Did you know that each year, Americans spend more than $700 million on laxatives? The United States supposedly has the highest rate of laxative use compared to several other countries.
Yet, statistics show that as many as 40% of people use laxatives incorrectly. At least 15% of diarrhea cases are due to incorrect laxative use. (1) Furthermore, laxatives are often abused by people who seek to lose weight. The individual mistakenly believes that the laxatives can work to rush food and calories through the gut and bowels before they can be absorbed. But that doesn’t really happen. Let’s explore this question: Why do laxatives give a false sense of elimination? What are healthier alternatives to laxatives?
What are laxatives?
Laxatives are substances that can help an individual have a bowel movement, an indication that the body is cleansing. They are used to relieve and prevent constipation. Because different types of laxatives work in different ways, their effectiveness can vary from person to person. In general, bulk-forming laxatives (also referred to as fiber supplements) are the gentlest on the body and safest to use long term. Stimulant laxatives are the harshest and should be used sparingly.
When a bowel movement is forced, it can disrupt the body’s natural mechanisms. Laxatives should only be taken to relieve or prevent constipation, because they can produce adverse reactions that can physically impair the digestive system. Constant intestinal movements as a result of using laxatives tend to give individuals a false sense of waste elimination. While it is true that some of the individual’s bodyweight does shed during the process, it is important to keep in mind that ultimately it’s really just water weight.
A common misconception of laxatives is that they can help with weight loss. What you really need to know is that overusing laxatives can be dangerous. Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting are potential side effects. Diarrhea causes too much water loss. This could lower the blood pressure, increase the heart rate, cause dizziness and fainting. Laxatives can also change levels of important minerals in your body. This can lead to kidney stones, heart and muscle problems.