The temptation to use over-the-counter weight-loss pills to lose weight fast is strong. But are these products safe and effective?
By Mayo Clinic Staff
The appeal of losing weight quickly is hard to resist. But do weight-loss pills and products lighten anything but your wallet? And are they a safe option for weight loss? Here's a look at some over-the-counter weight-loss pills and what they will and won't do for you.
A number of weight-loss pills are available at your local drugstore, supermarket or health food store. Even more options are available online. Most haven't been proved effective, and some may be downright dangerous.
Dietary supplements and weight-loss aids aren't subject to the same rigorous standards as are prescription drugs. Thus, they can be sold with limited proof of effectiveness or safety. Once a product is on the market, however, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitors its safety and can take action to ban or recall dangerous products. Indeed, the FDA has banned the sale of supplements containing ephedra and other ephedrine-like ingredients.
It's important to do your homework if you're thinking about trying over-the-counter weight-loss pills. Read labels and talk with your doctor or pharmacist. Also be sure to check the FDA website for alerts about safety concerns and product recalls.
The table shows common weight-loss pills and what the research shows about their effectiveness and safety.
|Alli — OTC version of prescription drug orlistat (Xenical)
||Decreases absorption of dietary fat
||Effective; but weight loss is even more modest than that with Xenical
||Loose stools, oily spotting, frequent or hard-to-control bowel movements; reports of rare, but serious liver injury
||Increases calories burned
||Similar to ephedra: raised blood pressure and heart rate
||Blocks absorption of dietary fat
||Uncommon: upset stomach, nausea, gas, increased stool bulk, constipation
||Decreases appetite and increases calories burned
||Uncommon: headache, insomnia, irritability, mood changes, cognitive dysfunction
|Conjugated linoleic acid
||Reduces body fat
||Upset stomach, nausea, loose stools
|Green tea extract
||Decreases appetite, and increases calorie and fat metabolism
||Insufficient evidence to evaluate
||Dizziness, insomnia, agitation, nausea, vomiting, bloating, gas, diarrhea
||Blocks absorption of dietary fat and increases feeling of fullness
||Abdominal pain, gas, diarrhea
||Insufficient evidence to evaluate
||Insufficient information available
Sources: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2011; Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, 2011
If you're considering trying weight-loss pills, be sure to talk with your doctor, especially if you have health problems or take prescription drugs. Your doctor can provide support and advice on losing weight and can monitor your progress. Just as important, your doctor can talk with you about possible side effects and what to watch out for.
In addition, your doctor can help determine if weight-loss pills are likely to interact with any prescription drugs you take. Many weight-loss pills contain multiple ingredients, such as herbs, botanicals, vitamins, minerals, and even caffeine or laxatives. If you take prescription drugs — or herbal or dietary supplements — adding weight-loss pills to the mix can be tricky.
The makers of weight-loss pills would like you to believe that their products will miraculously solve your weight problems. But keep in mind that even if you take a weight-loss pill, you still have to eat fewer calories than your body uses in order to lose weight. And even if these products help you lose weight initially, you will probably have to keep taking them to keep the weight off, which may not be practical or safe.
The reality is that there's no magic bullet for losing weight. The most effective way to lose weight and keep it off is through lifestyle changes: Eat healthy, low-calorie foods, watch portion sizes and be physically active. It's not magic, but it works.
Feb. 11, 2012
- Bray GA, et al. Drug therapy of obesity. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Dec. 1, 2011.
- Natural medicines in the clinical management of obesity. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. http://www.naturaldatabase.com. http://naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com/ce/CECourse.aspx?cs=MAYO&pm=5&s=nd&pc=09-32&searchid=31362819#keywordanchor Accessed Dec. 1, 2011.
- Saper RB, et al. Common dietary supplements for weight loss. American Family Physician. 2004;70:1731.
- Beware of fraudulent weight-loss 'dietary supplements.' U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm246742.htm. Accessed Dec. 1, 2011.
- FDA acts to remove ephedra-containing dietary supplements from market. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/2004/ucm108379.htm. Accessed Dec. 1, 2011
- MedWatch: The FDA Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/default.htm. Accessed Dec. 1, 2011.
- Orlistat. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cder/drugsatfda/index.cfm?fuseaction=Search.DrugDetails. Accessed Dec. 2, 2011.
- Smith SR, et al. Orlistat 60 mg reduces visceral adipose tissue: A 24-week randomized, placebo-controlled, multicenter trial. Obesity. 2011;19:1796.
- FDA Drug Safety Communication: Completed safety review of Xenical/Alli (orlistat) and severe liver injury. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/PostmarketDrugSafetyInformationforPatientsandProviders/ucm213038.htm. Accessed Dec. 5, 2011.
- Bitter orange. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. http://www.naturaldatabase.com. Accessed Dec. 2, 2011.
- Chitosan. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. http://www.naturaldatabase.com. Accessed Dec. 2, 2011.
- Chromium. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. http://www.naturaldatabase.com. Accessed Dec. 2, 2011.
- Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. http://www.naturaldatabase.com. Accessed Dec. 2, 2011.
- Green tea extract. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. http://www.naturaldatabase.com. Accessed Dec. 2, 2011.
- Guar gum. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. http://www.naturaldatabase.com. Accessed Dec. 2, 2011.
- Hoodia. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. http://www.naturaldatabase.com. Accessed Dec. 2, 2011.
- Hensrud DD (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Dec. 27, 2011
- Alli faqs. MyAlli.com. http://www.myalli.com/faq.aspx. Accessed Dec. 5, 2011.