Do Weight Loss Pills Really Work?
People are more concerned with losing weight today than ever before. Obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease are at all-time highs. Diet books, weight loss magazines, nutritional supplements and weight loss pills are everywhere we look and they are big business. It’s extremely tempting to try a weight loss pill for a quick and easy solution to being overweight, but is it a waste of money? Are they healthy or dangerous?
The answers to those questions depend on the type of weight loss pill you use.
In general, most weight loss pills can be categorized as those that claim to block fat absorption and those that claim to curb your appetite and increase metabolism. They work very differently and some are safer or more effective than others.
Weight Loss Pills That Block Fat Absorption
There are several pills of various formulas that claim to inhibit your body from absorbing and then storing dietary fat; that is, the fat you eat on a daily basis. Alii, Chitosan and guar gum all fall into this general category, although they have different formulas and have gotten different results from research studies.
Alii is the over the counter version of prescription medication Xenical. Of all of the weight loss pills that claim to block fat absorption, this one has gotten the best reviews from respected researchers and the medical community. However, it may or not be best for you. Although it can block fat absorption by causing the fat to be eliminated rather than metabolized, this can be accompanied by bloating, gas, loose stools and even uncontrollable diarrhea, especially if you don’t accompany the pills with eating a low-fat diet. Yes, you still need to limit your fat intake.
Many people are led to believe that these types of pills allow you to eat fatty foods without gaining weight, but that’s not what they do at all. Taking in too much fat while taking weight loss pills such as Alii will produce a host of undesirable side-effects and you won’t lose weight, either.
Chitosan is made from the shells of shrimp and other crustaceans and was originally intended mainly for use as a blood clotting agent. There have been several studies conducted on the use and effectiveness of Chitosan. While these studies showed that a small amount of weight loss was achieved by using the pills, that weight loss was dependent upon eating a low-fat diet and getting moderate exercise. Once again, the weight loss pills are not going to do the job without diet and exercise.
Guar gum is another ingredient in many weight loss pills that claim to block the absorption of fat. Guar gum is made from the ground husks of the guar bean and is an indigestible fiber, which means that it slows digestion (and theoretically, fat absorption), creates a feeling of fullness and is eliminated quickly. This can make it beneficial as a fiber supplement, but its effectiveness as a fat blocker is unproven and there are also questions about the safety of guar gum.
Weight Loss Pills That Claim to Decrease Appetite
One trip through the supplement and weight loss aisle at your local drugstore or supermarket will net dozens of weight loss pills that claim to decrease appetite and there are dozens more available online. Most of these supplements share the same core ingredients, often in combination with “proprietary blends” of herbal supplements.
One of the oldest appetite suppressants is the herb ephedra, which was banned in 2004 after being associated with seizures, strokes, heart attacks and deaths. Though completely “natural”, this drug proved to be lethal and has been used as a shining example by those wishing for stricter FDA regulation of herbal supplements. Because ephedra stimulates the nervous system, side-effects include jitteriness, nausea and dizziness.
After the ban of ephedra, many weight loss pills containing the herb exchanged it for synephrine, a constituent of bitter orange. Synephrine has the same amphetamine-like properties and side-effects as ephedra and is associated with the same health risks. The drug has been proven effective in some studies at decreasing appetite but should only be used for 12 weeks or less. The safety of this substance remains in question and as with most other supplements, proper diet and exercise are recommended in order to see significant results.
Another product that claims to reduce appetite is Hoodia, an extract of the succulent hoodia gordonii plant that is native to the Kalahari Desert in South Africa. Research is inconclusive to date but there is preliminary data that suggests that some of the properties of the plant may have appetite-suppressing mechanisms. Hoodia is professed to work within the brain by releasing a chemical similar to glucose that triggers the hypothalamus to shut down the appetite.
Unlike amphetamines, Hoodia does not stimulate the nervous system and may therefore be safer to use; however, there has not been enough reliable research to say this with any level of certainty. In addition, the body’s ability to metabolize the supplement also remains in question.
Green tea extract is yet another herbal product that some manufacturers claim will decrease appetite and stimulate metabolism. Unlike many other supplements, green tea has been studied extensively but most of the research conducted has targeted the herb’s antioxidant qualities and very little has focused on it’s potential as an appetite suppressant. In addition, most of the studies have been conducted on subjects who drank the tea instead of taking a pill.
Since the entire leaf is used to make tea, researchers suggest that this may be the best method of consumption because there are several ingredients that may work in conjunction with one another to produce the desired results. Because the form of green tea that is promoted as a weight loss pill often contains caffeine, side effects may include increased heart rate, nausea and jitteriness.
The Final Word
It’s extremely tempting to buy a weigh loss pill as a quick, easy solution to being overweight but you should think carefully before making this decision. Because many weight loss pills are amphetamine-like in nature, there are often serious health risks associated with them and they are never recommended for long-term use.
Since the stringent standards applied to prescription medications are not applied to over-the-counter weight loss pills and dietary supplements, the FDA cannot aggressively monitor them until after they are available to consumers. In addition, many ingredients have no industry standard for recommended dosages and many times the weight loss pills don’t even contain the ingredients that they advertise. Until there is more research and better regulation, consumers should proceed with common sense and caution.