Dangerous Ingredients in Diet Pills

Dangerous Ingredients in Diet Pills

Diet pills are commercially available products that contain ingredients designed to help you lose weight through a variety of different methods. Some of these pills are prescription medications and require extensive testing and government oversight before they come to market. However, many diet pills belong to a class of nonprescription substances known collectively as supplements. Supplements go through a less rigorous testing and oversight process than medications; in addition, some supplement manufacturers take steps to purposefully avoid normal testing and oversight rules. Many prescription and nonprescription diet pills contain potentially dangerous ingredients that can seriously harm your health.

Prescription Diet Pill Ingredients


Prescription diet pills, also called prescription weight loss drugs, come in two basic forms: appetite suppressants and fat absorption inhibitors. Appetite suppressants achieve their effects by increasing your brain levels of the chemical serotonin, or another chemical called catecholamine. In turn, the increased presence of these chemicals creates a sense of fullness and/or makes you feel like you’re not hungry. Fat absorption inhibitors achieve their effects by blocking your body’s ability to absorb and use significant amounts of the fat in your diet; instead, this fat remains in your digestive tract and eventually gets eliminated in your feces. Common prescription appetite suppressants include phentermine (Adipex-P, Ionamin), mazindol (Sanorex, Mazanor) and phendimetrazine (Adipost, Bontril). The only prescription fat absorption inhibitor available in the U.S. is orlistat (Xenical).

In rare circumstances, phentermine can produce dangerous side effects that include heartbeat irregularities, heart valve malfunctions and high blood pressure in the vessels that supply the lungs (pulmonary hypertension). Dangerous potential side effects of phendimetrazine also include pulmonary hypertension and heart valve disease. Use of mazindol can potentially trigger dangerous effects that include extremely high blood pressure, heartbeat irregularities, allergic reactions and hallucinations. Dangerous potential side effects of orlistat include breathing difficulties, swallowing difficulties, jaundice, liver damage, appetite loss, vomiting and severe stomach pain.

Nonprescription Diet Pill Ingredients

Nonprescription diet pills can contain a wide array of dangerous or potentially dangerous ingredients. For instance, bitter orange (a substance used to replace the banned ingredient ephedra) can produce serious heartbeat irregularities, high blood pressure, seizures, and an intestinal disorder called ischemic colitis. Pills that contain an herb known as comfrey, slippery root or blackwort can potentially produce a form of liver damage that leads to liver failure. Pills that contain an herb called germander can also potentially cause liver failure or irreversible changes in liver function. Pills that contain an appetite-suppressing substance called guar gum can potentially trigger death by causing severe blockages in your esophagus or other parts of your gastrointestinal tract. Some nonprescription diet pills also contain chromium (chromium picolinate), a substance that can potentially interfere with the normal function of the chemicals in your brain or, in rare circumstances, cause kidney failure.

In addition, some nonprescription diet pill manufacturers include dangerous and/or banned substances in their products without any proper notification. For instance, some pills formulas use an herb called heartleaf or country mallow; this herb contains the banned substance ephedra, which can produce heartbeat abnormalities, heart attacks, strokes or rapid death. Officials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration also recently caught a supplement manufacturer using a banned prescription stimulant, called sibutramine, in a nonprescription diet pill formula. Known potential effects of sibutramine include significantly increased risks for a heart attack or stroke.

The Special Dangers of Nonprescription Diet Pills

While prescription diet pills can trigger serious side effects, the potential dangers of these medications are typically identified and quantified during the testing process that the FDA requires for all prescription substances. In addition, prescription diet pills are usually issued by doctors who take the time to properly assess their patients, prescribe appropriate treatments and follow up on any problems that develop as a result of medication usage. On the other hand, the FDA does not directly test all substances classified as supplements. Instead, the agency sets general standards for supplements, then leaves it up to individual manufacturers to meet those standards. This means that supplements don’t require explicit approval before they reach the market.

Unscrupulous and/or medically uninformed diet pill manufacturers commonly take advantage of the supplement process and market products that are either medically ineffective or contain ingredients that do your body significantly more harm than good. The market contains literally tens of thousands of supplements, and no one knows how many of those supplements are labeled as diet pills. With its limited resources, the FDA can only respond to complaints as they arise and attempt to ban specific products that contain dangerous ingredients.

Safeguarding Your Health

Because of these circumstances, you can’t rely on the FDA to protect you from unscrupulous or uninformed manufacturers. Instead, you need to safeguard your own health through steps that include viewing unproven claims for diet pills with skepticism; reviewing any plans with your doctor before you take a nonprescription diet pill; asking your doctor specific questions about known diet pill ingredients; and reporting any diet pill-related symptoms to your doctor as soon as they occur.

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