- TikTok’s “Budget Ozempic” trend is contributing to a laxative shortage in the US.
- The trend encourages people to use laxatives as an alternative to Ozempic.
- However, experts say laxatives are an ineffective weight-loss tactic.
- Laxative misuse also poses serious health risks, including dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and cardiovascular problems.
A new TikTok trend encouraging people to use laxatives as a weight loss aid has contributed to a laxative shortage in the US.
On social media, laxatives have been touted as “Budget Ozempic.” Many videos endorse stool-softening medications Miralax, Ex-Lax, and Glycolax as a way to quickly lose weight.
Some TikTok users claim it’s as effective as GLP-1 agonist semaglutide, commonly sold under the brand name Ozempic.
Designed for use as a type-2 diabetes treatment, Ozempic has grown in popularity as a weight loss aid in recent times. However, a prescription is too costly for some.
Influencers are suggesting over-the-counter stool softeners are a cheaper and just as effective way to lose weight.
However, nutritionists disagree and are concerned about the health risks this new trend poses.
Registered nutritionist Anna Mapson describes this trend as “really worrying” and is concerned that it could promote disordered eating habits. She says not only are laxatives ineffective for weight loss, using them can be dangerous as well.
One of the biggest short-term risks is dehydration.
“When waste products reach our large intestine, there is a process to reabsorb electrolytes and fluids,” Mapson explains. “During this phase, our body is trying to recycle as many nutrients as possible, before we pass the bits we don’t need out of the body.”
“By skipping this part of the digestive process — as you would be by taking laxatives — you can become dehydrated, or lose too many electrolytes,” she warns.
When this happens you may feel dizzy because of lower blood pressure and blood volume.
“You may also feel tired and lethargic, and ironically, less likely to engage in movement which can help to manage body weight,” Mapson adds.
Add to that, you’re likely to experience other unpleasant side effects, like:
Temporary discomfort isn’t the only side effect of overusing laxatives; laxative misuse has more serious implications too.
The loss of electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium, and sodium can affect kidney function, and become life-threatening.
What’s more, Mapson says if laxative misuse continues in the long-term there could be damage to your gut and liver as well.
Like Mapson, nutritionist Tony Cottenden believes this trend is concerning and “warrants serious attention.” He says nutrient malabsorption is a serious risk.
“Accelerating the transit time of food through the digestive system, as laxatives do, reduces the time available for nutrient absorption,” he explains. “This can lead to deficiencies in essential nutrients, affecting everything from bone health to immune function.”
The risks aren’t isolated only to the bowels and the gut either. Cottenden says laxative misuse carries cardiovascular and psychological implications as well.
“The electrolyte imbalances induced by laxative misuse can have a direct impact on cardiovascular health,” he says.
“Low levels of potassium and magnesium are particularly concerning, as they can lead to irregular heartbeats, elevated blood pressure, and in extreme cases, heart failure.”
Psychologically speaking, Cottenden believes the temporary weight loss achieved through laxative use can create a psychological dependency too.
“This can lead to a vicious cycle of misuse, as you may increasingly rely on laxatives to maintain a perceived ideal weight. This not only perpetuates the physical health risks but can also contribute to the development of eating disorders and other mental health issues,” he warns.
Not only is it dangerous to use laxatives for weight loss, it’s also unlikely to work.
That’s because you aren’t really losing fat, you’re experiencing fluid loss – which your body will quickly work to replace.
“Water loss will be replaced as soon as you eat or drink because becoming dehydrated is dangerous for us. Your body will pull water from your food or drink, and the water levels in your body will return to normal,” Mapson explains.
Temporarily, you might see a drop in the number on the scale when taking laxatives, but Cottenden says this shouldn’t be confused with fat loss.
“The weight loss observed after using laxatives is largely due to the loss of water weight, which is temporary and not a sustainable or healthy method of weight management,” he points out.
“It’s important to note that this form of weight loss does not equate to fat loss, which is a more complex metabolic process requiring a caloric deficit achieved through diet and exercise.”
Another misconception about laxatives and weight loss? Some people assume that moving food more quickly through their bodies triggers weight loss as there’s less time for these calories to be absorbed. This simply isn’t the case.
“Some people taking stimulant laxatives may think they are reducing the amount of time available for caloric absorption, but food stays in the digestive tract from around 24-48 hours. This means you’re just stimulating the release of foods you ate yesterday, not the meal you’ve just eaten,” Mapson explains.
In summary, Cottenden says the use of laxatives for weight loss is based on a misinterpretation of how they function and what constitutes meaningful weight loss.
“While they may result in temporary weight reduction due to water loss, they are not an effective or safe solution for achieving long-term weight management goals,” he surmises.
So, what is an effective and safe solution for achieving your weight management goals?
It probably won’t come as a surprise that dangerous quick fixes like laxatives aren’t the answer.
Cottenden says consuming predominantly whole, minimally processed foods is a great tactic to follow.
“Incorporating more whole foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains into your diet can help you maintain a caloric deficit while still meeting your nutritional needs,” he explains.
Increasing your fiber intake plays an important role too.
“A diet rich in fiber has numerous benefits, including improved digestion and prolonged satiety, which can help control overeating,” he says.
High-fiber foods include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Similarly, Mapson recommends adding some protein to every plate. “Protein is a slow-release energy which helps build muscle, and can keep you feeling full for longer,” she explains.
Her advice? Eat chicken, fish, eggs, tofu, and low-fat Greek yogurt for a filling meal.
Ultimately, Cottenden says the influence of social media on weight loss perceptions is significant.
“Quick fixes and fad diets often gain traction online, creating unrealistic expectations and diverting individuals from healthier, more sustainable methods,” he notes.
But often it’s a case of slow and steady wins the race.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet and taking regular exercise are the safest and most reliable methods for sustainable weight loss.