending on the dosage in which they are administered. In high doses, many laxatives can lead to catharsis (a drastic fluid evacuation of the intestinal content).
- Laxatives that cause watery evacuation within 1-3 from administration.
Saline and osmotic laxatives
These are types of laxatives containing various salts of sodium, magnesium, glycerin, lactulose or sorbitol that are poorly absorbed and exert their laxative action due to their osmotic property. These are often used for weight loss because of the wide variety of OTC products available.
Gastro-intestinal side effects:
Magnesium salts stimulate fluid secretion and motility and can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps and pain. Due to the property of fluid stimulation these can also cause watery stools and dehydration. Weight loss using saline laxatives should never be used in people suffering from any sort of renal impairment.
Polyethylene glycol (or PEG) is an osmotic laxative that clears the bowel by induction of diarrhea. In 50% of cases it causes nausea, abdominal fullness and bloating. Vomiting and anal irritation can also happen, but rarely do.
Lactulose is a semi-synthetic disaccharide which is not absorbed from the GI tract. Its side effects are mild and consist of cramps, flatulence and abdominal discomfort.
Glycerol is usually used as a suppository and can cause mild irritation to the rectum.
- Laxatives that cause semisolid stool within 6-8 hours
Stimulant medication is the most used form of laxatives for producing the expected weight loss effect. These act in “producing” weight loss because they irritate the intestines and cause them to empty, this way giving the illusion of losing some pounds.
Gastro-intestinal side effects:
Castor oil – is made from the bean of Ricinus communis which contains a toxic protein. It produces rapid and drastic purgation and it is used to see immediate weight loss effects. It can cause side effects such as nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, electrolyte disorders.
Phenolphthalein – causes electrolyte imbalances and various gastroenteropathies.
Bisacodyl – can cause severe gastric irritation and due to this it is usually used in the form of suppositories. The side effects include the common ones for stimulant laxatives such as cramps and pain, but suppositories containing bisacodyl can cause a burning sensation in the rectum and mild proctitis. It is hard to use bisacodyl suppositories for weight loss because of the severe irritation it can cause. Anal soreness due to suppository leakage has been reported.
Sodium picosulphate - stimulates the propulsive activity and prevents absorption of water by the colon. It can cause nausea, cramping and bloating.
Senna extracts – should not be used for weight loss in individuals who suffer from diabetes. Senna can cause diarrhea, nausea, abdominal bloating, flatulence, and urine discoloration.
These reduce the surface tension of the liquid contents of the bowel and include docusate calcium or potassium. The most common side effects include stomach upset, abdominal cramping, diarrhea and also throat irritation.
People who decide to use laxatives for weight loss usually choose the types of laxatives that exert their effect in a short period of time, such as saline and osmotic laxatives because they wish to eliminate the content of the previous meal they have ingested.
However, if used on the long term, laxatives that cause the intestinal content to be evacuated slower than osmotic laxatives are also used in order to obtain this effect.