National eating disorder charity Beat has issued a stark warning about the dangers of using laxatives for weight control and has called for regulation to prevent abuse.
Beat says that people with anorexia or bulimia who try to control their weight by overusing laxatives could be risking serious health problems, including an early death.
In the past five years the charity has conducted two surveys involving nearly 800 people. The study, in conjunction with the number of calls to the Beat helpline, showed that people turning to laxatives to help them lose weight was a significant and growing problem.
However, in a call to action on its website, Beat points out that laxatives are ineffective as an aid to losing weight because they do not prevent food and calories being absorbed by the body as they work on the lower bowel after food has been digested.
There is also the danger that taking laxatives in this way can affect the healthy working of the bowel by stopping important vitamins and minerals from being absorbed. In fact, continued use of laxatives can lead to an alarming list of complaints, from bloating, cramping and dehydration, through to irregular heartbeats, kidney problems, heart attacks, organ failure and early death.
At present laxative sales are unregulated and can be bought by people of any age in any quantity from a wide range of outlets, including online. This gives people with eating disorders unlimited access to the drugs. This is why Beat is calling for a minimum purchase age of 16, smaller packs of no more than 10, sales restricted to pharmacies only and products to be kept behind the counter with warnings stating laxatives are not a weight loss product.
Care UK offers specialist residential services in Gloucestershire and London for people living with eating disorders.