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Home arrow Nutrition arrow Weight Management arrow Laxatives for Weight Loss: Do They Work and Are They Safe?

Laxatives for Weight Loss: Do They Work and Are They Safe?

Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: April 7, 2023
5 min read 1570 Views 0 Comments
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Laxatives are known to treat constipation, but controversy surrounds whether laxative use is a safe and effective weight-loss method. Learn the critical info here.

Laxatives for weight loss

Laxatives are medications effective for stimulating bowel movements. They provide fast relief for individuals who have trouble passing stool. 

There are various types and brands on the market, including bulk-forming laxatives, osmotic laxatives, stimulant laxatives, and stool softeners.

Outside of the bathroom, many people take laxatives in an attempt to lose weight quickly. But contrary to popular belief, laxative use doesn’t aid the weight loss journey. In fact, misusing laxatives can bring several short-term and long-term health problems such as an electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, and laxative dependency.

This article covers laxatives in detail to determine their safety and effectiveness for weight loss.

Laxatives for Weight Loss – Are They Safe? 

Using laxatives for weight loss is not a safe bet. They can be dangerous and even life-threatening if the method leads to laxative abuse. The use of laxatives for weight loss is especially dangerous when coupled with an eating disorder. 

Laxative abuse occurs when an individual continuously takes laxatives to lose weight, remove unwanted calories, and feel thinner under the false belief that the laxatives will eliminate food before the body absorbs calories. For instance, the person may take the medication after binge eating.

As laxatives are not purposefully designed to help you lose weight, misusing them for this purpose can bring multiple adverse effects.

Laxatives are not a healthful way to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Other methods are far safer and more effective in reducing body fat, like exercising regularly and eating a nutritious diet.

Do laxatives make you lose weight? 

You may notice the scale tipping when taking laxatives as they can provide temporary weight loss. However, the weight loss is a result of losing water, which is known as water weight. Water weight generally returns once the person restores fluids. 

Many people believe that laxatives will flush out food and calories before the body absorbs them, but the truth is that most of the calories are absorbed long before reaching the large intestine. Therefore, laxatives have little effect on calorie consumption and do not work to help you lose fat.

For this reason, alongside the dangerous side effects, laxative use is an unsafe and ineffective strategy for long-term weight loss. 

How Do Laxatives Work? 

Laxatives work in different ways, depending on the type. All have the same intention, to increase stool frequency with ease to relieve constipation. Here’s how the four main laxatives work.

Bulk-forming laxatives

Bulk-formers absorb liquid in the intestines to form soft, bulkier stools, stimulating bowel movements. They typically take 2–3 days to work and often come as fiber supplements.

Osmotic laxatives 

Osmotic laxatives also work by drawing water into the bowel. The water comes from the surrounding body tissue and softens the stool while increasing the number of bowel movements. 

These tend to take effect after 2–3 days.

Stimulant laxatives

Stimulant laxatives stimulate the muscles of the intestines so that they contract and push the stool along. These typically take 6–12 hours to work.

Stool softeners

Softeners tend to be a milder laxative that works by drawing water from the intestine into the stool. The water softens the stool, making it easier to evacuate.

Can You Eat After Taking a Laxative? 

How long you must wait before eating after taking laxatives depends on the type and brand. However, the results of laxatives are slowed when taken with food.

For example, the stimulant variety works best on an empty stomach, and laxatives containing mineral oil should not be taken within 2 hours of food as it may interfere with digestion and the absorption of important minerals. 

Many laxatives are made to be taken at bedtime to produce results the following day. That way, you don’t need to worry about eating afterward. 

It’s crucial to comply with the instructions on the label and follow your doctor’s advice.

Is It Bad to Take Laxatives Every Day? 

Whether you are using laxatives for weight loss or preventing constipation, you should not use laxatives daily except for certain bulk-forming types, which are safe for regular use.

Chronic laxative use is harmful and can trigger a range of health conditions, like losing bowel muscle tone and electrolyte disturbances. Plus, overuse can cause you to become reliant on them to have a bowel movement. 

In some events, you may be prescribed a laxative for regular use. However, you should only do this under medical management. 

Some natural laxatives may be safe as part of a nutritious diet. Fiber-rich foods such as leafy greens, wheat bran, and prunes have natural laxative properties.

Side Effects of Using Laxatives

Frequent laxative use can cause various health complications that range from mild to severe. The most common symptoms include:

#1 Dehydration 

Dehydration is the most common adverse effect of using laxatives. 

As most work by helping the gut absorb water from the intestinal tract and other nearby tissues to produce more stools, the body loses more water. It’s vital to restore fluids by drinking plenty of water whenever you take laxatives to prevent dehydration. 

Mild dehydration symptoms include headaches, thirst, reduced urination, tiredness, and dizziness. Severe dehydration symptoms may include blurry vision, heart palpitations, and fainting. 

An electrolyte imbalance is another primary concern for laxative use. You may lose essential electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and chloride during excessive bouts of diarrhea from frequent laxative ingestion.

#2 May lead to dependency 

Although more research is required in this area, laxative abuse may potentially lead to laxative dependency, where the colon can no longer function properly without the medication.

It can cause the colon to stop reacting as normal to the initial dose, so more significant amounts are required to induce a bowel movement. 

#3 Liver damage 

Although considered safe in the recommended quantities, Senna, an herbal laxative available without a prescription, has been linked to clinically apparent liver injury

In another study, a female patient developed liver damage after taking laxatives. 

Do Laxatives Make You Skinny? 

No, laxatives do not make you skinny. If your body weight drops while taking laxatives, the result is likely due to losing water. They do not contribute to a reduction in body fat.

Most nutrients, calories, and fat are absorbed before reaching the large intestine and before the laxative has a chance to work.

The myth that laxatives cause rapid weight loss is a widespread belief, particularly among young women. It is a dangerous misconception that may trigger an eating disorder in certain individuals. 

If you want to lose weight, you should try clinically proven methods like a combination of healthy eating and regular exercise. 

A Word From Nutritionist

The idea that laxatives work for weight loss is a common misconception. While they do flush the system and leave you feeling lighter, the result is due to water loss rather than body fat.

Laxative abuse is extremely risky. It can trigger a series of problems, from severe dehydration to potentially increasing the risk of colon cancer. It’s best to play it safe and embark upon a healthy lifestyle to reach your body goals.

Simple strategies like eating fewer calories, swapping junk food for healthy snacks, and exercising more often bring significant health benefits and help burn fat. You should aim to eat a range of whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Drinking an adequate amount of water can also aid weight loss efforts while keeping your digestive system running smoothly. These lifestyle changes are the most sustainable way to lose weight without facing a bunch of nasty side effects.


Laxatives are a proactive measure for tackling occasional constipation, but there are far better solutions when it comes to weight loss. 

If you want to reduce body fat, maintaining regular physical activity and eating a balanced diet are the most sustainable solutions to shedding excess weight.

Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
The article was fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: April 7, 2023
5 min read 1570 Views 0 Comments

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