When it comes to losing weight, people will try anything they can to make the task a little easier or quicker to achieve. This can include everything from extreme diets and workout plans to expensive supplements sold to be miracle cures and even the repurposing of drugs not made for weight loss.
One such drug that has gradually grown in this aspect in recent years is laxatives. While that may sound crazy to some people, it can actually seem a perfectly logical conclusion to come to for others, given the effect that it has on the human body.
The question is, can a laxative really help you to lose weight or is it just a pipe dream? Plus, even if it can, are there any risks or dangers linked to using a medication for a completely different purpose than the one it was made for.
Well, in today’s article, those are exactly the types of questions we are going to look to answer. So, if you are considering using a laxative to help you lose weight but want to make sure it is safe and effective before you start, this is the article for you.
What Are Laxatives And How Do They Work?
Laxatives are medications that contain chemicals designed to help people relieve the pain and symptoms of constipation. They help to increase the bulk, frequency, and mobility of a user’s stool, enabling you to empty your digestive system, thereby temporarily relieving the constipation.
While widely used by people suffering with constipation, they are most frequently recommended for those suffering with symptoms such as hard stools, feelings of incomplete excretion, or those having less than 3 bowel movements per week.
They are also extremely useful for those who feel the need to strain excessively to initiate a bowel movement, as this can lead to internal damage and health problems in the long term.
However, they are also known to pose certain health risks and can cause a range of different side effects. This has led to many people seeking more gentle options to try and relieve their constipation, such as herbal remedies like Colon Broom and even special breathing exercises.
The 5 Types Of Laxatives
Almost everyone has probably heard of laxatives, and most will be aware of what they are designed to do. However, many people won’t realise that there are actually different types of laxatives. While they are all designed with the same goal in mind, each will achieve it in a slightly different way.
We will now look at the 5 main types of laxatives and examine how each works and the effects it has on the human body. This will give you a better idea of what you will be getting yourself into and which your preferred type of laxative would be if you do decide you want or need to use one.
Laxatives that work by using bulking agents are designed to increase the “bulk” or weight of poo in your body, which in turn will naturally stimulate your bowel. They are the least aggressive type of laxative and take 2 or 3 days to work, so are usually only used to combat mild cases of constipation.
A lubricant laxative is designed to make the stool slippery, as you may have guessed from the name. Made using mineral oils, this type of laxative adds a smooth, slick, slippery layer to the walls of the intestine and helps to prevent the stool from drying out.
Lubricant laxatives are extremely effective and work very quickly. However, as they work by altering the insides of your body, rather than the stool itself, they are best used as a short term remedy for constipation, otherwise they can lead to potential complications.
There is also the fact that mineral oils can absorb fat soluble vitamins from the intestine. This can stop some prescription drugs from being totally absorbed by your body, limiting their effectiveness.
Emollient laxatives are a common type of laxative that are often referred to as stool softeners. They work by making the stool wet, softening it so it is easier to pass. It can take a week or more for them to work, but they are extremely effective, so are a great option for more mild cases of constipation.
Emollient laxatives are commonly prescribed to and used by people who are recovering from surgery or suffering from haemorrhoids, as well as women who have just given birth. This is because they are extremely gentle, so won’t cause you to strain and risk injuring yourself.
Osmotic & Hyperosmolar Laxatives
Osmotic and hyperosmolar laxatives work in a similar way to emollient laxatives, as they direct more water into the intestines, which leads to wetter, softer stools that are easier to pass. However, the big difference between the two is that an osmotic or hyperosmolar laxative is way more aggressive.
While this means they will work much more quickly, it is also imperative to drink plenty of water while using them. This is not only to ensure they are effective, but also to decrease the risk of side effects, such as cramps, gas, and dehydration.
Prescription laxatives are the most aggressive and controlled kind as, while they work extremely quickly, they change the consistency of the stool by increasing the amount of water pumped into the gastrointestinal lumen, which increases gastrointestinal movement.
While prescription laxatives are extremely effective at promoting regular bowel functions in people dealing with constipation, they also carry a huge risk of causing side effects like diarrhoea or dehydration. These side effects can also be extremely severe in the very old, young, or weak.
How Much Weight Can You Lose By Taking Laxatives?
When you eat any food, it is sent to the gut after you swallow it and then slowly makes its way through the small and large intestines. The small intestine mainly absorbs the nutrients from the food, while the large intestine absorbs the water and electrolytes. The rest is turned into a stool.
A lot of people believe that taking laxatives will move food through their body faster than it normally would, causing the body to excrete it again before it has the chance to absorb any calories. Some even think that laxatives will help to metabolise stored fat, causing you to burn it much faster.
As a result, some people will take laxatives after eating a big meal or binge eating. They do this due to the belief that it will stop them from gaining weight as a result of their poor dietary choices or even help them to lose weight they already have stored, however this is not the case.
As many types of laxatives cause water loss, it will appear on the scales and sometimes even in the mirror as weight loss. However, these laxatives won’t cause you to lose any additional fat, so the weight you lose will only be short term and won’t help you to achieve your goals.
Side Effects & Risks Of Laxatives
So, now that we have determined almost all of the weight lost while using laxatives comes from water, most people will likely have decided against using them to achieve their weight loss goals.
However, if you are still unsure, we will now take a closer look at some of the side effects and risks associated with using laxatives, particularly when you don’t need them for medical reasons.
The primary purpose of laxatives is to help people suffering from constipation to go to the toilet by stimulating your bowel in a variety of ways.
