Is There Such A Thing As A Safe Diet Pill?

By Marisa Ramiccio. May 7th 2016

It seems that every few years, a new diet pill hits the market and becomes the hottest new trend. Celebrities endorse it, millions of people try it and then a few months later, the truth comes out that the pill isn’t safe. The FDA has rejected the pill due to its side effects that range from severe to embarrassing. The diet pill is pulled from the shelves and millions of people move on to the next diet pill that comes out.

This vicious cycle of diet pill trends has been going on for decades and there’s no end in sight. While some diet pills have proven to be effective, they usually cause troubling side effects that deter many people from taking them. With millions of overweight Americans looking for a way to lose weight, it begs the question: Is there such a thing as a safe diet pill?

FDA Regulation

The FDA is in charge of regulating all prescription and over-the-counter pills with one exception: diet pills. Diet pills are not held to the same standards as other pills and only when they become available to the public can the FDA begin to monitor them or test their claims.

Banned By The FDA

Over the years, the FDA has banned the sale of many diet pills because of the harmful ingredients that they contain. Some of those ingredients include:

  • Ephedra, ephedrine or ma huang – Ephedra was commonly used in OTC diet pills along with caffeine. Ephedra was supposed to block hunger-inducing chemicals in the brain while caffeine revved up metabolism. But ephedra was the cause behind many serious side effects including increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, seizures, psychosis and even death. Because of this, the FDA banned the sale of ephedra in 2003 and vitamins replaced it as an ingredient in many OTC pills.
  • Phenylpropanolamine or PPA – PPA used to be the active ingredient in decongestants but because it mildly suppresses the appetite, it became a common ingredient in OTC diet pills. Because PPA was shown to increase blood pressure and the risk for stroke, the FDA banned the use of PPA in OTC pills but it can be obtained through a prescription.
  • Chitosan – This ingredient is naturally found in shellfish and was sold with the promise of blocking fat in the body. But studies have shown that chitosan really has no effect when it comes to blocking fat or losing weight.

Approved By The FDA

While the majority of diet pills have not been approved by the FDA, there have been some exceptions. Those exceptions are:

  • Sibutramine, which is commonly sold as Meridia
  • Orlistat, which is commonly sold as Xenical or Alli

Meridia and Xenical are both prescription diet pills, but Alli is an OTC diet pill. In fact, it was the first OTC diet pill to be approved by the FDA. Alli and Xenical are both considered to be fat blockers, which means that they inhibit the fat-digesting protein lipase. With lipase disabled, some of the ingested fat is released through bowel movements instead of being digested in the body. Meridia, on the other hand, is considered to be an appetite suppressant, which means that it blocks certain chemicals in the brain to make you feel fuller faster.

But Meridia, Alli and Xenical, although approved by the FDA, can be just as risky as other diet pills. Alli and Xenical can cause side effects such as:

While these side effects can be more embarrassing than harmful, they have deterred people from taking these diet pills. Meanwhile, Meridia can cause more severe side effects such as:

  • Increase in blood pressure
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Increased risk of heart

Because of these risks, those with heart disease or hypertension should not use these diet pills.

Is There A Safe Diet Pill?

If you are looking for a completely safe diet pill with no adverse side effects, then the answer is – no. Without the close scrutiny of the FDA, diet pill manufacturers can put what they like in those pills and only until they’re available to people will the side effects be known. Even the diet pills that receive the FDA’s approval are associated with certain risks and side effects that wreak havoc on your health. Herbal diet pills, unfortunately, fare no better since they are also unregulated by the FDA and can interfere with certain medications.

The problem with diet pills isn’t just the side effects, it’s the effectiveness as well. Most diet pills only work if you stay on them. Once you stop taking them, the weight creeps back on. Or, your body can build up a tolerance to them, rendering them ineffective. Diet pills also aren’t effective at getting to the root of the problem. The fact is, many people gain for different reasons such as illness or emotional issues and diet pills cannot fix those problems.

Bottom Line

For decades, the race has been on to create a diet pill that is both safe and effective. Some pills have demonstrated promising results but have caused side effects that range from severe to embarrassing. Even without these side effects, many diet pills simply don’t work and are a waste of money. The promise of losing weight safely and effectively with a pill is just too good to be true, at least for now. The only safe and effective way to lose weight without any unwanted side effects is through exercise.


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