Most people know that a balanced, healthy diet and physical activity are the cornerstones of weight loss, but diet pills have been gaining momentum among people who are struggling to shed pounds. There are many different varieties of diet pills on the market, which can work by blocking fat absorption, suppressing appetite or upping metabolism. While some of these pills could be a good choice for people who need to jump-start their weight loss or who are stuck in a weight-loss rut, not all diet pills are safe, and many contain concerning ingredients that could hurt your health. Never take a weight-loss pill without looking for these concerning ingredients on the label and in the fine print.
Note that this list isn't exhaustive, so if you're considering taking a weight-loss pill, talk to your doctor – he or she can help you determine which pills are safe and right for you based on your personal health and diet history. Plus, many of the over-the-counter weight-loss supplements are unregulated and contain hidden ingredients and contaminants, so prescription-only pills are likely to be both safer and more effective.
Concerning ingredients to watch for:
Ma huang/ephedra/ephedrine/pseudoephedrine – Ma huang, a species of ephedra, frequently contains ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, which can affect the nervous system and result in high blood pressure, increased heart rate, irregular heart rhythm, heart attack, stroke or death. Ephedra has been banned in the U.S.
Bitter orange/synephrine – Bitter orange contains a chemical called synephrine, which is similar to ephedra and can cause increased heart rate, headaches, vomiting, insomnia, high blood pressure, fainting, heart attack and stroke.
Sibutramine – Sibutramine is a powerful stimulant that may significantly increase the risk of heart attacks, arrhythmias or strokes, in addition to causing a long list of side effects. It was removed from the market in 2010. Several weight-loss drugs have been found to be illegally spiked with sibutramine.
Fenproporex – Fenproporex is a stimulant not approved for use in the U.S.; it is converted to amphetamine in the body and may cause heart arrhythmias and possibly even sudden death. It may also be addictive.
Phenolphthalein – Phenolphthalein is an ingredient that was in some laxative products until 1999, when the FDA declared that it was "not generally recognized as safe and effective." It has been found to be a hidden ingredient in several weight-loss pills.