Examines the dangers of abuse of laxatives to lose weight which can create a dependence for bowel movements resulting in severe health conditions.
Laxatives - A type of medicine that can help you empty your bowels if you are having trouble going to the bathroom. There are four types of products for preventing or treating constipation: Bulking agents; Stool softeners; Osmotic laxatives; and Stimulant laxatives.
Each year, Americans spend more than $700 million on laxatives. A recent study showed that the United States has the highest rate of laxative use compared to several other countries. Still, many people do not know how to use laxatives correctly. One study showed that as many as 40% of people use laxatives incorrectly. At least 15% of diarrhea cases are due to incorrect laxative use.(1) Laxative abuse can sometimes be found among people with anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder.
How often you have a bowel movement varies, but a "normal" frequency ranges from as many as three bowel movements a day to about three a week. Your body ordinarily needs no help to have bowel movements. But a poor diet, physical inactivity, pregnancy, illness or some medications can disrupt normal bowel function and cause constipation.(2)
Laxatives that quickly produce a bowel movement, such as senna (Senokot) or bisacodyl (Dulcolax), are the most abused and dangerous. They stimulate the nerves in the colon. This causes the muscles of the intestines to contract and push down the contents of the bowel. Over time, the laxatives keep the colon empty. The colon cannot send a signal so that a normal bowel movement can occur. The muscles of the bowel become weakened because they are not being used. The body gradually gets used to needing laxatives to produce a bowel movement.
Oral laxatives may interfere with your body's absorption of some medications and food nutrients. Malabsorption is the inadequate absorption of nutrients from the intestines, and involves failure to absorb certain vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins, or fats. The condition is associated with a number of diseases that affect the intestines or other areas of the gastrointestinal tract.
Laxatives can interfere with the absorption of certain medications, including antibiotics, blood thinners and medications for the heart and bones. If you take any medication, consult your pharmacist or doctor about a possible interaction with laxatives.(3)
Some weight-loss products often marketed as "dieter's or slimming teas" contain a variety of strong botanical laxatives (Cassia species (senna), Cascara sagada (botanical name Rhamnus purshiana)) and diuretics. Adverse reactions that have been reported to FDA as associated with these products are characteristic of those seen in laxative abuse syndromes, and include severe electrolyte imbalances leading to cardiac arrhythmia and death.(4)
Bulk laxatives, such as psyllium (Metamucil) and methylcellulose (Citrucel), are safe treatment options. They make the stool more bulky by absorbing water. For example, psyllium (Metamucil) is safe because it is a natural form of fiber.
The best treatment for constipation is food high in fiber or laxatives that create a more bulky and softer stool. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids every day, and exercise regularly.
Laxatives are not usually recommended for children unless advised by a doctor and some types of laxatives may not be safe to use if you have a bowel condition such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. Consult your physician for questions and concerns regarding laxative use, and seek immediate medical help if you experience bloody bowel movements, rectal bleeding, severe abdominal cramps, dizziness, weakness or unusual fatigue. Take laxatives only as directed.