Sometimes people use laxatives, such as castor oil, in an attempt to lose weight. In fact, an article published in the Daily Mail in October 2013 noted that half of women dieters surveyed in the United Kingdom had said they'd tried using laxatives to lose weight quickly at least once, even though they knew that it wasn't good for their health. (ref 1) Speak with your doctor before trying to lose weight to determine the best method for you.
Type of Weight Lost
You don't actually lose fat when you use laxatives for weight loss. The laxatives just cause your large intestine to empty. Most calories from your food have already been absorbed at this point, so it is indigestible fiber, water, electrolytes and minerals, along with waste products, that laxatives cause to be removed from your body, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. (ref 2,3)
Potential for Weight Regain
Castor oil isn't likely to lead to long-term weight loss, and may actually lead to weight gain in the long term since it can slow down your metabolism if you abuse laxatives. Once you stop taking castor oil and start drinking enough fluids to rehydrate your body, any weight loss will come right back. (ref 3) The only way to sustain this "weight" loss is to avoid rehydrating, but this can cause organ damage due to dehydration. (ref 2)
Side Effects and Considerations
Attempting to lose weight using laxatives like castor oil is considered laxative abuse (ref 2) and is a sign of an eating disorder. (ref 3) Misusing laxatives this way could lead to serious health consequences. It can damage your internal organs, cause laxative dependency and lead to severe dehydration and an imbalance of electrolytes and minerals. In some cases, it can even lead to death. (ref 2 health consequences) Pregnant women and those with abdominal pain or intestinal obstruction shouldn't use castor oil. Side effects include diarrhea, nausea, faintness, abdominal discomfort and cramps. (ref 4)
A Healthier Alternative
Only use castor oil as prescribed by your doctor, such as in the case of constipation or in preparation for certain surgeries. (ref 4) If you'd like to lose weight, a healthier alternative is to add more exercise to your daily routine and follow a balanced, reduced-calorie diet. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recommends cutting calories by eating fewer foods made with refined grains, sugar and saturated fat, instead using fruit, vegetables and lean protein foods to fill up. Cutting 500 to 1,000 calories per day from your daily caloric intake will result in a healthy rate of weight loss of about 1 to 2 pounds per week. (ref 5)
- Daily Mail: Half of Women Dieters Admit Using Laxatives for Quick-Fix Weight Loss at Least Once Despite Knowing It's Bad for Their Health
- National Eating Disorders Association: Laxative Abuse: Some Basic Facts
- Columbia University Health Services: Laxative Abuse — Any Side Effects?
- Drugs.com: Castor Oil
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Dieting That Works