Diet pills and supplements, part one

Take two and call me in the morning

I've never used diet pills and have avoided supplements that are supposed to help you lose weight, but there's a great new article on them. It's in a distinctly non-medical source, but was as useful as the medical sites I found and the medical newsletters I received, so let's start there.

The article is in Redbook which I can state categorically I normally don't read. But I got in the mail yesterday, unsolicited, a health-related newsletter from a major university and saw an article in it on diet supplements and weight loss. That started my online search that circuitously led me to the Redbook article, also available online  at

The piece says it will update you on five of the newest diet pills (I counted four, but who's counting?). They walk through the pros and cons of orlistat, available OTC as Alli, which prevents digestion of a share of any fat you consume. The manufacturer of this drug did a study (I prefer totally independent sources) and found increased weight loss in subjects who took the med. What's the con? Well if you consume more fat than ~15 grams per meal, you can develop diarrhea and you may not absorb your daily vitamin intake as well (A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble).

The next drug is Merida (Silbutramine) which acts centrally, i.e., in the brain, altering two chemicals that tell you when you're full. It also can raise your blood pressure and has been assocaiated with strokes and heart attacks. This one is only for the obese or those seriously overweight with other rick factors (e.g., diabetes), is expensive and your healthcare insurance may not cover its cost.

Then there's a duo, Glucophage (metformin) and Byetta (exenatide) that are mostly used for diabetics with weight control problems. Therefore they are usually covered by insurance plans. They also can cause nausea and diarrhea, but have been effective in some fairly long-term studies.

I won't even start on the supplements in this post. What I do want to mention is that most of the medical specialists that Redbook consulted emphasize these drugs are not for the person who wants to lose five or ten pounds so they look good in party clothes or a swim suit. They're for the seriously overweight who preferably are under a doctor's care. And one medical expert said they only work if you are willing to make lifestyle changes.

Guess what? That means dieting and exercising.



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