Science and Tech


US running low on laxatives thanks to surge in demand and TikTok trend

Doctors have noticed a significant increase in teenage patients misusing laxatives in the last two years.
A person holding a bottle of MiraLax, popular generic laxative.
Posted at 6:40 PM, Sep 13, 2023

A surge in demand for polyethylene glycol 3350, the generic name for laxatives like MiraLAX and Glycolax, is causing a shortage at U.S. stores.

According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, the shortage stems from various factors, such as low fiber intake, an aging population, and disruptions to bathroom schedules due to hybrid work and travel.

Additionally, gastrological and behavioral experts tell the WSJ that laxative supplies could also be strained by post-pandemic bowel issues linked to poorer diets, reduced exercise, and increased anxiety during COVID-19.

But more recently, some social media users have started using laxatives as a cheaper alternative to Ozempic for weight loss, causing concern among experts.

Doctors tell the WSJ that TikTok's #GutTok spreads false information about healthy bathroom habits, with videos implying, without evidence, that these laxatives help with detox or to reduce bloating.

"When people have an excessive bowel movement and they feel completely empty inside, that gets wrapped up in thinness and health," eating disorder specialist Dr. Jenna DiLossi tells the WSJ, adding that she has noticed a significant increase in teenage patients misusing laxatives in the last two years and that teens have told her they get the idea from TikTok, where #GutTok videos have over 1.1 billion views.

But it’s not just MiraLAX and Glycolax facing a shortage. Pharmaceutical giant Sanofi told NBC News that its over-the-counter laxative, Dulcolax, is also facing supply constraints.

"Over the past few months, we have seen unprecedented demand for Dulcolax products," a Sanofi spokesperson told NBC News. "As a result, some retailers temporarily may not have certain Dulcolax products on their shelves."

Experts warn that misusing laxatives can cause dehydration, cramps, nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, an increase in heart attack risk, and possible kidney failure.