millions on weight loss pills each year, but should we?
it comes to losing weight, research and experts tout changes to diet and
exercise. And this is for good reason: They work. And for weight loss to really
make an impact on your health, losing between 5 percent and 10 percent of your
bodyweight is the magic number. But to accomplish this, behavior must be
modified, and that’s where the going gets difficult.
are reaching into their wallets and buying diet pills. According to a telephone
survey in which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) questioned
nearly 9,500 people, the use of weight-loss supplements
seems common among U.S. adults:
estimated 15.2 percent of adults (women 20.6 percent, men 9.7 percent)
have used a weight-loss supplement.
use was among women aged 18 to 34 years (16.7 percent)
in 10 (10.2 percent) participants reported taking a supplement
for a year or more.
one third (30.2 percent) of survey participants had used weight-loss
supplements in the past year, and of that group, 73.8 percent used a
supplement containing a stimulant such as caffeine and/or bitter orange.
adults are long-term users, and most do not discuss this practice with
millions of dollars are spent each year on products touting slimming benefits,
the evidence for their effectiveness is questionable and the concern about their
safety is real (to learn
more about how supplements are regulated, see our article on the Dietary
Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA)) -- especially considering
that there are about 10 ingredients per product.
researchers from the University of South Carolina at Columbia audited the
nutritional labels of weight-loss products sold at 73 retail outlets, they
found 402 products containing 4,053 separate ingredients. They then analyzed data
on the effectiveness, safety precautions and
side effects of the 10 most common ingredients. Modest evidence of
effectiveness for green tea (Camellia sinensis), chromium picolinate,
and ma huang (Ephedra sinica, which is now banned by the FDA), was found, but
there was virtually none for the remaining seven -- ginger root (Zingiber
officinale), guarana (Paullinia cupana), hydroxycitric acid (Garcinia
white willow (Salix alba), Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus
cayenne (Capsicum annuum),
and bitter orange/zhi shi (Citrus aurantium).
The biggest concerns about safety were for ma hung (or Ephedra),
bitter orange and guarana (a form of caffeine).
Researchers wrote in the December 2006 issue of the Journal of the American
Dietetic Association that even though these supplements are widely available,
there wasn’t a lot of education about them.
buyer’s guide is meant to help you make sense of the ingredients listed on
labels and familiarize you with the effectiveness, safety precautions and side
effects these substances. Using information from the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA), National Center for Complementary and Alternative
Medicine and research studies, we have put together a
easy-to-read resource so you can make an informed decision about these products,
with the help of qualified professionals.
- Read the ingredients. Most diet pills
contain multiple ingredients. Research each ingredient and make
sure you’re not taking multiples of the same ingredient.
For instance, caffeine is present in both green tea and guarana.
- Talk to your doctor. Many of the supplements
used for weight loss have side effects, and they have the potential to
interact with each other and any medications you may be taking. She can
help you do the research, tell you which
ingredients to avoid and maybe help you find more effective ways to lose
- Weigh the risks and the benefits. Diet pills
offer us hope of a quick and easy way to lose weight, but before you spend
your money, find out the risks. Losing 3 pounds just may not be worth
damaging your liver.
- Take the manufacturers claims with a
grain of salt.
Manufacturers have been known to make false claims about their products
just to get you to buy them. Don’t go by what they say on their website,
do your own research. The National Center for Complementary and
Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)
and Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) 
are good places to start, as is the Natural
Medicines Comprehensive Database (NMCD),
though a subscription ($9.97/month) is required.
- Remember that the FDA hasn’t tested the
safety of these diet pills. Unlike medications, the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) does not require proof of any supplement’s safety
before it is put on the market. Only after it is on the market does
the FDA have a responsibility to investigate any claims of serious
- Research the manufacturers. Not all
supplements are equal. A supplement can vary in quality and concentration
depending upon who makes it. By doing a little digging, you can
find out if there has ever been any complaints about a manufacturer’s
quality or consistency.
- Beware of Internet purchases. Products sold
on the Internet can contain substances that have been banned by the FDA,
such as ephedra. Remember these substances were
banned for a reason, and there can be serious safety concerns with their