Let’s be honest.
Keeping fit can be a drag. No wonder many people procrastinate and only start when summer rolls back around. People generally leave it until the last few weeks before the holiday, and then start looking for quick fixes. The fitness industry capitalizes on this by rolling out campaigns like the recent Protein World ad, that was accused of body shaming.
Weight loss can be achieved in many ways; but many want a fast and usually unrealistic method. This always involves some truly absurd plans.
Have you heard of the weight loss sunglasses? The idea behind this is that by changing the color of your meals, it will look unappetizing, leading to appetite suppression. Proponents of this claim that since the color blue rarely occurs naturally in food, our brains are wired to associate it with mold.
For those who want to work up a sweat, they may try a 10 day boot camp. But there are those who want to shed the weight as quickly as possible without doing any work. They choose to pop weight loss pills. These ‘wonder pills’ are also known as so-called fat burners or weight loss supplements.
Popular since the late 19th century, diet pills were marketed as a way to lose weight in a short time; all you had to do was swallow them. On paper, it seemed too good to be true. That’s because it is.
Their ingredients have ranged from caffeine to mild amphetamines, often in unhealthy and untested combinations. Some of them even use ingredients that are on the Food and Drug Administration’s banned substance list. Supplement makers get around this by not declaring the ingredients of their concoctions.
The FDA is constantly testing and trying to police this industry. However this is a $4 billion (and counting) industry and supplement makers don’t give up easily. No sooner is one drug banned, another is released. In many situations, the only thing changed is the products name.
Any drug that claims to work like these do will have a placebo effect, or a temporary one at best. In the worst case scenario, they can kill users. Here are ten common weight loss supplements, their killer ingredients and the effect on the human body.
10. ECA Stack
Stack is composed of ephedrine, caffeine, and aspirin. It’s used as a weight loss aid and also as a stimulant. Popular in the 1990s and 2000s, it has since fallen out of favour due to serious safety concerns and deaths linked to ephedra-containing supplements.
In one study, ephedra was linked to cardiovascular complications, hypertension, palpitations, tachycardia, stroke, seizures and death. Another analysis reported a 2- to 3-fold increase in psychiatric symptoms, autonomic symptoms, upper gastrointestinal symptoms, and heart palpitations.
These led to the banning of all weight loss supplements containing ephedra by the FDA in 2004. However, supplements containing this stack can still be bought online.
Clenbuterol is a steroid used to treat respiratory disorders in humans and horses. Due to its potency, it is banned from use in treating food producing animals. Yet it’s popular among bodybuilders who are ‘cutting’ and models who are trying to lose weight. It’s a weight loss drug of choice for many celebrities.
Clenbuterol is known to increase aerobic capacity, central nervous system stimulation and oxygen transportation. These properties prompted athletes to use it as a performance-enhancing drug,
Prolonged use of Clenbuterol results in high blood pressure, tachycardia and damage to the heart muscles. It also leads to thyrotoxicosis, which is fatal up to 50% of the time, even if treatment is received.
This drug was developed in the 1940s as the nasal decongestant, Forthane. In 1983, it was withdrawn voluntarily from the market. However, in 2006, in response to the ephedrine ban in the USA, 1,3-dimethylamylamine was back on the shelves. No longer a cold medicine, it was marketed as a thermogenic pre-workout supplements to bodybuilders. To get around FDA scrutiny, it was labelled as”geranium oil” or “geranium extract”.
DMAA works by constricting blood vessels, which has an effect on all blood-carrying organs such as the heart, lungs and genitals. By narrowing blood vessels and arteries, it elevates blood pressure resulting in a heart attack.
The half life of this drug also plays a part in its toxicity, as repeated doses within 24–36 hours can cause stronger effects over time. Banned by the FDA in 2013, it’s still available in many online pharmacies.
Sibutramine is an oral appetite suppressant that was marketed under the name Meridia, Siredia, Reductil all over the world. It works by reducing the body’s uptake of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. By making more of these hormones available for intra-cellular use, the body is tricked into feeling full and not requiring sustenance.
Because of the similarity of its mode of action to antidepressants, patients with a history of or a predisposition to drug or alcohol abuse are advised not to use it. However, the amount of Sibutramine found in Meridia, was three times the legal limit approved to be sold in the USA.
