Facts About Weight Loss
About Drugs & Supplements to Reduce Overweight & Obesity
Weight Loss Pills - Short Information Summary
About Obesity Medications
'Weight loss pills' includes weight loss prescription drugs, or over-the-counter non-prescription weight loss drugs or supplements. Weight loss pills include benzene derivatives, laxatives, herbal preparations, amphetamines, appetite suppressants, serotonin reuptake inhibitors, neuropeptide-y inhibitors, hormones and beta-3 adrenergic receptor stimulants.
Weight loss pills have long been promoted as an effective treatment for overweight and obesity, even though they rarely produce lasting weight loss or improved health and lifestyle, and often have serious side effects.
History of Weight Loss Pills
In 1893, thyroid extract was sold to help people lose weight. The weight loss it produced was mostly lean tissue, and thyroid extract became associated with increased risk of increased heart rate, osteoporosis, chest pain, and sudden death. Weight loss laxatives appeared in the 1920s. In the mid-30s, a metabolic enhancing weight loss pill based on dinitrophenol, a benzene-derived ingredient used in explosives and insecticides became very popular among people who wanted to lose weight.
By increasing metabolic rate, this weight loss drug caused users to suffer a range of health problems and even death by hyperpyremia.
Amphetamine Pills for Weight Loss
The use of amphetamines for weight loss first made its mark in 1937, and within 10 years, such drugs were widely prescribed to weight-loss patients. They were even prescribed to children until the late 1970s. The risks of amphetamine-based weight loss pills include accelerated heart rate, increased blood pressure, heart palpitations, and psychiatric disorders (e.g. paranoid psychosis), light-headedness, tremors, addiction, withdrawal problems, congestive heart failure, seizures, and sudden death.
PPA Weight Loss Pills
Phenylpropanolamine (PPA), marketed as Dexatrim, Accutrim, Dex-a-Diet, Diadex, Prolamine, Propagest, and Unitrol became available over the counter in 1979. Poison Control Centers reported 47,000 complaints related to PPA use in 1989 alone. The risks of PPA include anxiety, disorientation, palpitations, headache, hallucinations, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, a rebound effect of fatigue and hyperphagia, dangerously high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythm, heart and kidney damage, heart attack, strokes, psychosis, and death.
Fen-Phen Weight Loss Pills
Approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the 1970s for use individually, the weight loss pills fenfluramine and phentermine (also known as fen-phen) became widely prescribed in combination in 1994 as a result of a single research study. By 1996, 18 million prescriptions were written for this off-label use of the drugs. Dexfenfluramine, marketed under the trade name Redux, was approved by the FDA in 1996. The risks of these three weight loss drugs include primary pulmonary hypertension, valvular heart disease, and neurotoxicity. Under fire from National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) and other consumer advocates and following studies which indicated that one-third of users of dexfenfluramine and fenfluramine had contracted valvular heart disease, the FDA strongly recommended halting the sale of these drugs, and drug companies withdrew dexfenfluramine and fenfluramine from the U.S. market in September, 1997.
Herbal Fen-Phen Weight Loss Pills
After discontinuing the sale of fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine, some weight-loss centers and physicians immediately began prescribing ephedrine-based "herbal fen/phen," and distributing the combination of phentermine and Prozac, an SSRI anti-depressant (also known as fen-Pro).
Testing of Weight Loss Pills
Historically, weight-loss pills have been subjected to very little testing; almost no long-term studies have been produced. Research indicates that risks of pills such as fenfluramine, phentermine, and dexfenfluramine for weight-loss patients increase significantly with usage. In addition, these weight loss pills appear to produce minimal weight loss, and upon discontinuing the use of any of the drugs, the weight is virtually always regained.
Multiple Doses of Weight Loss Pills
Further, anecdotal evidence suggests that consumers eager to speed weight loss frequently take multiple, more dangerous doses of weight-loss drugs. Vulnerable consumers have also been misled and harmed by unregulated herbal, so-called "natural," weight-loss drugs.
Xenical & Meridia Weight Loss Pills
Despite the lack of effectiveness and the risks associated with every past weight-loss drug, dozens of new weight-loss drugs are currently up for approval, or are in the research and development stage.
Orlistat (Xenical), a fat-inhibitor which works in the gut to block 30 percent of dietary fat has been approved by the FDA for weight loss. Sibutramine (Meridia), which slows dissipation of serotonin in the brain, has also been approved for weight loss and weight maintenance. Meridia and Xenical are the only weight-loss medications approved for longer-term use in significantly obese people, although the safety and effectiveness have not been established for use beyond 1 year.
A drug to regulate leptin, a satiety hormone secreted by fat tissue, is being developed. In addition, a drug to decrease appetite by blocking neuropeptide-Y and a drug to regulate metabolism by stimulating beta-3 adrenergic receptors are being researched.
Fat Discrimination Boosts Weight Loss Pills Usage
Diet companies, obesity researchers and drug manufacturers continue to promote weight-loss pills as a viable weight loss strategy. Promoting and manufacturing weight-loss pills is extremely lucrative, as evidenced by the over 300 million dollars consumers spent on dexfenfluramine alone in 1996. As long as fatness is stereotyped and derided, and as long as discrimination against fat people exists, consumers will continue to seek a "magic pill," and there will be a market for weight-loss pills.
Weight Loss Pills & "Consent"
The promoters of weight loss drugs and supplements emphasize the supposed health benefits and minimize the health risks of their weight loss products, making it difficult if not impossible for consumers to give proper consent prior to taking the drugs. People of all sizes are misled about the extent and severity of the health risks associated with being fat and are told that losing weight is the only way to attain good health. But according to National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA), many fat people are already healthy, and a person's health status can be improved independent of weight loss by making positive lifestyle changes in exercise, stress management, healthy eating, and positive social support.
FDA Caught in Middle of Weight Loss Pills Debate
Currently, the agency responsible for regulating weight-loss drugs, the Food and Drug Administration, appears to bow to pressure from drug companies to approve weight-loss drugs without requiring sufficient long-term testing. In turn, the FDA complains of being under-resourced and under-supported by Congress in the area of weight loss products and supplements scrutiny.
National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA)
Since weight-loss drugs fail to achieve permanent weight loss and can result in negative health consequences, since the governmental agency responsible for regulating weight-loss drugs may not be able to protect consumers from dangerous weight-loss drugs, and since people taking diet drugs are rarely given sufficient information to allow them to give true informed consent, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) are campaigning to discourage people of any size from taking drugs for the purpose of weight loss.
For more, see Weight Loss Drugs - NAAFA
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