Do Diet Pills Really Work?

By Marisa Ramiccio. May 7th 2016

If there was a magic pill that could make people lose weight overnight, obesity would surely be an epidemic of the past. Since that magic pill has yet to be invented, the next best thing available seems to be the diet pill.

There are a variety of diet pills on the market; some are more readily available than others, some contain natural ingredients, while others have yet to be approved by the FDA. But all diet pills are marketed with the same promise of helping people to lose weight in the blink of an eye. But do diet pills really work or are they too good to be true?

Who Should Use Diet Pills?

Most people who want to lose weight want to lose it quickly. Because of this, many people may turn to diet pills to help them shed fat fast. But in reality, diet pills should only be used by people who are obese, who have high blood pressure or who have diabetes. They are not recommended for those who want to lose a few pounds in order to fit into their favorite jeans.

(If you’re looking for a quick way to lose weight, you might be interested in 4 Of The Best Crash Diets That Work Fast.)

With the exception of orlistat, which is safe for those ages 12 and older to use, diet pills are also not recommended for people under the age of 16.

How Diet Pills Work

In order to determine whether or not diet pills work, it’s important to understand how they work. There are actually three types of diet pills:

  • Prescription pills, which includes appetite suppressants and fat blockers
  • Over-the-counter pills
  • Herbal supplements

Each type of pill works in a different way, but of course, they all promise the same result: Weight loss. Here’s how each pill works:

  • Appetite suppressants – These pills block the absorption of seratonin and norepinephrine in the hypothalamus. These two chemicals are in charge of telling the brain that the stomach is full. Because these chemicals are left to circulate in the brain, the feeling of being full comes more quickly than usual, therefore, less is eaten during mealtime. Examples of appetite suppressants include Meridia and Tenuate.
  • Fat blockers – Normally, when fat is ingested, a protein called lipase breaks it down during digestion. But when a fat blocker is taken, the action of lipase is inhibited and some of the ingested fat is removed from the body through bowel movements. The most common fat blocker is orlistat, a common ingredient in Xenical and Alli.
  • OTC pills – This includes Xenadrine, Dexatrim and Zantrex-3. These pills used to contain a combination of ephedra and caffeine, which acted as a one-two punch to the brain and the metabolism. Ephedrine, like other appetite suppressants, creates the feeling of being full by blocking certain chemicals in the brain, while caffeine supposedly revs up the metabolism. Over the years, vitamins have come to replace ephedra as an ingredient in diet pills due to an FDA ban on the sale of ephedra.
  • Herbal supplements – Herbal supplements tend to contain ingredients such as caffeine and guarana, which rev up the metabolism; guar gum and psyllium, which cause the feeling of being full; and green tea and pyruvate, which slow the body’s production of fat.

Do They Work?

Over the years, diet pills have become the subject of many studies and, overall, they have proved to be ineffective. One of the main problems with diet pills is that they must be continually taken in order for weight to stay off. Once someone stops taking the pills, the weight starts to creep on again.

Another problem with diet pills is that, over time, the body will build-up a tolerance to them. Once that happens, the pills really won’t produce the effect that they once did.

Lastly, many diet pills are simply unreliable. Not enough testing has been done on them, therefore, their results have yet to be proven. There are only two diet pills that have been approved by the FDA:

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

Although these diet pills have received the FDA seal-of-approval, they can still cause unwanted side effects, which diet pills are known for. Many OTC and prescription diet pills cause side effects such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Higher risk of stroke
  • Seizures
  • Chronic pain
  • Increased heart rate
  • Psychosis

Herbal supplements aren’t much better because they also can cause unwanted side effects and even interfere with certain medications.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that diet pills are not the magic weight-loss pill that many people would like them to be. Their effects are largely unproven and come with many side effects that don’t make taking them worth the risk unless the person is severely obese. So those who want to lose weight and keep it off should stick with the tried-and-true method of diet and exercise.


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