Diet Pills—Are they useful for weight loss?

Nov 18, 2014

diet pills, nicholson clinicBy Victor Sierpina, MD

While we understand the attraction of weight loss medications, on the whole, they are more fizzle than pop. The majority of those taking these pills experience weight loss under 10 pounds, and this is not always sustained. Costs may be several hundred dollars per month. Side effects are numerous and can vary from irritating to life threatening. Potential side effects include: seizures, suicidal thoughts, heart problems, fetal malformations, hypertension, insomnia, diarrhea, and nausea. With friends like this, who needs enemies?

While the temptation to lose some pounds put on by years of inactivity and suboptimal food choices by taking a pill is compelling, it is nonetheless more reasonable to reboot your lifestyle. Even bariatric surgery is really just the beginning of a lifestyle of healthier eating, more sustained and regular activity, and paying mindful attention to your stress, emotions, and food triggers. The purveyors of diet pills know this and include lifestyle choices as part of their recommendation to take their medical fix for obesity.

In over 30 years of medical practice, I have never seen a patient with a significant and sustainable weight loss on diet pills alone. Even the product information provided to physicians and the public predicts weight losses under 10 pounds for most of these products.

Back in the 1960’s and 70’s, mother’s little helper for weight loss was dexedrine or other types of amphetamine with the street name of “speed.” We all know how well that worked. There were lots of side effects and abuse issues. A newer version, Fen/Phen was taken off the market because of heart related risks.

Supplements and natural products available over the counter don’t have much better of a track record for effectiveness, though safety is generally higher with these products, and they cost a lot less. Be wary of diet doctors who load you up with a cocktail of thyroid, diuretics, and other fast-fix weight loss mixtures. This can be dangerous.

Wearable technology may be able to help you become more active, reduce health risks, and shed some pounds. Applications on the phone, fit-bits, pedometers, and other increasingly sophisticated gadgets can provide the instant feedback to keep you motivated and moving. If you’re looking for a holiday gift suggestion, consider asking for one of the various pieces of wearable fitness technology available on the market.

For now though, ditch the diet pills.

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