If you're looking to lose weight, using laxatives might seem like a way to keep your body from absorbing the calories in food. However, this isn't an effective weight loss method and can lead to serious health complications. Ex-lax is an over-the-counter laxative used to treat constipation. Taking Ex-Lax to help you lose weight could jeopardize your health and won't lead to permanent weight loss in any case.
Ex-lax is a stimulant laxative containing sennosides. It is available over the counter and is used for temporary relief of constipation. Less commonly, laxatives may be used to treat certain bowel disorders or to prepare the bowel for surgery. Despite the potential for serious side effects, laxatives like Ex-lax are sometimes abused by people with eating disorders and others seeking to lose weight.
Ex-lax works by stimulating peristalsis -- the movements of the intestines that produce bowel movements -- as well as altering water secretion in the bowel. It generally produces a bowel movement within 6 to 12 hours, temporarily relieving constipation and accompanying symptoms like bloating and feelings of fullness.
The belief that taking laxatives like Ex-lax will prevent the absorption of fat from food is incorrect and potentially harmful. While they can reduce water retention, laxatives are not useful for weight loss in the absence of constipation. Ex-lax does not affect the small intestine where nutrient absorption occurs, making it ineffective for preventing fat and calorie assimilation.
Using Ex-lax for prolonged periods or in high doses may lead to serious complications. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, laxative abuse can cause electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, weakness, kidney malfunction, tremors and blurred vision. Brown University Health Services warns about the risks of cardiac arrest and other heart problems that can result from chronic diarrhea triggered by laxative abuse. Using Ex-lax for prolonged periods may also result in laxative dependence, a condition in which the bowels lose the ability to function on their own. This “reflex constipation” creates the need for further laxative use, leading to a vicious cycle of abuse and withdrawal.
The only way to prevent serious side effects is to avoid using Ex-lax to lose weight. The Ex-lax website warns against using the product for longer than one week or when abdominal pain, vomiting or nausea are present. Follow dosing directions carefully and stop taking Ex-lax if you experience anal bleeding or other troubling side effects.
To date, a healthy diet and exercise are the only weight loss methods considered safe and effective for long-term weight management. Patients with hard-to-treat obesity may be candidates for treatment with prescription medications, surgeries or other therapies.