The $40 Billion Market
Over the counter diet pills are sold in a variety of convenience stores, supermarkets and retail chains across the United States. These supplements are considered safe by many consumers, but the Food and Drug Administrations, the agency that approves medications and regulates the safety of medications for human consumption, currently does not provide safety guidelines for the ingredients used in any supplements, including diet pills.
Although over the counter (OTC) diet pills often contain vitamins, herbs, caffeine which have some effect on the processes in the body, the substantive result of diet pills is supposed to be weight loss. Diet pills give the perception, through media popularity, that weight disappears by simply taking a pill. This perception is a placebo. People spend an estimated 40 billion dollars a year on weight loss products. We are constantly told that diet pills will not produce the results they promise….thus, the meta placebo effect. Beyond whether they work or not, is a far more serious problem. It’s one thing to waste your money with these products, but what about wasting your health?
The Not So Safe Alternative
Maybe you remember “fen-phen?” It was pulled from the market after heart disease, seizures, pulmonary hypertension, and even death was reported in droves. But, as soon as one is pulled another pops up.
Meridia has been associated with increased blood pressure, insomnia, and constipation. Rimonabant has been associated with type 2 diabetes, severe depression, and dyslipidaemia. Rimonabant is the first CB1 receptor blocker to ever be approved. It is now on the market in 56 countries and could be on US shelves soon. Other diet pills contain tremendous amounts of caffeine that can raise your heart rate and blood pressure. Alli decreases the absorption of fats- including fat soluble vitamin, which can cause vitamin deficiency. The list of products, side effects, and dangers goes on and on.
These medications were all approved by the FDA as safe for human consumption.
The Role of the FDA
Over the Counter diet pills are not subjected to FDA standards. They can claim just about anything on the label in order to capture the minds and hopes of the consumer. Yet, they are not thoroughly tested for safety and still find their way to the shelf. The FDA only steps in to pull the product after the product is proven dangerous. So, don’t assume these pills are safe just because they are on your local Walgreens shelf.
In order to keep yourself safe, read the labels and do the research. You should always ask your doctor if any of the ingredients will interfere with preexisting conditions or current medications. However, because of the lax standards, many of these diet pills have been privately tested and found to have ingredients that were not on the label.
Ingredients and Their Side Effects
Many diet pills will contain a “proprietary” complex of herbal ingredients. While these complexes will vary from product to product, there are a few ingredients that will be seen over and over again on the label. These include:
Taurine - Has been shown to lower blood pressure.(1)
Chromium- Has been shown to cause renal failure. (2)
Creatine - Has not been shown to help build muscle or aid in weight loss at all.(3)
(1) Hypertens Res 2000 May;23(3):277-84 – Oral taurine supplementation prevents the development of ethanol-induced hypertension in rats. – Harada H, Kitazaki K, Tsujino T, Watari Y, Iwata S, Nonaka H, Hayashi T, Takeshita T, Morimoto K, Yokoyama M.
(2) Ann Pharmacother 1998 Apr;32(4):428-31 – Chromium picolinate toxicity. – Cerulli J, Grabe DW, Gauthier I, Malone M, McGoldrick MD. High levels of chromium picolinate supplementation are contraindicated for weight loss in young, obese women.- Med Sci Sports Exerc 1997 Aug;29(8):992-8 – Chromium and exercise training: effect on obese women. – Grant KE, Chandler RM, Castle AL, Ivy JL.
(3) Tex Med 2002 Feb;98(2):41-6 – Performance-enhancing substances in adolescent athletes. – Gomez JE.