Are Diet Pills Safe?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Drugs and Health, Issues, Obesity

Another Diet Pill Bites the Dust

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

New Year DietThe New Year is upon us, and everyone is looking for an easy way to lose weight.

Let’s face it. Losing weight is difficult. You have to give up your favorite foods. You’re often hungry and cranky. You have to change your lifestyle. And did I mention that you might need to put on your running shoes and go for a run or, heaven forbid, actually go to the gym.

It’s so much easier to take one of those diet pills. You know the ones I’m talking about. They promise to give you energyburn the fatsuppress your appetite. All you need to do is take one of those little pills every day and, voila, you’re ready to try on that bikini.

It all sounds great. But are those diet pills really safe? A few weeks ago I shared with you that the experts have warned against the use of fat burning sports supplements. They consider them unsafe. Now it’s time to turn our attention to the fat burning diet pills.

Are Diet Pills Safe?

Lots of diet pills have come and gone over the years. Some have just faded away because they didn’t work. They didn’t live up to their claims. Others have been withdrawn from the market by regulatory agencies because they were dangerous or actually killed people- Ma huang and Fen-Phen come to mind, but there have been many others.

And now it looks like yet another diet pill, one called Dexaprine, may have the same fate.

The ads make it sound like a wonder pill.

  • “With one little change…you could feel energy all day long”
  • “With one little change…you can suppress your insatiable appetite”
  • “You can try another unsuccessful diet without it, but when you’re ready…the ultimate fat burner will be waiting for you with open arms.”

The Dark Side

And yet, like most diet pills, it also has a dark side. Side effects include insomnia, sweating, heart palpitations and high blood pressure. As if that weren’t bad enough, the supplement manufacturer that makes Dexaprine conducts no clinical studies on their products, so they have no idea whether their product is safe or not.

And, it appears that it may not be safe. Dutch authorities banned Dexaprine in August after reports of 11 adverse reactions associated with Dexaprine use in Holland since March of this year, including hospitalizations and severe heart problems. British authorizes followed suit the next day and issued a warning against use of “fat burner” supplements in general. It’s probably just a matter of time before other governments step in and ban Dexaprine as well.

And, it’s not just Dexaprine. New diet pills hit the market almost every day. And, they all have those same “magical” claims.

The Only Safe Drug Is A New Drug

It reminds me of the wise advice that a physician colleague of mine gave to the medical students near the start of their first year. He told them “The only safe drug is a new drug”. He went on to say that he didn’t mean that new drugs were safer than the older drugs. It’s just that we don’t know all of their bad side effects until they’ve been on the market for a few years.

Diets pills are no different. They burst on the market full of promise. But, once they’ve been on the market for a year or two, reports of their bad side effects start to appear. We start to learn just how dangerous they are. And, one by one, they all bite the dust.

The Bottom Line

1)     There is no “Tooth Fairy”. There is no “Easter Bunny”. And, there is no magical pill that will SAFELY melt the pounds away. You simply don’t want to risk the diet pill solution – no matter how easy it sounds. No magical, “quick fix” diet solution is worth risking permanent heart damage – or worse.

2)     If you are fortunate to lose weight safely using one of those diet pills, you won’t have learned anything. You won’t have changed anything. The weight will come right back on.

3)     Permanent weight loss requires a permanent change to your lifestyle. Some of those changes will be difficult at first, but once those lifestyle changes become habits – once they become part of who you are, they will become easy.

You can achieve both the weight and the health you want!

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

 

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Comments (5)

  • Victoria Chase

    |

    Dr. Chaney,
    Thank you so much for your wise words!
    Many of my friends are doing the Plexus Slim which is sweeping the market. It does not have any clinical studies to show safety or efficacy. I am so afraid that not only will these people be weighing more next year but may have significant health problems emerge.

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

      |

      Dear Victoria,
      With some many companies it is all about marketing. They are only interested in how much money they can make. The sad truth is that without clinical studies neither the company nor the public know whether the product will be safe and effective for months or years.
      Dr. Chaney

      Reply

  • Carmillia

    |

    What do you know about garcina combogia?

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

      |

      Dear Carmilla,

      Read my latest post “7 Easy Ways To Spot Fad Diets”. The FTC has given the public clear guidelines for separating good weight loss programs from fad diets, and Garcinia combogia clearly does not meet their criteria for a good weight loss program. There is no magic pill or food that will melt your pounds away. Sorry to disappoint you, but there is no Easter Bunny either.

      Dr. Chaney

      Reply

  • Barbara Saliski

    |

    I have been very impressed with all of the information that I have read. I have already started my family on diet changes, now just to get them moving is the next challenge. Thank you.

