UK HealthCare

Supplements Can't Promise Weight Loss

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 18, 2012) - The following column appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader on Sunday, Jan. 15


Supplements can’t promise weight loss

By Peggy Piascik

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The holidays are over and perhaps you, like many people, have packed on a few pounds from all the festive eating. Now comes the daunting task of how to lose the extra weight.


The appeal of losing weight the easy way by taking an over-the-counter diet supplement is hard to resist, but be careful; the only thing you may lose is money. Also, be aware of potential side effects .


Over-the-counter weight-loss aids and dietary supplements are not subject to the same strict regulations as prescription medication, which means they can be sold with limited or no proof of effectiveness or safety.


However, once a product is on the market, the Food and Drug Administration does monitor it for safety. If the product is found to be dangerous, the FDA can issue a ban or recall.


The best thing to do before using any weight-loss aid is to talk to your pharmacist. They should have a record of all your medications and can advise you of any potential negative side effects .


Weight-loss supplements often contain ingredients with stimulant properties. Since ephedra was removed from the market in 2004 due to reports of high blood pressure, strokes and other serious heart problems, a number of other ingredients have taken its place.


Bitter orange, hoodia and herbal blends that contain caffeine in several forms (green tea, guarana, kola and yerbe mate) have similar effects to ephedra.


Often, the total amount of caffeine in the product is not disclosed on the label. Chronic use of caffeine may cause tolerance and psychological dependence. Doses exceeding 250 to 300 milligrams per day have been shown to cause rapid heart rate and sleep disturbances.


Some products contain stimulant laxatives or diuretics that provide a temporary weight-loss. These laxative ingredients (aloe, cascara, senna, rhubarb root, buckthorn, and frangula) and diuretics (asparagus, dandelion root, cranberry and juniper berry) may cause loss of water, minerals and electrolytes. Chronic use of these products may lead to dehydration, electrolyte imbalance or kidney failure.


Other ingredients commonly seen in weight-loss supplements include 7-keto DHEA, chitosan and chromium. Sevenketo DHEA has been proposed to decrease body weight and fat composition in obese people. Chitosan is promoted as a “fat blocker.” Chromium may promote weight loss and improve the ratio of fat to muscle. Chromium supplements may help control blood sugar levels. But adding chromium to a diabetic’s drug regimen without adjusting the prescription medications could potentially lead to low blood sugar.


Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet to help you lose weight in a hurry and keep it off. The best, and healthiest approach, is to modify your diet and increase your level of exercise to burn more calories.


Peggy Piascik is an associate professor of pharmacy practice and science and associate chair for professional education advancement in the University of Kentucky’s College of Pharmacy.