HOT FLASHES – Dietary Supplements for Weight Loss – Splendid for the Waist or Simply a Waste?
Elaine Cunanan, MD, FPCp, DPSEM
Who does not envy those whistle – bait figures gracing magazine covers or TV screens? Yes, we know that lifestyle change with diet and exercise remains the best way to lose and maintain our ideal weight, but then again, who has the time to exercise? Who can resist that tempting chocolate cake and frappuccino after a meal complete with soda? Popping over-the-counter diet pills seems like a saner solution to losing weight in contrast to engaging in time-consuming exercise or self-tormenting “fast from sweets.” It seems hard to pass up the alluring offer by dietary supplements of immediate success without the need to reduce calories or increase physical activity especially if endorsed by popular celebrities showing off their sculptured bodies.
Many weight-loss dietary supplements contain a cocktail of ingredients usually a mixture of herbs, vitamins, minerals or other add-ons, such as caffeine or laxatives.
It is no wonder that dietary supplements have increasingly invaded our local drugstores, health shops and supermarkets. More options are available online. Here is a list of available dietary supplement ingredients and their alleged weight loss benefits.
The problem with dietary supplements, though, is that they do not undergo the same rigorous scrutiny required of prescription drugs. Thus, they can be marketed with limited proof of effectiveness or safety. Manufacturers can make health claims about products based on their own review and interpretation of studies without the authorization of the US Food and Drug Administration (US-FDA) or our local Bureau of Food and Drug (BFAD). The regulatory authorities can only pull a product off the market if it’s proven to be dangerous.
Many weight-loss dietary supplements contain a cocktail of ingredients – usually a mixture of herbs, vitamins, minerals or other add-ons, such as caffeine or laxatives. How these ingredients interact individually and collectively with your body is largely unknown. Using them can also be risky, especially if you are taking other medications.
Read labels closely and talk with your doctor about any dietary supplements you’re taking or planning to take.
Here are some worthy take-home advice from the FDA regarding diet pills and fads:
• Any claims that you can lose weight effortlessly are false. The only proven way to lose weight is either to reduce the number of calories you eat or to increase the number of calories you burn off through exercise. Most experts recommend a combination of both.
• Very low-calorie diets are not without risk and should be pursued only under medical supervision. Unsupervised very low-calorie diets can deprive you of important nutrients and are potentially dangerous.
• Fad diets rarely have any permanent effect. Sudden and radical changes in your eating patterns are difficult to sustain over time. In addition, so-called “crash” diets often send dieters into a cycle of quick weight loss, followed by a “rebound” weight gain once normal eating resumes, and even more difficulty reducing when the next diet is attempted.
• To lose weight safely and keep it off requires long-term changes in daily eating and exercise habits. Many experts recommend a goal of losing about a pound a week. A modest reduction of 500 calories per day will achieve this goal, since a total reduction of 3,500 calories is required to lose a pound of fat. An important way to lower your calorie intake is to learn and practice healthy eating habits.
i Saper RB, Eisenberg OM, Phillips RS. Common dietary supplements for weight loss. Am Fam Physician 2004;70:1731-38
iii MayoClinic.com. “Tools for a healthier life: Over-the-counter weight loss pills do they work?” accessed 2008-07-01.
iv U. S. Food and Drug Administration. FoA/FTCINAAG Brochure’: 1992
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