Use an over-the-counter diet aid to help you
Get to a healthy weight by eating right and
Key points to remember
over-the-counter diet aids have been proven to be both
safe and effective for everyone.
When a diet aid does work, it's
usually because the person followed the manufacturer's recommendations to
follow a healthy eating plan and get more exercise while taking the
It's wise to talk to your doctor before you take any
over-the-counter diet aid.
Most over-the-counter diet aids and
other supplements are not regulated, so makers can make any claims they want to
about how well their products work.
Are you at a healthy weight? If you are, you're better off
forgetting about weight loss. Instead, learn healthy eating and activity habits
that will help you stay at a healthy weight.
Are you at a healthy weight?
Before you consider
whether to use any over-the-counter diet aid, find out if you really need to
lose weight. A healthy weight is a weight that lowers your risk for health
problems. For most people,
body mass index (BMI) and
waist size are good ways to tell if they are at a
If you practice healthy eating habits and are
active enough to stay healthy, then weighing a few extra pounds is not bad for
your health unless you have other medical problems. On the other hand, dieting
can be bad for your health. Diets almost never work, and
they can cause many people to fall into an unhealthy cycle of losing and
gaining weight. This is often called yo-yo dieting. It may be harder on the
body than just being overweight.
If you are thinking about losing
weight, ask your doctor whether it's a good idea for you.
What are over-the-counter diet aids?
many products for weight loss that you can buy without a prescription at
drugstores and supermarkets and over the Internet. Many of these have never
been proved to work, and those that do work usually come with warnings.
What about Alli?
Alli (say "AL-eye") is a lower-dose version of
the prescription drug
orlistat (Xenical), which is used to treat obesity.
You can buy Alli without a prescription.
Orlistat has been proved
to help people lose weight.1 It works by preventing
fat absorption, so that the fat you eat moves through your intestines
undigested. But the weight loss amounts to only a few pounds, and the drug's
side effects can be very unpleasant.
The side effects include
sudden loose stools and oily spotting on your underwear. The more fat you eat,
the worse the side effects are, so it's best to limit fat while you are taking
Do not take Alli if you:
Have had an organ transplant.
pregnant or breast-feeding.
Talk to your doctor before you take Alli, but especially
Have diabetes or thyroid disease.
What are the risks or side effects of over-the-counter diet aids?
Most over-the-counter diet aids don't have to pass
government tests for safety or effectiveness.
Long-term studies are
the only way to tell if a medicine or supplement works and is safe. And there
are very few such studies of diet aids. But we know about the following risks:
Over-the-counter appetite suppressants
shouldn't be used by people who have heart disease, high blood pressure,
diabetes, kidney problems, thyroid problems, glaucoma, or depression.
Appetite suppressants are only intended for use for a short time
(8 to 12 weeks). But staying at a healthy weight is a lifelong effort. It is
costly and possibly dangerous to depend on these medicines to control your
weight for long periods of time. If you are going to use these drugs to help
you lose weight, be sure to also make healthy changes to your diet and get
Water-loss pills (diuretics, such as Aqua-Ban)
only get rid of water and do not reduce the amount of fat in your body. Using
water-loss pills to lose weight is not recommended and can be
Because diet supplements are not regulated,
manufacturers sometimes make claims that aren't true. For example, just because
the label says the supplement is "all natural" doesn't mean it's safe. Many
things that are "natural" can still hurt you. And manufacturers may cite only
their own studies to show how well their products work.
products contain 20 or more ingredients, so it's really hard to know how all
the ingredients will interact with each other in your body and how they will
interact with any other medicines or supplements you are
You shouldn't take cough or cold medicines while you take
some of these diet pills. They contain some of the same medicine, and you could
get too much. Ask your pharmacist if it's safe to take cold medicine with the
diet pills you are taking.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns people
not to use certain diet aids that are known to be tainted with drugs or
chemicals. You can find the FDA's warning list, which includes many popular
diet aids, at www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm103184.htm.
The FDA has banned the sale of ephedra (also known as ma huang) because of concerns about safety.
The product has been linked to heart attacks, strokes, and some deaths.
It's wise to talk to
your doctor before you take any over-the-counter diet aid.
Why might your doctor recommend an over-the-counter diet aid?
Your doctor is not likely to recommend that you use an
over-the-counter diet aid in your efforts to reach a healthy weight and stay
there. The best way to get to a healthy weight and stay there is to eat right
and exercise regularly.
To be safe, always talk to your doctor
before using any weight-loss product.
Personal stories about using over-the-counter diet aids
These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.
I have a
lot of weight to lose, and I want to try an over-the-counter diet aid. I'm not
technically obese, but my weight is definitely not healthy. I've tried to make
healthy eating and exercise work, but I think I need more help.
I thought about using a diet aid to help
myself lose weight, but I've decided against it. I know that I'm overweight
because of some bad habits I've developed. I plan to improve my eating and
activity habits by taking a few small steps at a time.
Mohammed, age 32
I plan to
use an over-the-counter diet aid. I talked to my doctor about it, and she
wasn't too enthusiastic. But we agreed on a plan where I will check in with her
often so she can monitor my progress and any side effects I may have.
I was all set to start using a diet aid,
but my doctor talked me out of it. He told me how the research just doesn't
support using these supplements, especially considering some of the possible
side effects. He said changing my lifestyle habits would be better for my
health in the long run.