Laxatives are foods or drugs taken to induce a bowel movement or loosen stool. There is a common belief that taking laxatives can lead to weight loss. However, the reality is that laxatives only lead to a loss of water weight, which appears as pounds lost on the scale, but is not indicative of actual weight lost. Laxatives are readily available as an over-the-counter medication and in herbal remedies and tea, but these are medicinally intended to treat constipation or for surgery preparation.
How Laxatives Work
Laxatives are intended to clear up the intestinal tract very rapidly through the use of medicines or herbal products such a cascara, senna or Castor oil. The targeted area for the laxative is the large intestine and use of laxatives is advised for certain medical procedures or for individuals with slow bowel movements. Since laxatives have no effect on the small intestine, where caloric absorption occurs, they will have little to no effect on actual weight loss. However, once bloating or constipation is relieved, do not continue to use the laxative as it can lead to dependency and damage.
- Laxatives are intended to clear up the intestinal tract very rapidly through the use of medicines or herbal products such a cascara, senna or Castor oil.
- Since laxatives have no effect on the small intestine, where caloric absorption occurs, they will have little to no effect on actual weight loss.
Reasonable Use of Laxatives
How to Empty Your Bowels Fast
Laxatives can be effective for small, short term weight loss, such as for a sporting event or to fit into a special occasion dress. However, be sure to choose a gentle laxative that is aimed at relieving the bloating associated with constipation. A gentle laxative can also be effective for relieving water retention in bowels, such as during a menstrual cycle.
Side Effects of Laxative Use
The most significant side effect of laxative use is the regular and unpredictable frequency of bathroom use, which can have a significant impact on your daily functioning. More importantly, however, is the impact of long term laxative use on other body systems, which can include:
- gastrointestinal tract damage
- irregular menstrual cycles
- stomach pain
In light of these side effects compared to their little actual weight loss benefit, the use of laxatives for weight loss is not an advisable method.
How to Empty Your Bowels Fast
Abdominal Pain Caused by Laxatives
Side Effects of Drinking Senna Pod Tea
How to Use Miralax As a Detox
HCG Diet and Constipation
Dulcolax Laxative Side Effects
Long-Term Use of Miralax
What Are the Dangers of Taking Too Many Laxatives?
Licorice Root for Constipation
How Much Caffeine Is in McDonald's Sweet Tea?
- Portalatin M, Winstead N. Medical management of constipation. Clin Colon Rectal Surg. 2012;25(1):12–19. doi:10.1055/s-0032-1301754
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. Constipation - self care. Updated July 12, 2018.
- Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Men's Health Watch. Don't bomb the bowel with laxatives. Updated September 25, 2019.
- NHS (United Kingdom). Laxatives. Updated June 10, 2019.
- Gordon M, Macdonald JK, Parker CE, Akobeng AK, Thomas AG. Osmotic and stimulant laxatives for the management of childhood constipation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;(8):CD009118. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD009118.pub3
- Bechtold ML, Mir F, Puli SR, Nguyen DL. Optimizing bowel preparation for colonoscopy: a guide to enhance quality of visualization. Ann Gastroenterol. 2016;29(2):137–146. doi:10.20524/aog.2016.0005
Melissa Kelly is a freelance writer from Indianapolis who focuses on scientific and medical topics. Kelly attended Marian College where she obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry. Recently, she completed her Master's in business communications & project management.