The Dangers of Diet Pills and Fat Burners

The Dangers of Diet Pills and Fat Burners

A closer look at fat burners, appetite suppressants, and carb blockers.

You know that saying, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”? Well truer words couldn’t be said when it comes to the ridiculous advertisements and claims made by distinctly Not 1R-Approved over-the-counter (OTC) fat loss supplements and diet pills. I mean, dudes, chances are really good that even if you wanted to look like this guy, you’re not going to, no matter how much Hydroxycut you take (and in my unwarranted opinion, that’s a good thing…):

Yikes. And, sorry to disappoint you, but double doses of QuickTrim won’t transform your girlfriend into its celeb endorser, Kim Kardashian. Just like detox diets recently discussed by Alyssa, OTC diet pills and weight loss supplements are never a way to successfully lose weight long term. Even if you do drop a few pounds initially with the help of a pill, you’re going to gain it back… and then some.

While products like QuickTrim, TrimSpa, and Alli are in the news due to their female celeb endorsers, there are an equal number of male-targeted supplements in stores like GNC and online. You’ll find appetite suppressants, fat and carb blockers, and thermogenic fat burners like Cheaters, Hydroxycut, Animal Cuts, Lipo 6, ErgoBurn, and Hot Rox which promise to slim you down and cut up your abs. Sounds great, right?

What’s concerning about these diet pills and fat burners is that they’re completely unregulated. They’re not tested by the FDA for ingredients, dosage or accurate labeling which means these companies can tell you whatever they want and no one’s checking up on them.

So knowing that, let’s take a closer look at a few types of diet pills on the market, shall we??

Thermogenic Fat Burners
The bulk of the fat burners- like Hydroxycut, Hot Rox, and Animal Cuts

The most popular fat burners are thermogenics, which are supposed to increase your metabolism throughout the day and make you burn more calories. In reality, these pills are usually made with coffee bean or tea extracts so they “increase body temperature” by loading up your body with caffeine. Thermogenics like Lipo 6, Animal Cuts, or Hot Rox promise to give you a “completely shredded, razor-sharp look”. Well, any weight loss that leaves you totally shredded, bros, is due to the diuretic ingredients that make you pee out extra water. Lost lbs are hydration and electrolyte related, and not legitimate fat loss.

Another popular thermogenic is Hydroxycut. You know the commercials with the “resident physician” of osteopathic medicine (that’s a DO, not an MD) promoting the product for a 29 lb weight loss in 8 weeks. Well besides the fact that losing that amount of weight in such a short time is extremely unhealthy and unrealistic, what he failed to mention is that he’s actually studying to be a radiologist!

So, yeah, nice abs Jonny boy. I’m sure you’d be great at reading an x-ray, but I think I’ll stick to nutrition and GI science on this one. According to research, ingredients in Hydroxycut were found to cause severe liver damage, leading to a ban of 14 of the company’s products last year. Hydroxycut has also been recently sued for false advertising as the “before” picture of body builder Marla Duncan was take a few days after she gave birth. Just another tidbit of information they forgot to include that may have something to do with her dramatic 35lb weight loss.

More importantly, however, thermogenic fat burners all promise to raise your levels of the hormone norepinephrine. This neurotransmitter is responsible for your “fight or flight” response - essentially meaning heightened adrenaline. So you probably won’t be surprised that side effects include sweating, high blood pressure and heart rate, anxiety, shaking, restlessness and nausea.

Appetite Suppressants
Products like ErgoBurn and TrimSpa (remember those bizarre commercials featuring Anna Nicole Smith?)

Appetite suppressants are supposed to trick your body into thinking you’re not hungry. Unfortunately, weight loss requires long-term use, and their appetite-reducing effects tend to decrease quickly as your tolerance increases. The main ingredient in appetite suppressants is usually Hoodia, a rare plant that takes 4-5 years to grow in a hot climate. Guess what, there’s no scientific evidence to support the use of the supplement for weight loss in humans. And, even more disturbing, pharmaceutical companies estimate that 60-80% of hoodia supplements on the market are completely fake or contaminated (cut with other ingredients).

If that wasn’t enough reason for you to skip appetite suppressants, they also generally contain classic energy drink stimulants like bitter orange, green tea and caffeine. So when your heart is racing out of your chest and it’s time for bed, chances are fairly high that it’s not excitement for another day of work and school. Side effects include thirst, irritability, palpitations, jitteriness… and more serious ones like heart problems, brain hemorrhages, psychosis, etc. Thanks but no thanks, Anna Nicole.

Fat or Carb Blockers
These suckers might be more familiar to you with the brand names Cheaters or Alli

Fat and carbohydrate blockers are intended to inhibit enzymes responsible for lipid and carbohydrate digestion. So, instead of absorbing all of the calories from the endless pizza buffet, it’ll pass on through and you won’t gain an ounce.

Believe it or not, these claims are just as BS as they sound. Carb blockers are made from white kidney bean extract and studies have found that you would need super high dosages to effect your digestion rate, let alone inhibit carbohydrate digestion. And bottles of these babies don’t come cheap. Advice being: save that green and just eat some kidney beans!

When it comes to fat blockers, the main ingredient is chitosan, made from the exoskeletons of shellfish. (Gross)

Chitosan has effects similar to fiber in increasing the rate of digestion. The claims are that it binds to fat up to 10x it’s size and removes it before your body digests it. As expected, repeated studies have found it does not do this- not even a little bit. Taking supplements with chitosan won’t help you lose weight, but it will leave you with some pretty nasty side effects like bloating, gas, vomiting and diarrhea. And long term use of fat blockers can lead to major deficiencies in fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E and K) and essential fats including omega 3s and omega 6s. So, if you like your vision (vitamin A), your skin (vitamins A and E), not breaking bones (vitamin D), and having a healthy heart (omegas), then skip them!

The bottom line is this: While a very large percentage of our overweight/obese country would love a weight loss shortcut, taking supplements with potential side effects like heart attacks, severe liver damage, erectile dysfunction, psychosis, and nutrient deficiencies is a waste of your money and a danger to your health. Hate to break it to ya, but there’s nothing quite like good ol’ fashioned exercise and portion control.

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About the Author

Carolyn is a Nutritionist/Registered Dietitian and has her masters in Clinical Nutrition from NYU. She went to Tulane in New Orleans for undergrad, spent 3 months traveling around the world on Semester at Sea and then swung through Boulder, CO before landing in her current home of NYC. Carolyn has a blog called One Smart Brownie (www.onesmartbrownie.com) to simplify healthy eating for those who don’t spend their lives studying nutrition. Her favorite hobbies include getting new stamps on her passport and telling yo mama jokes, and she says that if she were to have a crush on a food it would be chocolate biscotti, no questions asked.