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Millions of people try laxatives to lose weight. Millions of people lose a few pounds quickly, and then get several pounds of jiggly belly fat back a few weeks later.

Just Say to Know to Laxative-Based Weight Loss Plans

The problem with using laxatives as a diet aid is that they don't just increase the expulsion of stool. They also increase the expulsion of electrolytes, but not all electrolytes.

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All laxatives, but especially herbal laxatives like senna, cascara sagrada, and rhubarb root, increase the expulsion of potassium without increasing the expulsion of sodium. This makes sodium build up in the bloodstream. As cells take up sugar, they also take up sodium, and they take up more sodium because of the high bloodstream sodium levels. The cells that take up the most sugar take up the most sodium, and these are usually also the cells that store fat.

When a fat cell fills up with sodium, it takes in water to dilute it. This is water that a diuretic cannot make you urinate away, because it is trapped inside the cell. The cell has to spend energy to operate a molecular-level sodium pump, and it cannot use that pump without potassium. To get sodium to go out, potassium has to go in. And using a laxative depletes the body's supply of potassium.

So this is what happens when people use laxatives to lose weight and keep the pounds off:

  • First, the laxative user loses a few pounds very quickly as the colon expels fecal matter.
  • Then, sodium levels build up inside fat cells so that the belly bulges, but with fluid inside cells, not between them.
  • The belly bloat continues until laxative use is stopped, which may result in weighing several pounds more after using the laxative than before.

Eventually, the fat cells find a way to expel the excess sodium, but they can't do that without potassium, and they have to use energy. This is not energy they make from stored fat. This is energy the body supplies them with sugar. Ironically, to lose weight, one has to eat more. And this happens after one has regained all the weight the laxatives took off and more.

The paradoxical side effects of laxatives on weight are not the only reason to avoid using stimulant laxatives when you are not severely constipated. Depletion of potassium can also cause:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Tingling
  • Muscle cramps
  • Racing heartbeat or heartbeat so slow you feel weak
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Depression

The same kinds of problems can occur after taking a colonic or enema. They are not nearly as likely with the use of Milk of Magnesia, which draws water into the colon (out of the body) to soften the stool. Milk of Magnesia, however, works so slowly that most users will not notice appreciable loss of weight.

The best ways to lose weight and keep it off are always slow ways. Don't use laxatives for weight loss. Save them for those rare occasions you simply cannot evacuate stool, and don't use them for more than a week at a time.

  • Tozzi F, Thornton LM, Mitchell J, Fichter MM, Klump KL, Lilenfeld LR, Reba L, Strober M, Kaye WH, Bulik CM
  • Price Foundation Collaborative Group. Features associated with laxative abuse in individuals with eating disorders. Psychosom Med. 2006 May-Jun,68(3):470-7.
  • Photo courtesy of Still Memory on Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/stillmemory/391702169/
  • Photo courtesy of Tim Samoff by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/timsamoff/81504545/