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Dieting pills; ‘helpers’ or ‘killers’

The use of chemical substances claiming miraculous results in weight loss are on the increase, especially among young people. Laleh Lohrasbi discusses how important it is to fully understand the impact of such drugs on our health before taking them

Interpol launched a global alert over a potentially lethal dieting pill which was linked to the death of a British student. This prompted decisive action from the authorities, determined to remove from the streets hundreds of unsafe pills which are used worldwide, especially by the young. The international authorities’ prime concern was the presence of a particular substance, DNP, used in the pill, which can literally ‘cook the body from inside’. 2.4-Dinitrophenol (DNP) is an industrial chemical that is not fit for human consumption, but is used as a component for a pill marketed at those wanting to lose weight, as well as bodybuilders, because of its ability to burn fat quickly by speeding up the metabolism to a dangerously fast level. This is not the first time DNP has claimed victims. In 2013, an 18-year old A-Level student at one of Britain’s top independent schools died as a result of taking it. He is believed to be the youngest ever victim of this toxic dieting chemical which is widely sold online and presented as a quick-fix diet aid. Sixteen deaths have already been linked to the drug in Britain during the past decade. The full scale of the drug’s damage has not been reported. But a 2011 study published in the American College of Medical Toxicology found 62 deaths attributed to the drug. A worldwide desire among both men and women to be slimmer, across all ages, conflicts with an unrealistic beauty ideal promoted mainly by the fashion and cosmetics industries. While teenagers believe that desirability is equal to being skinny, middle aged men and women believe that it can mask their real age. Even elderly people have been reported to have used DNP as a quick fix for their age-related health problems. A recent review of adolescent dieting indicated that 41-66% of teenage girls and 20-31% of teenage boys have attempted weight loss at some time.

2.4-Dinitrophenol (DNP) is an industrial chemical that is not fit for human consumption, but is used as a component for a pill marketed at those wanting to lose weight, as well as bodybuilders, because of its ability to burn fat quickly by speeding up the metabolism to a dangerously fast level.

Distortion of body image is common among adolescents who frequently ‘feel fat’ even at a normal weight. In one cross-sectional American study, 36% of normal weight young girls were dieting, compared with 50% of overweight girls and 55% of obese girls. Although losing extra weight is helpful and healthier, most people just cannot distinguish between being healthy and being thin. Despite numerous warnings by the NHS and Food Standards Authority (FSA), DNP is still sold as a weight loss remedy. Parents should be aware that this pill is still available illegally online. DNP is a fat burner, and works by accelerating the metabolism to a scary dangerously scary level. It can cause many side effects such as fever, dehydration, nausea, vomiting, restlessness, flushed skin, excessive sweating, dizziness, abnormal heartbeat, rapid breathing and possibly even death. In the USA, until 1933, DNP was considered a weight loss drug but it was quickly withdrawn from the market after side effects and a number of deaths were reported. Regrettably information available on health and nutrition often comes from dubious and unreliable media sources.

Even herbal dieting products can be just as dangerous. … An example of this is raspberry ketone, a ‘natural’ supplement that contains extremely high doses of caffeine and is available in health shops. Last year, a 24-yearold girl died after taking an overdose of this pill.

This condition is aggravated by the desire of young people to conform to social trends and expectations in relation to body size and look, and in order to achieve this, they will try anything, even if it means making poor and sometimes dangerous nutritional choices. DNP is not the only ‘fat burner’ available online. Other compounds reported to have similar effects are; ephedrine, caffeine in high doses, capsaicin (found in cayenne pepper) and the amino acids L-carnitine and L-tyrosine. There are many products sold in the UK which contain some or all of these dangerous compounds. These products are not categorised as medicines, so they are not regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. As long as they are not advertised with the promise to lose weight, they can be legally sold. Even herbal dieting products can be just as dangerous. ’Herbal’ doesn’t necessarily mean ’safe’. Herbals are considered part of the food industry and are therefore regulated differently by the FDA, and there is no guarantee that they can live up to their manufacturers’ claims.
An example of this is raspberry ketone, a ‘natural’ supplement that contains extremely high doses of caffeine and is available in health shops. Last year, a 24-year-old girl died after taking an overdose of this pill. The only FDA approved dieting pill is Orlistat which blocks the body from absorbing about a third of the eaten fat. But even Orlistat – also known as Xenical – has side effects including abdominal cramping, passing gas, leaking oily stool, having more bowel movements, and not being able to control bowel movements. Rare cases of severe liver injury have been also reported in people taking Orlistat. This drug also reduces the body’s absorption of essential vitamins and nutrients. People who take Xenical are advised to take a daily multivitamin supplement. It is also usually recommended to follow a low-fat diet while taking Orlistat in order to minimise the side effects. Interestingly, a low carb diet (without drugs) has shown to be as effective as both Orlistat and a low-fat diet combined. Those going on a diet should be aware that losing too much fat in a short time, especially by using dieting drugs, can result in regaining it all quite rapidly. Such rapid loss can lead to the following complications: infertility, anemia, osteoporosis, amenorrhea or the cessation of regular menstrual cycles, delayed puberty in teens, fatigue, increased susceptibility to infection, irregular heartbeats and even depression. The ideal long term method of losing weight – one or two pounds a week – is a balanced diet and moderate exercise, having three regular meals a day, with snacks in between, making sure all food groups are included in the diet, avoiding processed and sugary food and soft drinks, switching to nutritious alternatives like fruits, nuts, and smoothies and increasing exercise and physical activities to boost overall metabolism. These are the best measures, not only for keeping a healthy body but also for reducing excess fat.

Lohrasbi

 

 

 

 

 

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