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American Holistic Medical Association
Tiny Pills, Big Promises
Today’s dietary aids make silver bullet promises. But do they actually deliver, and are they really safe? At last, the straight-up answers you’ve been looking for.
Shortly after skeletal waifs started slinking down Europe’s catwalks, Hollywood’s bony A-listers crash dieted their way into microscopic frocks, and actress Jennifer Love Hewitt took center stage to defiantly declare that her size 2 frame is not “fat,” Tina Stottlemyer threw in the towel.
Nothing was working. With her bathroom scale glued at 175 pounds and the clock ticking down to her 20th high school reunion, the Pittsburgh mother of two began praying for a miracle.
She thought she found it in Hoodia gordonii, an appetite suppressant that boasted “miracle” powers, no side effects, and an easy payment plan. Stottlemyer did indeed see startling results—mostly unwelcome. “Everything I read about hoodia was so promising,” she reflects. “But in some ways, it made my diet roller coaster worse, not better.”
When people who are overweight seek help losing weight, nutritionists typically give the same textbook formula: Light meals + frequent exercise = weight loss.
The math seems obvious, but many folks discover that it just doesn’t add up. Some people can gorge on calorie-dense foods and stay rail thin. Others peck at their plates, exercise like Marines, and still watch their bodies balloon. Slowly and painstakingly, scientists are beginning to unravel this mystery but admit that a definitive answer may take years. In the meantime, millions of desperate Americans have turned for answers to the diet industry, spending money on products whose long-term effectiveness and safety are largely unknown.
What’s the skinny on diet drugs? Dietary aids rely on one of three basic strategies: Some try to suppress appetite, while others boost metabolism or block the absorption of fats and carbohydrates. Our experts discuss what they do—and what they don’t.
Strategy No. 1: Tame Your HungerPrescription appetite suppressants (also known as slimming pills) have been sold in America since shortly after World War II. Despite 50 years of research, just two prescription meds have FDA approval today: phentermine and Meridia. Hoodia gordonii, an over-the-counter (OTC) product, is also available but remains unproven. And even FDA approval is no guarantee. The two drugs that made up the Fen-Phen tandem—fenfluramine and phentermine—each earned FDA approval before they were combined into one medication that in the mid 1990s damaged the hearts of an estimated 30% of users.
Both phentermine and Meridia are reserved for clinically obese individuals with a body mass index of at least 30, which corresponds to a 5-foot 5-inch woman of 180 pounds. But with obesity so prevalent, physicians are prescribing these drugs off-label to even modestly overweight people.
Phentermine. When a d...