If a person who is not suffering from constipation takes a laxative or if you take them too frequently, you will still receive this stimulation, even when it is not required. This can frequently lead to people experiencing potentially chronic cases of diarrhoea.
Osmotic laxatives take water out of the body and redirect it into the gut to help soften the stool and relieve constipation. When you take too many osmotic laxatives or take them too frequently or for too long, you will redirect far too much of your body’s water, which is likely to lead to dehydration.
Dehydration is also a secondary side effect that anyone who experiences diarrhoea is susceptible to, regardless of which type of laxative they take.
Some types of laxatives can lead to the body absorbing large quantities of electrolytes from the gut, such as phosphorus and sodium. A small electrolyte imbalance can lead to weakness, as well as further complications, such as an abnormal heart rhythm.
While electrolyte imbalances will usually just cause discomfort and a lack of strength, in more severe cases having an electrolyte imbalance can be much more dangerous and potentially even life threatening.
Impaired Intestinal Function
Many laxatives work by stimulating the muscles in the gut, which helps them encourage the movement of stool, leading to you needing to go to the bathroom. However, causing this reaction to occur too frequently can lead to two different side effects occurring.
On one hand, it can lead to chronic overstimulation. This means that even when you no longer want the additional stimulation it has become the norm and returning to a normal pattern of bowel movements can be difficult to achieve.
On the other hand, taking any stimulant, laxatives included, too frequently has the ability to cause a dependency. This means that when you discontinue using them, you may struggle to go to the bathroom on your own.
Either way, if you experience one of these side effects, you risk living with potential issues for the much longer term.
Natural Alternatives To Laxatives
By this point almost everyone will have come to the conclusion that laxatives are an unsafe and quite simply ineffective way to lose weight. However, for those looking to achieve the final tweaks to an elite physique, there may still be a lingering allure in their ability to help you drop water weight.
With that in mind we will now take a look at some natural alternatives to laxatives. They will not just be able to help you lose a similar or in some cases identical amount of weight to a normal laxative but will pose no health risks and can in fact even offer a number of health benefits at the same time.
Fiber Rich Foods
Fiber rich foods such as berries, chia seeds, broccoli, dried fruits, and legumes are all extremely good alternatives to laxatives that do a very similar job.
The insoluble nature of the fiber helps to push the food through the digestive tract at an enhanced rate, making you need to go to the bathroom much more often. Not only that, but they each offer a number of different health benefits of their own as well.
Kefir is a type of fermented milk made from kefir grains that has a consistency similar to a yoghurt. Created and popularised in the North Caucasus region of eastern Europe, kefir works as a laxative alternative as it contains live microorganisms known as probiotics.
These probiotics encourage better nutrient absorption from the foods that you eat, while balancing the bacteria in your gut, stomach, and intestines. This helps your entire digestive system to flow faster and more smoothly.
Castor oil is a type of vegetable oil with a distinctive taste and smell that is obtained by pressing castor beans. It is an incredibly rich source of an omega 3 fatty acid known as ricinoleic acid.
This acid functions as an extremely effective natural laxative and can help to relieve constipation and make you need the bathroom in as little as 2 to 3 hours by increasing the movement of the intestines, which encourages the stool to ease its way out.
Coconut oil can be extracted from the meat, milk, and wick of a coconut. It presents as a solid, white fat at room temperature, before turning in to a liquid at heats of 25°C (77°F) or higher. It functions as a natural laxative alternative in a variety of ways.
Not only does it increase gut mobility and the metabolism of nutrients from foods, especially fats, vitamins, and minerals, but it also balances the bacteria in the gut. All of these effects have laxative properties on their own but, when they are combined, they become extremely potent.
Olive oil is obtained by pressing whole olives and extracting the clear liquid fat they produce. Popularised in the Mediterranean, it is incredibly popular for cooking around the world.
Olive oil works as a laxative alternative in the exact same way as lubricant laxatives, as it smooths and lubricates the bowel, allowing the stool to pass more freely. However, it also uses an element of emollient laxatives as well, as it boosts water absorption in the gut, leading to a wetter, softer stool.
Leafy greens refers to a wide range of green vegetables where the bulk of food has a leafy texture, such as spinach, kale, lettuce, cabbage, and collard greens. They are effective as laxative alternatives as they offer three separate benefits that work in unison to promote effective digestion.
Their high water content promotes a softer stool that is easier to pass, while the fiber content pushes food through the digestive tract much more quickly. They then also contain a specific type of sugar that is known to promote the growth of healthy bacteria and balance your overall gut bacteria.
This combination promotes natural digestion to an incredible degree.
Laxatives are not designed to be taken for weight loss. Not only will you not lose weight from the areas that you hope to but most laxatives can also harm you if you take them for too long or too frequently. The damage can sometimes even be long term or, in rare cases, permanent.
On the other hand, natural laxatives can encourage you to lose the same or a similar amount of water weight, without all of the unpleasant complications. They will also help with constipation, and many can offer a range of other health benefits as well.
The best and healthiest way to lose weight is and always will be to follow a proper training program and a carefully planned diet that leaves you in a calorie deficit. However, if you absolutely must use laxatives to shed that extra pound or two, natural laxative alternatives are definitely the way to go.
Steve is a retired professional wrestler with over 10 years of experience in the personal fitness industry. He is a certified personal trainer working with a wide variety of athletes as well as a fitness writer.