People with chronic constipation often take laxatives to tackle the issue of difficult and infrequent bowel movement. At times, figure-conscious people start taking laxatives after meals in order to lose weight. However, they don’t consider the adverse effects associated with the use of laxatives for a prolonged period of time.
How Does a Laxative Work
A laxative could be a food substance or a chemical compound, which when consumed stimulates bowel activity. Laxatives are not harmful substances, and are definitely not toxic. In fact, laxatives are prescribed by medical practitioners to patients suffering from constipation and bloating. In such cases, laxatives help stimulate bowel movement and facilitate easy passage of fecal matter out of the body. Laxatives are also used once in a while to cleanse the colon, which in turn improves the overall health of a person. Then why are laxatives a big ‘No’ for weight loss? This is because they do not reduce or discard ingested calories. Confused! Well, let’s have a look at how laxatives actually work.
The prime role of a laxative, is to increase bowel activity. Food ingested is mostly absorbed in the small intestine and only water and mineral absorption takes place in the large intestine. What laxatives do is they target the large intestine and not the small intestine. They hasten elimination of undigested remains passed from the small intestine, before the large intestine can absorb water and minerals. This is why a person has to make several trips to the washroom, after taking laxatives, as the undigested matter is quickly flushed out of the body.
Laxatives and Weight Loss
The popular laxative, Dieter’s tea comprises various herbs which cause the bowels to become irritable and pass stool frequently, resulting in diarrhea. Diarrhea means loss of great amounts of water, which is why people feel they have lost weight; not realizing all they have lost is water weight of the body. The water lost will be made up by the body within the next 48 hours, thus nullifying the body weight effect. However, frequent intake of laxatives can result in dehydration, as the body is not allowed to retain the water required.
People with eating disorders such as anorexia are seen to depend on these laxatives to lose weight. They pop laxatives after dinner and spend the rest of the next day running to the washroom, discarding all they ate. Later during the day, when they check their weight, they weigh lighter. However, they don’t stop to think what’s actually happening inside their bodies. The truth is that by the time the food reaches the large intestine, the nutrient absorption has already taken place in the small intestine itself. The remaining minerals, water and unwanted food materials are then passed to the large intestine.
Laxatives work on the large intestine. They prevent the large intestine from absorbing essential minerals and water content. Thus, the person experiences diarrhea, where feces are accompanied with large amounts of fluids. So, the purpose for which laxatives were consumed has not been fulfilled. We want the body to discard calories, and not water and minerals. Thus, laxatives should not be taken for losing weight.
Those who take laxatives, will defend their case by saying they definitely lost weight after taking laxatives. The fact that one appears to weigh less on a weighing scale, cannot be debated upon. It is true that your weight may be lesser. However, let’s understand the nature of the weight lost. The body weight reflected on the weighing scales is mainly the water weight of our body. In fact, if one is constipated, the weight displayed on the scale will be more.
Now, when a person takes laxatives, the calorie absorption taking place in the small intestine is not hindered. What gets hindered is water and mineral absorption in the large intestine. The body discards water and minerals. Since water weight is lost from the body, it will reflect on the weighing scale. One’s face will also look thinner because of the lost water. Now, the body is designed in such a manner that it is sure to make up for the lost water weight when one begins to consume water normally, without intake of laxatives. So the joy of losing weight is short-lived.
If one is not bothered about losing the right kind of weight and still wants to go ahead with this weight loss method, let me put forth some of the adverse effects of chronic use of laxatives. The different side effects are:
Weakening and softening of bones
The low potassium and electrolyte content caused as a side effect of intake of laxatives can have an adverse effect on your heart. Frequent intake of laxatives for a long time permanently alters the way the digestive system works. It has also been observed that constant laxative use causes severe chronic constipation and pain for long periods of time. People who have used laxatives constantly will testify how after a period of time, they were unable to have bowel movements without the use of laxatives. Overdose of laxatives leads to gastrointestinal tract damage, which is difficult to repair. This damage results in loss of essential minerals and fat from the body, leading to weak bones. Long-term usage of laxatives could increase the risk of anal, colon, and stomach cancer. While the end results of laxatives may fool you into thinking they are assisting in weight loss, long-term use will cause adverse effects. Thus, people taking laxatives for weight loss should comprehend the fact that laxatives are not safe.
Having said that, people frequently taking laxatives for weight loss should not stop taking laxatives abruptly, as that could lead to several unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Talk to your medical practitioner, and gradually wean off the use of laxatives. Also, beware of marketers who sell these laxatives under the name of bowel-cleansing products. There won’t be even a mention of the word laxative, thus one should be alert. Stay alert and do not fall prey to such scheming marketers. Try to lose weight in the right manner, by maintaining a proper diet and exercise routine.