Magic bullets - Popping the pill myths (1)

Nutrition Team

The promises are always attractive. The opportunity to lose weight quickly and easily is pretty hard to pass up. When the alternative is carefully monitoring your food intake and making huge efforts to become more physically active, how could simply popping pills seem like a bad idea? It seems too good to be true... and therein lies the problem…most of the time, it is too good to be true.

There is an equation that we simply cannot change with chemicals – that the energy we take into our bodies as food must equal the energy we expend through activity. There are two ways to rebalance this equation in favour of weight loss – to eat less or burn more energy.

The only way to do this successfully for long term results is by losing weight slowly and carefully (around 1-2 lbs or 0.5-1 kg per week). Some of the medically prescribed pills can help by reducing the absorption of energy from food or altering the action of neurotransmitter on the brain that signal when we should eat. For many of the other pills available, there is little evidence to support their effectiveness and some are downright dangerous.

Therefore, the nutritionists at eDiets have put together a review of some of the more common weight loss supplements available on the market. This week we review Xenical and Reductil, which are weight loss drugs available in prescription, as well as Fat Magnets and Herbaltrim, which are available over the counter.

We do not advise that you take any weight loss supplement without consulting a dietitian, a registered nutritionist or your GP.

Xenical, or Orlistat, is an anti-obesity drug. It is available on prescription for individuals who have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or more, or a BMI of 28 if there are associated diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels.

It works by blocking the enzymes in the gut that break down fat. That means that the body absorbs only about 2/3 of the fat ingested. The rest passes straight through the body unchanged.

The manufacturers claim that taking Xenical can result in a weight loss of up to 11% body weight over a period of 7 months if it’s taken while on the recommended exercise regime and reduced fat diet.

The side effects can be fairly nasty and embarrassing. These include flatulence, diarrhoea and oily stools. Since the side effects are so unpleasant, this encourages users to avoid high fat foods. The combination of a low fat diet and Xenical use also may result in reduced cholesterol, blood pressure and better control of blood glucose.

Since Xenical is not prescribed without the individual also undertaking the activity and eating plan, it requires the same level of commitment as any other diet. It may provide just the boost a person needs, however, to see results quickly and to keep going. Recent research shows that long-term use (2 years) of the product shows good results. If you can tolerate the messy side effects, this may be a helpful adjunct to a diet but only in very overweight or obese individuals and only under medical supervision.

This anti-obesity pill has been approved for use by the NHS and like Xenical is available for individuals with a BMI of over 30, or 27, for individuals suffering from additional lifestyle related diseases.

Reductil affects levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and noradrenaline in the brain and effectively tricks the body into feeling full. Research studies have shown that it helps dieters to eat 20% less food than they normally do and causes weight loss of around 20 lb over a six month period.

The side effects can include dry mouth, constipation, insomnia and an increased risk of high blood pressure. If an individual fails to lose 5 lb during the first 4 weeks of using this product, the treatment is withdrawn.

The advantage of using Reductil is weight loss without the risk of side effects and there is evidence of good success when combined with regular exercise.

Reductil is safe and effective as evidenced by extensive scientific research. It also encourages long-term lifestyle and habit changes.

Fat magnets
This pill is available without prescription at chemists. It contains a substance called chitosan, which is crushed shellfish shells. The tablets are taken before meals as the dieter thinks necessary.

Since chitosan has a positive ionic charge, it is thought to attract negatively charged cholesterol fats in the stomach. This means that they can’t be absorbed into the blood stream and instead passes right through the body.

Fat magnets absorb between 4 and 6 times their weight in fat. The manufacturers claim that as long as you take the required amount of capsules before consuming the fatty meal or treat, you can eat what you like.

Unfortunately, as fat is absorbed the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K may also go unabsorbed and pass through the body along with the fat resulting in a deficiency.

Eight double blind placebo control trials showed good weight loss results, lower cholesterol and blood pressure and no side effects.

These pills do not encourage an individual to make changes in their diet or exercise towards a more balanced, healthy way of eating and being physically active. Therefore, their long term effectiveness may be questionable. For some individuals, there may be benefits but since their use is not medically supervised they may be used inappropriately.

This is a herbal supplement that comes along with a weight loss plan.

It contains chromium, which is thought to stabilize glucose tolerance, lower cholesterol and enhance lean body mass. It also contains Garninia cambogia, a fruit rind extract, which is thought to suppress appetite and inhibit fat synthesis in the body.

The product is claimed to help fight fat, maintain energy and vitality, control appetite and promote weight loss. The dosage is two capsules before lunch and dinner and manufactures recommend that it is taken while on the accompanying diet plans.

Herbaltrim is unlikely to cause side effects and the accompanying plan may encourage a healthier diet and lifestyle. However, there is no substantial evidence to support the manufacturers claims.

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