Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just pop a pill and dramatically lose all those unwanted pounds. That’s what many brands of over-the-counter diet pills have you believe. That weight loss is as easy as popping a pill. However, while there is some evidence that certain ingredients found in diet pills may help you lose a little bit of weight, nothing is going to help you win the battle of the bulge better than proper diet and exercise. Plus, there’s a potential risk to your health when you take these types of supplements.

 

Diet pills often contain a list of active ingredients that work to:

  • Suppress appetite

  • Increase urination (so you’re losing water weight, not fat)

  • Increase bowel movements (see above)

  • Stimulate the central nervous system

 

Unfortunately, there haven’t been many studies on the diet pills found at your local pharmacy or health food store, and the ones that claim to have studies are biased and not found in peer-reviewed scientific journals. With that being said, it’s not really known if combining these ingredients really helps burn fat, improve energy or promote weight loss like the makers claim.

Knowing a little about some of the more common ingredients found in diet pills may help you better understand how they ended up in these supplements and why you may want to reconsider spending your money on these products.

 

Caffeine:

Caffeine is added to many diet pills to boost metabolism. You may find it listed as caffeine or anhydrous caffeine. Guarana, yerba mate and kola nut are also sources of caffeine in diet pills. According to the Office of Dietary Supplements, caffeine may help you lose some weight or prevent weight gain by slightly raising your metabolism and helping your body better use fat for energy. However, if you’re a regular coffee drinker, caffeine may not do you much good due to you tolerance to the stimulant.

Safety concerns: Caffeine is considered safe if you limit yourself to about 400 milligrams a day, roughly the amount found in 4 cups of coffee. If you’re taking diet pills and drinking your regular caffeinated beverages, you may experience nausea, the jitters, nervousness, agitation or sleeplessness. Caffeine overdose is also a risk, which can lead to difficulty breathing, diarrhea, hallucinations or an irregular heartbeat.

 

Cascara Sagrada:

Cascara is an over-the counter remedy for constipation. It’s also touted as a tool for weight loss, and in addition to diet pills, is a common ingredient in diet teas. As a natural laxative, cascara helps you lose water weight, but won’t lead to long-lasting weight loss.

Safety concerns: When used as a treatment for constipation, cascara is considered safe. However, when taken as a weight loss supplement over a long period of time can lead to electrolyte imbalance or dependence. According to the National Institute of Health, cascara can damage the liver if taken in large amounts or longer than recommended (more than one week).  You are also likely to bounce back to a higher weight after you get back to your regular schedule.

 

Conjugated Linoleic Acid:

Found naturally in beef and dairy products, CLA has been shown to help animals lose fat, but the same hasn’t been seen in humans.

Safety concerns: It seems that CLA is relatively safe, although some people experience diarrhea, constipation or abdominal pain. Although the reports are mixed, CLA may lower HDL cholesterol, which is the good cholesterol you want to go up, not down.

 

Green Coffee Bean Extract:

You may recall the popularity of this weight loss gem after Dr. Oz touted it as an almost weight loss miracle. Shorty thereafter, it was revealed that the studies he used we’re flawed and sponsored by makers of these supplements. While the studies may have been a little biased, there is some evidence the green coffee bean extract helps prevent the accumulation of fat and keeps blood sugar levels balanced. However, you might want to wait for more clinical studies before you dump all your weight loss efforts into these pills.

Safety concerns: Green coffee bean extract is a source of caffeine, so you may experience some of the symptoms noted above with caffeine. Other adverse effects include headaches and urinary tract infections. Overall, though, not enough is known about green coffee bean extract to determine its safety with regular consumption.

 

Green Tea:

Green tea has been a hot weight loss ingredient for a number of years. The phytochemicals and caffeine in the tea seem to give your metabolism a bit of a boost and help turn you body into a better fat-burning machine. However, while there does seem to be some metabolic benefit to green tea, most studies indicate that the amount of weight lost is minuscule and not really enough to make a big impact. To save money and get all the benefits that green tea has to offer -- phytochemicals -- drink the tea instead of popping a pill.

Safety concerns: Your safe drinking the tea, unless you’re taking blood thinners that restrict vitamin K intake. As for pills with green tea extract, people have experienced headaches, nausea, constipation, tummy trouble and an increase in blood pressure.

 

Garcinia Cambogia:

According to Amazon, this is one of the most popular weight loss supplements. Garcinia cambogia is an exotic fruit with high amounts of hydroxycitric acid or HCA, which is linked to fat burning and appetite suppression. Unfortunately, these effects don’t seem to help much with weight loss. A 2011 meta-analysis that included 12 randomized studies involving HCA found that the supplement wasn’t any better than a placebo in helping to promote weight loss.

Safety concerns: Most studies on garcinia cambogia have been short, so safety isn’t well known. However, common complaints include headaches, nausea, upper respiratory infection and GI distress.

 

Bottom Line

Even the FDA warns against miracle weight loss pills, expressing concerns of tainted products and the health effects of some of the ingredients. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Making better food choices and an effort to be more active is tough for everyone, but if you’re serious about losing weight and keeping it off, it’s the best way to go.

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