Can Laxatives Lower Your High Cholesterol (And Is It Safe)? Our Doctor Explains

When you think of cholesterol, greasy cheeseburgers and french fries might come to mind. While you can get cholesterol from food like this, your liver also makes its own cholesterol to produce hormones and vitamins. That's right, cholesterol isn't necessarily bad. Cholesterol causes problems for your heart when saturated fats and trans fats from food promote excess cholesterol production by your liver (per the American Heart Association).

Swapping out foods high in saturated and trans fats for foods rich in unsaturated fats like nuts, seeds, and oily fish can help reduce the cholesterol that can affect your heart health, says the National Health Service. Exercising moderately for 150 minutes a week will get your blood pumping while lowering your cholesterol. Cutting back on drinking and cutting out cigarettes are two other ways to decrease your cholesterol without needing a prescription statin.

But there might be another tool to lower your cholesterol. In an exclusive interview with Health Digest, Dr. Chris Morgan of Visthetic Surgery Institute & Medspa tells us that specific types of laxatives can reduce your "bad" cholesterol.

What types of laxatives can reduce cholesterol?

While it might sound crazy to take laxatives to reduce cholesterol, it's important to know that there are different types of laxatives. According to the Cleveland Clinic, bulk-forming laxatives like psyllium-based Metamucil have soluble fiber that absorbs water and binds to your stool. These laxatives have the fewest side effects. Osmotic laxatives like Ex-Lax or MiraLAX soften your stool by pulling water from other parts of your body. Stimulant laxatives, like Dulcolax or senna, wake up the muscles of your colon by stimulating the nerves. These are typically a last resort if the more gentle laxatives aren't effective.

A 2018 meta-analysis in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at how psyllium fiber could reduce cholesterol levels in people with normal and high cholesterol. The results showed that psyllium reduced LDL cholesterol, non-HDL cholesterol, and apolipoprotein B (apoB) levels. Psyllium lowers cholesterol by making things thicker in the small intestine. This helps bind to bile acids, making the body get rid of more of them through stool. It also helps the liver take up more blood cholesterol to make bile acids. Psyllium also stimulates fermentation in your colon, which produces short-chain fatty acids to metabolize cholesterol.

Dr. Chris Morgan emphasizes that not all laxatives work to reduce cholesterol. "The extent of this effect can vary based on the type of laxative and the individual's overall health profile," he said.

Cautions in taking laxatives for managing cholesterol

Dr. Chris Morgan says that taking laxatives shouldn't be your first step to reducing cholesterol. He suggests lifestyle changes such as exercise and diet or prescription statins. Besides, laxatives are meant to treat constipation, not cholesterol. "The cholesterol-lowering effect of laxatives is generally less potent compared to standard lipid-lowering medications," Morgan said. "Relying on laxatives for cholesterol management might not achieve the desired clinical goals."

Because laxatives treat constipation, using them while you're not constipated could have some undesirable consequences. "Laxatives, especially when used frequently or in high doses, can lead to a range of side effects, including dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, dependency, and potentially worsening bowel function over time," he said.

Long-term laxative use can lead to conditions like intestinal paralysis, irritable bowel syndrome, or pancreatitis, according to the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research. Bulk-forming laxatives like psyllium fiber supplements and emollient laxatives (stool softeners like Colace) are less likely to cause these problems. The Mayo Clinic says that Metamucil and Citrucel are safe to use regularly.

Morgan suggests talking to your doctor first before using laxatives to help manage your cholesterol. Your doctor can help monitor your laxative use, any side effects, and whether it impacts your cholesterol.