What's the Deal With Weight Loss Pills?

Dieting is hard, and it's not uncommon for people to turn to weight loss pills to give them an added boost when trying to shed unwanted pounds. It's hard, though, to know which pills, drugs, and supplements will really work for you. Everyone is different, and your body chemistry and underlying medical issues will always influence the way these drugs work on your body.

Most people, when thinking about weight loss drugs, first look in the pharmacy department of their local supermarket. There are dozens of different choices, but if you read the package carefully, you will find that most over-the-counter (OTC) weight loss pills use caffeine as their primary ingredient. Caffeine works to increase your overall metabolism, and also acts as a diuretic, helping you to shed water weight while giving you energy to exercise and shed the fat that you really want to eliminate.

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Other ingredients found in OTC weight loss supplements are less benign. Hoodia seems reasonably safe, but has not been thoroughly studied; research at Pfizer, however, indicates it may have negative effects on the liver. Most older weight loss pills use substances that mimic amphetamines in their effects. It's been known for a very long time that amphetamines will make you lose weight, but with serious side effects such as nervousness, tremors, racing heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, diarrhea, and even heart failure and death in the worst cases. For this reason, you should always tell your doctor when you're using OTC weight loss pills.

The same rule goes for OTC weight loss supplements. For the most part, the word "supplement" in OTC products is used to wiggle past some serious rules set up by the FDA to control dangerous substances. That does not mean that weight loss supplements are going to harm you, necessarily; it does mean that you should treat them as drugs, just like any other weight loss product.

Prescription Weight Loss Pills

A much safer way to go is to speak to your doctor about your weight loss plan. He may help you select a safe OTC weight loss product, or he may prescribe weight loss pills that will work for you.

In the last several years, a dizzying array of new prescription weight loss products have hit the market, from new appetite suppressants based on brain chemicals to chemicals like Orlistant which block the body's ability to absorb fats and other specific nutrients.

These drugs are by prescription only for very good reasons. For instance, if your body is blocking fat absorption, it is probably also blocking the absorption of a variety of different vitamins and minerals that are critical to the proper functioning of your body. If you use prescription weight loss pills in ways your doctor did not advise -- overdosing, for instance -- you may become sick because you aren't getting proper nutrition, and this can even cause you to put on more weight.

If you don't want to speak to a doctor about weight loss, you can also talk to a pharmacist for advice on which OTC products and weight loss supplements are most likely to help you and least likely to cause harm. Never overlook simply asking for help whenever you're in doubt - but ask someone who's qualified to offer medical advice, not the teenager at the health food store counter.

Weight loss supplements can be effective in conjunction with regular exercise and a healthy diet. It's just a matter of finding what works for your particular needs. Talk to your physician about conventional and alternative options for losing weight.

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