Shady supplements: Diet pills are dangerous and ineffective, study warns

ByDonald L. Leech

Jun 11, 2022


CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina — Weight loss supplements can be found in the health aisles of most grocery stores and drugstores, but do they really work? According to a recent study, diet pills are a waste of money and could be dangerous.

They are marketed as being able to boost metabolism, burn fat and suppress appetite. However, there is “a lack of strong evidence” that diet pills actually work, say scientists at the University of North Carolina. Perhaps more concerning is that misleading claims “have the potential to harm patients”, they warn.

The results could alarm millions of women hoping to get ready for summer.

“Our findings are important for clinicians, researchers and industry. They suggest the need for rigorous evaluation of weight loss products. Only then can we generate data that allows clinicians to provide information and advice with a higher degree of certainty to our patients,” says corresponding author John Batsis, a nutritionist at the university, in a press release.

The Weight Loss Supplement Industry Is Booming, But Research Raises Doubts

There are hundreds of weight loss supplements in an industry worth billions. They range from cabbage and green tea extract to chitosan, shellfish sugar, guar gum and conjugated linoleic acid. One in three Americans trying to lose weight have used one, the researchers note.

The Obesity Society (TOS) review reviewed hundreds of existing studies. Most of the users shown failed to lose weight. Batsis suggests manufacturers work with academics to design high-quality clinical trials.

Patients often struggle to lose or maintain weight because Federal Drug Administration (FDA)-approved treatments are ineffective. It is also difficult to access health professionals who provide treatment for obesity. The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements now evaluates information, stimulates and supports research.

TOS decided it was important to look at non-FDA therapies to guide its members by pooling data from 315 randomized controlled trials. Only 52 were found to be at low risk of bias and sufficient to support efficacy. Of these, only 16 demonstrated significant differences before and after compared to dummy pills.

According to the researchers, the weight loss ranged widely from 10.5 ounces to nearly 11 pounds. The TOS clinical committee, led by Dr Srividya Kidambi, co-author of the study, recommended that doctors take the results into account when counseling patients.

“Public and private entities should provide adequate resources for obesity management. We call on regulatory authorities to critically examine the dietary supplement industry, including their role in promoting misleading claims and marketing products that could harm patients,” adds Dr Kidambi, Medical College of Wisconsin. .

Supplements tend to be prescribed by doctors, in combination with diet and exercise, to people who have a significant amount of weight to lose – usually a BMI (body mass index) of 27 or more, but some experts have called for them to be banned.

The study is published in Obesityin the leading journal of The Obesity Society.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.