Dr. Oz’s Water Pill Safety Guide

Find out how water pills work and why people use them to lose weight. Plus, learn how to take them the safe way.

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Dr. Oz’s 3-Day Water Pill Experiment (3:04)

Water pills, known in the medical world as diuretics, are a mainstay of treatment for those with some heart problems, lung disorders and certain types of high blood pressure. In these conditions, the body has a problem regulating the amount of water in particular parts of the body. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but the result is that fluid can back up, leading to a condition called edema.

When are diuretics normally used?

In these conditions, physicians use diuretics to encourage the body to discard some of the fluid it has built up over time. Diuretics are called water pills because they help the body get rid of water by preventing your kidneys from holding on to it. As a result, you pee out more water than usual. While a little fluid buildup might not seem like a big deal, it can cause serious health problems depending on where it shows up. Heart failure, for example, can cause fluid to build up in the lungs making it hard for a person to breathe. If this happens too quickly, it can be rapidly fatal.

Why are people using diuretics for weight loss?

About two thirds of the human body is water by weight. That means that losing significant amounts of water can rapidly drop your body weight. Realizing this, some individuals saw an opportunity to use diuretics as a short-term weight loss product. Unfortunately, the weight loss isn’t real. Losing weight by dropping water weight leads to dehydration. As soon as you succumb to the thirst you’ll start to feel as your body loses water, you’ll gain all of that weight back.

It’s important to recognize that the main reason you should lose weight is for the health benefits it brings. Losing fat weight is associated with a lower risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and a host of other illnesses. Losing water weight can lead to dangerous dehydration that can be fatal in severe cases.

Why is non-prescription use of diuretics dangerous?

Your body normally works hard to make sure there’s enough water in the body to keep your organs functioning. This also includes making sure your body has the right balance of electrolytes in your blood. Diuretics mess with both of these things. They force your body to lose more water than usual and also push out vital electrolytes with that water. If too much water and too many electrolytes are lost, organs can start to malfunction. This shows up initially as cramps, fatigue, dizziness and weakness, vomiting and swelling. In severe cases, the heart can beat irregularly and even stop. People may also experience seizures and deadly organ failure.

In addition, diuretics can interact with other medications you might be taking and make them more or less effective. In some cases they can have a serious and potentially deadly interaction that could put you in hospital or kill you.

Why doesn’t this happen when my doctor prescribes it?

Diuretics are generally only prescribed to people whose bodies aren’t able to regulate water and electrolyte balance anymore because of some disease. In this case, the water pill is helping to bring them back to normal. A person with no health issues is at serious risk for damaging side effects because they’re using the medication to do something abnormal to their body, which throws off their water and electrolyte balance. Doctors also usually work closely with individuals starting these medications to make sure the dose is just right and that the medication won’t interact with other drugs they may be taking. Those taking diuretics for weight loss often don’t know how much to take and may take more than they should thinking the benefit will increase with a higher dose.

When should I take a diuretic?

Diuretics should only be taken when prescribed by a doctor to you for a specific reason. You should never use diuretics for weight loss and you should never take a friend’s or relative’s medication or supplement for any reason.

What products should I look out for?

Some non-prescription rapid weight-loss pills use diuretics, often illegally. They can do this because the supplement industry has minimal regulations and oversight when it comes to what ends up on shelves. Think twice before buying a weight-loss supplement, especially if it promises rapid results and if it has any indication of being a diuretic, natural or otherwise. Look at the label for:

  • Caffeine
  • Theobromine
  • Pamabrom
  • Triamterene
  • Dandelion extracts
  • Guarana
  • Juniper seeds (can cause kidney damage)
  • Equistine (can cause brain damage)
  • Horse tail or shave grass (can cause seizures)

Remember, the weight loss you see on a diuretic is a fake and dangerous weight loss. It may help you drop a few pounds, but it harms your health and can have serious consequences. If you’re concerned your weight may be a problem, talk to your doctor about weight-loss programs that might help.