Diuretics For Weight Loss


Diuretics for Weight Loss, which is basically a medicine that removes extra water from your body, are one of the most effective ways to lose a few pounds in a short amount of time. Diuretics do the job of enhancing urination, leading to the extra water being excreted out of the body. This helps in losing weight as the diuretic can rid your body of a vast amount of water. The more diuretics you intake, the more you’re dehydrated and hence lose weight rapidly.

What are water pills?

Water pills, or diuretics, are usually used to treat conditions such as high blood pressure, heart failure, or kidney disease.

Diuretics act on different parts of the kidney, causing salt (sodium) and water to be drawn from the blood and excreted into the urine. Some diuretics also cause potassium or sugar to be excreted into the urine.

Urine volume increases as fluid moves from your body and into your urine. The result is a decrease in edema (excess body water weight) and lowered blood pressure. 

Water pills for weight loss

Diuretics can cause the figures on your scale to drop rapidly, but do not be fooled into thinking that you’re losing healthy weight. The drop in the numbers on your scale is due to water weight loss, and you will likely regain it as soon as you start drinking again.

Various athletes have historically taken diuretics to drop weight quickly. This is especially true in the case of athletes who compete in specified weight categories, such as boxers. Because of their abuse by athletes, diuretics have been included on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) list of prohibited substances¹.

Diuretics are also sometimes abused by people suffering from eating disorders, such as Bulimia Nervosa, as a way to purge and lose weight rapidly. Long-standing inappropriate use of diuretics can lead to chronic electrolyte imbalances and kidney disease². 

The dangers of taking water pills for weight loss

Diuretics are meant to be taken only under certain conditions to treat specific illnesses. There are four main classes of diuretics, with the common types listed below along with possible side effects:³

Taking diuretics for weight loss can lead to dehydration, fatigue, dizziness, low blood pressure, muscle cramps, and potentially serious electrolyte imbalances. 

Natural diuretics

Instead of heading for water pills if you’re retaining a bit of water, choose a more natural, safer way of getting rid of excess water weight.

Try any of the following strategies instead of potentially dangerous diuretics:

1. Reduce your salt intake

High dietary salt intake causes your body to retain water. Eating a very salty meal causes an increase in your fluid intake without an accompanying increase in your urine output. The result is an increase in your body water weight⁴. Reducing salt in your diet can ensure that you don’t retain unnecessary water.

2. Drink some tea or coffee

Tea and coffee are mildly diuretic, and the caffeine in them may also help you shed a few pounds of extra weight.⁵

3. Drink a cup of hibiscus tea

Some evidence shows that hibiscus extract (Hibiscus sabdariffa L) has diuretic properties and preliminary studies have shown it to be safe with low toxicity⁶. 

4. Snack on watermelon, pineapple, asparagus, watercress, or hawthorn berries

Watermelon, pineapple, asparagus, watercress, and hawthorn berries are thought to have mildly diuretic properties. Besides that, they are also loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.⁷

5. Work up a sweat

Exercising improves circulation and causes sweating, both of which can alleviate symptoms of fluid retention.

 than that.

What is spironolactone?

Spironolactone is a prescription medication that was first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1960. Spironolactone is a unique type of water pill in a class of medications called potassium-sparing diuretics.

Many water pills work in the kidneys to eliminate extra water from the body along with sodium and potassium. Spironolactone works differently. It blocks a hormone called aldosterone, which causes the body to remove water along with sodium but reduces how much potassium is removed.

Spironolactone has several FDA-approved uses for which it’s prescribed, including:

  • heart failure
  • swelling or edema caused by heart failure, liver disease, or kidney disease

It’s also prescribed for:

  • treating high blood pressure
  • preventing low potassium
  • lowering levels associated with hyperaldosteronism (excessive secretion of the hormone aldosterone)

In addition to its diuretic effects, spironolactone also blocks androgen receptors. This means that it can decrease the effects of testosterone in the body.

Because of this unique effect, spironolactone is often used off-label for conditions that involve excess testosterone. Some of these include:

  • acne
  • excess facial or body hair growth in women
  • female hair loss
  • polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Spironolactone for weight loss

No scientific research has evaluated spironolactone specifically for weight loss. But it makes sense that spironolactone might reduce weight in some people, especially those with fluid retention.

Spironolactone works as a diuretic, which means that it causes the body to remove extra fluid. Reducing fluid in the body can result in body weight loss.

It’s important to keep in mind that this kind of water-weight loss is not the same as healthy weight loss due to reduction of body fat or body mass. These require good nutrition and exercise.

Weight loss due to fluid reduction might not be long-lasting. Decreasing body fluid too much can result in dehydration. Once body fluid levels return to normal, the weight will return.

Spironolactone has been studied in women who have bloating and swelling due to premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Spironolactone can cause significant improvement in these symptoms by reducing fluid retention. As a result, some doctors prescribe spironolactone for women who develop bloating and weight gain from water retention due to PMS.

Here’s what you need to know about water pills

1. Water pills are one of the most commonly prescribed medications.

Take note of that word: prescribed. Water pills are meant to help reduce blood pressure, prevent fluid buildup, and reduce swelling respectively, says Linda Anegawa, M.D., an internist at Pali Momi Medical Center in Hawaii.

