The Health Risks of Weight Loss Supplements
Lack of Regulation
Before assessing the health risks of supplements, it’s worth remembering that these weight loss products are not subject to FDA-approval or the same health controls as obesity drugs. Supplements do not typically need to be tested for safety, they do not need to state precise dosage levels or ingredients on their packaging, and there is no precise legal requirement to report adverse health effects. As a result, users of weight loss supplements may not know exactly what they are digesting, or what side effects they can expect.
Reported Side Effects of Weight Loss Supplements
Health Risks of Stomach fillers
The FDA states that some bulking agents (eg. guar gum) used in dietary supplements to swell the stomach and increase “fullness”, can be harmful. In certain cases they can cause obstructions in the intestines, stomach, or esophagus. The FDA has taken legal action against several promoters of diet supplements containing guar gum.
Health Risks of Amphetamine-Type Supplements
Some appetite reducing supplements contain amphetamine derivatives and can be highly addictive. In addition, since their effect tends to wear off if they are taken for long periods, the user may be tempted to take large and larger doses with ever increasing addiction. Clinical studies of appetite suppressant drugs indicate that if a weight reduction of at least four pounds is not achieved within four weeks, then that particular medication is unlikely to lead to significant weight loss in the long run. This applies to supplements as well.
Health Risks of Ephedra (Ma Huang)
There have been a large number of adverse health effects reported by users of weight loss pills containing ephedra/ephedrine – a strong stimulant found in popular “herbal” supplements. These include heart palpitations, heart attacks, and strokes. The FDA urges everyone to consult with a doctor before trying any ephedra diet supplement and experts advise against using any weight-loss supplements that contain the herb. In particular, the FDA warns against using supplements that include both caffeine and ephedrine.
Action From the FDA on Supplements
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned more than 120 ingredients found in over-the-counter diet supplements. In addition, the FDA advises that no weight loss supplements containing alcohol, caffeine, dextrose or guar gum offer effective weight reduction.
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