Have you considered taking stool softeners or laxatives for weight loss? If so, you like so many others, probably first heard about it in high school or at a very young age. This unfortunate trend has been around for years with many misconceptions surrounding how they really work and the dangers when used inappropriately.
It’s not uncommon for the average high schooler to practice this movement in order to stay skinny or shed some unwanted pounds due to social pressure urging them to fit into a certain size of clothing or attract the opposite sex.
How this risky trend originated is not totally clear. What is clear is that it has increased in popularity and managed to spread all over the world. So, what are the facts? In this article we are going to dive into what stool softeners are and how they work, whether they can help you lose weight, the serious side effects of misuse, and some healthy alternatives for sustainable weight loss.
What Are They and What Do They Do?
Because the two terms are often used interchangeably, let’s define the difference between Laxatives and stool softeners.
Essentially, a laxative is a type of medication or substance used to aid a bowel movement when a person is unable to pass the fecal matter on their own. This condition is known as constipation. A laxative can be prescribed by a physician or purchased over the counter as there are varying strengths available as well as a multitude of causes for constipation.
A stool softener is a kind of laxative less commonly known as an emollient laxative which is used to soften the stool gently by wetting it, allowing the stool to pass through the intestines. This type of laxative is safe to use regularly as it is the weakest strength available and can be used to prevent constipation in those with chronic or temporary incidences of this condition.
Laxatives are also available in various forms with varying routes of delivery.
Stool softeners are available in the following forms:
- Oral Softgels or Liquids
- Enemas of the Rectum
Laxatives (not stool softeners) are available in the following forms:
- Oral Capsules
- Oral Tablets (and Chewable)
- Oral Liquids
- Oral Powders
- Oral Gummies
- Rectal Suppositories and Enemas
Can They Help You Lose Weight?
The simple answer to this question is no, you cannot safely achieve lasting weight loss by using laxatives or stool softeners. The use of stool softeners and laxatives for weight loss is not a safe or effective method. If you do manage to lose any weight or have lost weight in the past by using laxatives, this was most likely water weight which is temporary and not the same as losing body fat.
Furthermore, abuse of laxatives and stool softeners can lead to some serious, if not life-threatening side effects.
Serious Side Effects
It’s important to note that most people who use laxatives or stool softeners do not experience any adverse side effects given that they are following the directions provided on the package directions or their doctor’s advice. It is typically when a person is abusing the medication or using it for a purpose other than what it was intended for that they run into trouble with this substance.
The adverse side effects of stool softeners include:
- Stomach Cramps
- Throat Irritation
- Allergic Reaction
Some of the adverse side effects of stool softeners also overlap with laxatives:
- Stomach Cramps
- Gas and Bloating
- Muscle Cramps
- Feeling Faint
- Allergic Reaction
- Irregular Heartbeat
- Rectal Bleeding
- Severe Diarrhea
- Heart Disease
- Kidney Disease
- Digestive Disease
Additionally, stool softeners and laxatives can interact with other medications or supplements you may be taking. For this reason, it is important to consult with your primary care provider before you start taking any new medication, even something as simple as a laxative. Your physician might suggest a certain kind of laxative dependent upon any medications you may be taking along with what might be causing constipation or hard stool.
A few of the medications that have interactions with laxatives consist of:
- Oral Contraceptives (Birth Control Tablets)
- Digoxin (Heart Failure Medication)
- Medication With Estradiol
- Warfarin (Blood Thinner)
- High Blood Pressure Medications
- Some Heartburn Medications
Healthy weight loss is obtained through lifestyle changes that are realistic and sustainable for you. This will include things like improving your diet so that you are consuming a balanced and nutritious meal. It’s not always about eliminating unhealthy food from your diet. Instead, it is more important to be sure you are getting a variety of different foods in every meal, so your body has all the vitamins and minerals it needs to support healthy organ function and all the other bodily functions.
These foods include fruits, vegetables, proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats. You don’t necessarily need to measure the proportions of each food group on your plate. Essentially, you should try to make your plate as colorful as you can. This will help to ensure that you’re getting a good variety of nutrients from your meals.
Another aspect of healthy weight loss is regular exercise. This doesn’t have to involve a sweaty, heart-pounding high-intensity interval training (HIIT) routine or even a membership at your local gym. Something as simple as walking every day for at least 15 minutes can make a huge impact on your weight loss goals and improve your quality of life.
In fact, if you work on a computer all day in an office and don’t get much time to squeeze in exercise, we suggest purchasing a standing desk and an under-desk treadmill. This way you can stay active in a low-impact environment that won’t overstress your body.
Additionally, finding ways to destress is a very important part of weight loss and health in general. Stress affects the body in a big way and can greatly hinder your progress throughout your fitness journey. A good way to destress is to start doing more of the things you love. If you have a hobby that you haven’t picked up in a while, maybe it’s time to start making it a priority in your life. This can be anything that brings you joy. Spend time out in nature. Read that book you’ve been thinking about for the past couple of weeks. Take a day for yourself and catch up on your favorite shows or watch that movie you’ve been dying to see. Make time for yourself and prioritize your mental health.
All stool softeners are laxatives, but not all laxatives are stool softeners, and depending on why you are experiencing constipation certain ones may be better than others. They will not help you lose weight long-term and should not be used for this purpose as this is considered laxative abuse. If this medication is misused there are serious risks involved which can be life-threatening.
A much healthier alternative to losing weight, in the long run, would be to clean up your diet and be sure you are getting enough essential vitamins and minerals along with a balance of proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats. Additionally, it’s important to exercise regularly even if you only go for a 15-minute walk. This will also aid in weight loss. And finally, it’s equally important to take care of your mental health and find ways to destress. Do more of what you love.