Young women are being warned not to put their lives at risk by taking laxatives in a bid to lose weight.
One in five women have taken laxatives to lose weight, research says
Consumer goods analyst Mintel has found that the UK laxative market has grown by a third to £52m since 2001.
The group believe the growth in sales has been partly driven by young women buying them to help them slim.
Experts agreed laxative abuse was rife, with many slimmers unaware of the dangers, including heart failure and kidney and bowel problems.
Mintel analyst David Bird said: "On the flipside of overeating in Britain, we have seen a pre-occupation with undereating and perpetual dieting.
"Not all laxative purchases will be made in an attempt to lose weight, but there is little doubt that this has played a key part in the market's growth."
Mintel claimed typical abuse involved women taking laxatives after bingeing on high energy, sugar-rich food, hoping this will prevent calories being absorbed.
People with bulimia are also known to use laxatives as well as making themselves sick.
It is thought women are largely unaware of the risks because laxatives are widely available at chemists and supermarkets.
Mintel also warned over the next five years, the laxative market was likely to grow by 50%.
Research commissioned by the Eating Disorders Association found that one in five women took laxatives to lose weight, with the figures far higher among female students.
The association said women start taking a couple of pills a day, but can soon increase to dozens.
Steve Bloomfield, a spokesman for the association, said: "Most people binge on sugary foods which are absorbed quickly, so taking laxatives does not work if the aim is to lose weight.
"Instead, they just rob the body of vital vitamins and minerals, most significantly potassium, which can result in heart failure.
"And what is now particularly worrying is that laxatives seem easier to get than ever. You can buy them from chemists, supermarkets or over the internet."