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HEALTH & BEAUTY: Can pills help you to shed pounds?

TEMPTING isn't it? Just pop a pill a couple of times a day and see the fat melt away.

If you are desperate to banish those bulges, slimming tablets seem like an attractive option.

But with countless formulations on the shelves, it can be difficult to see the wood from the trees. The packets make grandiose promises, but what are all those weird-sounding ingredients actually doing to your body?

We asked Warwick University senior lecturer and consultant physician Dr Harpal Randeva to take a look at a selection of pills you can get on the high street, or from the internet.


INGREDIENTS INCLUDE: L Ornithine, L Arginine, L Carnitine.

EXPERT'S VIEW: The active ingredients are amino acids which play a role in metabolism.

For example, ornithine and arginine stimulate the release of growth hormone (GH). GH is known to help convert the food we eat into energy and lean muscle tissue, rather than storing it as fat.

L carnitine speeds up the passage of fat into cells, where it is used as fuel, and therefore reduces the level of blood fat.

Whether these amino acids are safe in young children, or adults with certain diseases such as cancer, is not known. Also there are no large studies to validate the claims of the companies that promote the product.


INGREDIENTS INCLUDE: Butternut, dandelion root, dry extract of boldo, extract of fucus.

EXPERT'S VIEW: It is claimed these herbs speed up metabolism and burn fat - however there is no data on how they do this.

Also there are certain ingredients that may be harmful for certain people, for example, individuals with lactose intolerance will develop diarrhoea with this product.

Cannot be used in pregnancy or by children.


INGREDIENTS INCLUDE: CLA, an omega-6 fatty acid which is found in corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, nuts, seeds, beef and dairy products.

EXPERT'S VIEW: The balance between omega-6 and omega-3 oils is vital to overall health and disease prevention, and hence the claims for its benefits in preventing tumour growth, enhancing the immune system and decreasing body fat.

It has been shown to decrease fat mass (by slowing the rate at which small fat cells become large ones), and increase muscle mass in both rodents and humans.

No wonder athletes and bodybuilders use it. The amount required is debatable.

Care should be taken for people who are on anti-coagulant (blood thinning) therapy. No licence for use in pregnancy or breast feeding.


INGREDIENTS INCLUDE: Dicalcium phosphate, mate extract, guarana extract, damiana extract.

EXPERT'S VIEW: These herbs make you feel satisfied sooner when you are eating and they also slow the emptying of the stomach. This in turn signals to the brain that the individual is full.

The pills have been shown to decrease weight by 5kgs compared with controls (placebo) - although the study was small. Quite promising though.

However, these herbs also boost metabolism, given that they are sources of caffeine. May therefore not be ideal for individuals 'sensitive' to caffeine, and those who suffer with fast heart rates.

May also interfere with sleep. Not safe in pregnancy.

REDUCTIL, also called Sibutramine.

INGREDIENTS INCLUDE: Sibutramine hydrochloride.

EXPERT'S VIEW: The sibutramine acts as an appetite suppressant in the brain. Is used in conventional practice (primary and secondary care), and is approved by National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE).

There is evidence from clinical trials that it can help with weight loss. However, you have to be very careful as it does have side-effects, notably increased sweating and a rise in blood pressure, which are more common in obese people compared with non-overweight people.

These side-effects and others such as headaches, change in bowel habits and occasionally impaired co-ordination, require prescribers of this drug to monitor patients closely - this has an additional impact on health economics.

Only licensed for 12 months' use.

XENICAL, also called Orlistat.


EXPERT'S VIEW: Lipstatin is a molecule that blocks the action of the fat-digesting enzyme lipase in our intestines.

Like Reductil, it is used in conventional practice (primary and secondary care), and is approved by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE).

However, unlike Reductil, Xenical works in the gut by preventing an enzyme that digests fat, and thereby reduces the absorption of fat from the gut.

It can interfere with the absorption of vitamins D, E and K. This may have an impact on individuals with lowest vitamin D levels, such as Asians and those with poor dietary habits.

In addition, it is important that these tablets, which are taken three times a day at meal times, are not consumed with a high-fat diet, as this can lead to a build-up of undigested fat which will cause loose motions.

Given all this, it must be said that these tablets are very effective in those who follow a strict dietary pattern.


INGREDIENTS INCLUDE: Citrus aurantium, caffeine, cayenne powder, green tea extract, bitter melon extract, guggulipid, Siberian ginseng, liquorice root plus others.

EXPERT'S VIEW: The herbs can affect metabolism and reduce appetite. However, there has been no randomised trial to date.

The pills contain caffeine, liquorice and iodine - these can interfere with conventional medications.

As well as that, they can affect sleep patterns, appetite, may lower blood potassium levels, induce a rise in blood pressure and affect the thyroid.


INGREDIENTS INCLUDE: Extracts of natural sea kelp (laminaria sp or fucus vesiculosus)

EXPERT'S VIEW: A commercialised form of product delivery. Iodine is important for thyroid function, but fucus can also work on other glands, particularly the pituitary.

The patch is said to work for 24 hours. You have to be very careful, given the iodine it contains. In some individuals it will increase the production of thyroxine from the thyroid gland which, although increasing fat breakdown, will also increase heart rate, thin bones and may lead to loose motions.

