When it comes to weight, America has a problem. Nearly 27 percent of Americans report that they are obese (based on self-reported weight and height, and defined as a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30), according to data from 2009 (the most recent year available).
Although that number may not seem significant, consider this: Obesity is a risk factor for a number of diseases, including metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, atherosclerosis, hypertension and stroke; and for cancer, including cancers of the colon, breast, kidney and digestive tract. It's also a risk factor for nonlife threatening diseases, including arthritis, sleep apnea, gallstones and gout; and for affective disorders, including low self-esteem. With such a laundry list, experts say it is in the public's interest for Americans to lose that excess weight. But the only proven way to do so is to move more, eat less and eat better. In a society where food often is plentiful and where many have sedentary lifestyles, this may be easier said than done.
This is where weight loss pills -- pharmaceutical or over-the-counter dietary supplements -- enter the fray. Our buyer's guide outlines the types, science, efficacy and issues involving the pills, but they all have one thing is common: None of them work on their own, you must diet and exercise as well. There is no magic bullet. All of these are merely tools to help advance weight loss efforts.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of companies who want to prey upon people's desire to both lose weight and for the quick fix. They advertise supplements with claims that have not been verified or tested by a reputable independent organization. Manufacturers don't have to seek FDA approval before putting dietary supplements on the market.
Because diet pills come and go, and because there are some who question whether regulation of dietary supplements is effective, it is impossible for us to choose a Best Reviewed diet pill. Instead, we have assembled the science and safety profiles for each type and gathered specifics on their ingredients. These include pharmaceuticals, nutrient blockers (fat and carb blockers), fat burners, insulin regulators, appetite suppressants and body composition changers.
We turned to the scientific community and government agencies for information. We consulted with publications from the CDC, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database and medical journals. We also relied on reports from major newspapers, such as The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal, because we found that they presented a fair and balanced review of weight-loss drugs. Website and magazine articles, such as ones from Redbook, WebMD.com and Health, cover these topics briefly, but we found that their coverage is largely superficial. We list them in the sources section, because they are easy to access and provide some overviews and expert opinions.
Thermogenics don't necessarily burn fat as their marketing name -- fat burners -- suggests, but they work by increasing the amount of energy your body expends while at rest by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system. That's the part of our nervous system responsible for the "fight or flight" response, which increases heart rate and blood pressure. If thermogenics are taken in large amounts or for extended periods, these heart rate and blood pressure increases can have serious side effects, including strokes, irregular heart rhythms and even heart attacks. Science doesn't show that these risks are worth the nominal weight loss that these products may produce, and the risks increase when two or more ingredients are combined. This brings two points of caution when using thermogenics:
1) Watch out for products that contain multiple ingredients, which can increase your risk of serious side effect.
2) Be aware of how much of one active ingredient you're taking -- such as caffeine, which is found in guarana and green tea -- so you can avoid an overdose.