Pills & Drugs: The Dark Side of Weight Loss

This is the first article in our series related to drugs and health through a partnership with the European Action on Drugs.

Diet pills and drugs offer an alluring promise: quickly lose weight with no work.  In today’s world, the goal to be skinny means that more and more people are opting for fast weight loss methods. But in reality, we’re damaging our bodies and putting ourselves in risk for potential side effects- all in the name of “beauty.”

A recent study found that about 15.2% of adults had used weight loss supplement in their life and nearly twice as many women as men use these supplements. [i] It was also discovered that 65% of 3,500 people believe that all weight loss supplements sold were tested and proven safe. [i] This is incorrect, as there is only one weight loss supplement (Xenical) that has been approved by the FDA.[ii]

When walking along the aisles of a drug store or nutrition shop, you might be overwhelmed at the sheer number of weight loss supplements and dieting drugs. All of which promote fast results with no effort.  Many of these products boast natural ingredients and seem safe enough. However, there are no requirements for weight loss supplements to display warnings about potential side effects.[i]

From TV, Movies, and other advertising, you’ve probably heard of some of the more popular dieting pills.  We’ve compiled a list of common dieting drugs along with their side effects.  It’s important to know that dieting drugs come in two main forms: appetite suppressants and fat absorption inhibitors.

Appetite Suppressants: trick your body into thinking it is full by decreasing serotonin and catecholamine, brain chemicals that affect mood and appetite.[ii]

Fat Absorption Inhibitors: prevent your body from absorbing and breaking down fat. The fat is then eliminated in bowel movements.[ii]

Common Dieting Drugs:

Hydroxycut claims you can lose weight fast with little effort. Hydroxycut comes in a tea form, which contains Garcinia combogia, the main weight loss ingredient. It is used to suppress the appetite and increase fat burning in the body.[iii] Recently, Hydroxycut has been linked to liver disease as well as seizures.

According to the World Journal of Gastroenterology, there have been cases where people taking Hydroxycut have been afflicted with acute hepatitis and hepatotoxicity.[iv] And according to the American Journal of Gastroenterology, several of the patients have had to receive liver transplants.[v]
Other Negative Side Effects of Hydroxycut: nosebleeds, high blood pressure, acne, and increased heart rate.[iv]

TrimSpa is another appetite suppressant drug. This drug contains Hoodia gordonii and glocosamine, both of which reduce your appetite.[iv]

Negative Side Effects: anxiety, insomnia, sudden onset of diabetes. [iv]

Xenical (Orlistat)
Xenical is the only diet pill approved by the FDA. It is a fat absorption inhibitor and blocks up to 30% of ingested fat.[iv] Since Xenical affects your absorption, it’s recommended you take a multi-vitamin every day to give your body the nutrients it needs. The long terms effects of Xenical are not yet known, but the FDA is currently reviewing the drug since it might be associated with liver disease.[vi]

Other Negative Side Effects: malnutrition, excess gas, urgent bowel movements.[iv]

Any diet drug that contains ephedra is considered to be unsafe. The drug ephedra has been banned from United States as it poses a cardiovascular risk and even death.  Ephedra has been associated with high blood pressure, arrhythmia, heart attacks, and stroke.[vii]

Illegal Drugs
Unfortunately, many people will turn to illegal drugs as a fast way of losing weight. Both Crystal Meth and Cocaine have been used as weight loss drugs. These should never be considered as a weight loss solution and they are incredibly dangerous.

The side effects of crystal meth are: insomnia, nausea, delusions, increased aggressiveness, increased blood pressure, damaged blood vessels, liver, kidney, and lung damage, brain damage, and death.[viii]

The side effects of cocaine are: increased heart rate and blood pressure, dilated pupils, nausea, violent behavior, anxiety, depression, seizures, permanent damage to blood vessels, heart attack, liver, kidney, and lung damage, severe tooth decay, sexual problems, and death.[ix]

With any diet, it’s important to focus on your own body. The diet that works for your friend might not work for you, so it’s essential that you assess a diet to your own individual needs. All diets that focus on healthy, nutritional food and exercise are step in the right direction. Weight loss is more about a lifestyle change.

Unless you are truly obese with a body mass index greater than 30 or with a body mass index greater than 27 and have diabetes or high blood pressure [x] you should stay away from dieting pills. Always, consult with doctor before taking any dieting pills or drugs.

Dieting doesn’t come easy for most. It can be extremely challenging to stick with a diet, especially when you only see minimal day-to-day effects. Often people are looking for a “fast and immediate result,” which, to be honest, is unhealthy and lacks lasting effects. Consult with a doctor to find the best diet plan for you and work towards making it lasting lifestyle.

[i] http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/tdaug2007pg10.shtml


[ii] http://www.webmd.com/diet/guide/weight-loss-prescription-weight-loss-medicine

[iii] http://www.livescience.com/3035-real-deal-diet-pills.html

[iv] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2773866/

[v] http://www.hydroxycutclassaction.ca/docs/fongajg2010.pdf

[vi] http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/weight-loss-drugs/WT00013/NSECTIONGROUP=2

[vii] http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/ephedra/NS_patient-ephedra

[viii] http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/crystalmeth/the-deadly-effects-of-meth.html

[ix] http://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/cocaine/effects-of-cocaine.html

[x] http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/weight-loss-drugs/WT00013

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