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No magic in diet pills

Weight-loss pills have side-effects

  • Diet PillsImage Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
  • Dr DonaHooshmand,General Practitioner,MediclinicCourtesy:Dr HooshmandImage Credit:
01 Gulf News

You may now stop your search. There is no magic pill that will help you lose weight overnight. Yes, it’s true. Popping weight-loss pills randomly, on the contrary, can have serious negative consequences, warns a family physician.

“I wish it was true, but there is no pill or potion that can dissolve fat fast,” sasaysid Dr Dona Hooshmand, general practitioner, Mediclinic, Dubai. “If it were true, the person who made such a pill would be a billionaire,” she smiles.

Of course, there are some pills, like Xenical for instance, that are administered under medical supervision to aid or assist weight loss, but this has side-effects (see Q&A for a list of them).

“Many weight-loss pills and herbal supplements have been withdrawn from the FDA list because the side-effects and risks outweigh the benefits,” Dr Hooshmand says. (FDA is the US Food and Drug Administration which most medical regulatory bodies in other countries also follow.)

Xenical was the first FDA-approved weight loss pill, and 13 years later, another anti-obesity pill called Belviq was endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration last year. But doctors note that it too has to be given in combination with a healthy diet and exercise.

What is it about our modern lifestyles that warrants such drastic steps to lose weight? Where are we going wrong? The answer is simple. Our lives have become far too sedentary, lazy and indulgent. Our food habits are appalling. We think nothing of eating out practically every day, choosing fast foods, highly processed foods, sugar-loaded soft drinks and opting for unnecessary huge portions. The availability of thousand of varieties of processed food is a temptation we have not been able to resisit. Add to this stressed, hectic lifestyles, very little exercise and an insatiable appetite to purse materialistic dreams throws your normal body functioning out of gear. Obesity (and other lifestyles diseases) are the inevitable result.

The only way to reverse the rising tide of obesity is to modify lifestyle, get active and eat food that is natural, nutritious and cooked with care in the right portions.

Diet pills have been in the market since the early 1970s but it was during the 1980s that - thanks to a steady increase in obesity across the globe - that their use went up exponentially.

Dr Hooshmand believes there is a lack of public education or general awareness on how to tackle this problem in society. She provides an overview of the weight-loss pills syndrome and why it is not the way to healthy weight-loss.


Fact Box

Q) Losing weight is big business today. Comment.

A) According to WHO, the UAE is the fourth most obese nation worldwide and 31 percent of the adult population is either overweight or obese. That’s because of decreased activity, (bad) eating habits, such as eating very late in the night as there is easy access to food, the (inclement) weather and lack of exercise. Walk in the malls and see what the families are eating. The children bite into a fried chicken, there are huge glasses of coke (on the side).


Q) How much does diet play a role in weight management?

A) It would be a good idea if food manufacturers work with doctors, dieticians and nutritionists. Then, perhaps, we will see a change in the obesity statistics. One way to tackle this would be by restraining the size of soft drinks (as in New York restaurants and fast food outlets). The size and portions of food is much larger in the US than in Europe. There should be other ways to focus on helping (people fight obesity).


Q) A number of diet pills are available OTC and on the Internet that claim guaranteed weight loss in a short time. What are we to make of that?

A) Unfortunately, there is no proven effective way to shed weight rapidly. There is medication such as Xenical, which can assist in losing weight. But it has its risks and in certain countries, such types of medicines have been withdrawn (because of their side-effects). These are not a complete fix in themselves they help support the weight loss process and are only used in conjunction with lifestyle modifications, such as diet and exercise.


Q) The adverts for some pills say they are “clinically proven”. What does that mean? What about herbal supplements? How can they be viewed?

A) If you walk into a vitamin store or an organic (food) store, you will see herbal supplements, herbal teas, pills and products advertised as high in antioxidants. There is a lack of evidence (to show they help in weight loss) and no clinical studies have been done. They use “clinically proven” as a very loose term. It doesn’t necessarily mean that a clinical trial has been done, just that it was tested on 100 people and showed some effect on some. They are throwing the term around to give a false sense of reassurance. From an evidence-based point of view, that’s not a proper study. In vitamins and (weight-loss) pills, there is a bias operating; (the companies) want to exhibit that bias as it helps to sell products.


Q) Broadly, what are the categories of weight-loss pills? For instance, some claim to be ‘fat burning’ while others are ‘fat blocking’; some pills kill hunger, while others get rid of fluids.

A) There are two main categories of diet or weight-loss pills: One works particularly to stop fat absorbtion, such as Xenical (it blocks some of the fat which is consumed while eating and prevents it from being absorbed by the body). It works specifically on the pancreas and inhibits fat absorbtion. The other type of drugs, works on Serotonin (a hormone) in the brain and suppresses appetite.


Q) What are the dangers of diet or slimming pills? How do they affect the body?

A) The side effects range from abdominal bloating, flatulence, fatty stools, which is very uncomfortable. With the appetite–suppress pills, you get a dry mouth, increase in heart rate, depression, increase in blood pressure, insomnia... the list is endless. Sometimes, these pills can be abused. Even under medcial supervision, they are not necessarily safe, it depends on a case-to-case basis.


Q) Can pills really help you lose weight?

A) The cornerstone of weight loss is lifestyle modification. When in the first 4-6 months after lifestyle modification (diet and exercise), you do not lose between half-kilo to a kilo, then assistance is provided by giving certain pills.


Q) What is the best way to lose weight?

A) This not just my opinion but the opinion of any doctor, dietician or nutritionist, and it has been proven over time, is to eat a balanced diet and have a healthy lifestyle. That includes increased amounts of exercise, a diversity of foods and in correct quantity. These lead to successful weight loss. A doctor or a nutritionist can tailor a weight-loss pogramme for you, because not one size fits all when it comes to weight loss. There are many lifwestyle factors to consider. For example, some people travel a lot for work and cannot always eat home-made food and have to eat out. Others suffer from food intolerance or underlying medical problems and need to avoid certain food types. So it’s important that you consult a doctor or a nutritionist who will tell you what suits you and works for you.


Q) Is it true that very individual person possesses an unique metabolism to process fat? If yes, then an individual must first be educated about his/her body and lifestyle before he or she needs to tackle the weight issue. Comment.

A) The main things that show weight loss are reducing calories and increasing energy expenditure. People have to get rid of the perception that lifestyle modification and change is difficult. It is the small changes that can have a big effect (on the body). A doctor can give you a weight-loss regime tailored to your needs and one that is not harmful and gives better results. When you take the weight-loss or diet pills and they do not work on their own, you get dejected.


Q) Is liposuction a better alternative to pills for quick results?

A) Liposuction alone will not help in case of obesity. There is only a certain amount of fat that can be removed (by liposuction). If someone has lost weight but still has extra fat in certain difficult areas such as the hips or the tummy, then liposuction can be helpful. It is not recommended as single first line of choice for weight loss.



Overweight: WHO defines overweight as anyone with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25 or more.

Obesity is: A BMI of 30 or greater.

BMI is calculated by Body weight (in kilos) divided by height in metres squared.

(A person weighing 60 kilos and height of 1.5 metres has a BMI of 26.6, which is overweight).


Healthy daily calorie intake:


Women: 1,400 to 1600 calories.

Men: 1,600 to 1800 calories.




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Latest Comment

I think it should be a wake-up call for all who lives in UAE!! Butone of the reasons is that healthy diet and gym membership is too expensive for middle class in UAE; if you go to food court its fast food everywhere not that much option left :(


31 January 2013 10:30jump to comments