Simi Pharmacy

Cutting through the confusion around diet pills

“You can never be too rich or too thin.”

That old adage that goes way, way back.  How far back?  We just had to look it up.  It first appeared in print  in 1963, in an article headlined High Living on Low Calories, carried in the July 1963 issue of Harper’s Bazaar.

At SIMI PHARMACY, we are wary of obsessions, including wealth and appearance, but we know that  the weight-loss industry is all about these two passions.  Last year Americans spent about $2.1 billion on “slimming” pills – some prescription, some over-the-counter.  The consumers are men and women, adults and children.  Many are driven by aesthetics:  the desire to look trim, athletic, attractive.  Others have an ultimatum from their doctor:  lose weight of risk a heart attack, or stroke, or Type 2 diabetes, or gall stones, or liver problems, or sleep apnea, or joint replacement. 

Is getting thin more difficult than getting rich?  For many people, the answer is an emphatic Yes!  It’s a hard fact that all men (and women) are NOT created equal … when it comes to the way their bodies burn and store calories.  Aside from genetic differences, individuals have widely varying early childhood experiences that set lifelong attitudes, preferences and behavior patterns.

Lose weight without diet or exercise!”  That’s a come-on as irresistible as chocolate cake.  Who wouldn’t like a “magic bullet” that just zaps those excess pounds?  There are literally hundreds of such bullets to choose from. Multi-billion-dollar industry, remember?  But do miracle fat-busters actually work?

Short answer:  if the ingredients in the pill are safe, it is unlikely to knock off the pounds; if it knocks off the pounds, it is probably damaging your body.  Mess up your system and you will regret it. 

In diet-pill promotion, it’s interesting to note that product image is rarely paired with doctor image.  Instead, ads juxtapose product image with the picture of someone who is probably a swimsuit model.

Diet pills and celebrities definitely go together.  Not long ago, Kim Kardashian earned big bucks and a bad name for promoting dieters’ lollipops on Instagram.  Not cheap at $36 for a packet of 30, but do they work? The makers say that their lollipops contain Satiereal, a patented ingredient derived from Crocus Sativus, which is also the source of saffron.  The marketing pitch describes the product as an appetite suppressant and makes no weight-loss promises.

Another “miracle” weight loss ingredient that gets plenty of celebrity endorsements is hydroxycitric acid, derived from a bitter tropical fruit called Garcina cambogia.  Scientific testing doesn’t support the hype, even when the pure fruit extract is tested.  When 29 of the top-selling Garcinia cambogia supplements were tested, 21 of them contained substantially less hydroxycitric acid than the label claimed.  It’s sold for $13 to $25 for a bottle containing about 120 pills.

Green tea is carries a heavy load of expectation.  It’s said to be beneficial for everything from brain function to indigestion and supposedly kicks metabolism into overdrive, quickly resulting in “a slim, glowing, youthful you”.  And it’s affordable. Sounds too good to be true?  Alas, controlled studies find the benefits to be modest.  On the plus side, studies have found that you’d have to drink a bucketful before it does you any harm.

The same cannot be said for many ingredients commonly found in diet pills.  In fact, diet pills have a deadly history.  Amphetamine pills became popular in the late 1930s and, year by year, the pill regime became more complicated.  By the 1950s, dieters were taking a multi-pill combo — amphetamine, thyroid hormone, diuretic, digitalis, laxative and a barbiturate to suppress the side effects of the stimulants.  The axe fell in 1968, after a number of deaths were attributed to diet pills and the Senate investigated. Amphetamines and weight-loss pill combos disappeared in the USA although they are still available in other countries.

In the 70s, 80s and 90s, dieters turned to fen-phen (a combination of fenfluramine and phentermine) dexfenfluramine and ephedrine. These too had serious side-effects: valvular heart disease, pulmonary hypertension and hemorrhagic stroke.

The label on today’s diet pill bottle is likely to list one or more of four ingredients: benzphetamine (closely related to amphetamine), diethylpropion, mazindol (currently approved only for use in the treatment of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, abused for appetite-suppressing) and phentermine.

Another ingredient, orlistat, is a lipase inhibitor (prevents the body from absorbing fats in food) and is sold without prescription. Not cheap:  around $900 for 90 capsules of 120 mg strength.

Dieters sometimes turn to a pill that makes them feel full.  It’s the oral hydrogel, gelesis-100.  Taken as a pill before meals with water, gelesis expands in the stomach and small bowel producing a semi-solid gel and a feeling of fullness. A four-week supply costs about $100.

Aside from effects on the heart and other organs, a great danger of diet pills is that people become dependent on them.  A pill that produces feelings of mood enhancement and increased energy is very likely to get its users hooked.

Hard as it is, the old-fashioned road to weight-loss remains the best way to go:  control calorie intake, eat better, exercise, de-stress, and get a good night’s sleep.   To lose weight and remain at your individual “right size” you must adopt a healthy lifestyle — permanently.  If your body is genetically predisposed to putting on fat, don’t lose heart.  Just accept that you’ll have to work harder to stay fit.  Improved health makes it all worth it.

Let the Federal Trade Commission have the last word:

Some dietary supplements have been found to contain potentially harmful drugs or chemicals not listed on the label. Manufacturers of such supplements are prosecuted.  But federal law does not require dietary supplements to be proven safe before they’re sold; it doesn’t even require claims to be truthful. Be aware that dishonest advertisers will say anything to get you to buy their products. Any promise of miraculous weight loss is simply untrue.

If you buy a weight-loss drug, be sure you’re getting a good-quality product.  US Pharmacopeia, Consumer Lab and NSF International test products and verify ingredients; look for their seal of approval.  Ask your doctor or pharmacist about a product before you buy.

SIMI PHARMACY advises you to always READ THE LABEL.

  If you would like to know more about the ingredients,  ASK US.

It’s our job to know about drugs and how they can affect you.

We welcome your questions and will always give you

complete and accurate information.

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