Using Laxatives As Alternative to Weight Loss Drugs is Not Effective and Dangerous

Use of Laxatives for Weight Loss

People are turning to laxatives as a substitute for the popular weight-loss drug Ozempic when they can’t access it. However, experts warn that repeated use of laxatives can be dangerous and is not an effective method for sustained weight loss.

Ozempic, the brand name for semaglutide, is currently expensive and difficult to access due to a global shortage.

Eating disorder specialist Dr. Jenna DiLossi told that she has seen an increase in teenage eating disorder patients abusing laxatives for weight loss, viewing them as a budget-friendly, over-the-counter alternative to Ozempic.

There is also a U.S. shortage of laxatives due to frequent usage, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. This shortage is a result of lifestyle changes since the pandemic, a lack of fiber in diets, and a preference for quick fixes for digestive problems over long-term changes.

Despite being called “budget Ozempic,” laxatives do not have a true weight loss effect aside from dehydration. They are not chemically similar to semaglutide, Dr. Nial Wheate, associate professor of pharmacy at the University of Sydney, Australia, explained in an article for The Conversation published on September 14.

Many laxative products contain a chemical called polymer polyethylene glycol 3350 (PEG 3350).

Laxative Use (Photo: Getty Images)

According to Wheate, PEG 3350 works through osmosis by drawing water from the intestines and removing it as it exits the body, because it is not digestible by our bodies. In contrast, semaglutide and similar weight loss drugs mimic hormones that signal fullness to the brain and slow digestion.

Thus, the “weight loss” effect of PEG 3350 is actually just dehydration or water loss. People will generally only lose a few kilograms, and this effect is temporary, as the body will retain more water the next time you drink to replace the lost water. Laxatives can be dangerous when used regularly

Since PEG 3350 draws water out of the body, it can easily lead to dehydration. It also increases the concentration of electrolytes in the blood, which can cause fatigue, seizures, confusion, and coma in certain circumstances, Wheate said.

More common side effects include anal irritation, vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, cramps, pain, and abdominal swelling, according to Wheate.

You can also experience withdrawal symptoms if you take laxatives for an extended period and then suddenly stop, such as constipation, bloating, weight gain, and fluid retention, Wheate said. There are much more effective (and safe) ways to lose weight

There are safer and more effective ways to lose weight and keep it off than using laxatives.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that maintaining a healthy weight involves healthy eating patterns, regular exercise, and stress management. Those who want to lose weight should aim for one to two pounds a week.

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