Symptoms include increased blood pressure, palpitations, jaundice and seizures. Prolonged use led to increase in the risk of heart attack and stroke in patients, especially those with a history of cardiovascular disease.
β-Methylphenethylamine was first synthesized in the 1930s as a replacement for amphetamines. As it was never introduced as a pharmaceutical drug, its side effects on humans were never studied. In 2015, supplement makers are introducing this untested chemical into weight loss supplements, disguised as a natural botanical extract from the Acacia rigidula.
Tests by the FDA have determined that BMPEA isn’t naturally present in Acacia rigidula leaves. Users of JetFuel Superburn, JetFuel T-300 and MX-LS7 should be wary as amphetamines are known to increase blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature and can eventually cause a stroke. They are also highly addictive.
Marketed under the names Acomplia, Monaslim, Remonabent, Riobant, Slimon, this drug was used as an antiobesity drug and an appetite suppressant. Despite successfully spreading across Europe in the mid-2000s, the FDA rejected its approval for use in America.
It had a number of off label uses including aiding smoking cessation, reduction in addictive behaviour and even improved short term memory. Despite these, investigations showed that the manufacturers had downplayed its side effects.
Continuous use of the drug was found to cause increased risk of neurological and psychiatric side effects such as seizures, depression, anxiety, insomnia, aggressiveness, and suicidal thoughts among users.
Originally used in laxatives, this ingredient was also used alongside sibutramine in many weight loss pills branded as Chinese herbal supplements. The FDA banned such drugs because of the tendency of sibutramine to cause heart attacks and the carcinogenic properties of phenolphthalein itself.
Phenolphthalein has been found to be genotoxic i.e. it can trigger mutations to human DNA. As such, phenolphthalein is a chemical that shouldn’t be present in any FDA-approved drug. The ingredient still appears in weight loss supplements available today.
This was an anti-obesity ‘stack’ created by combining two existing anti-obesity drugs. On its own, Fenfluramine (Fen) helped reduce weight, but only temporarily. By combining it with phentermine, the manufacturer, Wyeth, hoped to make it more efficient. On investigation by the FDA, officials found that Wyeth was not reporting the full side effects of the drug. The company was under-reporting the number of patients that developed adverse effects from using fen-phen.
It had been found to cause a weakening of the valves in the heart and pulmonary hypertension. The FDA finally discontinued the drug in 1996. Lawsuits against the company quickly started to pile up and as of 2007, the company had set aside $21 billion to cover the cost of lawsuits.
Backed by celebs like Dustin Diamond and Snooki, Zantrex is marketed as an energy booster and fat burner. The ingredients in this supplement include Yerba Mate, Guarana seeds, Trimethylxanthine, kola seeds, Ginseng, black pepper, maca extract, black tea etc. Five of these ingredients are simply variants of caffeine; users will be swallowing up to 300mg (4 cups of coffee) per serving.
Known side effects include nausea, palpitations, constant dull headache, a jittery feeling and insomnia. This drug is supposed to generate a ‘thermogenic effect’, but all it does is curb the appetite while providing caffeine powered energy. This supplement is easy to abuse and shouldn’t be used by people with a heart condition.
2,4-Dinitrophenol (2,4-DNP or simply DNP) is a synthetic chemical used to trigger very rapid fat loss. It works by interfering with how energy is generated in the cells. DNP short circuits the normal food oxidation process used to create energy. When food is broken down and DNP is present, it releases the energy as heat in the body, effectively ‘burning’ up any food consumed.
This leads to an unnecessarily high metabolic rate coupled with inefficient energy production. The heat produced during the ‘fat burning’ can rise up to 44 °C. A DNP overdose leads to fatal hyperthermia, literally ‘cooking’ victims to death.
In its first year of release, DNP landed 100, 000 people in hospital. Officially discontinued in 1938, this drug is still available through online pharmacies and is still as deadly.
These quick fix pills are dangerous scams that should be avoided. But the weight loss industry just keeps pumping them out. No wonder it has been compared to the mythical hydra; one dangerous ingredient gets banned, ten more are invented.