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Is Laxative Abuse Dangerous?

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Weight loss has become a primary concern for many people in today’s increasingly health-conscious world. Thanks to a barrage of promises from the weight loss industry, many people believe that body fat can be removed simply by taking a simple pill or laxative. Rather than adopting effective, long-term lifestyle changes, some people erroneously believe laxatives (along with other weight loss products) will solve their health issues. Unfortunately, these products can often be a dangerous way to go about accomplishing health goals, especially if used excessively over a long period of time. Laxatives, for example, can lead to long-term health complications through extended use. [1] Not only does the body become dependent on laxatives and is unable to perform its natural evacuation function, damage to the colon and other internal organs can also occur through extended use.

Increases Constipation Risk

Taking a laxative for occasional constipation relief is one thing; however, continued laxative use can actually increase constipation risk, promoting the exact same problem the product is supposed to remedy. [2] Laxative abuse can cause the walls of the intestine to become weak and unable to stimulate the movement of wastes out of the body. In other words, the colon becomes dependent on laxatives as a means of initiating the body’s evacuation and elimination process.

Anatomical Abnormalities

A 1998 study involving patients who had used stimulant laxatives more than three times per week for a year or more found distinct anatomical changes to the colon versus patients who had not been taking laxatives. [3] It appears that long-term laxative use damages the musculature of the colon, an action that hinders its overall function. For this reason, it is always best to keep the colon healthy at all times, even with occasional laxative use.

Diarrhea and Electrolyte Imbalance

The excessive use of laxatives can also cause chronic diarrhea, contributing to the elimination of much-needed electrolytes like potassium and sodium. [4] Not only can chronic diarrhea cause an electrolyte imbalance, it can also increase one’s chances of developing dehydration. Symptoms of electrolyte imbalance include cramping, mental fatigue, and, in some severe cases, coma and death.

Does Not Promote True Weight Loss

Fat loss can only occur through exercise and nutritional intervention, whereas laxative use results in nothing more than the loss of water weight. Many people believe that laxatives allow the body to remove ingested calories, yet this myth has been consistently debunked. By the time the stool reaches the large intestine, fat and calories have already been absorbed by the body.

One Final Thought

The consequences of laxative abuse are serious and can severely compromise one’s health. Prolonged laxative use can lead to short-term damage such as dehydration, irregular heart rhythms, and other problems, and long-term damage may result in the loss of function of the colon. Instead of reaching for a laxative day after day, it may be best to address the root cause of constipation issues–your lifestyle. Make sure you have a diet that includes plenty of probiotics (good bacteria essential for maintaining healthy digestion and elimination), fiber, and water. Also, getting plenty of exercise may encourage the movement of wastes out of the body.

-Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DABFM

References:

  1. Moriarty KJ, Silk DB. Laxative abuse.Digestive Diseases. 1988;6(1):15-29.
  2. K Rutter and D Maxwell. Diseases of the alimentary system. Constipation and laxative abuse. British Medical Journal. October 23, 1976; 2(6042): 997-1000.
  3. Joo JS, Ehrenpreis ED, Gonzalez, Kaye M, Breno S, Wexner SD, Zaitman D, Secrest K. Alterations in colonic anatomy induced by chronic stimulant laxatives: the cathartic colon revisted. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. 1998 June;26(4):283-6.
  4. Roerig JL, Steffen KJ, Mitchell JE, Zunker C. Laxative abuse: epidemiology, diagnosis and management. Drugs. 2010 August 20;70(12):1487-503. doi: 10.2165/11898640-000000000-00000

Posted In: Colon Health,Colon Health Blog,Constipation,Dangers
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