A new TikTok trend called “budget Ozempic” is encouraging people to use laxatives for weight loss.
Ozempic and laxatives work in different ways.
Doctors warn about the dangers of laxatives for weight loss.
There’s a huge demand right now for medications used for weight loss like Wegovy, Ozempic (which is technically approved to treat type 2 diabetes—and not for weight loss), and Mounjaro. But these drugs are expensive and many are in shortage, leading people to look for alternatives (you may have heard of Berberine, which TikTokers dubbed “nature’s Ozempic”). Now, a new TikTok trend making the rounds called “budget Ozempic,” has experts concerned.
Social media (TikTok in particular) is packed with references to budget Ozempic, with some recommending the use of laxatives to help people lose weight. For the record: Doctors say that laxative misuse isn’t a safe or recommended way to lose weight (more on that in a moment). It’s also considered a sign of disordered eating, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Unfortunately, though, people are doing it anyway. “This trend is nothing new. People have tried to use laxatives for weight loss for many years,” says Fatima Cody Stanford, M.D., M.P.H., M.P.A., an instructor of medicine and pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and an obesity medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital. “However, this is not a long-term solution to weight loss.”
So, what’s the deal with budget Ozempic and why is it cause for concern? Doctors explain.
Meet the experts: Fatima Cody Stanford, M.D., M.P.H., M.P.A., obesity medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital; Jamie Alan, Ph.D., is an associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University; Kunal Shah, M.D., is an assistant professor in the division of endocrinology at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center; Mir Ali, M.D., is a bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center
What is budget Ozempic?
There’s no technical definition for budget Ozempic, but people are generally using the phrase to refer to using laxatives to try to lose weight. The implication is that laxatives will give you the same weight-loss impact you may experience if you take a medication like Wegovy, Ozempic, or Mounjaro.
Laxative sales have skyrocketed lately, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that searches for laxative pills have more than tripled in the past year on Amazon. There’s also reportedly a laxative shortage happening in the U.S., with many pointing the finger at budget Ozempic.
With budget Ozempic, many people are using polymer polyethylene glycol 3350, or PEG 3350 products like MiraLax. Though these medications do not require a prescription and can be found in your local drugstore (when in stock), they come with risks—but more on that later.
Do laxatives help with weight loss?
“PEG3350 works as an osmotic laxative,” says Jamie Alan, Ph.D., an associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University. “This means it draws extra water into the colon and makes defecation easier.” Meaning, it helps you poop.
As a result, you may lose weight—but it’s not what you think. “The weight loss is essentially just fluid,” says Kunal Shah, M.D., an assistant professor in the division of endocrinology at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center. “You’re not actually losing fat. It’s not nearly the most efficient way to lose weight and it’s mostly temporary weight loss on top of that.”
This is different from how Ozempic—which is technically only FDA-approved for use as a type 2 diabetes medication—works. Ozempic is an injectable medication that mimics a protein in your body called glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1), Alan explains. When you take Ozempic, it activates GLP-1 receptors—which causes an increase in insulin, which helps to treat type 2 diabetes.
But Ozempic also stimulates a part of your brain that encourages you to eat less and store less, so you’re essentially less hungry, Dr. Stanford says. It even slows down the movement of food in your stomach, making you feel fuller, longer, she says. As a result, you can lose weight on the medication. These are things that laxatives do not do.
What are the dangers of using laxatives for weight loss?
Experts stress that using laxatives in this way is a really bad idea. “This is concerning,” says Mir Ali, M.D., a bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA.
PEG 3350 products can lead to diarrhea, Dr. Stanford says, which isn’t fun to deal with on its own. But these medications can dehydrate, which can lead to feelings of dizziness and even issues with electrolyte balance, Dr. Ali says.
“If you use this medication too much and you’re dehydrated, your sodium levels can go very low and potentially require hospitalization,” Dr. Shah says. “There’s a reason why people don’t celebrate when they’re having diarrhea. It’s not good.”
Keep this in mind, too, per Dr. Ali: When used often, PEG 3350 products can “overstimulate” your colon. “If patients use it on a frequent basis, their colon may not recover its natural function,” he says. Meaning, you may end up having trouble pooping normally if you’re abusing laxatives. Alan echoes that concern: “There is the worry that one will become dependent on the laxative to produce a bowel movement.”
Do laxatives work for fat loss?
In short, no. You’re not actually losing fat, explains Dr. Shah. Instead, you’re losing water weight, which could lead to dehydration. “It’s not nearly the most efficient way to lose weight and it’s mostly temporary weight loss on top of that.”
Sustainable weight loss tips
It’s tempting to look for a quick fix when it comes to weight loss, but even medications like Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro require patients to put in work to see results. They also have definite barriers to entry, including cost. But doctors say it’s important to be smart about starting and maintaining a weight loss journey.
“Patients should start their journey by speaking to their primary care physician about their weight,” Dr. Stanford says. “If they feel as though they need additional support, they may refer to an obesity medicine physician.”
Ultimately, incorporating more movement into your day, along with a nutrient-rich meal plan, is a great first step in a weight loss journey. “Eating a nutrient-rich diet can make us feel better and more energized, and it lets us know we are taking steps towards a healthier life,” dietitian Amanda Beaver, R.D.N, of Houston Methodist Wellness Services previously told Prevention.
If your medical care team feels that you need medication to lose weight for your health, they can talk to you about risks, benefits, and potential side effects, Dr. Shah says. You just need to go through a few steps first. “We have a ton of medications that work a lot better than laxatives to help patients lose weight, but you have to build the foundation first,” he says.
If you believe you are struggling with an eating disorder and need support, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at (800) 931-2237. You can text HOME to 741741 to message a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free.
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