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 Others have been withdrawn from the market by regulatory agencies because they were dangerous or actually killed people- Ma huang and Fen-Phen come to mind, but there have been many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

Should You Avoid Sugar Completely?

Posted October 24, 2017 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Is It The Sugar, Or Is It The Food?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

Should we avoid sugar completely?  Almost every expert agrees that Americans should cut down on the amount of sugar we are consuming. However, for some people this has become a “sugar phobia”. They have sworn that “sugar shall never touch their lips”. Not only do they avoid sugar sweetened sodas and junk food, but they also have become avid label readers. They scour the label of every food they see and reject foods they find any form of sugar listed as an ingredient. Is this degree of sugar avoidance justified?

 

Should We Avoid Sugar to Keep it From Killing Us?

 

Let me add some perspective:

  • If you just take studies about the dangers of sugar at face value, sugar does, indeed, look dangerous. Excess sugar consumption is associated with increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. However, when you look a little closer, you find that most of these studies have been done by looking at the correlation of each of these conditions with sugar sweetened beverage consumption (sodas and fruit juices).

A few studies have looked at the correlation of obesity and disease with total “added sugar” consumption. However, 71.6% of added sugar in the American diet comes from sugar sweetened beverages and junk food. None of the studies have looked at the sugar from healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. That’s because there is ample evidence that these foods decrease the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

  • For example, if apples had a nutrition label, it would list 16 grams of sugar in a medium 80 calorie apple, which corresponds to about 80% of the calories in that apple. The sugar in an apple is about the same proportion of fructose and glucose found in high fructose corn syrup. Apples are not unique. The nutrition label would read about the same on most other fruits. Does that mean you should avoid sugar from all fruits? I think not.

Avoid Sugar or Avoid Certain Foods

 

avoid sugar from junk foodsThe obvious question is: “Why are the same sugars, in about the same amounts, unhealthy in sodas and healthy in fruits?” Let’s go back to those studies I just mentioned—the ones that are often used to vilify sugars. They are all association studies, the association of sugar intake with obesity and various diseases.

The weakness of association studies is the association could be with something else that is tightly correlated with the variable (sugar intake) that you are measuring. Could it be the food that is the problem, not the sugar?

If we look at healthy foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) they are chock full of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber, and (sometimes) protein. Fiber and protein slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. As a result, blood sugar levels rise slowly and are sustained at relatively low levels for a substantial period of time.

In sodas there is nothing to slow the absorption of blood sugar. You get rapid rise in blood sugar followed by an equally rapid fall. The same is true of junk foods consisting primarily of sugar, refined flour and/or fat.  Avoid sugar from those types of foods.

Another consideration is something called caloric density. Here is a simple analogy. I used to explain the concept of caloric density to medical students in my teaching days. There are about the same number of calories in a 2-ounce candy bar and a pound of apples (around 278 in the 2-ounce candy bar and 237 in a pound of apples). You can eat a 2-ounce candy bar and still be hungry. If you eat a pound of apples you are done for a while. In this example, the 2-ounce candy bar had a high caloric density (a lot of calories in a small package). Perhaps a more familiar terminology would be the candy bar was just empty calories.

Are Sodas and Junk Foods Killing Us?

avoid sugar from candyPutting all that together, you can start to understand why the foods the sugars are in are more important than the sugars themselves. When you consume sugars in the form of sugar sweetened beverages or sugary junk foods, your appetite increases. We don’t know for sure whether it is the intense sweetness of those foods, the rapid increase and fall in blood sugar, or the high caloric density (lots of calories ina small package) that makes us hungrier. It doesn’t matter. We crave more food, and it isn’t usually fruits, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates we crave. It’s more junk. That sets in motion a predictable sequence of events.

