It is estimated that in 2015 Americans spent $2 billion on the purchase of weight loss supplements and $2.6 billion on muscle-building products. Additionally, 20% of all American women are believed to have dabbled into the arena of weight loss pills. How do these weight loss pills work? What are the ingredients? What are the side effects? These are all questions that need to be asked by those of us accelerating the growth of the weight loss pill industry.
How do Weight Loss Pills Work?
Weight loss pills operate on one of three possible mechanisms:
- The first way is by reducing the appetite. The idea is that minimizing the feeling of hunger will result in lesser calories consumed. This way the calories expended can increase with respect to calories consumed resulting in the loss of weight.
- The second mechanism involves altering the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, such as fat, thus resulting in fewer calories absorbed. While this seems perfect, it is not hard to realize that this could interfere with the absorption of certain essential nutrients as well.
- Finally, the third method attempts to increase the total calories expended by the body via accelerating fat burning.
Natural & Over-the-counter Supplements
A known booster of the metabolism, Caffeine is found in most commercial weight loss supplements. It is also found in coffee, tea, and dark chocolate. Studies have found Caffeine to boost metabolism by 3-11% and increase fat burn by 29%.
- A dependence of caffeine is far from being as harmful as drug addiction, but some similar side-effects of caffeine dependency can occur.
- As the consumption of caffeine increases, tolerance can develop.
- Anxiety, irritability, nausea, and insomnia are some of the possible side effects.
The only product that is approved by the FDA for the reduction of fat absorption is Orlistat. The absence of fat absorption results in lesser caloric intake. Orlistat coats the intestines and prevents the enzymes from absorbing the fat that is consumed.
- It is crucial to remember that blocking fat absorption leads to a reduction of nutrient absorption. Thus, it is vital to have a multivitamin in conjunction with Orlistat to regulate the levels of important vitamins such as Vitamin A, D & E.
If the total fat intake crosses the threshold of 30% the medication will fail to work. The body gets overloaded causing bloating, gas and indigestion. Increased fiber intake can help the process.
This is a fiber derived from konjac or elephant yam. It helps reduce appetite by absorbing water and creating a gel-like texture in the stomach. When accompanied by a healthy diet and exercise regime, Glucomannan can cause a reduction of 8-10 pounds over a period of 5 weeks. It has also been known to reduce blood sugar levels and cholesterol.
- Bloating, soft stools and flatulence are possible issues arising from the consumption of this fiber. It has to be consumed half an hour before each meal with some water.
- It can also interfere with the absorption and action of certain other oral medications.
This is a newer addition to the market and claims to reduce fat cells division, decrease absorption of fat from the bloodstream and increase the burning 'of stored fat. Studies have shown the efficacy of this 'natural' supplement, however, more research needs to be done to understand its action.
Green Tea Extract
Green Tea contains caffeine and catechins, the ingredients known to speed up metabolism and promote fat loss. The activity of norepinephrine is amplified, helping burn fat, especially in the belly region. The advantage of green tea is that it is well tolerated by the bulk of the population; those sensitive to caffeine must exercise some caution.
- Due to the high content of caffeine, anxiety, irritability, nausea, and insomnia are some of the possible side effects.
- The high amount of catechins may cause liver damage.
A natural antioxidant, an essential fatty acid and a part of every cell, Alpha Lipoic Acid aids in the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. A study published in 2017 reported in National Center for Biotechnology Information, showed that Alpha Lipoic Acid supplementation may help to promote weight loss.
Improving insulin sensitivity and reducing blood sugar levels, ALA can treat diabetes-related complications.ALA has been used to treat Alzheimer’s Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, hepatitis C, HIV, and cancer.
- No serious side effects were reported.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid is known to help suppress appetite, accelerate the metabolism and promote the fat breakdown. It is found commonly in fatty animal products such as cheese and butter.
- Although CLA is an effective weight loss drug, it is quite harmful in the long run.
- It can contribute to insulin resistance and create a fatty liver.
Yohimbine is an active alkaloid from the bark of a West African evergreen Yohimbe tree. The yohimbine alkaloid has been used to treat angina, hypertension, erectile dysfunction and increase libido.
This supplement may help weight loss by raising metabolic rate, reducing appetite, and increasing fat burning. However, last studies evaluating the result of yohimbine intake on the body, muscle mass, and body fat could not conclude that yohimbine is effective.
- High dosage of Yohimbine associated with rapid heart rate, hypertension, hypotension. insomnia, cold sweating, and even paralysis and death.
- Other side effects: tremor, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, headache and sweating.
Bitter Orange contains a compound known as synephrine which is related to ephedrine. It can curb appetite and increase fat burn drastically. While synephrine is not as well studied as ephedrine, it shares the same mechanism of action.
- Much like ephedrine, which is banned by the FDA, synephrine can also adversely impact the heart in the long run.
- It can also be addictive. Caution must be exercised in its usage.
Prescription medicines are only prescribed to those who have a BMI (body mass index) greater than 30. It can also be prescribed to those who have a BMI of around 27 alongside other health complications. Some examples include:
Phentermine: Curbs the appetite
Prescribed under the names of Adipex or Suprenza, Phentermine is only approved for short-term use (a couple weeks). This is because it can have serious side effects.
- Associated with hypertension, heart palpitations, dizziness, chest pain, tremors and shortness of breath.
Qsymia: Curbs the appetite
This drug combines phentermine with topiramate (seizure/migraine medication). The latter is known to suppress appetite by causing food to taste less appealing. It can also accelerate calorie burn. Due to the lower concentration of phentermine and topiramate, Qsymia can be used long term.
- Constipation, insomnia, a tingling sensation, and dizziness.
- More serious contraindications include suicidal thoughts, problems relating to vision, increased heart rate and birth defects in pregnant women.
While there is some evidence to suggest that weight loss pills, when part of a healthy lifestyle, can result in a 5-10% decrease in weight, there is yet to be a substantial collection of concrete proof. Furthermore, most weight loss medication runs the risk of serious health complications. The associated risk is compounded by the fact that many pills contain illegal and dangerous substances and can cause the body more harm than good. This is because many over-the-counter pills are not FDA approved.
If you desire to experiment with such pills, it is advisable to conduct in-depth researches into your preferred brand prior to purchasing. It is also recommended that you keep a check on your health and consult a professional in case of any concerns.
On the whole, the use of weight loss pills really is a personal decision; one which requires great thought. A healthy amount of research and knowledge of possible side effects is crucial to undertake prior to making the switch.