The Skinny on Weight Loss Pills

Ephedrine – Possible side affects include heart palpitations, strokes and even death

Ephedrine (Ephedra) is derived from herbal extracts of Ma huang or Chinese Ephedrine and has been link to dizziness, heart palpations, strokes and even death. Since 1993, the FDA has received more than 800 reports of illnesses and injuries ranging from anxiety to strokes associated with the use of this herb.

Adverse symptoms include rapid and irregular heart rhythms, increased blood pressure, chest pain, anxiety, nervousness, hyperactivity, and insomnia. There are more than 100 types of weight loss supplements that contain this substance. Metabolife, Diet Fuel and AM-300 are three of the most popular weight loss supplements that contains the amphetamine-like substance, called ephedrine or Ma huang.

Be sure to read the label for ingredients before purchasing any type of weight loss product. The best advice we can give is to completely avoid them. To get more details on the effects of ephedrine (ephedra), check out the RxList website at

Weigh the risk and make an informed decision. Compare the warning associated with ephedrine against the ingredients found in Metabolife and other weight loss supplements. The FDA is proposing a new law for products containing 8 mg or more of ephedrine. The proposed law will require the product to place a warning on it’s label such as:

“WARNING: “Do not use this product for more than 7 days”


“Taking more than the recommended dosage may result in heart attack, stroke, seizure or death.”


FDA has approved several prescription drugs for obesity. The newest is Xenical (orlistat), which FDA approved in April 1999.

Xenical is the first in a new class of anti-obesity drugs known as lipase inhibitors. Lipase is the enzyme that breaks down fat for use by the body. Xenical interferes with lipase function, decreasing fat absorption by 30 percent. Since undigested fats are not absorbed, there is less calorie intake, which may have a positive effect on weight control.

Other approved anti-obesity prescription drugs available on the market include:

Dexedrine and other amphetamines

Ionamin and Adipex-P (phentermine), Sanorex (mazindol), Tenuate (diethylpropion), Prelu-2 (phendimetrazine) and other amphetamine derivatives

Meridia (sibutramine)

In mostly short-term studies of obese adults following a calorie-restricted diet, those who took the appetite suppressants lost more weight on average than those who took a placebo. The amount of weight lost varied from study to study.

FDA approved the drugs only for use with calorie-restricted diets. The drugs are “not magic pills,” warns Leo Lutwak, M.D., Ph.D., of FDA’s division of metabolism and endocrine drug products. “They don’t work unless you make dietary and exercise changes.”

Also, they should be used only for a few weeks partly because, aside from Xenical, the drugs are addictive and have the potential for abuse. They shouldn’t be used in combination with each other or with other drugs for appetite control because such combinations have not been evaluated for safety. And the drugs should be used only in people who are obese–not people looking to lose a few pounds, Lutwak says.

Also, he points out that while obesity may be associated with other serious diseases, studies have never shown that weight loss produced with the use of prescription weight-loss drugs benefits obesity-associated conditions. However, changes in diet and activity may improve associated diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, even with only modest changes in weight, Lutwak says.

Until September 1997, two other drugs, fenfluramine (Pondimin and others) and dexfenfluramine (Redux), were available for treating obesity. But, at FDA’s request, the manufacturers of these drugs voluntarily withdrew them from the market after newer findings suggested that they were the likely cause of heart valve problems in a large proportion of people using them. FDA recommended that anyone taking the drugs stop and that they contact their doctor to discuss their treatment.


Chitosan (KITE-oh-san) is a dietary fiber-like substance made from chitin, which forms the hard shells of lobsters, crabs, and other shell-fish. It binds to fat and other substances that are soluble in fat.

The concept sounds good but studies are inconsistent about it’s ability to effectively bind significant amounts of fat and therefore calories. Chitosan can block the absorption of certain vitamins (including vitamin A, D, E and K) and disease fighting chemicals found in plant foods. Never take Chitosan with fat soluble vitamin supplements. Long term use should be avoided.


Phentermine is the Phen in Fen/Phen. Phentermine is used in conjunction with another drug called Fenfluramine hydrochloride (Fen), which has been taken off the market at the request of the FDA for possibly causing heart valve damage. Phentermine is an amphetamine-like substance that may help suppress appetite and slightly increase the metabolism. Phentermine is prescribed by a doctor and can be taken alone but usually is taken along with Fenfluamine (Fen).

In studies where some patients were given Phentermine and other given a placebo, Phentermine caused only a fraction of a pound more weight loss than patients given the placebo. Thus the overall effectiveness of this drug is still very questionable.

Any weight loss from this drug happens within the first few weeks. Tolerance to this drug builds quickly, so the drug must be discontinued after the first few weeks.

The prescription comes under different names but contains the amphetamine-like drug Phentermine Fen / Phen is taken under medical supervision but used only in extreme cases. People who are overweight or have high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries or glycoma are not good candidates for this treatment because the side effects will worsen the condition.

Doctors reserve Fen / Phen treatment for more extreme cases such as obesity (not the same as overweight) in conjunction with a healthy eating plan and exercise. Side effects such as increase blood pressure and heart rate, restlessness, dizziness, insomnia, tremors, headaches, nervousness, constipation, diarrhea can be expected.