  • We overeat. Those excess calories are stored as fat and we become obese. [Note: The low carb enthusiasts will tell you our fat stores come from carbohydrates alone. That is incorrect. All excess calories, whether from protein, fat, or carbohydrate, are stored as fat.]
  • It’s not just the fat you can see (belly fat) that is the problem. Some of that fat builds up in our liver and muscles. This sets up an unfortunate sequence of metabolic events.
  • The fat stores release inflammatory cytokines into our bloodstream. That causes inflammation. Inflammation increases the risk of many diseases including heart disease and cancer.
  • The fat stores also cause our cells to become resistant to insulin. That reduces the ability of our cells to take up glucose, which leads to hyperglycemia and type 2 diabetes. [Note: The low carb enthusiasts will tell you carbohydrates cause type 2 diabetes. That is also incorrect. It is our fat stores that cause insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Our fat stores come from all excess calories, not just excess calories from carbohydrates.]
  • Insulin resistance also causes the liver to overproduce cholesterol and triglycerides and pump them into the bloodstream. That increases the risk of heart disease.
  • Sugar sweetened beverages and sugary junk foods also displace healthier foods from our diet. That leads to potential nutrient shortfalls that can increase our risk of many diseases.

However, none of this has to happen. The one thing that every successful diet has in common is the elimination of sodas, junk foods, fast foods and convenience foods. You should avoid sugar from those foods as much as possible. Once you eliminate those from your diet,you significantly enhance your chances of being at a healthy weight and being healthy long term.

 

What About Protein Supplements And Similar Foods?

Of course, the dilemma is what you, as an intrepid label reader, should do about protein supplements, meal replacement bars, or snack bars. They are supposed to be healthy, but the label lists one or more sugars. Even worse, the sugar content is higher than your favorite health guru recommends.  So, should you avoid sugar from supplements and the like?

In this case, a more useful concept is glycemic index, which is a measure of the effect of the food on your blood sugar levels. Healthy foods like apples may have a high sugar content, but they havea low glycemic index.

avoid sugar and consume protein to slow absorbptionThe same is true for the protein supplements and bars you are considering. Rather than looking at the sugar content, you should be looking for the term “low glycemic” on the label. That means there is enough fiber and protein in the food to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream and stabilize your blood sugar levels.

What Does This Mean For You?

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating for unlimited consumption of sugar. We should work on ways to avoid sugar or reduce the amount of sugar in our diet. On the other hand, we don’t need to become so strict that we and our family need to eat foods that taste like cardboard. We also don’t want to replace natural sugars with artificial sweeteners. I have warned about the dangers of artificial sweeteners previously.

We can go a long way towards reducing sugar by just eliminating sodas, other sugar sweetened beverages, junk foods, fast foods, convenience foods, and pastries from our diet. When considering fast foods and convenience foods, we should check the label for hidden sugar. For example, some Starbucks drinks are mostly sugar. When considering foods that are supposed to be healthy, we should look for the term “low glycemic” on the label.

So we don’t have to avoid sugar completely, but we should reduce sugar from sugar sweetened beverages and junk food.

 

The Bottom Line

 

We need to keep warnings about the dangers of sugar in perspective:

  • The studies showing that sugar consumption leads to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease have all been done with sodas and junk foods.
  • Many fruits have just as much sugar as a soda. They also contain about the same proportion of fructose and glucose as high fructose corn syrup. Yet we know fruits are good for us.
  • Diets rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains decrease our risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
  • That is because the sugar in whole foods is generally present along with fiber and protein, which slows the absorption of sugar and prevents the blood sugar spikes we get with sodas and junk foods.
  • In the case of prepared foods like protein supplements, you should look for “low glycemic” on the label rather than sugar content. Low glycemic means that there is enough fiber and protein in the product to slow the absorption of sugar and prevent blood sugar spikes.
  • Don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating for unlimited consumption of sugar. We should all work on ways to avoid sugar from junk foods or to reduce the amount of sugar in our diet. On the other hand, we don’t need to become so strict that we and our family need to eat foods that taste like cardboard. We also don’t want to replace natural sugars with artificial sweeteners.
  • We can go a long way towards reducing sugar by just eliminating sodas, other sugar sweetened beverages, junk foods, fast foods, convenience foods, and pastries from our diet. When considering fast foods and convenience foods, we should check the label for hidden sugar. When considering foods that are supposed to be healthy, we should look for the term “low glycemic” on the label.

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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