Diet pills: Two things you need to know

When you want to lose weight, you want it to happen quickly. However, it usually takes consistent commitment and twice as much time as we'd like to drop even a few pounds. From prescription weight loss products to the plethora of over-the-counter options, surely something out there can help, right?

Heather O'Toole, MD, primary care physician, HonorHealth Medical Group, specializes in weight loss counseling and support. She prefers the tried-and-true practices of healthy eating and exercise, and rarely prescribes medication for weight loss for the following reasons …

1. Many drugs haven't yet proven their worth.

For about 13 years, no new weight loss medications were introduced to the market. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had pulled a variety of medications off the market following a string of health and safety issues, ranging from liver disease to heart valve defects. A few years ago, the FDA gave the green light for three new weight loss medications following clinical trials:

  • Phentermine/topiramate
  • Lorcaserin
  • Bupropion/naltrexone

Despite having clearance from the FDA, Dr. O'Toole remains cautious. Rather than jump right in and start prescribing the pills to patients, she's opting to wait and see if additional side effects or other findings come to light with a larger patient pool. Her general rule of thumb is to wait until a drug has been on the market for many years and used by thousands of patients. If, at that point, it's still deemed safe and effective, then she'll consider writing a prescription with an accompanying focus on diet and exercise counseling.

2. The cost of diet pills doesn't measure up to the results.

Above and beyond health and safety concerns, Dr. O'Toole also shies away from weight loss medications because of their cost and less-than-stellar results.

Trials of the three drugs mentioned above report modest weight loss, averaging 5 to 10% over a 12-month period. Stack that against a price tag of more than $200 per month, and the cost per pounds dropped is quite staggering. Furthermore, weight loss medications may not be appropriate for long-term use.

Of course, there's also an abundant supply of over-the-counter weight loss supplements you could turn to, but according to Dr. O'Toole, they're a gamble, offering no guarantees on their safety, efficacy or even that what you pay for is truly what you get.

With two-thirds of Americans being overweight or obese, it's no surprise that the weight loss supplement industry is a lucrative one. Not being regulated by the FDA means safety standards, testing and authenticity claims for these supplements leave much to be desired. Just because a product is sold without a prescription doesn't mean it's safe.

So, if you're trying to lose a few pounds, think back to that age-old advice: Eat healthy, real foods, avoid sugar and processed foods, and exercise regularly. That truly is the best recipe for long-term, sustainable and affordable weight loss, and it works!

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