For individuals with a strong desire to lose or maintain their weight, diet supplements may seem like a magical solution. The manufacturers of these products make extravagant promises about the properties of their drugs, but most of these claims are not backed up by clinical research. In fact, the drugs that promise to help you shed pounds or burn fat may hold hidden dangers to your health. In spite of the risks of using diet supplements, the demand for these products continues to rise, especially among individuals with eating disorders. Up to 50 per cent of those who meet the criteria for an eating disorder use over-the-counter diet pills, herbal supplements or prescription drugs to lose weight, according to Eating Behaviors. Unless you’re using weight-loss drugs for legitimate medical reasons under a doctor’s supervision, you may be putting yourself in harm’s way by using these products.
What are diet supplements?
A diet supplement is any product that you take orally that includes nutrients, herbs or other ingredients that add to the content of your ordinary diet. Not all supplements are intended to promote weight loss; a supplement may provide valuable nutritional replacement for consumers who don’t get enough of a specific ingredient in their daily meals.
A dietary supplement may contain, vitamins, minerals, amino acids (building blocks of proteins), enzymes, botanical products/herbs, glandular extracts and organ products.
People take diet supplements for many different reasons: to lose or gain weight, to restore lost nutrients, to build muscle tissue, to support physical functions like eyesight, to improve sleep or to boost energy. According to a study done by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 40 percent of Americans used supplements in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Since then over half of the US population have used supplements in recent years.
In Nigeria, there is a rash of diet supplements being marketed under a plethora of brand names. They are imported from mainly India and China. A good number of them which claim to have NAFDAC numbers have questionable efficacy
Just because a diet pill or supplement is sold in attractive packaging doesn’t mean that it’s safe. Many manufacturers have been accused of making false claims about their products and adding pharmaceutical ingredients to their supplements.
How do weight loss supplements work?
Bodybuilding dietary supplements: If you want dietary supplements that will help you lose weight, you’ll have no shortage of choices. The companies that distribute these products claim that the ingredients in their supplements can help you achieve results like these:
■ Curb your cravings for food (chickweed, bee pollen, fennel)
•Make you feel full before you’ve had too much to eat (guar gum, psyllium)
■ Speed up your metabolism (B-complex vitamins, caffeine (in energy drinks), guarana, synephrine,)
■ Slow down your body’s fat production (green tea, hydrocitric acid, flax seed)
■ Keep your body from absorbing the fat in the foods you eat (chondritin)
Diet supplements are available in just about any form that you can take by mouth, from pills and capsules to powders, liquids and teas. Some products are taken with a meal; others are taken instead of a meal. Over-the-counter diet pills supposedly help you lose weight by stimulating your metabolism, or your body’s system for utilizing energy. The primary ingredient in products like Dexatrim with Metabolic Support is caffeine, a central nervous stimulant that may help you burn fat through a process called thermogenesis. But the risks of taking these stimulants may outweigh the benefits.
Why are weight loss pills dangerous?
Many diet supplements are harmless, and some may even be effective at creating a sense of fullness, burning fat or boosting your metabolism. But some of the popular ingredients in weight loss products have been banned by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), because of harmful side effects like these: increased heart rate, high blood pressure, agitation, diarrhea, sleeplessness, kidney problems, liver damage and rectal bleeding.
These symptoms have been attributed to the following chemical formulated into several of the diet supplements. When there dangerous effects on the body were discovered and proved, they were banned.
How do you know what you’re taking?
One of the biggest risks of taking over-the-counter diet supplements is that you can’t always be certain about the ingredients that a product contains. There is no guarantee that each ingredient in every supplement is safe. For instance, in a press release issued in 2009, the FDA announced that it had discovered potentially dangerous, unlisted ingredients in 69 weight loss products. Because the manufacturers did not list these ingredients on their product labels, consumers would have no way of knowing that they were ingesting products like these:
■ Sibutramine: a weight-loss drug withdrawn because of its association with an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke
■ Rimonabant: an appetite suppressant not approved for use in the US
■ Phenytoin: an anti-seizure drug
■ Phenolphthalein: an experimental drug that may cause cancer
The FDA issued a warning to consumers not to purchase supplements in its list of tainted products; however, this agency can’t test every new product on the market. The best way to ensure your safety is to consult a healthcare professional before you take any weight loss supplement.
How are diet pills abused?
A woman is obese and very determined to lose weight may not be concerned about the dangers of dietary supplements. She may be so preoccupied with losing weight that she doesn’t care about the risks to her health. In her obsessive drive to lose weight, such individual is likely to abuse diet supplements in the following ways:
■ Taking more than the recommended dose of a dietary supplement
■ Taking diet products that aren’t recommended for individuals who are at a normal weight or underweight
■ Taking prescription weight loss medication without a doctor’s supervision
■ Combining multiple weight loss stimulants
■ Combining diet pills with laxatives or diuretics
Taking an excessive dose of a diet supplement or combining supplements can be extremely hazardous. An overdose of stimulant products could raise your blood pressure to dangerously high levels, putting you at risk of a heart attack or stroke. Taking fat-blocking supplements along with laxatives or diuretics could cause diarrhea, fluid loss and an electrolyte imbalance. Abusing products that hold a risk for liver or kidney damage only increases the possibility of life-threatening organ failure.
Are there any safe weight loss drugs?
Many of the diet supplements that are available in pharmacies and patent medicine stores are generally recognized as safe for human consumption. But just because these drugs can be purchased without a prescription doesn’t mean that you can use more than the recommended dosage safely, or combine them with other drugs without experiencing serious side effects. Because diet supplements are widely available at commercial outlets or online, people with eating disorders have easy access to these products and are likely to misuse them.
In some cases, a weight loss drug or diet supplement may be a useful part of an eating disorder rehabilitation programme. But in many cases, these products are being abused by adolescent girls or adults who have no medical need to lose weight. In such cases, the use of a diet pill is dangerous, even life-threatening.
Health and wellness pills
The focus of an eating disorders rehabilitation program is on supporting each patient individually in his or her recovery goals. Whether that means gaining or losing weight is up to the treatment team, which may include a doctor, therapist, counselor and nutritionist. Unless diet pills are recommended by a medical professional, they are generally not part of a healthy recovery plan for eating disorders.