They’re usually given to people with health issues like hypertension, heart failure, and idiopathic edema (unexplained swelling)—not people looking to cure mild bloating or lose weight. Most doctors recommend against using water pills for those purposes.

2. OTC water pills are different from prescription water pills.

It might be tempting to pick up an OTC water pill at the drugstore if you’re experiencing mild bloating, but Lunenfeld warns against this. That’s because OTC water pills and prescriptions water pills aren’t the same thing.

“The problem with OTC meds like these is that you’re not sure exactly what they’re giving you,” she explains. “They’re not FDA controlled, so they may not be doing what they claim to and in fact might be making you dehydrated.” (With an Rx, a doctor will monitor your dosage and length of use—that doesn’t happen with OTC water pills, hence the dehydration risk.)

Going a step further, OTC water pills could even be toxic and interact badly with other medicines you’re taking, says Anegawa. (Again, with a prescription, a doctor will be monitoring this.) OTC water pills also haven’t been studied in research trials to prove their efficacy, she adds.

3. Water pills aren’t addictive, but they can be dangerous.

Water pills aren’t habit-forming or dangerous, says Anegawa—again, as long as you’re getting them through your doctor. When you start taking them on your own without a recommended dosage, however, you could do some serious damage to your body.

“[Taking them] can cause worsening kidney function, and lightheadedness or dizziness as a result of being dehydrated,” says Lunenfeld. Other scary symptoms caused by dehydration and loss of electrolytes includes heart palpitations, weakness, confusion, and severe dizziness.

3. They don’t really help you lose weight…

Sure, water pills help you shed excess water that’s making you feel super bloated—but only temporarily. Once you stop taking them, your kidneys go back to reabsorbing the normal amount of water and salt for your body, so you’ll go back to your typical body weight soon after you stop taking them.

“When you’re weighing yourself, [you’re adding up] bone, fat, muscle and water,” says Lunenfeld. “When you’re looking to lose weight, you’re looking to lose fat and maintain muscle mass. With a diuretic, you’re just losing water weight, which isn’t really getting you any significant weight loss.”

4. In fact, they might make you gain weight.

Yep, you read that right. If you take any type of diuretic over a long period of time, your kidneys will eventually compensate for their use and you’ll end up holding on to more water weight than you did before you started taking them.

It’s called diuretic-induced edema, which happens when your kidneys start retaining more sodium and water than they need and your body starts to swell, says Anegawa—kind of the opposite of what a water pill is supposed to do.

5. Prescriptions water pills can be helpful if you’re on your period.

While it’s not recommended for healthy women to take any kind of water pills, there is one exception: to reduce period bloating. According to Anegawa, it’s fine for women to take prescription water pills to help de-puff unexplained leg swelling or bloating caused by PMS, says Anegawa.

Again, that’s prescription-only, so don’t head to your nearest drugstore for diuretics. Instead, bring up the issue to your ob-gyn, who may prescribe water pills to take before your period or whenever you tend to feel super-inflated. Since your physician will be keeping an eye on your dose, you’ll reduce your risk of serious side effects and have someone to call if something feels off.

Who should take water pills?

Patients who have high blood pressure as well as certain heart, kidney, and lung problems typically take water pills. These people often have a condition called edema, in which water accumulates in the tissues and causes swelling. Enter water pills, which help the kidneys flush out these extra fluids. Relieved of the extra burden, the heart pumps more easily and the entire body can start functioning better.

Who shouldn’t take water pills?

Most people who don’t have a medical condition calling for fluid unloading should not take water pills. Pregnant women should use water pills only for a medical problem, not just for the swelling that’s common during pregnancy.

What are the side effects of water pills?

The most common side effect is frequent urination. Others include tiredness or weakness, muscle cramps, dizziness, thirst, excessive weight loss, increased blood sugar, skin rash, and nausea. Some water pills can lead to life-threateningly low or high levels of potassium in the blood.

Can I take water pills if I’m on other medications?

Yes, but only in consultation with your HCP, since some water pills taken with certain medications can be dangerous. Here are some of the medications that may interact with water pills:

  • Cyclosporine
  • Antidepressants
  • Lithium
  • Corticosteroids
  • Certain anti-inflammatory medications
  • Anti-clotting drugs
  • Diabetes medications

Can water pills help me lose weight?

Initially, yes. While your body gets rid of the excess liquid, you may lose some weight. But the moment you start drinking fluids to replenish what you’ve lost, your weight will increase. That’s because when you take water pills, you’re losing water weight, not fat—so it’s not a healthy type of weight loss. And because your body relies heavily on water to function properly, losing too much water may lead to dehydration and other serious consequences.

While technically water pills do lead to some weight loss, you should never take them for weight loss alone. A better plan to shed pounds is to forget magic cures—and stick to a smart combo of diet changes and exercise instead.

The lowdown

Water pills should not be used for weight loss. Although diuretics do cause rapid weight loss, this loss is caused by water weight, not fat loss, and you will regain it as soon as you rehydrate.

Inappropriate use of water pills can lead to dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, fatigue, muscle cramps, and long-term kidney damage. Instead of counting on water pills for weight loss, stick to a healthy diet and exercise program, and if you are retaining some extra water, opt for a natural option to lose it.

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