    Reply

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Latest Article

Does Protein Supplement Timing Matter?

Posted May 15, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

How Do You Gain Muscle Mass & Lose Fat Mass?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

protein supplement timingMost of what you read about protein supplements on the internet is wrong. That is because most published studies on protein supplements:

  • Are very small
  • Are not double blinded.
    • Both the subjects and the investigators knew who got the protein supplement.
  • Are done by individual companies with their product.
    • You have no idea which ingredients are in their product are responsible for the effects they report.
    • You have no idea how their product compares with other protein products.
    • There is no standardization with respect to the amount or type of protein or the addition of non-protein ingredients.

Because of these limitations there is a lot of misleading information on the benefits of protein supplements timing and maximal benefit. Let’s start by looking at why people use protein supplements. Let’s also look at what is generally accepted as true with respect to the best supplement timing.

There are 4 major reasons people consume protein supplements:

  • Enhance the muscle gain associated with resistance training: In this case, protein supplements are customarily consumed concurrently with the workout.
  • Preserve muscle and accelerate fat loss while on a weight loss diet: In this case, protein supplements are customarily consumed with meals or as meal replacements.
  • Provide a healthier protein source. In this case, protein supplements are customarily consumed with meals in place of meat protein.
  • Prevent muscle loss associated with aging or illness. There is no customary pattern associated with this use of protein supplements.

How good are the data supporting the customary timing of protein supplementation? The answer is: Not very good. The timing is based on a collection of weak studies which do not always agree with each other.

The current study  (J.L. Hudson et al, Nutrition Reviews, 76: 461-468, 2018 ) was designed to fill this void in our knowledge. It is a meta-analysis that compares all reasonably good studies that have looked at the effect of protein supplement timing on weight gain or loss, lean muscle mass gain, fat loss, and the ratio of lean muscle mass to fat mass.

How Was The Study Done?

The authors started by doing a literature search of all studies that met the following criteria:

  • The study was a randomized control trial with parallel design. This means that study contained a control group. It does not mean that the investigators or subjects were blinded with respect to which subjects used a protein supplement and which did not.
  • The subjects were engaged in resistance training.
  • The study lasted 6 weeks or longer.
  • Reliable methods were used to measure body composition (lean muscle mass and fat mass).
  • The subjects were healthy and at least 19 years old.
  • There was no restriction on the food the subjects consumed.

The authors started with 2074 published studies and ended up with 34 that met all their criteria. They then separated the studies into two groups – those in which the protein supplements were used with meals and those in which the protein supplements were used between meals.

Both groups were diverse.

  • Group 1 included subjects who consumed their protein supplement with their meal and those who consumed their protein supplement as a meal replacement.
  • Group 2 included subjects who consumed their protein supplement concurrent with exercise (usually immediately after exercise) and those who consumed their protein supplement at a fixed time of day not associated with exercise.

Does Protein Supplement Timing Matter?

 

protein supplement timing workoutsBecause the individual studies were very diverse in the way they were designed, the authors could not calculate a reliable estimate of how much lean muscle mass was increased or fat mass was decreased. Instead, they calculated the percentage of studies showing an increase in lean muscle mass or a decrease in fat mass.

When the authors compared protein supplements consumed with meals versus protein supplements consumed between meals:

  • Weight gain was observed in 56% of the studies of protein supplementation with meals compared to 72% of the studies of protein supplementation between meals. In other words, protein supplements consumed with meals were less likely to lead to weight gain than protein supplements consumed between meals.
  • An increase in lean muscle mass was observed in 94% of the studies of protein supplementation with meals compared to 90% of the studies of protein supplementation between meals. In other words, timing of protein supplementation did not matter with respect to increase in muscle mass.
  • A loss of fat mass was observed in 87% of the studies of protein supplementation with meals compared to 59% of the studies of protein supplementation between meals. In other words, protein supplements consumed with meals were more likely to lead to loss of fat mass.
  • An increase in the ratio of lean muscle mass to fat mass was observed in 100% of the studies of protein supplementation with meals compared to 87% of the studies of protein supplementation between meals. In short, protein supplements consumed with meals were slightly more likely to lead to an increase in the ratio of lean muscle mass to fat mass.

The following seem to suggest protein supplement timing matters:

The authors pointed out that their findings were consistent with previous studies showing that when protein supplements are consumed with a meal they displace some of the calories that otherwise would have been consumed. Simply put, people naturally compensate by eating less of other foods.

