With popular weight loss drugs Ozempic and Wegovy costing up to $900 a month, many consumers are searching far and wide for cheaper alternatives. But those searches are apparently contributing to a shortage of laxatives like Miralax and Glycolax, touted by TikTokers as alternative tools for weight loss.
The increased demand for polyethylene glycol 3350, the generic name for Miralax, has led to empty pharmacy shelves and shortages, gastroenterologists told The Wall Street Journal. Searches for the drugs have tripled on Amazon in the last year — and the buyers are increasingly young adults.
This is evident on #GutTok, a corner of TikTok concerned mostly with gut health, covering everything from inflammatory bowel syndrome to probiotics. Even a cursory search of #GutTok reveals countless videos about Miralax and other laxatives used to treat constipation, bloating and more.
But joint searches for “Miralax” and “weight loss” on TikTok lead viewers to scores of videos linking laxatives to shedding pounds. The videos have contributed to Miralax’s extremely unofficial new nickname of “budget Ozempic.”
Not surprisingly, the “budget Ozempic” trend concerns many dieticians and medical experts. First, it might trigger disordered eating or people who have struggled with body dysmorphia.
Just as importantly, laxatives used improperly can be dangerous: They can lead to dehydration and the loss of electrolytes. Meanwhile, long-term use of laxatives can lead to nutrient malabsorption, impacting everything from kidney function to bone health, according to Healthline.
Besides, there’s no evidence that laxatives are an effective weight loss tool. While they may temporarily help shed water weight, they won’t do much in the long-term.
“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,” nutritionist Tony Cottenden told Healthline. Cottenden added that water weight loss doesn’t equate to fat loss, which requires a caloric deficit.
The laxative shortages aren’t entirely driven by TikTok. Experts told The Wall Street Journal that the widespread American diet — which tends to be low in fiber, and took a turn for the less-healthy during the pandemic — is partially to blame for the higher demand for laxatives. The growing population of older Americans has contributed to the deficits as well.
“It’s crazy to think that our collective bowel dysfunction problems have gotten so bad that we’re literally running out of stool softeners,” Dr. George Pavlou told The Wall Street Journal.