Over-The-Counter Diet Pill

August 2009
by ConsumerSearch
Woman looking at supplement bottles

OTC diet pills are a waste of money

  • Widely available
  • Ingredients are either unproven or dangerous
  • Expensive
  • Not approved by the FDA (with the exception of Alli)

While over-the-counter diet pills may seem like a fast and easy way to lose weight, experts say you are better off taking the traditional route of diet and exercise. The ingredients in almost all over-the-counter diet pills are either unproven or dangerous. Take acai berry pills, for example. These pills are widely touted for weight loss, but manufacturers have no credible scientific evidence to back up their claims. Stephen Talcott, a professor at Texas A&M University, said in an interview with The New York Times that there is "no evidence to support a weight loss claim for acai fruit." However, that won't stop the makers of acai berry pills from promising fast and rapid weight loss.

Other diet pills, like those that contain bitter orange and caffeine, may even be dangerous. Bitter orange, which is sometimes listed as citrus naringin, has replaced ephedra in many popular diet pills, but it may have similar effects as the banned ingredient. Keep in mind that, with the exception of Alli, over-the-counter diet pills are not regulated by the FDA. Alli is the over-the-counter version of prescription Xenical. While it is approved by the FDA, Alli has unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects and experts estimate that it will only help you lose a few more pounds than diet and exercise alone. So what's the bottom line on over-the-counter diet pills? Health experts, like those at Harvard, the Mayo Clinic and Public Citizen, say consumers should avoid them.

The most credible information on over-the-counter weight-loss pills comes from respected health organizations like the Mayo Clinic and Harvard Medical School. These sources review the latest research on diet pills and summarize the findings in terms that are easy to understand for the average person. ConsumerLab.com is also a helpful source. This subscription-only website tests diet pills to see if they contain the promised ingredients; they also check for contaminants like lead.

Our Sources

1. Consumer Lab

Although this article is several years old, ConsumerLab.com is one of the few sources that actually test and compare common weight-loss supplements. Some of the diet pills were contaminated with dangerous amounts of lead, and others contained more or less of the active ingredient than listed on the label.

Review: Product Review: Weight Loss Supplements, Editors of ConsumerLab.com, Nov. 15, 2005

2. Public Citizen

Public Citizen contains a great deal of information in their "Worst Pills" database, but it focuses mainly on prescription medications. Since Alli is a weaker version of a prescription diet pill, the editors of Public Citizen cover it in their database. They include Alli on their "do not use" list.

Review: Worst Pills, Best Pills, Editors of Public Citizen

3. American Family Physician

This is a study published by doctors from Harvard Medical School who researched the efficacy of 21 common dietary supplements. None of the supplements in the study are recommended. The only supplement combination that is found to be effective for weight loss is ephedra plus caffeine, and it is noted that ephedra is banned for use in weight-loss supplements.

Review: Common Dietary Supplements for Weight Loss, R. Saper, D. Eisenberg, R. Phillips, Nov. 1, 2004

4. Mayo Clinic

The Mayo Clinic concludes that over-the-counter diet pills are a poor choice for those who want to safely lose weight. They caution that most of these supplements contain unproven ingredients or may be dangerous.

Review: Over-the-counter Weight-loss Pills: Do They Work?, Mayo Clinic Staff, Feb. 15, 2008

5. ConsumerReports.org

Consumer Reports lists 11 supplement ingredients that have been linked to various health risks over the years. For each ingredient, Consumer Reports lists both reported uses and associated risks.

Review: Risky Pills: Dietary Supplements to Avoid, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, Jan. 2008

6. The New York Times

Can the popular acai berry pills help you lose weight? Stephen Talcott, a professor at Texas A&M University, tells the New York Times that there is "no scientific evidence to support a weight-loss claim for acai fruit."

Review: Pressing Acai for Answers, Abby Ellin, March 11, 2009

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