In contrast, the authors stated that previous studies have shown that when foods, especially liquid foods, are consumed as snacks (between meals), people are less likely to compensate by reducing the calories consumed in the next meal.

The others concluded: “Concurrently with resistance training, consuming protein supplements with meals, rather than between meals, may more effectively promote weight control and reduce fat mass without influencing improvements in lean [muscle] mass.”

What Are The Limitations Of The Study?

Meta-analyses such as this one, are only as good as the studies included in the meta-analysis. Unfortunately, most sports nutrition studies are very weak studies. Thus, this meta-analysis is a perfect example of the “Garbage In: Garbage Out (GI:GO)” phenomenon.

For example, let’s start by looking at what the term “protein supplement” meant.

  • Because the studies were done by individual companies with their product, the protein supplements in this meta-analysis:
    • Included whey, casein, soy, bovine colostrum, rice or combinations of protein sources.
    • Were isolates, concentrates, or hydrolysates.
    • Contained various additions like creatine, amino acids, and carbohydrate.
  • As I discuss in my book, Slaying the Food Myths, previous studies have shown that optimal protein and leucine levels are needed to maximize the increase in muscle mass and decrease in fat mass associated with resistance exercise. However, neither protein nor leucine levels were standardized in the protein supplements included in this meta-analysis.
  • Previous studies have shown that protein supplements that have little effect on blood sugar levels (have a low glycemic index) are more likely to curb appetite. However, glycemic index was not standardized for the protein supplements included in this meta-analysis.

protein supplement timing workout peopleIn short, the conclusions of this study might be true for some protein supplements, but not for others. We have no way of knowing.

We also need to consider the composition of the two groups.

  • Protein supplements used as meal replacements are more likely to decrease weight and fat mass than protein supplements consumed with meals. Yet, both were included in group 1.
  • Some studies suggest that protein supplements consumed concurrent with resistance exercise are more likely to increase muscle mass than protein supplements consumed another time of day. Yet, both are included in group 2. We also have no idea whether the meals with protein supplements in group 1 were consumed shortly after exercise or at an entirely different time of day.

This was the most glaring weakness of the study because it was completely avoidable. The authors could have grouped the studies into categories that made more sense.

In other words, there are multiple weaknesses that limit the predictive power of this study.

What Can We Learn From This Study?

Despite its many limitations, this study does remind us that protein supplements do have calories. This is of relatively little importance for people whose primary goal is to increase lean muscle mass.

However, most of us are using protein supplements to lose weight or to increase our lean mass to fat mass ratio. Simply put, we are either trying to lean out (shape up) or lose weight. And, we want to lose that weight primarily by getting rid of excess fat. For us, calories do matter. With that in mind:

  • If we are consuming a protein supplement immediately after exercise or between meals we probably should make a conscious effort to reduce our daily caloric intake elsewhere in our diet.
  • Alternatively, we could consume the protein supplement with a meal, but time the meal so it occurs shortly after exercise.

 

The Bottom Line:

 

A recent study looked at the optimal timing of protein supplements consumed by subjects who were engaged in resistance exercise. Specifically, the study compared protein supplements consumed with meals versus protein supplements consumed between meals on weight, lean muscle mass, fat mass, and the ratio of lean muscle mass to fat mass. The study reported:

  • Protein supplements consumed with meals were less likely to lead to weight gain than protein supplements consumed between meals.
  • Timing of protein supplementation did not matter with respect to increase in muscle mass.
  • Protein supplements consumed with meals were more likely to lead to loss of fat mass.
  • Protein supplements consumed with meals were slightly more likely to lead to an increase in the ratio of lean mass to fat mass.

The authors pointed out that their findings were consistent with previous studies showing that when a protein supplement was consumed with a meal it displaces some of the calories that would have been otherwise consumed. Simply put, people naturally compensate by eating less of other foods.

In contrast, the authors said that previous studies have shown that when foods, especially liquid foods, are consumed as snacks (between meals), people are less likely to compensate by reducing the calories consumed in the next meal.

As discussed in the article above, the study has major weaknesses. However, despite its many weaknesses, this study does remind us that protein supplements do have calories. This is of relatively little importance for people whose primary goal is to increase lean muscle mass.

However, for those of us who are using protein supplements to lose weight or to increase our lean mass to fat mass ratio, calories do matter.  With that in mind:

  • If we are consuming a protein supplement immediately after exercise or between meals we probably should make a conscious effort to reduce our daily caloric intake elsewhere in our diet.
  • Alternatively, we could consume the protein supplement with a meal, but time the meal so it occurs shortly after exercise.

For more details, read the article above:

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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