Nutrition

Diet pills: Powerful weight-loss tool or waste of money?

Author: Canadian Living

Nutrition

Diet pills: Powerful weight-loss tool or waste of money?

So you need to lose weight and you're thinking that it could be as easy as taking a pill, right? Perhaps. Although medications and supplements promising to help you lose weight by suppressing your appetite have been around for decades, the truth is few diet pills and appetite supressants are proven safe and effective.

If you're interested in what's available and whether the oft-touted claims are true, here is an overview of the more common appetite suppressants available in Canada. Be sure to talk to your doctor or health care practitioner before taking them.

Meridia
What it is: Meridia is a brand name for the drug sibutramine, which was approved for the treatment of obesity in 2000 by Health Canada. It's a once-daily pill available by prescription. Usually, Meridia is prescribed for those who are considerably overweight and whose health is at risk. It works by altering chemicals in your brain that are associated with satiety. Even so, it's not a magic bullet. If you are prescribed sibutramine, you are supposed to take it in conjunction with eating a nutritious, reduced-calorie diet.

Risks:
Elevated heart rate and blood pressure are some of the more serious risks with this drug. Meridia's minor side effects include constipation, increased sweating and dry mouth.

Bottom line:
Safe, if your doctor prescribes it and monitors you.

Hoodia
What it is:
A succulent plant native to the Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, Hoodia gordonii is reputed to curtail hunger (tribesmen ingest the plant before long hunting excursions). It's often sold as a dietary supplement in the form of pills, capsules or even chewable candy form. Supposedly, Hoodia works by affecting the brain's hypothalamus, where our appetite is controlled. However, many physicians specializing in weight loss remain skeptical as to Hoodia's effectiveness, citing the lack of scientific evidence backing its hunger-suppressing claims.

Risks: Hoodia is not linked with health risks at this time. However, it is an endangered African plant. If you order Hoodia from an international seller, be aware that your shipment may be detained at Canada's borders unless it has a special permit for endangered species.

Bottom line: Possibly safe, but not proven effective.

Page 1 of 2 – On page 2, learn which common things, touted as appetite suppressants, can do you more harm than good.
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
What it is:
A supplement, usually in capsule form, that contains the essential fatty acid called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). This essential fatty acid naturally occurs in dairy products and beef. While studies suggest that CLA can reduce appetite, body fat and even build muscle, long-term studies are lacking. Also, the degree to which CLA helps curb appetite and promotes weight loss is probably insignificant, according to The Mayo Clinic.

Risks: Diarrhea, indigestion and other gastrointestinal problems

Bottom line: Possibly safe, but probably not effective.

Green tea extract
What it is:
Green tea's antioxidant compounds are processed into capsules or liquid drops. According to its proponents, green tea extract helps burn calories and curb hunger, but there have been limited studies that support this. As with many other natural supplements, the medical community remains skeptical about green tea extract's appetite-curbing effectiveness. Many preparations contain added caffeine.

Risks: Vomiting, bloating, indigestion and diarrhea. May contain an excessive amount of caffeine.

Bottom line: Possibly safe, effectiveness may be minimal.

Caffeine
What it is:
Technically, caffeine is a bitter alkaloid stimulant and diuretic found especially in coffee and tea. It's also found in the South American herb yerba mate and the Brazilian guarana plant. We tend to know it better as the pick-me-up in our morning coffee or tea. Caffeine is often added to weight-loss supplements, and is also available by itself in pill form. It is not formally considered an appetite suppressant as it works only temporarily. However, if a cup of coffee with low-fat milk will buy you a reprieve from hitting the vending machine until you find a healthy snack, it could be an effective and safe hunger-delaying tool.

Risks: Insomnia, irritability, nervousness. Not recommended for children particularly because it can interfere with hunger and therefore nutrition.

Bottom line:
Safe, up to 400 mg for a healthy adult according to Health Canada guidelines, but only a temporary fix.

Ephedra (also known as Ma Huang)
What it is:
Ephedra, also known by the Chinese name Ma Huang, is a plant source of the ingredient ephedrine. Don't be fooled by any all-natural-plant claims, Health Canada urges consumers not to use this product, even though it is widely available over the Internet. As tempting as the promise is of quick weight-loss through an all-natural appetite controller, ephedra is not safe due to its dangerous side effects.

Risks: Dizziness, flushing, hypertension, psychosis, stroke and other possibly fatal side effects.

Bottom line:
Avoid, not safe.

Page 2 of 2 – Looking to lose extra weight? Find out what doctor-prescribed weight-loss supplement has been proven successful on page 1.
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Diet pills: Powerful weight-loss tool or waste of money?

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