Nonprescription diet pill makers have an impressive array of marketing tools at their disposal. Manufacturers behind print ads, Internet websites and infomercials may claim their product is just as effective as a prescription drug for less cost and without the hassle of getting your doctor’s approval. However, diet pills that claim to be just as effective as weight loss drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may not work — and they can also compromise your health.
Prescription Drugs and the FDA
The FDA hasn’t approved many prescription drugs for weight loss, and those it has are typically used for up to 12 weeks, with the exception of sibutramine, an appetite suppressant, and orlistat, a lipatase inhibitor, which can be taken for up to one year. Prescription medications such as sibutramine, phentermine and phendimetrazine can cause dire side effects, such as high blood pressure, anxiety, sleeplessness and a rapid heart rate. According to the Weight Control Information Network, doctors usually recommend prescription weight loss drugs only when the health risks associated with obesity outweigh the danger of taking the weight loss medication. These strong drugs are not given to people who simply want to lose weight to look good.
Nonprescription diet pills can be purchased everywhere: at your drugstore, health food market and grocery store. The Internet provides the perfect outlet for diet pill marketers to peddle supplements that are purportedly “natural,” “herbal” and “safe.” But as MayoClinic.com points out, most don’t have the science to support them — so much for that “proven effective” claim. These diet pills fall under the category of dietary supplements. This means that the FDA doesn’t require them to undergo the same stringent approval process as prescription weight loss drugs. Until a diet pill is determined to be unsafe, the FDA does not intervene. For example, ephedra-based diet pills could be readily purchased over the counter until 2004, when the FDA determined these supplements resulted in adverse effects and issued a ban on all supplements that contain ephedra.
Reading Between the Lines
If you’re tempted to purchase a nonprescription diet pill — essentially a dietary supplement — it’s important to know what advertising claims should send up a red flag. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the governmental authority that protects consumers against false and misleading advertising, be highly skeptical of diet pills that claim you can lose weight without exercising or dieting, that the product works for everyone and that promise you can lose up to a pound a day. A realistic expectation of any weight loss plan is between 1 and 2 pounds each week. If your miracle nonprescription diet pill sounds too good to be true, it probably won’t give you the weight loss results you want.
Diet Pill Dangers
Some nonprescription diet pills may be simply be ineffective, while others can contain undeclared pharmaceutical ingredients that can cause heart attack, seizures, stroke and even death, cautions the FDA. By March 2009, the FDA had compiled a list of diet pills — many of which purported to be “natural” — that contained potentially dangerous medications such as sibutramine and experimental and controlled drugs like cetilistat and fenproporex, which are not approved for sale or use in the United States. Even nonprescription diet pills that aren’t proven effective for weight loss can have harmful side effects, says MayoClinic.com. Before you give the latest diet pill a whirl, do your research. Talk with your doctor or a pharmacist, or go to the FDA or FTC’s website to see if a consumer alert has been issued or if legal action has been taken against a specific supplement maker.
Effective Weight Loss
As the FTC points out, one weight loss drug has been approved by the FDA for over-the-counter sale, a reduced-strength version of the drug orlistat, sold under the trade name Alli. However, this drug is meant to complement healthy eating habits and a physically active lifestyle. The best and most effective way to lose weight is to consume fewer calories than you use and add exercise into your daily routine.