Eating disorders and laxative abuse are becoming more common. What are the dangers and consequences of laxative abuse?
One of the unfortunate consequences of society’s fascination with thinness is the use of unnatural and often dangerous ways to lose weight. Eating disorders are common and becoming more so as young women strive to meet the impossible ideals set by the fashion industry. Eating disorders aren’t confined to the young anymore. The fastest growing population of anorectics are women in their forties. One unhealthy means that some weight obsessed dieters are using to control weight is the use of over-the-counter laxatives. What are the dangers of laxative abuse?
How Do They Work?
Although it’s commonly believed that laxatives help with weight loss, this isn’t necessarily so. Laxatives exert their effects by drawing water into the large intestine, causing loose, watery stools. Since most nutrient absorption occurs in the small intestine, by the time food reaches the large intestine and colon the majority of the fat and calories have already been absorbed. Most of the weight that’s lost from the use of laxatives is water weight, not fat. The reality of laxative abuse is that it’s not particularly effective for real weight loss.
Unfortunately, one of the side effects of laxative abuse are electrolyte imbalances. Important electrolytes such as potassium and sodium are lost with the constant diarrhea that goes along with excessive laxative use. Imbalances of these electrolytes can cause muscle fatigue, cramping, mental changes, irregular heart rhythms, and even death. This is one of the reasons anorectics that engage in abuse of laxatives have such a high death rate. Along with the electrolytes lost from the chronic diarrhea comes a loss of water which can lead to dehydration, another situation that can be life threatening.
Even if these problems don’t occur, one of the side effects of laxative abuse is sluggish intestinal function. After being exposed to laxatives on a chronic basis, the intestines slow down and lose their ability to propel food out of the body, leading to chronic constipation. The situation can become so severe that bowel movements are almost impossible without the help of laxatives. Laxatives cause changes to the nerve endings that surround the large intestines so they no longer respond to stimulation creating a vicious cycle where larger doses of laxatives are needed for a successful bowel movement.
The consequences of laxative abuse can be serious, in some cases leading to death due to dehydration or an irregular heart rhythm from electrolyte imbalances. Any form of laxative abuse needs professional medical guidance from someone knowledgeable about eating disorders.