Beware Untested Diet Pills
We've heard about the dangers of popping weight-loss pills. But there are safe ways to drop extra pounds using supplements -- yes, even ephedra -- and prescriptions.
Seventeen days of taking usnic acid to promote weight loss was all it took
for Jennifer Rosenthal of Long Beach, Calif., to go from being a healthy,
active 28-year-old to being in a coma on life support. An emergency liver
transplant saved her life.
Rosenthal's story, though extreme, points to the problem of the many
untested and unregulated products sold on the Internet and in some drug and
"This is a young woman who almost lost her life," said Rosenthal's
transplant surgeon, Ronald W. Busuttil, MD, in an interview with The New York
Times. "Although she's got her life back now, she has to be under lifelong
medical care. Her life has been altered forever. The fact that you can get
these things over the Internet is mind-boggling."
Usnic acid is an antibacterial substance made from lichens. But online
marketers sell it as a weight-loss drug and performance enhancer. Since it
falls under the FDA category of a dietary supplement, its sale and use is
In that regard, usnic acid is not unlike ephedra, another weight-loss pill
that is sold online and in many thousands of neighborhood health-food and
drugstores. Ephedra has been implicated in the death last month of Baltimore
Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, who succumbed to heat stroke on a Broward
County, Fla., practice field after reportedly taking an ephedra-containing
Does all this mean there are no useful, safe weight-loss drugs?
Beware Untested Diet Pills
If you're really serious about taking weight-loss pills, there's a safer way
to go about it. First, work with a medical professional to develop a treatment
plan that fits your needs.
There's no reason to go trolling the Internet for weight-loss magic, says
Steven Heymsfield, MD, deputy director of the New York Obesity Research Center
at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. There are safe drugs that
can really make a big difference in getting to a healthy weight.
There are three drugs most commonly prescribed for weight loss:
- Phentermine, an appetite suppressant, was approved for use in 1959 and is
the most commonly prescribed prescription because it costs less than the other
major drugs. Some users report it can make them feel jumpy.
- Xenical inhibits lipase -- an enzyme that breaks down fat in the
intestines. Xenical decreases the amount of fat your body absorbs from food by
30%, which results in lower calorie intake. But all that undigested fat can
make sudden, unwelcome appearances in the form of diarrhea.
- Meridia increases levels of brain chemicals that help reduce appetite.
Appetite-suppressants work by increasing serotonin or catecholamine chemicals
that alter mood and appetite through means that are not well understood. Since
Meridia can raise blood pressure and heart rate, people with any kind of heart
disease shouldn't take this drug.