British children are abusing laxative pills in an attempt to lose weight with many taking dozens every day. Stores are selling an unhealthy number of tablets to children and this is causing serious health problems.
Laxatives for weight loss?
Contrary to popular belief laxatives do not aid fat loss at all – any weight lost is from water loss. Laxatives act on the bowels to forcibly remove waste and it does this by drawing water from the body to loosen stools.
The waste in the bowels is the end point of digestion and no further energy (calories) is transferred into the blood. Therefore, removing waste from the body faster has no impact on fat levels.
The weight lost is all because of the water that is used to speed up bowel movement. This can cause dehydration and and electrolyte imbalance, which can cause kidney failure. Abuse of laxatives can also harm the liver and there is also a small risk of heart failure.
Dulcolax and Senokot
Beat is a UK charity that provides support to adults and children with eating disorders. They undertook the research and found that Dulcolax (or Lax-Tabs) and Senokot are commonly used by teenagers who are trying to lose weight.
Beat’s study found that as many as 80% of individuals with an eating disorder have used laxatives to try to lose weight.
Most eating disorders develop during adolescence and current guidelines on the sale of laxatives do not prevent teenagers from buying them. Both Dulcolax and Senokot say that their products are suitable for children as young as 6 years. Both drugs comply with the legal requirements made by MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency).
Common laxative drugs
According to Purdue one of the most popular active ingredients in laxatives, Senna, has been used for centuries to help treat constipation. The senna in Senokot and similar laxatives comes from the deseeded pod of the senna plant.
Dulcolax is made from bisacodyl. This drug stimulates the bowel muscles to speed up bowel movement while also increasing water in the intestines. MedicinNet lists side effects of bisacodyl are abdominal cramping, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, vertigo, rectal burning, and fluid and electrolyte imbalance.
Severe Stomach Pain
School children who have abused laxatives often suffer from severe stomach pains following years of abuse.
Lottie Hall started taking laxatives when she was 13 years old. To start with she would take just a few every day but in time her body needed more to get the desired effects. Within a short time she was taking 20 to 30 laxative pills every day for around three years.
“I was in the corridor and was crouching down and holding my stomach in agony”. It was not until she was found to be in intense paid at school that she was unable to walk, that her problem was revealed.
Stores ignored warning
Beat warned the UK’s major supermarkets in 2009 that an unprecedented number of children were purchasing laxatives specifically to abuse them for weight loss. However, none of the supermarkets took action to attempt to stop the sale of laxatives to children and teenagers.
BBC Watchdog investigated the problem by sending 14-year-old actors into supermarkets and pharmacies the purchase three boxes of stimulant laxatives – generally anybody buying three boxes will be abusing them as one box is usually more than enough to clear up some constipation.
None of the supermarkets questioned the children about the intended use of the pills; in all 24 cases the children purchased more than 60 pills.
In response to this Sainsbury’s and Boots have announced that they are training staff to recognize the abuse of laxatives. However, currently they are within the law to sell any number to children.
Eating disorders cause serious health problems and they almost always develop during teenage years. Girls tend to suffer the most but boys are also under increasing pressure to be super-slim and toned. It is thought that the media is partly to blame for constantly highlighting abnormally thin celebrities.
What saddens us most is that many of the children who are abusing laxatives to try to lose weight are not overweight. What they need is physiology help, a good, healthy diet and regular exercise. Maybe schools should be trained to provide this service?
Have you ever taken laxatives to try to lose weight? If so share your experience below.
Eating disorder support
- In the UK: www.b-eat.co.uk
- In the US: www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
- In Australia: www.nedc.com.au
- In Canada: www.nedic.ca