Are Weight Loss Pills Any Good?

Rob Esmund By Rob Esmund, 7th Sep 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Health>Diet & Nutrition

When trying to lose weight, it is very tempting to look for the easiest way, and manufacturers of diet or weight loss pills know this. Are they really any good?

Yes and No

Well, yes and no, but mainly no.. Weight loss pills are not a magic solution for weight loss. They will not simply melt excess weight away without some changes in your lifestyle. They may, however, have a place in weight loss in conjunction with a proper diet and an increase in your daily exercise.

Diet pills can be a help if your main problem is trying to suppress your appetite because you feel hungry all the time, or tend to nibble between meals. There are different kinds of diet pills that work in different ways, and some are more effective than others. Some pills only really work mainly as a diuretic, causing you only to lose water and not fat so are of no use at all, and indeed, can even have some side effects, although the more natural products relying on caffeine-like ingredients probably have the least.

There are two broad categories of weight loss pills – those that are prescription only, and, those that are available over the counter. The prescription types are regulated and are therefore monitored to some extent with regard to side effects and regulated for dosage. Brands commonly available are Meridia (Sibutramine), Xenicol (Orlistat), Adipex, Bontril,Didrex, Phentermine, and Tenuate. Over the counter diet and weight loss pills, on the other hand, are classed as food supplements rather than diet drugs and are relatively unregulated, even though some experts say they should be.

The alternative and more practically useful way I believe, of classifying diet and weight loss pills, is by their mechanism of action. Some seem to act on the brain, either to stimulate the metabolism to help to burn fat faster, or to suppress the appetite so that we are able to eat less and consume less calories. The other type work in the gut by some means to block the absorption of fat.

A popular prescription appetite suppressant is Meridia which has powerful amphetamine-like properties. This type of pill can cause nervousness, anxiety, tremor or raised blood pressure in some people. It is mostly well tolerated but tends to make some folk a little more tense and excitable, and may make getting to sleep a little more difficult.

More natural appetite suppressants are found in caffeine and guarana, a concentrated caffeine-containing substance from South America. Another natural appetite suppressants is Hoodia gordonii which has a lot of anecdotal evidence in its favour, and appears to be effective.

Another group of diet pills work by binding fat or blocking fat absorption in the intestine, and a popular example is Orlistat. This has been approved by the FDA since 1999 for use in weight loss and works by blocking an enzyme in the gut that is needed to digest fat. Instead of being absorbed by the body, up to one third of the fat consumed will accumulate in the intestines and be excreted in the stool. This kind of product is marketed in the UK as Alli. It has the disadvantage of blocking the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as A,D,E and K, and therefore a vitamin supplement needs to be taken. It also has unpleasant side effects for some users such as oiliness of the stool, and even diarrhoea or unexpected faecal discharge or leakage.

It must be said also, that not all the experts agree that it is fat consumption which is the main cause of obesity anyway. There is a considerable body of evidence and argument that points to carbohydrate, particularly, refined carbohydrate, as being the main culprit.,so blocking fat absorption is not that effective.

There is a possible natural alternative to this type of pill in a plant extract from Caralluma fimbriata. This plant, which has been used in India for centuries as a natural appetite suppressant, also seems to have the ability to block one or more enzymes, and hence block the absorption of fat. Several clinical trials of this, in the form of Slimaluma, have been shown to support this claim.

Another supplement called Chitosan is available and is derived from chitin, a polysaccharide found in the shell of shrimps and crab. It is claimed that this causes weight loss and a lowering of cholesterol by binding fats in the stomach and preventing them from being digested and absorbed. There does not seem however, to be much actual evidence to support this claim.

Other weight loss pills claim to “burn fat,” or stimulate the metabolism to burn fat, but again, there is little in the way of scientific evidence to support the claims.

In conclusion then, I would reiterate that weight loss is not possible with pills alone. The most they can do is to help kick-start a diet plan by curbing appetite or helping to reduce meal portion sizes. Much more important is to choose the right kind of weight loss diet and stick with it


Diet, Diet Pills, Weight Loss, Weight Loss Pills

Meet the author

author avatar Rob Esmund
I am a retired UK health professional with interests in health, nutrition, and weight-loss

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