NUTRITION HOTLINE: Are Diet Pills Safe?

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NUTRITION HOTLINE: Are Diet Pills Safe?

Q: I know ephedra is not safe, but what about the ingredients in other diet pills? Are they safe to take?

A: Diet pills are not a good choice for anyone. While it is true that ephedra has been banned from diet pills, most consumers do not know that the majority of the remaining ingredients are stimulants that can have the same harmful properties as ephedra. For example, the diet pills SyneDrex and Xenadrine EFX contain synephrine, which is made from the herb bitter orange. Bitter orange (also known as citrus aurantium) has the same dangerous pharmacological properties as ephedra, which include stimulating the central nervous system and increasing heart rate and blood pressure. Bitter orange has only been on the market a little over a year, but the FDA has already received 169 reports of adverse reactions including one case of a heart attack in a 55-year-old woman.

Other stimulants in diet pills include caffeine, green tea extract, cola nut, guarana, yerba mate or mate, cocoa, and cocoa extract. These over-the-counter stimulants can worsen depression, anxiety, hypertension, irregular heartbeats, insomnia, and stomach problems. Like all stimulants they are physically addicting, and over time more and more has to be consumed to get the same effect. It is especially dangerous to combine diet pills with prescription medications. Fortunately for many people the side effects of diet pills are so severe that they stop taking them on their own. The bottom line is the risks of ALL diet pills far outweigh any potential benefits. If you need help with bingeing or overeating, ask your physician for healthy methods to help regulate appetite.

By Diane Keddy, MS, RD
Reprinted with permission from Eating Disorders Recovery Today
Fall 2005 Volume 3, Number 4
©2005 Gürze Books

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