The makers of laxatives have a new message for you: “Cleansing your colon is cool, and it could keep your heart healthy and your waistline trim.” But, that spin is prompting concerns among doctors and dietitians who see potential for abuse. Especially since a number of consumers have embraced the idea that Metamucil can help them slim down in a hurry by sweeping their colons clean. But, is Metamucil’s “Beautify Your Insides” ad campaign healthy or harmful?
Sure he takes some ribbing from his brothers. But that doesn’t stop Chicago marketing executive Jonathan Schmit from slugging down Pink Lemonade Metamucil twice a day.
“I’m a triathlete. I take all kinds of supplements, so it would be silly not to do this for that part of my health,” said Schmit, 36. “I’m like, ‘Come on guys. This is a way to get fiber in your diet.’ ”
The makers of laxatives, long favored by the over-60 set to help with “regularity,” have a new message for you: Cleansing your colon is cool, and it could keep your heart healthy and your waistline trim. But that spin is prompting concerns among doctors and dietitians who see potential for abuse.
“Drop-dead gorgeous guts” is the headline on a Procter & Gamble ad featuring a lean, athletic model. The kicker: “Just add Metamucil to your already diva-conscious diet and your insides will be haute-haute-haute.”
To make its powdered fiber easier to swallow, Meta, as some younger users call it, has added such new flavors as Berry Burst and Pink Lemonade.
Consumers appear to be buying it. Dollar sales of laxatives are up 7.3 percent through mid-August this year, according to Nielsen Co., a dramatic jump for a mature product in a slow economy.
But the “Beautify Your Insides” campaign is causing concern among medical professionals who worry that laxative products are being promoted in ways that egg on those susceptible to eating disorders.
Some consumers have embraced the idea that Metamucil can help them slim down in a hurry by sweeping their colons clean.
A blog by a 22-year-old engineering student about squeezing into a bridesmaid dress quotes a friend as saying, “I’ll just Metamucil it up for the week before the wedding.” “Yes,” the blogger adds, “Metamucil is a verb.”
Other brands such as Pure Colon 1000, Total Cleanse and Pomevie all promise painless weight loss of as much as 15 pounds “within a few days.”
That’s a problem, health experts say, because laxatives don’t cause real weight loss. They flush out water, which may result in a short-term reduction on the scale and a feeling of emptiness. But nutrients have been absorbed by the time food reaches the large intestine, where laxatives operate, so they can’t cut caloric intake.
“It’s a very troubling ad campaign,” said Dr. Garry Sigman, director of adolescent medicine at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood, referring to “Beautify Your Insides.” “It’s like saying, ‘Get dehydrated every day to get beautiful.’ ”
Catherine Cook-Cottone, a University at Buffalo psychology professor who runs an eating disorder program, said many of her anorexic and bulimic patients abuse laxatives, but they aren’t likely to turn to something as gentle as Metamucil’s psyllium seed husks. Even so, she is concerned.
“Anything that encourages you to focus on weight rather than health or taking care of your body can be a trigger” for those prone to eating disorders, Cook-Cottone said.
Procter & Gamble says it isn’t promoting Metamucil as a weight-loss product. It simply is responding to what consumers want: an easy way to achieve a healthier lifestyle.
“We did pretty significant research and found out Metamucil was being used for many more things than just regularity. We also noticed that psyllium is proven to do more things, like naturally cleansing the digestive system,” said Amy Connor, who manages the brand at P&G.
The products also are being used as a cholesterol buster, though Joan Salge Blake, a registered dietitian and nutrition professor at Boston University, doesn’t really like the tie-in.
“Metamucil is a high-fiber laxative, so it can help lower your cholesterol. So can Cheerios. So can oats,” she said, adding that those are healthier ways to achieve the same goal.
Connor takes issue with that. “Our product does deliver. If you look at some of the cereals, it’s sometimes not realistic to eat as much cereal as you would need to eat to lower cholesterol.”
Regardless, the terms “laxative” and “constipation” are definitely being played down these days. Metamucil “is not really a laxative,” said Connor. “It’s a bulk fiber. … It’s a workout for your colon.”
Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, said it is hard to argue with success.
“The challenge for laxatives is a simple one: How do you grow?” he said. “It’s hard to do that by saying you are the best laxative.”