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Can Laxative Abuse Cause an Iron Deficiency?

by
author image Linda Ray
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."
Can Laxative Abuse Cause an Iron Deficiency?
Close-up of laxatives on wooden spoon. Photo Credit sommail/iStock/Getty Images

Iron is an essential mineral needed to carry oxygen through your red blood cells to every organ and cell in your body. It also is involved in producing energy. Anemia is one of the most common side effects of iron deficiency that can lead to weakness and fatigue. Poor diet, blood loss, trauma and surgery can lead to an iron deficiency. Anemia from laxative abuse can cause an iron deficiency.

Uses

A wide range of laxatives are available over the counter to help you trigger a bowel movement by softening your stool or draw fluid into your bowels to create healthy stools. According to Family Doctor.org, harsh laxatives that contain stimulants cause your bowels to contract and squeeze out the stools. Occasional laxative use usually doesn't have consequences, but long-term use can create a host of complications, including anemia and vitamin deficiencies. Even natural laxatives like mineral oil or castor oil can cause medical problems.

Consequences

When laxatives are used to rid your body of food quickly after eating, the nutrients that you ingested do not have time to go through the natural absorption process and you end up with a slew of deficiencies. Additionally, according to the Eating Disorder Referral and Information Center, excessive laxative use can cause tears in your esophagus and create ruptures in your intestines and bowels that leads to blood loss and iron deficiencies.

Causes

The most common cause of anemia is iron deficiency, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, which is an iron-based protein necessary to carry oxygen through your blood cells. When your body can't produce enough red blood cells or you lose iron faster than your body can absorb it by using laxatives, you develop anemia. While blood cells, needed to fight infection and platelets, required for clotting, also require sufficient nutrients to function properly.

Side Effects

When you have an iron deficiency, at first you may feel tired and weak, with intermittent heart palpitations. You will then get dizzy and even faint from the lack of iron in your blood. Headaches and leg pain may develop and you may experience angina, or chest pain, as the condition progresses. Long-term iron deficiency leads to brittle hair, difficulty swallowing, sores in your mouth and an altered state of touch. You will most likely develop dry mouth and a burning sensation on your tongue.

Treatment

The first line of treatment is to stop taking laxatives and allow your food to provide your body with necessary nutrients. You may need iron supplements as well. Glycerate, sulfate and ferrous fumarate are forms of iron that are absorbed easily in the body and can help relieve the deficiency. Talk to your doctor before taking iron supplements, however, and make sure your doctor knows about your laxative abuse in case you need other kinds of medical tests or psychological counseling. Besides liver, effective dietary sources of iron can include oysters, poultry and lean red meat. Beans, seeds and whole grains are good sources as well, especially when eaten with foods high in vitamin C like berries and broccoli.

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