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Over the Counter Diet Pills and Herbal Weight Loss Products

      Millions of Americans attempt to lose weight using over the counter (OTC) weight loss aids such as non prescription diet pills or herbal supplements. OTC drugs often make claims such as suppressing appetite or increasing metabolism for their efficacy. These products have the appeal of providing fast and easy weight loss. Below is a brief overview of the most popular over the counter diet pills and herbal weight loss products and how they claim to provide effective weight loss.

1) Dexatrim/Acutrim

      Like many other OTC weight loss products, Dexatrim or Acutrim contain phenylpropanolamine (PPA). PPA is an appetite suppressant, as well as a nasal decongestant. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has advised consumers to stop using products that contain PPA. The FDA reports that PPA is linked to an increased risk of bleeding in the brain (hemorrhagic stroke) and has asked drug manufacturers to cease selling any product that contains PPA. Because of these warnings, many of the products that once contained PPA have been reformulated to exclude PPA.

2) Metabolife

      Metabolife is another extremely popular OTC product. It is an herbal dietary supplement. Like similar products, such as Metabolite and MetaboMax, the primary ingredient in these products is ephedrine. Ephedrine is derived from the ephedra plant and is it's synthetic derivative. The FDA has strong regulations for the use of ephedrine.

About ephedra/ephedrine.

      Ephedra has for many years been an ingredient in asthma medications. It is, however, also used to make methamphetamine - better known on the street as "speed". There is only a very slight difference in the chemical makeup of methamphetamine and ephedrine.
      Although ephedrine has been shown to decrease appetite, it can also cause high blood pressure, heart rate irregularities, tremors, seizures, insomnia, nervousness, heart attacks, strokes and even death.
      Ephedra and ephedrine is widely used and is often sold in combination with caffeine as OTC energy drinks or boosters and diet drugs. It is also widely sold in other products that claim to promote weight loss or boost energy. This includes a number of 'natural' products, such as Ma-huang and 'herbal ecstasy'.

If ephedra is unsafe, why is it in so many OTC diet products and herbal weight loss products?

      There are two reasons for this. Herbal diet supplements are not classified as drugs. For this reason, the FDA has no power before they go to market to restrict them. The FDA is only able to ban products that it has conclusively proven unsafe. This has not yet been accomplished. In an effort to address potential negative health effects, the FDA is considering limiting the allowable amount of the drug in any given product to under 8 milligrams per serving, as well as limiting the drug's use to under 7 days. These restrictions would negate the properties of these products that enable them to claim any weight loss benefits.The FDA has, however, warned consumers to avoid any products containing ephedra or ephedrine.

3) Products calling themselves herbal fen-phen.

There are a multitude of such products, most containing a variety of ingredients. The FDA warns that many of these ingredients it deems unsafe or to be avoided. Always check the ingredients on the FDA website.

4) St. John's Wort

The FDA believes that this product has yet to be proven either effective or safe.

5) Natrol/Solaray/Natural Balance

These products, and several others, contain 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP).

About 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)

5-HTP is a breakdown product of tryptophan, which at one time was a popular supplement. Tryptophan has been linked to eosinophilic myalgia syndrome, which is a serious blood and muscle disorder. There is evidence to suggest that the contaminant in tryptophan linked to this disorder may also be present in 5-hydroxytryptophan. For this reason, 5-HTP remains controversial and the FDA has warned consumers to avoid this product until further study.

6) Citrimax/CitriLean/Citrus Slim Gum

These products contain the herb Garcinia (hydroxycitric acid - HCA). Most researchers agree that this herb is ineffective for weight loss.

7) Herbal laxatives and diuretics

These products cause the body to lose water, not fat. These products also pose health risks, such as lowering potassium levels in the body, leading to possible heart and muscle problems. Frequent laxative use has been shown to create bowel dependence on them for waste elimination and is not recommended.

8) Pyruvate

Pyruvate is a very popular ingredient in weight loss products. Although it may have a limited effect in aiding weight loss, it's claims to decrease appetite and increase metabolism remain unproven. The FDA believes that tests are needed to determine the safety and long term effects of Pyruvate.

Important considerations about OTC diet pills and herbal weight loss products

Always remember that just because a diet pill or medication does not require a prescription does not mean that it is safe. As well, the fact that a product is 'natural' by no means guarantees that it is safe or effective. Unlike a prescription product, these products do not require medical supervision for use or a study of patient health prior to use. Always discuss these products prior to use with a doctor, as many ingredients can negatively interact with other medications and/or health conditions.

Visit the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research for information about all drugs, including diet pills. Consult the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Warnings and Safety Information pages to learn about recent diet pills alerts, diet supplements alerts and other diet product warnings.

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