The Truth About Weight-Loss Pills
Magic Pill? Fat Chance
Fat burners are generally some combination of herb-derived
stimulants, essential fatty acids, chromium picolinate, pyruvate, and/or
Herb-derived stimulants include caffeine and ephedrine as well
as the herbs guarana and ma huang. Two or three of these stimulants are usually
'stacked' together in one weight loss product, often along with aspirin or
willow bark. They are supposed to increase energy while stimulating fat
burning. Most experts agree they do work when combined with exercise. Their
safety, however, is another matter.
"Ephedra [which comes from ma huang] is effective ...
particularly when combined with aspirin and other ingredients," says
Heymsfield. "But it raises blood pressure and can cause fatal heart
attacks, [heart] arrhythmias, and strokes. ... The ads are very deceptive for
ma huang regarding safety."
Klauer and colleagues studied the weight loss potential of
ephedra last year. "People did lose more weight with it," she says,
"but their elevations in blood pressure remained high even after they
stopped the drug. ... So, I really don't recommend ephedra."
According to Klauer, both ephedra and caffeine work by
increasing your resting metabolic rate, which can be done more safely and
cheaply simply by exercising more and eating less.
Despite a family history of heart disease, would-be triathlete
Matthew Martin chose a combination of caffeine and ephedrine as his fat-burning
program. He did notice his heart rate speed up after he popped a pill, but it
didn't bother him. He found that taking the pills boosted his energy enough to
make him want to work out more and reach his fitness goals sooner. One month
after stopping the program, he remains in good shape, but he's also still in
full-blown triathlon training.
Essential fatty acids include conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
and flax seed oil. They are sometimes used in combination with garlic to
increase muscle mass and burn fat. They seem to be helpful in animals, and some
new research is showing promise in humans.
Michael W. Pariza, PhD, director of the Food Research Institute
at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, has studied CLA. "The clinical
evidence is certainly emerging that it can be helpful, particularly in
controlling fat and weight gain," he tells WebMD. "We also have pretty
good evidence that it relieves a lot of the adverse effects [such as dizziness
and stomach problems] that people have when they are dieting."