How Things Work: Diet Pills

“Melt away those pounds!” “Lose 30 pounds in 30 days!” “Control your appetite!” In society today, self-image is greatly emphasized. Magazines and television shows advertise slim, sexy-looking bodies. In addition, with more than 60 percent of Americans overweight or obese, losing weight quickly sounds more enticing and easier than diet or exercise.

There are many kinds of diet pills. Appetite suppressants, such as sibutramine or phentermine, affect the hypothalamus, which regulates appetite. These suppressants block the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine. The chemicals accumulate in your brain after you eat a big meal and cause you to feel full. Certain diet pills block the hormone ghrelin, which is sent by the stomach to the brain to stimulate hunger. Other diet pills mimic Peptide YY3-36 (PYY) hormone, which tells the brain that the stomach is full.

Weight-loss supplements can utilize different ingredients to aid in dieting. Herbal ephedra, caffeine, guarana, and country mallow increase the body’s metabolism. Guar gum, glucomannan, and psyllium cause a “full” feeling. Hydrocitric acid, green tea, conjugated linoleic acid, and pyruvate slow down fat production. Chitosan, also known as chitin, blocks fat from being absorbed.

There are also prescription fat blockers, which inhibit the action of the lipase enzyme. This enzyme breaks down the fat in foods we eat. When this enzyme is inhibited, ingested fat is removed from the body instead of being broken down and absorbed. Orlistat (Xenical) is a diet pill that works in the gastrointestinal tract, blocking the lipase enzyme. Up to one third of the fat consumed will accumulate in the intestines and be excreted.

Ephedra and caffeine was once an extremely powerful but dangerous combination used in diet pills. The caffeine increased metabolism by increasing the breakdown of fatty acids, and the ephedrine reduced appetite by acting on the hypothalamus. Since late 2003, the FDA has banned all ephedra-containing drugs because of ephedra’s links to heart attacks. Now, ephedra is being replaced with vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, and folic acid, which also increase energy and metabolism.

There are many side effects of using diet pills. Appetite suppressants stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and cause blood pressure and heart rate to rise. Minor side effects include headache, dry mouth, and insomnia. Certain pills, like the pills that block the action of lipase enzymes, reduce the body’s absorption of essential fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, and other nutrients. In addition, “herbal” does not imply “safe” or “healthy.” Some fat-burning herbs contain ingredients that have diuretic properties; they cause water loss, not fat loss. When the numbers on the scale go down, you haven’t lost weight: you’ve just lost water.

Do diet pills really work? Most diet pills have been shown to help dieters lose a couple pounds over a short period of time — usually six months or less. After a while, the body develops a tolerance to the drugs’ effects. These drugs are also only effective if you continue to eat healthy and exercise. Diet pills are mainly designed for those suffering obesity. Nowadays, they are used to replace exercise and healthy eating.