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Laxatives Not Appropriate Weight Loss Method, Experts Say – Health.com

Feb 6th, 2024

No, using laxatives to lose weight is not a medically approved idea.

More people are turning to laxatives to shed pounds, but experts agree the over-the-counter drug is not effective or safe to be used as a weight loss product and can have negative effects if taken for the incorrect reason.

A new study, published earlier this month in JAMA Open Network, found that almost 1 in 10 adolescents worldwide have used non-prescribed weight loss products, like laxatives.

The use of weight loss products happens at high levels in adolescents, especially girls, and can have long-term health consequences, researchers concluded.

Use of nonprescribed weight loss products in adolescents is a public health concern that is associated with negative physical and psychological consequences, Natasha Hall, PhD, a lead author of the study, told Health.

The meta-analysis included 90 studies, with 604,552 participants under the age of 18. Researchers found diet pills were the most commonly used weight loss drug, and laxatives and diuretics were the next most popular.

Researchers also found that weight-loss products were used most frequently in North America compared to Asia and Europe, and 2 percent of the participants reported having used a weight-loss product in the last week.

We hope this study promotes awareness of how important this issue is and provides information on just how many adolescents are engaging in these harmful activities that do not work and are actually linked to some serious long-term risks, Hall said.

Heres what happens when laxatives are used for weight loss, as well as doctor-recommended alternatives.

Getty Images / Westend61

While taking laxatives can cause minimal weight loss in the short term, laxatives should never be used for weight loss, Sam Mathis, MD, an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch, told Health.

The real issue comes in the downstream consequences of taking these laxatives, Mathis said. Because laxatives either speed up the intestines or block the absorption of nutrients or water, then the body is unable to absorb these much-needed compounds.

He explained that adults can usually handle this loss of nutrients in the short term without many complications, but adolescents often cant handle this loss as well due to growth phases.

This loss of nutrients can lead to malnutrition quickly if done with regularity, he said. Malnutrition can cause issues with the growth and development of the body and brain. It can lead to weakened bones and muscles, poor mentation, lower school performance, and can even lead to eating disorders in the long term.

Mathis added that someone may experience abnormal weight gain after stopping taking laxatives, which can create a vicious cycle of weight gain and loss. This cycle can cause several health complications.

Weight loss is one of the many health-related quick fixes that are prevalent on social media.

Laxatives pose the option of a cheaper, more accessible option for anyone who can't get their hands on a prescription of type 2 diabetes drugslike Ozempicthat have risen in popularity within the weight loss space.

The Wall Street Journal reported in September 2023 that laxatives have become the budget Ozempic.

While this may be the case for people of all ages, it is particularly dangerous to younger people.

People often dont realize how aggressively over-the-counter diet pills and weight-loss supplements are promoted to teens on social media, said Hall.

Influencers on TikTok are using hashtags like #guttok, which has garnered over 1.2 billion views, suggesting that laxatives and stool softeners like Miralax, Glycolax, and Ex-Lax can help you lose weight.

Many of the same influencers are also pushing weight-loss supplements and diet pills that are unregulated, which Hall explained can be a slippery slope.

But the products they are hawking dont work and are dangerous, said Hall. Better regulations surrounding social media advertising to minors is also required.

The answer is clear: Doctors agree that laxatives should never be used for weight loss purposes. Instead, a balanced lifestyle is key to maintaining a healthy and appropriate weight.

Mathis recommends focusing on food choices by eating real food, trying to adhere to 2,000 calories or less each day, and making vegetables and fruits a primary source of nutrition.

Other options include foods that act as natural laxatives: fiber-rich breads, nuts and seeds, probiotic yogurts and cheese, and even fatty fish.

The second thing that helps maintain a healthy weight is to get regular physical activity through either exercise or daily actions that promote health like gardening, sports, walking, or taking the stairs at work, Mathis said.

Excerpt from:
Laxatives Not Appropriate Weight Loss Method, Experts Say - Health.com

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