Diet Pills

Diet Pills are a popular product. With the ever increasing number of obese and overweight people it is no surprise. Diet Pills can help teens lose weight, but can also be abused. Read this article to learn more about diet pills and if they are right for your overweight teen.


Amid America’s exploding problem with teen obesity, and its obsession with thinness as a standard of beauty, diet pills are a profitable product. Though 1 in 7 Americans has used diet pills, there are questions about the safety and effectiveness of diet pills available in today’s market.

How Diet Pills Work

Diet pills can work in one of three ways:

  • Some diet pills suppress appetite so the person isn’t hungry and doesn’t eat too many calories.
  • Diet pills may boost metabolism so the user burns more of the calories he or she consumes.
  • Other diet pills prevent food from being absorbed by the body, so the fat or carbohydrates the person consumes pass through the digestive track and out of the body.

Some diet pills are regulated medicines, usually available only with a doctor’s prescription. In the US, medical diet pills that are not approved by the FDA may be available illegally, but these diet pills may contain dangerous and illegal substances, such as amphetamines, which can cause addiction and life-threatening side effects, and cause legal problems for the user.

Prescription diet pills are only FDA approved for those who are obese (have a body mass index or BMI over 30), or those who are overweight and have other medical concerns like diabetes. According to medical guidelines, they should only be used after diet and exercise have been tried by the patient.

FDA Approved Diet Pills

Some FDA-approved diet pills include:

  • Sibutramine
  • Phentermine
  • Diethylpropion
  • Phendimetrazine
  • Orlistat

Orlistat, which prevents the body from absorbing fat, is the only of these diet pills approved for use in young people age 12 and up, and is also the only FDA approved diet pill available over the counter, without a prescription. Orlistat has very unpleasant side effects when a person eats fatty foods, including stomach and bowel pain, gas, and diarrhea. The side effects may help condition a person not to eat fatty foods.

Some depression and seizure medications can also cause weight loss, but this is an "off-label," or untested use, and should only be tried under a doctor’s supervision.

Common Side Effects of Diet Pills

Some common side effects of using diet pills include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Gas

All diet pills have potential risks. Some that initially seemed safe and were legal, like fen/phen, were taken off the market after causing organ damage and death in users. Be especially cautious when using diet pills purchased over the Internet, or if the ingredients aren’t listed.

There are also many natural diet aids on the market that can be purchased without a prescription diet pill. Though many people think that natural means safe, these diet pills have not been tested, and some natural ingredients are used to make potent and potentially dangerous medications. Anyone who chooses to try natural diet pills should be very cautious and watch for any side effects. People who use other prescription medication should tell their doctor before trying an over the counter diet pill.

Studies have found that most diet pills reach peek efficiency in 6 months, after which time the body develops a tolerance to them and they stop working. People who use diet pills lose an average of 10 pounds, but in most cases the diet pill users put the weight back on. Diet pills are not a substitute for lifestyle changes like a healthy diet and exercise that result in long-term weight loss, though some doctors recommend them for people who are also making lifestyle changes and would benefit medically from losing an extra 10 pounds using pills.

Who Should Not Use Diet Pills

There are some situations when people should not take diet pills. These include individuals who have (or are):

  • A history of drug or alcohol abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Pregnant or breast feeding
  • Depression and manic-depression
  • Using other medications
  • Going to be having surgery using general anesthesia
  • Heart conditions or high blood pressure
  • Glaucoma
  • Diabetes

Diet pills are generally not covered by insurance, so those who wish to try them usually have to pay for them out of pocket.

Sources:

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Weight-control Information Network, "Prescription Medications for the Treatment of Obesity" [online]

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Highlights: Jan. 26, 2009, "Imported Diet Pills May Contain Amphetamines: Study" [online]

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, HHS HealthBeat, "The Skinny on Diet Pills" [online]

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