Newspapers, web pages and social media sites are full of adverts for ‘miracle’ slimming products. We are constantly bombarded with images of overweight women who are magically transformed into very skinny versions of themselves in an unbelievably short period.
These products are thriving but what exactly do they contain and do they work?
Digestion disruption drugs
Some drugs are designed to prevent you from absorbing fats. They allow you to eat any food you feel like but prevent the body from taking up the fat from the intestines. This treatment has been used in obese patients.
The problem is that it can lead to bloating, diarrhoea and indigestion. It is also associated with vitamin deficiency as certain vitamins need the fat in food in order to be absorbed.
Laxatives are drugs used in patients with constipation to cause them to pass stool regularly. Some ‘miracle’ pills contain laxatives which result in you going to the bathroom much more frequently than is normal.
Your body does not have enough time to digest the food you eat as it is quickly removed from your body once it reaches the intestines.
Laxative abuse can lead to diarrhoea, abdominal pain and malnutrition.
High blood pressure drugs: Diuretics
60 per cent of the human body is water. Our cells mainly consist of water and we also have fluid in the form of blood, spinal fluid, urine, mucus, tears and digestive juices. The quickest way to ‘shrink’ a cell and make it smaller is to remove the water in it.
This is exactly what a diuretic does. It removes water faster than your body can replace it (through abnormally frequent urination).
The result? You become slimmer. These are some of the most popular drugs used in ‘miracle’ slimming pills. You actually see results within a few days. The greatest risk with these drugs is that they can cause low blood pressure and kidney damage.
Recently, there have been several deaths in the UK related to a drug known as Dinitrophenol or DNP. This drug increases your metabolism (the rate at which your body breaks down food/ utilises energy). People have reported losing up to 5 kilos in 1 week. This drug is found in pesticides but in the 1930s was used as a weight loss drug.
It was quickly withdrawn due to safety reasons. It has sadly found its way back into the market. It can cause anxiety, heart problems, fever, dehydration, nausea, vomiting, restlessness, flushed skin, excessive sweating, dizziness, rapid breathing and is potentially lethal.
High doses of caffeine have stimulant effects and are thought to help reduce weight. However, these very high doses have been associated with palpitations, mood changes, anxiety, irritability and insomnia.
Most pills which incorporate caffeine often put up to 4 times the daily maximum recommended dose in each pill – a highly dangerous practice.
Despite these risks, there is no evidence to show that caffeine causes permanent weight loss.
These are potentially addictive drugs. These drugs were popular in the 50s and 60s as weight loss supplements before they were banned for health concerns. These pills reportedly cause weight loss by suppressing appetite but the side-effects are potentially lethal.
When diabetics take their medication appropriately, they may find that they lose some excess weight. Some ‘miracle’ slimming pills incorporate the active component of diabetic drugs into their product in order to try and get the same effect.
Some drugs try and stimulate your body’s metabolism and cause you to burn fat faster. Examples include capsaicin (found in cayenne pepper) and a herb known as ephedra whose side-effects include high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke (even after you stop taking the drug).
An ingredient popular in energy drinks, guarana, is a berry whose extracts have the same effects as caffeine. Sometimes these drugs are mixed with painkillers like aspirin to make them more ‘effective’. This is highly dangerous as aspirin abuse can cause bleeding from the stomach and intestines and can cause ulcers.
Some drugs claim to make you feel full after eating only a small amount of food. They claim to work by forming a sort of jelly-like solution in your stomach which sort of partially fills your stomach leaving little space for your food. The danger here is that it can lead to lack of absorption of nutrients from any food you eat, can cause abdominal cramps and bloating/excess gas.
‘Herbal’ doesn’t mean it’s safe
Remember, a lot of drugs listed above are of plant origin (meaning they are herbal). Most herbal slimming pills have just found plants that are either natural diuretics, laxatives or metabolism boosters. They can be potentially fatal. There have been cases reported globally (including Kenya) of patients who have developed kidney and liver damage from taking herbal slimming drugs.
Often weight loss pills are called ‘supplements’ and sometimes even have vitamins and minerals added to them. All this is done in an attempt to make us believe that it is the ‘healthier option’. However, the main ingredient is usually something that could be life-threatening.
Diet pills are unregulated in most of the world (including Kenya). This is because they often market them as supplements and not medication. You, therefore, cannot verify the safety of the contents of the pill you are taking. You also cannot tell if it will interact negatively with any medication you are taking.
In the event of severe side-effects, your doctor sometimes cannot identify the ingredient that caused your negative response. Online shops have contributed greatly to the mushrooming of bogus products.
How about the ‘slimming belt’?
I recently walked into a shop in town and inquired about a slimming belt. The one offered to me was a simple wide belt that covered the entire belly and was made of a thick elastic material.
The shop keeper then happily went on to tell me that if I put on the belt, the pressure it would exert would cause any fat cells on my belly to ‘melt off’.
His confidence was amazing and he was doing brisk business with his various slimming wares. Needless to say, this is a useless product. Squeezing your belly into a tight belt cannot destroy fat cells – but it will certainly make you uncomfortable!
This article was first published in the Business Daily.