Care in its use in the elderly, those with thyroid problems, not to be used in pregnancy.


INGREDIENTS INCLUDE: Vitamin E, guarana, chormium, garcinia cambogia, Moroccan leaf tea, gotu kola, Korean ginseng, damiana.

EXPERT'S VIEW: The herbs in the product can affect the metabolism.

Garcinia cambogia is a fruit extract like the citric acid found in oranges and grapefruits. It has been found to be a fat-burning agent that stimulates and balances metabolism to manage weight and suppresses appetite.

Guarana originates from the Amazon region and stimulates metabolism and decreases hunger.

Chromium picolinate reduces body fat and preserves lean muscle.

Like other metabolism boosters, these compounds could affect sleep patterns and increase heart rate.

A short-term support - but nature's way is always best

LOIS FRANCIS runs the Way of Life health store in New Century Way, Nuneaton, which stocks a variety of slimming aids.

She will offer any advice she can about the pills and how they might be able to assist natural weight loss.

"I do think the pills can be helpful to people to give them a kickstart. The problem with so many people is they don't realise that it has taken them months or years to put on weight and so it will take time to lose that weight.

"People get disappointed if they don't see quick results, but the best way to lose weight is gradually, only one to two pounds a week at the most, because that way you are more likely to keep it off.

"I think diet pills as a short-term support to slimming can help people but I certainly would not recommend they be taken for long periods.

"And if you have heart or thyroid problems or diabetes,they are a definite no-no."


YOIE HILL wanted to lose some weight but could not get around to doing it.

She tried cutting down on her food but lacked the motivation to get cracking and her good intentions never lasted.

"I couldn't kickstart myself," said 60-year-old Yoie, from Hartshill, who used to run a shop in Chapel End before retiring last year. "I knew I wanted to lose weight but I just didn't seem able to get on with it.

"I've never been a fanatic about getting on the scales. I tend to judge more when my waistbands feel tight - and all of my waistbands were feeling tight."

Yoie picked up a leaflet about a product called Thermoslimmer and was curious as to whether they might be able to help.

"I like to think I am health conscious and when I saw Thermoslimmer I wanted to be sure they were a natural remedy.

"I asked Lois at the Way of Life health store about them and she confirmed they were a totally herbal formulation.

"I was a bit sceptical to start with and I suppose I messed around with them. I did start to see results though and decided if I was going to take them I ought to do it properly."

Yoie found the pills acted as an appetite suppressant and made her feel fuller longer when she did eat.

She would take two tablets in the morning and two in the afternoon.

"I wasn't eating as much as I used to," said Yoie. "I try to eat healthily anyway so I didn't really change what I ate. I never gave anything up and I still enjoyed a few glasses of wine, but I was eating less.

"If we have a box of chocolates at home my husband and I will probably devour them between us, but I found when I took Thermoslimmer I only wanted a couple, just to satisfy my taste buds. I didn't want to eat any more than that."

She started taking the pills in November last year and started to see results by Christmas.

It took about six months for Yoie to drop almost a stone in weight.

"I have been very happy with the pills. I have not suffered any ill-effects and the weight has gone from where I wanted it to go.

"My clothes are all a lot looser and so much more comfortable, it's fantastic. I feel much better in myself and much better in my clothes.

"My husband Stuart has also noticed the difference and is very complimentary. Thermoslimmer certainly worked for me."


ONE of the biggest problems with slimming pills as far as Dr Randeva is concerned is the lack of wide-ranging trials to discover their effectiveness and determine any side-effects.

Couple this with the fact that, unless you are taking the drugs on prescription, there is no-one to monitor your progress or check on how the pills are affecting your health.

Dr Randeva said: "From someone with a conventional medicine point of view these pills can be a concern because they have not been tested in big trials.

"If there have been trials they will have been small and will not have shown who the subjects are, whether they are men or women or whether they have existing health problems.

"Two of the drugs, Reductil and Xenical, are available on prescription but the others are commercial products.

"The ingredients might assist in weight loss but they also may affect other parts of the body and have unpleasant side-effects."

The amino acid arginine stimulates growth hormone from the pituitary gland. But, as Dr Randeva points out, the body is naturally programmed to reduce growth hormone with age.

Taking extra aginine then goes against what our bodies are supposed to be doing and because there have been no trials the consequences are largely unknown.

Dr Randeva added: "Many of the pills contain caffeine which could be a problem for people sensitive to stimulants.

"Some of the ingredients may not be approved by the US's Food and Drug Administration, which raises questions over their safety.

"My gut feeling is that if you want to take any of these pills then you should have things like your blood pressure and thyroid checked, but whether your GP will be happy to do that is another matter."


D21312_1. EXPERT EYE: Dr Harpal Randeva Picture by MICHELLE SPERRY; SLIMMING ADVICE: Lois Francis of the Way of Life health store in Nuneaton; DN9204_1. FEELING GREAT: Yoie Hill lost a stone in weight after taking a course of Thermoslimmer pills. Picture by ROBIN BIDGOOD
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jul 29, 2004
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