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This article was published 23/1/2015 (1891 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It's the time of year when many of us are dealing with post-holiday weight gain and New Year's resolutions.
And while some of us will take healthy steps to lose weight and correct poor eating habits, others will become anxious about being able to achieve their weight-loss goals and search for a quick fix such as over-the-counter diet pills.
It's estimated more than 15 per cent of Canadians have used such diet pills at some point in their lives. But are these products effective and healthy?
There are, of course, many different types of diet pills on the market. For example, garcinia cambogia, ephedra (ma huang), green tea, chromium, green coffee, hoodia, DHEA, and bitter orange are all common diet supplements.
The biggest difference between these aids and prescription weight-loss pills is that prescription drugs have been more thoroughly studied to determine their effectiveness and safety.
While both types of weight-loss aids need to have some clinical evidence of effectiveness and safety, the research studies for over-the-counter diet supplements tend to be fewer in number, lower in quality and less consistent in supporting claims of effectiveness.
Additionally, Health Canada does not regulate natural and herbal products the same way it does prescription drugs.
Many dietary supplements simply pass a basic screening and are allowed to be sold regardless of their effectiveness.
A good source of information is the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, which summarizes research regarding dietary supplements and herbal products.
Let's take a look at what the database says about some popular products.
Bitter orange is supposed to increase the number of calories burned in a day and suppress appetite. However, while it is advertised as producing modest weight loss, there is minimal research data on the product to support this claim.
Additionally, it can lead to increased heart rate and blood pressure, and there are also reports of people suffering anxiety, stroke, irregular heartbeat and heart attack, the database says.
Green tea is supposed to decrease fat absorption and increase calorie and fat metabolism. It has only a slight benefit, and this is again based on minimal research. Long-term use with high doses can cause insomnia, agitation, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, bloating, gas and diarrhea. There are even some reports of people experiencing liver damage, the database says.
Hoodia is a supplement that reduces appetite. However, the minimal research that's available shows it is probably ineffective and the side-effects include headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and possible increase in heart rate and blood pressure.
Chromium is a supplement that is supposed to increase lean muscle mass, decrease appetite and increase calories burned.
Side-effects include watery stools, headache, weakness, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, constipation, dizziness and hives. The minimal research on this supplement shows it's probably ineffective.
Garcinia cambogia is one of the most recent weight-loss supplements to hit the market. It has been hyped as a "miracle" weight-loss aid by television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz. It is supposed to block fat production and reduce your appetite.
The studies again are minimal and show it makes bogus claims. It can cause dizziness, dry mouth, headache and diarrhea.
However, it has recently been associated with cases of severe liver damage as well, the database says.
So if all these supplements are ineffective and some are unsafe, why do we take them?
We often want to believe in those advertisements that say the supplement is a miracle because it is an easy way of losing weight. The fact of the matter is that true and permanent weight loss comes from a healthy diet and increasing your physical activity. If you want to succeed in your New Year's resolution, then plan to cut out fast food and walk for 30 minutes a day.
If you are still considering buying diet supplements, do your homework. Research the product before you buy it to see how effective it is, how much research has been done on it and view its safety record. You might just find you're wasting your money.
Donna Alden-Bugden is a family nurse practitioner at the Winnipeg Health Region's McGregor Quick Care Clinic.